Moving day. This is where things become a bit generic.
Not as generic as “we like ice cream for dessert,” but considerably more generic than “at my house on Sunday nights, sometimes we all get together for a moon-viewing party and eat honeycomb harvested from a sacred stump in the forest.”
That’s just a dessert example, you understand.
This post is not about dessert, though. It’s the follow up to the last three posts in this series, in which I introduced my online business and move to Belize, shared the story of finding location independent writing work, and explained how I digital nomad proofed my business. If you haven’t read those, I suggest you go do so now to get the background. I’ll wait.
Oh hey! You’re back!
Here’s where we get right down to it, the seemingly impossible: How did we move from Portland, Oregon, to Belize with a three-year-old, a four-year-old and two dogs? Good question. Sometimes we’re still not sure (no, really, it feels that way). But we did, and we did it in only a year. Which, considering the following list, is actually pretty impressive. *pats back*
This is a long one, so settle in. Maybe go get that sleeve of Oreos, or turn on the Enya. Whatever it is that makes you comfy, do it. Because SIMBA, IT IS TIME TO TALK ABOUT MOVING DAY.
First, a note on timing. Some people get very worked up about the time aspect of moving abroad and becoming a digital nomad. Some think that the year we took was waaaaaaayyyy too long. Why not just get up and go? Others are shocked we were able to do it in a year, because the typical belief about something like this is you have to retire fire.
But I didn’t want to retire first. That usually means you’re old, and I wanted to have a tan while I was still walking without assistance. Call me crazy.
For you, this transition might go quicker. You may be able to live in more transitional housing, or go and come back, or do it right after school with saved money and try to build a writing business from there. For others, you may need to take the time to transition to online work and make sure your business is sound before moving abroad.
For us, a year was just about right. It gave us time to say goodbye to our friends and family the right way, without rushing off and getting stuck in a country where residency takes two years or more and you can’t leave while you’re waiting for it. It gave us time to move my husband’s business online (he does tax preparation). It gave us time to work through each step below without freaking out.
And honestly, it gave us time to get really, really ready. If we’d jumped on a plane a month after we decided, we might have felt like it was an impulsive mistake. Waiting a year was like waiting through the 9 months of pregnancy … by the time it’s over, you’re so ready for labor you could cry. Like:
Heavens to Murgatroyd, I have never been more ready for anything in my LIFE!!!
How quickly you want to bounce is up to you. But if you’re really trying to make a stainable move, rather than just do some traveling, I recommend taking the time you need … and that might be a while.
Originally, when I pitched the idea of moving abroad to my husband while we were on a road trip in August 2016, I suggested Costa Rica. It’s a popular place for Americans to move, and I thought Central America would feel like a comfortable first step to him. Given my druthers, I’d have moved to France, but hey: compromise.
Instead of swerving off the road as I thought he might do (which I’d actually prevented by driving myself that day), he just thought about it with knitted brows.
Roughly 45 minutes later, he was convinced.
About 5 hours later, he’d done the research and chosen Belize. It’s close, affordable and tied to the dollar. It doesn’t mandate lengthy pet quarantines and the official language is English.
Just like that, we had decided.
The next move was our scouting trip. My husband had also chosen the village in which we would live, though that took him more like a few weeks than a few hours. We’re not that cavalier. We wanted enough amenities that we didn’t feel stuck in the boonies, but not so many people that we felt like we were back in Portland. We chose Placencia Village.
Next, we traveled there in November of 2016. I would not skip this step if I were you. While we were pretty sure we would love it – and we did – there is no deeper regret than moving somewhere you don’t like and not being able to move back. Or moving back in shame earlier than you’d planned.
Our scouting trip was so worth it. Not only did we find a house and a school for our kids, we made a few key connections and stoked the fire of our enthusiasm. It really gave us something to hold onto through that long winter leading up to moving day – the snowiest one Portland had seen for years – and the spring/summer of my surgeries (I had a preventative double mastectomy that required ongoing procedures from the beginning of March through the end of June). We were hooked immediately, and we never wavered.
A note on timing: Originally we planned to move in winter 2018, then fall 2017, then spring 2017, then fall 2017. The date kept changing as we explored factors such as our jobs, our kids’ school and my surgeries . I’m glad we gave ourselves enough time to get this right, and I urge you to take the time you need as well.
