An international move is considerably different than a move within the same state or country. The rules are very different, and the planning can seem daunting.
I moved to Costa Rica from Illinois (USA) several years ago, and I was blessed to have some great assistance from the moving companies (yes there are more than one involved) and from the ARCR. Since my move, I have been part of the development of the ARCR Forums which would have been a great help to me as so many questions are answered there.
To assist those of you who are making the "big move", I have compiled a check list to help you. I welcome your input and suggestions, and from the feedback I receive, I will be constantly adding to or revising this list. Your ideas are welcome here! I am going to break this down by period of time... from several months before the move date right up to the big day.
Start planning at least 4-6 months prior to the time you wish to leave.
2 - 4 Months Prior
Start collecting a list of all the people you will need to notify that you are moving. Right now, this is just a list, but I guarantee that you will be adding to it for the next 2-3 months are you think of people, businesses, etc. that will need to be notified. I started with 15 and ended up with 52 at just before the move. You will be amazed!
If you don't already know how to do Internet banking, now is the time to set up accounts and learn to do this. Also read about banking and paying bills in Costa Rica. It is rare that you will not need to manage money, pay bills, etc even after you are living here. In fact, start learning how the Internet works. It will be your primary means of contact. Learn to transfer funds, pay bills, review statements, etc.
Start to plan what you will bring to Costa Rica and what you will leave behind or sell. Some items you may wish to buy here
Create a moving Planner. Your mover may have one to use. If not, make one. It should include every step you will be making and a time line to start and finish each task.
Plan where you will be living either permanently or temporarily in Costa Rica.
Hobbies and Activities. This may be the only time in your life when you wonít be working, because you canít. Will you be able to do the things you enjoy? Finding your own outlets will prevent overdependence on your spouse. Seek out diverse activities that involve members of the local community and thus maximize your international experience. Interact with the user groups. You WILL need social support to make this move successfully.
Get maps of Costa Rica. Learn about this country.
Got those documents yet? Don't let this slide! I know of many couples who live in one state or province but were married in another. The wife born in still another state and the husband born in yet another... or overseas! Then, they were married in a totally different location or country!
Many Costa Rican embassies may need to be involved! This job can be time consuming and enormous when living in your home country, but trying to gather this stuff while living here can be a nightmare. Get on this NOW! Don't forget the kids! You need their records too.
Medical stuff. Update the family on vaccinations. The only one I recommend is the standard tetanus vaccination, but your personal health may require others. Get a family checkup before you come. Also, begin investigating heath insurance, The public health insurance is ONLY available to legal residents. Private insurance is available, but it is a crummy policy. There are many international health insurance policies available, and you should research those early on. Do a web search n "International Health Insurance". Dental care here is much cheaper than in the USA, so you may wish to get those cavities or other pricy dental work done here. Glasses are not cheap here, but the exams are, so it might be a good idea to upgrade your eyeglass prescription.
1-2 months Prior
Set up a reliable email account. AOL, Hotmail, and some others are NOT reliable as many block email from Costa Rica. Get one that is 100% reliable for international use. Google mail (for now) has been very reliable.
Contact your banks and credit card companies. Let them know of your move. Banks and credit card companies need to know you are leaving or you will surely run afoul of their security measures! This can waste time and be very embarrassing. Arrange to begin receiving your bank and credit card statements via email. Get set up so you can pay them on time to avoid costly charges.
Select a mover and work with them to get organized. The right mover can save you a TON of money by assisting on the valuation of the goods you will be moving. I know people who have moved entire households and paid $600 in import duties. I know other who paid $3,800 for about the same amount of stuff at the same value. Choose wisely!
Pick your departure date. But remember pet blackout periods, and other factors. Start planning what you will do when you get off the plan in CR.
Selling stuff? Get started NOW. Place the newspaper ads and get the stuff out of the house. You will be paying to have stuff packed, and it is silly to bring items you will not use. Be ruthless in this process, but not too ruthless. Take what you NEED. Start getting recommendations from the movers with whom you are communicating. Make a list with three columns: items to leave behind, items for the mover to move, and items you'll move by yourself. Remember to stay in close contact with your mover in Costa Rica as they can advise what items to carry on to save duties.
