Sunday, 29 November 2009

What expats should bring to Uruguay

I recently helped my parents pack up our family home in Ireland and throughout the process I heard many a time that "moving house is listed as one of the most stressful experiences in a person's life". Having been surrounded by cardboard boxes for weeks on end, and always realizing I needed something right after I sealed a box (with excessive layers of tape no less!) I couldn't imagine combining this experience and moving to a new country all at the same time!

Now I may be an expat myself, I may have done this "packing up my life" business, but the longer I am here the more I realize how young and free I am. My move to Uruguay was not dependent on whether I could sell a house in today's difficult economy, I was not responsible for young children and their belongings and welfare as well as my own, and I didn't have a whole lifetime and stuff to pack before I came...just 2 suitcases accompanied me down south (and I can't tell you how hard it was to close those 2 very innocent looking but insanely overpacked cases!).

Of the many expats I have met here in Uruguay - of all ages, situations, and personalities - pretty much all will agree that less is more when moving your life (explained wonderfully in this blog post "The Cost Of Owning Things"). If you're young, willing to adapt, and not responsible for anyone but yourself, then yes - bringing the bare minimum is possible and advisable (the less clutter you own, the less cluttered your life is - this is not a cliche!). However, when it comes to families - especially those with young children, and also those moving here long term (ie. a good few years without possible return "home") then there are a few things you may want to bring with you to make life a little more comfortable.

Remember, all lists should be edited/added to/ignored based on YOU, nobody can tell you exactly what you will or won't need. Some people can live in the same clothes day in-day out, some people cannot survive without a cookie cutter version of the life they are used to (if that sounds like you then think long and hard about a life in South America - it requires compromises!). With that said the very best advice I can give you is to take 5 or 10 minutes, sit down with a piece of paper and mentally go through a regular day. What things do you use every day? What is the one thing you can't live without? What is the one thing that relaxes you and puts a smile on your face? If those things can be packed, then bring them.

Here are some things expats have recommended packing (if there's anything you think I left out then feel free to add a comment!)

- Most importantly - your memories! In the end almost everything can be begged, bought, borrowed or stolen here, but you can never replace your photos, your keepsakes, anything that means a lot to you.

Your favourite/most used things: this is very person specific - if you love to garden bring high quality garden trowels and tools, if you knit bring good knitting needles, if you're a DIY person bring good tools, if you love to read bring a good selection of English books to keep you going (they're in short and expensive supply here, though I think you can order then off amazon...and wish for luck with the postal system!). If you love make-up and facials etc bring high quality cosmetics (good stuff is rare and where it does exist its very overpriced!), if you draw or paint bring the right supplies...I think you get the idea - take a few minutes to think about YOU and what's most important in YOUR life.

- Rare ingredients: If you like to cook (or even if you don't yet cook but like foreign foods) then bring ingredients. Food in Uruguay is bland. They make a damn good steak but thats really as far as it goes. The don't do flavorings for baking like vanilla essence etc so if you bake bring them. I brought a tub of really good (really strong) curry paste and many many months later it is still making me lovely curries :) You can buy curry powder here but its just not as good as the paste. You'll won't find any thai food ingredients. Mexican stuff is here but in small supply and its all very overpriced. Once again, think of your favourites (whether its peanut butter, marmite, chutney, spices, good chocolate etc) and bring a little bit for a treat every once in a while.

- Kitchen supplies: Good pots and pans and general kitchen utensils (especially anything unusual!). Both can openers and corkscrews here are terrible - they break all the time and are so overpriced (a basic can opener can fetch US$15 and break in a week!). Pots and pans here are of cheap cheap China quality, and anything resembling the good stuff is crazily priced. If you cook it is worth investing at home and bringing a good set. The same goes for utensils or machines - a blender, electric mixer, good nonstick baking trays, chopping knives. Its all much more expensive here (because of all the import taxes) and the quality ranges from passable to very poor unless you are willing to pay big prices.

- Home Decor & Furniture: Just to clarify - obviously the bigger stuff on this list only applies to people who are importing containers of household goods, I am not recommending that you bring your grandmother's armchair on the plane (though I'd love to see someone try with how ridiculous airlines have become about baggage these days!). If you're setting up house long term in Uruguay then bring as much as you can - I could pretty much guarantee you that anything you bring from home, even if second hand, will last twice or three times as long as anything you will buy here, and you can be sure it will cost you less at home too. If you're building a house then bring fittings and fixtures like taps, light switches, door knobs, drawers pulls, wall and ceiling lights, towel holders/racks etc.

- Your Clothes! I've said it before in a post about clothes in Uruguay, but in general they leave much to be desired - in short, bring your clothes with you! Buy plenty of your tried and trusted favourites (trust me, you'll appreciate something as simple as well fitted jeans or good quality tshirts!). Underwear is made in very odd shapes and not the nicest materials (cotton isn't popular here, synthetic materials are - I'll say no more). This is especially relevant if you're very tall or short. Uruguay is a small market so things only come in so many sizes. If you wear very large clothes you should bring plenty with you.

