October 21, 2007

To bring or not to bring, that is the question

I had to bring my antique clocks

One of our Honduras Living members asked for advice about what to bring or not bring when moving to Honduras next year. I started replying but as the message got longer and longer, I decided I should turn it into a blog article instead.

I've heard lots of people − mostly men! ;-) − suggest to get rid of everything, bring a change of clothes, and buy everything you need here. Ha ha! I think in general that is easier for men to do than women. Especially if you are a "nester" like me.
There is no doubt that you will want to reduce your stash of "stuff" because if you are moving to Central America, it is likely that one of the things you are looking for is a simpler life. On the other hand, if you really appreciate the difference between, say, good quality bed sheets or a well balanced chef's knife and the lesser quality ones, you might want to consider bringing them. If your china gives you joy every time you sit down to dinner, bring it!
One of the first questions would be, are you planning on shipping a full container? That will make a big difference in how I would answer your question. If you are shipping a container, you don't have to worry about the cost of sending heavy or bulky things and there is always a little space where you can stash those special items that you were on the fence about bringing.

Another question is whether you will be eligible for a dispensa or will have to pay import fees and taxes on everything you bring. You'll need to weigh the cost of shipping and import costs against buying here with a 12% sales tax and in some cases, higher prices and lesser quality.

If you've taken my advice about coming to visit for 6 months or so, then you'll have a much better idea of what is available and it will be easier to decide if the things you would be looking for are available here and whether it is more economical to bring or buy here.

One of Jen's questions was whether she should bring her clothes dryer. I think she will need a dryer. Line drying is fine when the weather is good but it takes a lot of line space to hang a load of clothes and if you have 3 or 4 loads at a time, you'll need a lot of lines. There are times when it rains every day for a week or two and it might be awfully hard to get clothes dried during those times. Also, you may find that as a spoiled U.S. American − aren't we all? oh, don't kid yourself! ;-) − that you like the soft feel of towels and some other things dried in a dryer better than line drying. I line dry lots of things but I still use the dryer as well.

Good quality major and small appliances are available. If your appliances are relatively new, if you qualify for a dispensa, and if you are shipping a container, you might consider bringing them. Otherwise, you can probably find what you need here. Hopefully you aren't the type of person who needs the latest and greatest new technology in your appliances because it is likely that you will have a hard time finding repairmen. That's not to say that we don't have modern appliances; I'm just saying that the more bells and whistles your appliances have, the more likely that if something goes wrong, you may not be able to have it repaired.

Having spent all day yesterday furniture shopping in La Ceiba with a friend, I would say that there are lots of selections in dining room sets but much less so for big families. Most of the larger dining room sets were extremely ornate and formal in style. If that is what you want, great. If you want a rustic farmhouse style table, you might need to have one made.

In upholstered furniture, it's going to depend upon individual taste. Most of the styles here in La Ceiba are not to my taste. The Honduran style is very big furniture, often ornate with formal fabrics (brocades, etc) and almost always sold in a set with a sofa, love seat, chair, and 2 or 3 tables, all perfectly matched.

Another thing to think about is that, in general, rooms are smaller, especially bedrooms. Your 5-piece king-size bedroom set may not even fit in your new house or apartment.

Quality varies widely. We like good quality furniture but formal and ornate is not really our style. We are looking for more of a casual or tropical look. Lots of the wood furniture is lacquered to a brilliant shine, includes mirrors (!) and gold trim, or is stained so that the wood grain is completely covered, like with paint. I think the beauty of wood is seeing the wood grain but obviously the fashion is quite different here.

We are still sitting here with an empty sala principal (living room)* and will need to do some shopping in San Pedro or Tegucigalpa or the US if we are ever going to fill it to our tastes. So, all I can say is that it really depends on what you like and what you can live with.

I have lots of advice and personal opinions on the matter of what to bring. I'm glad I brought lots of books, especially my cookbooks, craft and do-it-yourself books. I'm glad I brought my hobby and craft things, nice linens, and kitchen stuff (although I sold tons of that before we came also). Kitchens are generally a fraction of the size that they are in the US with much less cabinet and counter space unless you build to your own specifications or buy a really big house.
Definitely bring pots and pans. I haven't found quality pots and pans anywhere, including San Pedro. A few places which had some medium, not good, quality pots and pans were extremely expensive to my mind. I think that I could get a much better quality for a lesser price in the U.S. Guys should bring their tools because quality tools are hard to find and expensive.

Bring some insulated mugs and glasses. You'll appreciate not having your drink drip condensation all over your clothes, lap, and furniture.

Computers and electronics are more expensive here than in the U.S. Computers will often come with pirated software which make it difficult to impossible to keep updated.

Cars are more expensive, but importing a car is expensive and can be a nightmare getting through customs, too. Finding parts for cars that aren't popular here can be unbelievably frustrating, expensive, and time consuming. Can you imagine being without your car for 3 to 6 months while someone tries to repair it? It happens.

In many other areas, the variety and quality of stuff available in La Ceiba has increased tremendously in the past few years. I was very pleasantly surprised at two of the stores that we went to yesterday. The larger cities of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa will offer much more variety and probably better prices, too. La Ceiba prices for many things are generally higher than in the big cities.
I'm sorry I brought my oriental rugs and much of the clothes that I brought. I really regret bringing two leather chairs. I don't regret bringing a lot of the sentimental things and favorite kitchen stuff that I did. We had room in the container and I think that if something makes you feel happy or more at home in your new surroundings, why not?
So, I can't really answer what is best for you because everyone is different, but I will say that there are a lot of adjustments to make in starting a new life in a strange country and if you have a few things around you that just make you feel good or more comfortable, I think it makes the adjustment a little easier. If you are looking forward to starting fresh, particular brands or styles aren't important to you, and you're willing to adjust to what is available, then leave it all behind.


*Update: After six years of looking on and off, we finally found the perfect, tropical style furniture for our sala principal. Not only was it just the style we wanted, but it was made in Honduras and was the exact colors that we needed for our orange room:

Pull up a chair and sit a spell

By the way, reading this article two and a half years later, I wouldn't change a thing.

By the way again, reading this article again three and a half years later, the only thing that I would add is that if you are only coming for a year or less, don't bring much at all. The hassles and cost of shipping, importing, and transporting are only worth it for your most indispensable items. I've heard from others that it is near impossible to ship your things back to the US or other countries without paying a fortune.

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