For each item you aren't going to take with you, decide whether you'll sell it, give it away to charity, or otherwise dispose of it before your move. There may be tax implications for the charity stuff, so get receipts and chat with your tax person.. Also, many charities will pick up the stuff for free which saved ME a ton of time.
Talk to your lawyer. Are your wills up to date? If you are selling a lot of property or goods prior to this move, your will may need to be updated to reflect the changes in assets. Also, if this is a permanent move, start thinking how you will handle wills made here! Also, if you are over 60, you may wish to read this. In any case, start thinking about which country will control the probating of your assets. Clearly, this is a job for an attorney.
Moving with pets? Costa Rica has many rules about moving animals and birds and these rules change frequently. Learn the current rules. You will need to get vaccinations for the animals and some of these need to be within 30 days of the move. Some must have special documents. This is covered elsewhere on this web site, but you should make sure YOU know the current rules. Airlines have a LOT of rules regarding shipping of animals. ALL have blackout dates where NO animals can be flown. Get the facts. Start investigating this now. ARCR is a good source. DO NOT move animals when the closest Costa Rican Embassy is closed! If you airline problems, they will not permit you to move animals until they speak with the embassy. If it is closed, you are not leaving.
Plan where you will be living either permanently or temporarily in Costa Rica.
Start collecting the receipts for major items you will be taking with you so you have some idea as to their age and their value at purchase.
Time to check the process for getting your police report. Contact your local PD and see what they require and how much time it takes. The report may need to be certified by an embassy, so check current law and budget sufficient time.
1 month prior
Set up a US mail address for use after your move. See the section on private mail services. Most of these companies are located in Miami and will forward your email to you in Costa Rica. Depending on where you live, the mail will be delivered to your home. Do not depend on regular mail. It can takes weeks to get a letter from the USA. Your credit card companies will not find this an acceptable excuse for non payment. I know people who inadvertently caused themselves credit issues because they did not plan this. You do NOT want to return to the US with credit issues should your permanent move not be so permanent.
Note ARCR members: If you are an ARCR member, you can use their private mail services for free. You pay only for the weight.
Start canceling your utilities. Let your electric, gas, telephone and other companies know your plans. Final bills should be emailed (if possible) or sent to your US forwarding address. Since you will want to have your utilities still connected on moving day, arrange to have them disconnected from your present home after your scheduled move-out. Will you need a phone on moving day?
Cell phone contracts may not be easily cancelled if contracted for long periods. Deal with this now
Cable TV, Direct TV etc are also contract services. Contact those suppliers for how best to terminate service.
By now, you should pretty much know what you are taking and what you are not. Once again, take an objective look at what you own, and decide what must go and what can be left behind. You are paying to move this stuff... do you really need it?
Set up mail forwarding. Get the forms from the Post office.
Cancel magazine and other subscriptions that you may not need. Change the mailing address for those you will still want.
Remember to return library books and anything else you have borrowed. Also remember to collect all items that are being cleaned, stored or repaired.
Certain documents needed for residency must should be last minute (in this case, last month) items. Police reports are one. Some may have to be certified by the nearest Costa Rica embassy. Other may need to be certified by the Secretary of State in which you live (or equivalent office) BEFORE submission to the embassy. This is MUCH harder to do once you are here in Costa Rica, so check with your residency advisor or residency attorney and don't let this sneak up on you.
Consider renewing your driver's license if it is expiring soon. In most states, it is not a good idea to let it expire, and you may not want to make a special return trip to your home country in order to renew it (though some US states now allow for renew by email). Find out what your state's laws are so your license does not expire.
Get copies of all of your family's medical and dental records, including histories of vaccinations. Explain clearly that you are leaving the country. These records may be invaluable to you here in CR. Get x-ray photos as well if possible.
Moving with kids? Get copies (certified if needs be) of all their school records.
2 weeks prior
Finalize plans as your new location where you will be living in Costa Rica.
Clean and clear your home including closets, basements and attics.
Dispose of flammables such as fireworks, cleaning fluids, matches, acids, chemistry sets, aerosol cans, paint, ammunition and poisons such as weed killer. These cannot be shipped in any form to Costa Rica. Guns can be imported here, but many movers will not do this. Check with your mover. Also read this.