- Technology! Import taxes are around 50 or 60% in Uruguay (and keep in mind they don't make much that isn't cow related)...then their value added tax (IVA) is 22%. This basically means you will pay through the nose for almost everything! If you need a laptop bring one. If you're setting up a business, bring everything!

The list could go on and on and on. I wrote a very detailed article for Total Uruguay about what to pack when moving here. Again it varies from person to person, and yes most things are "available" here but they will be more expensive and they will likely be of poor quality and with less choice. I wrote this article because when I went to pack my bags for moving here I had never been to South America before and I really didn't know where to start. Rest assured that the larger towns of Uruguay are very developed and will have pretty much everything you are used to. Bring a supply of the things that you use on a daily basis, and as you settle in you will find substitutes.

If you need some motivation to help you with your clear-out try this great blog post about holding on to physical belongings, moving away, and realizing you just don't need all the STUFF after all.


  1. great post and blog! I would like to contact you regarding a collaboration proposal. Can I please have your e-mail so that I could contact you? or you can contact me at

  2. You say that "The don't do flavorings for baking like vanilla essence etc so if you bake bring them." But there is a Vanilla Essence here sold at Walmart and Milan supermarket that comes from Uruguay. Go figure...

  3. We left Swanage years ago. Our moving company
    actually helped us ship overseas to Ontario. It is great to have all of our things just as they were, just on a different continent. Very stressful coming from another country, especially the whole part about getting used to the customs and tendency of your new neighbors. You can't help but get homesick too.

  4. Hi,

    Are you still in Montevideo? I'm hoping for a trip come September/October as I'm considering a relocation. For the trip,is there anything you would recommend?

  5. there is everything that you need in uruguay,you can go to tienda inglesa its a huge supermarket or the gent, you"ll will find the same thing as in the development countries...

    1. Hi I am planning to move to Uruguay and I will appreciate some help with realtors. Is it possible to buy an acre of land for 10-15000 dollars? I will appreciate very much any info. We are planning to go visit soon to get to know the area and maybe some realtors.
      You can reach me at
      thank you in advance

  6. Amazing tips! This article furnishes a good amount of information on various techniques of what expats should bring to Uruguay. removal in London

  7. Thanks for the great tips. I've been trying to find out about theft. In the real estate photos I've seen, house windows have bars on them. Why?

  8. OK, it's been nearly 4 years since you have posted on this blog. Who knows if you are dead or alive.

    I happen to know you are alive and living somewhere in the emerald isle, but I won't tell what I know or how.

    What I do want to say, that I am planning to move to Uruguay. I have made a couple of visits and I really like it there.

    I want YOU to know that YOU have been a very big influence and have provided me (along with untold others) a great deal of information, advice and encouragement -- whether you know it or not.


    I hope you are well. God bless you.


    1. What a great comment! Phil I'm not sure who your sources are but they're almost right....I've been living in Australia for the past while and have just returned to my beautiful Emerald Isle.

      I am delighted to hear that this old thing is still of use to people. I recall when I was planning my move I really struggled to find helpful practical information that wasn't written by someone trying to make money out of me so my goal was to contribute what I learned along the way.

      Best of luck with your move and I sincerely hope you come to love Uruguay as much as I do. Send my love to your sources, whoever they are I guess they know me :)

    2. Phil...I am thinking about moving to Uruguay and would like to correspond...seems like you've figured things out that I'm still confused about. and then I can give you my facebook link.Shelley Davis and I'm on the expat group on fb.

    3. have you moved to Uruguay yet ? We were there for five months and returned to states to earn and save to move there when I was in a car wreck that delayed that. Now we are making final arrangments to move by beginning of next year 2017 to start and offgrid farm in Minas we hope. We have several friends in Piriapolis and plan to spend a lot of time there too. please feel free to contact us.

    4. Hi Irish Blogger, I am planning to move to Uruguay and I appreciate your article and advice.

  9. Hi there, I realise from reading the comments that you have long left Uruguay. However, given your local knowledge there, I was wondering if you might be able to share any thoughts regarding where to look for a 2nd hand fridge? Any thoughts, tips, or comments would be greatly appreciated.

    Kind Regards,



  10. My name is Joe Pinzone and I'm casting an international travel show about expats moving abroad. We'd love to film in Uruguay and wanted to know if you could help us find expats who have moved there within the last 1-2 years or have been there for 3-4 years, but recently moved into a new home. The show documents their move to a new country and will place the country in fabulous light. I wanted to know if you could help spread the word to expats living there or are close to moving. If you'd like more information, please give me a call at 212-231-7716 or skype me at joefromnyc. You can also email me at Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Joe Pinzone
    Casting Producer
    P: 212-231-7716
    Skype: Joefromnyc

  11. Hi Joe, sounds like an interesting post a link to it once its done as I'm sure many people would like to see it.

    I left Uruguay back in 2010 so I'm afraid I'm not much help. I would suggest posting this message on the forum of or maybe popping into the Expats lunch, I think these still take place every Sunday but you'll find the details on totaluruguay website.

    Best of luck with the filming!