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.