Confessions Of A Serial Shipper
Nine-year-old Jackson and his cousins manned their lemonade stand at the foot of the driveway, while, behind them, Jackson’s older sister, Kaitlin, offered for sale the household bits and pieces she’s managed to collect during her first two years of college in Annapolis.
Kaitlin is coming to spend the summer with us in Panama. Next fall, she’ll return not to Annapolis to continue her higher education, but to New York. What to do with all the stuff from her Annapolis apartment?
The things she’ll want in New York come September are going into paid storage. At the end of the summer, we’ll return, rent a truck, and drive them north for her.
The furniture that won’t work in her new Greenwich Village digs is being sold on Craig’s List. Keepsakes are being stored in her grandmother’s basement in Baltimore.
Most everything else was sold at the yard sale we staged over the weekend. The leftovers went to Goodwill.
“Do you remember our last yard sale?” I asked Kaitlin Saturday afternoon? “It was 11 years ago. You were 9. We were preparing for our first international move, from Baltimore, Maryland, to Waterford, Ireland.”
Back then, I was figuring things out as we went along.
My first mistake was shipping my house-full of Baltimore antiques to Ireland with us. I later discovered that I could buy nicer antiques for sometimes half as much as I’d paid for the lesser-quality pieces I’d insisted on transporting across the Atlantic Ocean. Would have been easier, cheaper, and more fun to buy all new old furniture in Waterford.
My second mistake was over-estimating what we’d “need” upon arrival. I wanted to make our rented house in Waterford as homey as possible, right from the start, so I arranged for Mailboxes, Etc. (now the UPS Store) to collect, pack, and deliver Kaitlin’s games and toys…my favorite kitchen gear…photos and knick-knacks…and four boxes of books.
In all, we shipped a dozen boxes this way. On the one hand, these essential items were waiting for us when we arrived at the little house on the river that would be our residence our first year in Ireland.
On the other hand, it was a lot of money spent for little reason. I could have replaced most of the stuff easily and affordably locally.
To find an international shipper back then, I consulted the Yellow Pages. I called at least a dozen firms listed. Some never returned my call…some didn’t ship to Ireland…
After days of back and forth, I arranged for representatives of three firms to visit my Baltimore home and give me estimates for packing, shipping, delivering to Waterford, and unpacking in our new home.
Two weeks later, I had cost quotes. More phone calls…more follow-up…and, finally, I settled on a group headquartered in the UK.
A lot of hassle to ship a bunch of stuff that, believe me, we could have lived without. I swore I’d never do it again.
Six years later, I was back on the phone, this time shopping for an international shipper who’d take my Waterford household stuff to Paris. I rationalized this exercise to Lief by explaining that we’d never be able to afford to replace my Irish antiques with French ones. (I was right about this.)
“But I promise, dear,” I told him then, “this will be the last time we’ll mess with this…”
Last year, as we prepared for our move from Paris to Panama City, I wondered how we’d furnish our new home in Panama. Over the years, we’d bought, renovated, and furnished (for rental) an old building in Casco Viejo and a pre-construction apartment downtown. Those experiences had taught me that, while you can buy antique furniture and good-quality reproductions in this country, the supply is limited, and the prices are high.
How to head off the inevitable budget and over-spending discussions with Lief?
Living in Waterford, I’d gotten to know the local antiques dealer. The month before our move to Panama, we visited Ireland. I stopped in to see my friend Rody at the City Auction Rooms. I was greeted at the door by a sign proclaiming that Rody was planning an auction that very evening.
I’d buy furniture for the new place in Panama from Rody in Ireland! We’d come out ahead, even allowing for international shipping.
Our Paris apartment furniture stayed in our Paris apartment, which we have since rented out to a nice Japanese banker and his wife. Keepsakes and things we didn’t want to risk the renters breaking went into paid storage.
When we walked out the door of our apartment on the rue de Verneuil last July, we carried but two suitcases full of clothes apiece and a couple of duffle bags of toys and books.
The furniture from Rody arrived without incident a month later. We paid no Panama import duty thanks to our residency status.
When Kaitlin called a couple of months ago to explain she’d like to spend the summer in Panama with us and then return, in September, not to Annapolis but to New York…ok, here we go again, I thought.
The good news is that it’s far easier to manage an international move these days than it was 11 years ago when we struggled through our first relocation.
The first step is thinking through (more objectively than I did for our first move) what you need to take with you, what you want to ship for immediate delivery, and whether or not you want to invest in shipping a full container load of stuff.
One key to making these decisions is understanding what you’ll be able to replace easily in your new country of residence…and at what cost.
Mailboxes, Etc./the UPS Store is probably still the best choice for shipping things you want waiting for you upon your arrival.
If you decide to ship a container load, you’ll be happy to hear that you’ve a higher-tech alternative to the Yellow Pages these days.
Other things we’ve learned:
- Depending where you’re moving from and to, you may not want to ship appliances or electronics. A U.S. DVD player, for example, won’t work (without a transformer) in Europe.
- On the other hand, if you’re moving from the States to Central America, you may find it much cheaper to buy big U.S.-standard appliances and take them with you. A Maytag washing machine will cost considerably more in Nicaragua than in Florida.
- Beds are complicated. In Ireland, for example, they don’t have twin or queen-sized beds. They have 3-foot, 4-foot, and 6-foot beds. In France, you find 90-, 140-, and 160-centimeter beds. U.S. twin-sized sheets don’t quite fit an Irish 3-foot bed. A 4-foot Irish mattress will not fit in a U.S. queen-sized bed (trust me on this). Etc.
- If you ship a container, buy the insurance. The mirror-fronted door for a 200-year-old armoire slide from the unpackers’ hands smack onto the cobblestones of the courtyard upon delivery in Paris…then that same unpacker banged one table into another, chipping away the carved rosewood edge. Both repairs were covered by the insurance we’d opted for.
- Your exemption from import duty (a benefit of most permanent residency visas) is most easily processed if you ship everything in one go. In Panama, for example, it’s possible to take your exemption over a series of maybe two deliveries…but more complicated.
- Note that, thanks to ever-more-restrictive airline luggage restrictions, it’s more challenging today than ever to carry much more than clothing with you.
- Research what you won’t be able to replace in your new locale. If you want to wear haute-couture in Cuenca, Ecuador, you’ll have to bring it with you. Lief can’t shop for clothes of any description in most of Central America. He’s too tall.