Get letters of reference from your US banks. If possible, these letters should be addressed directly to the banks you will be using here in Costa Rica. If that is not possible, then use the old "To whom... etc". Note though that some banks will not accept the "To Whom" letters.
Return any borrowed items including library books. Now is also a good time to ask for the return of any items you have lent!
1 week prior
If you have young children, arrange for someone to watch them on moving day. You'll be concentrating your efforts on the move, and a sitter can keep your children occupied and make sure they remain safe during the busy loading process. I guarantee your patience level will not be at an all time high... so plan to have them kept safe and out of your hair.
Start searching the house! You will need to carry valuable jewelry with you. If you've hidden any valuables around the house, be sure to collect them before leaving. Almost everyone has silly hiding places for stuff... don't leave home without them
This is your week to tie up loose ends. Check back through your Moving Planner to make sure you haven't overlooked anything.
Pack your suitcases and confirm your personal travel arrangements (flights, hotel, rental cars, etc.) for your family. Try to keep your plans as flexible as possible in the event of an unexpected schedule change or delay.
Prepare a "Trip Kit" for moving day. This kit should contain the things you'll need while your belongings are in transit including first aid stuff.
Many people leave without clearing their safety deposit boxes. Don't be one of them.
Empty, defrost, and clean your refrigerator and freezer if they are staying behind, and clean your stove, all at least 24 hours before moving to let them air out.
Plan meals that will use up the food in your refrigerator/freezer.
Consider taking movies and/or photos of everything you are moving. Surprisingly, it is often difficult to remember al the things we have. Once you get to CR and unpack, the photos or movies can help refresh your memory. They can also be invaluable for insurance purposes.
The property valuation thing is really important. Work with your Costa Rica mover to value items as they tell you.
2-3 days prior
Start dismantling your furniture, taking down curtains, pictures and light fixtures, unless the moving company is going to provide this service.
Clean and let dry all kitchen appliances to avoid the appearance of mildew during shipping. Disconnect all electrical and cover naked wires where necessary.
If necessary, reserve a parking spot for the removal van or container as close as possible to your residence. Loading operations will become much easier. Often, moves such as this use shipping containers that are dropped off.
Put aside a few soft drinks and munchies for the packing crew in order to optimize their working conditions. They work much better if your attitude is friendly.
Put away all important documents and articles of value (passports, airline tickets, cash, travel addresses, destination country contact details, portable computers, phones, keys etc.) that you wish to carry personally. This will avoid having them packed accidentally. Once packed for an international move, it will be incredibly hard and costly to retrieve them.
Any travel arrangements need to be re-confirmed?
The big day
When I moved, every box had to be hand packed by the mover and the contents therein certified. Anything I had placed in a box had to be removed, inspected, placed back into the box and resealed. I now believe this has changed and you are once again allowed to pack your own boxes, containers, etc. Check with your mover as to what is current US government policy. However, just because you can do it does not mean you should. Packing a container can be a job for pros, so unless you really know how to pack, insulate, and protect your valuables, think about having it done for you.
Upon the arrival of the packing crew, you should go around your home with the crew foreman and point out all that needs to be packed. If you have any special requests; i.e. packing of your beds last, now is the time to mention that to them.
Before the truck or container departs, walk round your home with the crew foreman to be sure nothing was left forgotten.
Take a few minutes and sit down and just think. Look around. Your life is going change beyond comprehension beginning in less than a few hours or days.
After you are here - Just things to think about.
Your current driver's license expires on the day your tourist visa expires. Get a Costa Rica driver's license now. It is easy, though can be a bit time consuming. Go to the nearest MOPT (the Ministry of Public Transportation, but just say MOPT). Take your passport and your current (valid) drivers license. You will need a physical available at about 50 doctors offices within 2 blocks of the MOPT. Then you will take the results of your physical and enter the MOPT building to begin the process. You will need about 15,000 colones and your patience.
You are likely to arrive considerably ahead of your shipment. Take this time to look things over and to ensure your utilities have been connected. They were probably never disconnected anyway.
Check existing appliances and systems to ensure all are working properly, and arrange for repairs if necessary
Open your bank accounts
Get social and maybe arrange to meet some of those folks you have been corresponding with.