What to Bring and What to Leave When Moving Abroad
Packing is so personal and there are so many options to get yourself and your stuff abroad. Some move everything over in shipping containers, share containers with other expats, rent a private jet, or trans-Atlantic cruise with tons of luggage *apparently there’s no luggage limit?!! Choose the option thats best for your comfort and family budget.
Also, consider that just because you are renting a furnished apartment, you will still need to buy things and make it feel like home. If you have an unfurnished apartment you are starting from scratch so maybe sacrifice a few cute tops and pack some practical items. Don’t let your apartment dictate what you bring. We’ve lived in an unfurnished and furnished apartment and my list below still stands;)
Our family of 4 chose to bring 2 suitcases per person. After selling about 80% of our belongings and our home we were committed to ‘operation downsize’ and the cost and customs is not something that seemed worth my effort or money.
Consider your bags before you fly. Find the weight and size restrictions for your airline and maximize each bag! You don’t want to go over weight and pay so mix items around to get the right balance on each bag.
For this list I commissioned the help of 6 American girlfriends who live in Spain as well. They echoed most of what you see below and a thank you for the reminders/ideas “coffee girls”!
We have Amazon Prime here in Spain (amazon.es) and you can find most things albeit not as many options as amazon.com and most US products are super expensive, pricey to ship, or take weeks.
Here’s a list of things to consider bringing when moving abroad and a list of things not to bring on your big move. Keep in mind that you could move here with absolutely nothing and be beyond happy, this is just a list that I wish I had before moving.
This was our #1 mistake. I didn’t bring anything that had sentimental value to me here. My thought was that it would possibly get ruined in the move. Now that I’ve gone back to the states a few times, I’ve returned with my grandmothers quilt and some sentimental art and photos. Bring things that are creature comforts and remind you of loved ones or fond memories because no store sells that.
Included in this are religious items like Shabbat/Chanukah candles and Christmas stockings!!! I’m SO happy to have those here…it really makes the holidays special. New ones would not do. See our little holiday set up below: It’s all cheap decorations so having our stockings makes it personal.
CLOTHING FOR ALL SEASONS
Yes you are moving for sunny weather but don’t be in denial of the seasons;) Good coats for the entire family can be costly so consider bringing warmer clothing so that you are not starting a winter wardrobe from scratch. Even sunny Spain has cold months, plus you’ll be traveling to cold destinations. Consider getting vacuum seal bags for space saving with puffy coats.
98% of food can be found anywhere in the world. However, if you have specific spice blends you love, tea that’s unique, or a kids favorite snack – consider bringing a few of these over for special occasions. Here’s an eclectic list of things I’ve muled back from the US that can be found but are hard to make, hard to find, or super expensive to buy in the “American Shop”:
- Cheez-Its – my 10 year old loves them and there’s no equivalent here
- Bengal Spice Tea from Celestial Seasonings
- Mac n Cheese – I take the cheese packets out of the boxes to save room in my luggage and use pasta from the grocery store.
- Ranch Dip Packets
- Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chips – the chocolate chips here are no bueno (yes, I realize I can break up premium chocolate bars- it’s just not the same)
- Aunt Maggies Homemade granola! (not sold in stores…yet)
- My Dad’s Homemade Chex Mix
- Spice blends like: Old Bay, McCormicks Chili packets and Montreal Steak seasoning mix (yes I KNOW I can make these…I don’t want to!)
If you love your knives, your mixing bowls, or spatulas – bring a few of your favorites. You will use kitchen items almost daily! If you love the shape of the knife handle or your measuring cups nest just so, you might want to consider bringing a few kitchen things for everyday use. I brought measuring cups and spoons because I can’t convert recipes to the metric system! Most of my friends who cook miss having a well-equipped kitchen so bring some starter items if that’s you. I hate cooking and just want to eat all the tapas.
As annoying as it was to see the BS that my kids packed, it was important that they bring their things. My 7 and 9 year old got to fill a carry on with whatever they wanted. My daughter brought dolls, slime (yep. eye roll), stuffed animals, and plastic crap. My son brought his baseball trophies?? Whatever. The kids had so graciously sold and given away almost ALL of their belongings, it was important to let them have these few things. I realized this as they unpacked in our new place that their things brought them a sense of joy and familiarity.
There are well-equipped pharmacies here on every corner with knowledgeable pharmacists BUT you know how your kid reacts to Benadryl and how many Tylenol you need for a sangria hangover. What you don’t want is to be sick AND confused with foreign ingredients/medications. A few familiar medicines in your new place is a smart thing. Being adventurous is not fun when you are sick. I brought my mini-medicine box linked here and modge-podged the little labels on. I also packed essential oils as they are expensive to replace and I use them for funky soccer bag smells, fruit flies, stomach aches and Thieves for cleaning. I always bring Thieves concentrate back from the US. It’s a non-chemical cleaner and basically can solve most of life’s problems.
What Not to Pack
Beds in Europe are measured in cm and are slightly different sizes. Your sheets are no good here, ha!
It’s with a heavy heart I tell you that you will NOT wear your spiked heels or even “practical” wedges. When you walk 4-8k on a “light day” you will always choose practical. Also, cobblestones.
Besides computers and phones, leave your electronics. The plugs are different and you don’t want to deal with adapters in every outlet and switching them out.
TOO MANY CLOTHES
You will want to buy fun European clothes here so don’t pack too many. Also, your closet space is limited so you will not want as many things taking up precious hanging real estate. My style has been inspired here and most of the clothes I brought with me have not made the closet cut.
Any questions? Anything I missed, leave me a comment and thanks for reading.
I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. I’m in the process of moving to Guardamar del Segura,Alicante. I was stuck there for three monthes when the quizado hit just three days after I had arrived to pay taxes on my place. I returned to the Bay Area in June and decided to move to Spain for good; selling my car, giving away 3/4 of what I own because can’t sell stuff during a pandemic, no job, no more expensive lease. Now, I went to Dublin, Ireland for two weeks to quarantine and then went to Alicante only to be ushered back on the plane by 6 police. US Citizens not welcomed. Even though the counsolate of Spain, San Francisco said I don’t need a Visa for Spain if I enter from Ireland. Not True. So, I’m back in the states squatting at a girlfriend’s place working on paperwork so I can go to Spain and stay in my own home. If there’s any advice I would gladly appreciate. I’m currently considering the National Visa but not sure. FBI records and prints sent last week to be apostled. And, police records tomorrow.