I assumed paperwork would be the hardest moving day hurdle to overcome, but honestly, this wasn’t as hard as you might think. Our passports were current, and we had to get passports for our kids. That was as simple as a picture, some paperwork, and going all together to the post office. (If you have kids, they require both natural parents to be present for obtaining a passport, which makes sense. Because, kidnapping.)
My husband had to get a new software system to provide tax services from abroad, and I had to clear with my main source of work that I was okay to provide services abroad.
You’d think it was more, but … that’s it.
This part was ten times harder and ten times easier than I thought it would be. In a nutshell, we had to figure out how to get a three-bedroom house’s worth of things halfway across the world into a second-story, two-bedroom apartment. If that sounds impossible, it’s because it is.
After reviewing dozens of moving companies and making several passes through our possessions to reducing them, a moving company quoted us $15,000 to move. That doesn’t even include Belize’s import fees at customs, which grow in direct proportion to the worth of what you’re bringing in. Plus or minus some additional discretionary fees on the part of the customs official. (Read: always plus.)
We couldn’t do it. We didn’t want moving day to eat up our entire savings and throw a few credit cards on to boot. So eventually, we decided to get rid of almost everything and just take what we could fit on a plane. You’d be surprised how much this is, actually. We flew United, which has a standard checked baggage allowance of two bags or boxes, $25 for the first and $35 for the second. You can add additional items for $150 each. My parents came too, which gave us more luggage to play with.
We opted for carry-on only for our clothes, and put the rest of our possessions in 18 boxes (3 each for us, the kids and my parents). The total was $1260, plus the $500 customs charged us. Much better than the down-payment-on-a-house we had been looking at. Win, win, win.
This is pretty difficult, I’m not going to lie to you. If you have small animals, it’s much easier, but our dogs are 50 and 70 pounds, which makes things tough. Because airlines don’t fly big enough planes to Belize City (I guess there aren’t enough passengers on any one flight to make it worth it), the size kennel my lab needed wouldn’t fit on any of the planes. Clearly, our dogs wouldn’t be coming with us on moving day … which as you can imagine, was insanely stressful.
Long story short, we had to put our dogs on a cargo plane through Miami. We used Doggone Taxi, which was amazing and also has a flying dog on their homepage. What else do you need to know? It cost us $5,000 for two dogs, and considering we could not figure out any other way to get them to Belize, it was more than worth it.
Plus, they picked the dogs up at our house and dropped them off in Belize City, so it was all pretty easy (although my hubs and dad did have to make the eight-hour round trip back to Belize City the day after we flew in on a redeye, so that wasn’t great).
You also have to fill out a buuuunch of paperwork with, like, dog immigration or whatever. More specifically, I believe it was the Belize Department of Agriculture. A pet relocation service can help you figure that out, and then you’ll need to work with your local vet to make sure all shots are up to date, dewormings have been performed, and so on.
To get to the airport, we hired a moving van off of Craigslist. Two extremely friendly Russian guys – one veeery chatty, one stone-cold silent – came to load our 18 boxes onto their van, a shuttle came and picked us all up, and we were off. It was a hassle checking all those boxes onto the plan and getting them back off again in Belize City, but honestly, it was all far simpler than I thought.
And … that’s it. Moving day, and the year leading up to it, was long but not particularly difficult. Emotionally, yes. That was obviously a huge challenge. Through it all, I tried to keep working as much as I could (tough, with a 5-month surgery process, but that’s another story). I was more or less successful at that, but I caution you against thinking you can work up to the end when packing for an international move, because the whole process is more like a second job than a side project. That’s up to you, though.
For the last post in this series, we’re going to hear from some other people who have successfully moved abroad. Some of them have moved with their spouses, others had a job lined up, and still others have hopped from place to place in response to work or internal barometers. They’re all really cool people, though, and I can’t wait for you to hear from them, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, as always, you can learn more about becoming a writer by checking out the Free Resource Library, which has more than a dozen handy guides, checklists and worksheets to help you figure out how to build YOUR writing business quickly. Go for your dream, little writer! Don’t wait!
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