Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Becoming an Ex-Pat 2 : Packing and Preparing


More responsibility – of the nicest kind!  Barbara Weibel of very kindly included a post of mine on her Facebook page, where she is featuring travel bloggers around the world.  I’m really honored to be included in this along with some  bloggers who really are considered top-notch!   So, here I am, nervous again about what I should write!  However, I’ve been asked what happened next in my emigration saga – if you missed the first part it’s here – so here goes:

After years of half-hearted discussion and dreaming about this place or the other, we decided, in early 1987,  to immigrate to Tenerife.  One of the reasons we chose Tenerife was because of its climate.  Guy had been diagnosed with asthma a couple of months before the idea was mooted.  English doctors thought that in the dry, warm, Canarian climate he might improve, and they were right.  The asthma lay dormant for almost all of the time that Guy lived here.

Had we needed any confirmation that our decision was the right one, the English summer provided it in plenty.  That July was the wettest on record, and as I stood shivering in my winter coat in the doorway of McDonalds mid-July, after Austin’s farewell to his classmates, I didn’t have any doubts at all!

By that time all the angsting and planning, the preparation and the goodbyes were just about over.  We were a week away from boarding a plane which was going to take us 2,000 miles away to begin a new life.

My one wobble had happened a couple of weeks previously on another wet and windy night, as I lay in bed in the small apartment we had bought as backup, just in case the emigration turned out to be a disaster.  Most of our possessions had been collected from the house we had sold that day, and taken to a warehouse on the docks in Preston, awaiting our word that the paperwork was all done, and they could be shipped.  As the rain beat against the windows I fretted about whether my books, which I’d been collecting since schooldays, would arrive in Tenerife covered in mould, or whether clothes and linens would smell of damp and neglect.  There remained things to be taken care of and I needed this insomnia like a hole in the head.  I tried everything I knew to induce sleep, including some yoga exercises, and maybe it was those which brought enlightenment in the end.  The simple fact was that everything which was really, truly important in my life was under the same roof as me just then.  Other stuff, the stuff which was in packing cases on the docks, was just that – stuff.  Nice stuff, I was fond of much of it, but it was just stuff.  As soon as the truth of that sank into my brain I smiled, and slept.

It was a realization which was to stand me in good stead at other times in my life, and still does.  It was a moment I will never forget.  We pay lip service to these ideas, these gems of wisdom, and now we proclaim them on Facebook, and we retweet the Dalai Lama and Jack Canfield et al, but having proof   that comes from personal experience is a different matter.

But I’m a bit ahead of myself there.  Our decision to take a goodly portion of our worldly goods across Europe and over the other side wasn’t made lightly.  We talked about selling everything and truly starting anew plus the cost of replacing things verses the cost of taking our household goods with us.  The decision to import our stuff was made mainly on the basis of taking the kids’ toys.  We wanted to make the move as untraumatic as possible for them, and that they would have familiar things around I thought would help.  I also wanted to take my orthopaedic bed with me, suspecting that after all the moving activity my back problems might resurface, and my ex wanted to take his prized baby grand.  After that it was a no-brainer.  Once you’ve crammed those, and the extra clothes (er….yep – did seem to have rather a lot of them back then!), into a container, well, you might as well fill the thing.  We were offered two sizes and decided that we’d fill the smaller size and sell off the stuff which was left over.

It was the right decision for us.  That might not be true for everyone.  If I decide to transplant myself again the only things I will take will be my souvenirs from my children, plus some gifts from friends which have sentimental value.  Up to a year ago I used to say I would take my books and cds, but with Kindle and iPod now I don’t believe I would even do that.  It’s a different world.  Maybe more disposable, but maybe the disposability frees us too.

The majority of Brits I met here subsequently had sold up everything, and I admired that, but most of them also didn’t have kids, and I thought it important to keep things as normal as possible for them.  In the same circumstances I would do the same again.  Had they been children used to moving around more, then I most definitely wouldn’t, and that is probably a reflection of how living abroad has changed my outlook.

One word of caution – I’d been living here a couple of years when  a woman asked my advice about making the move.  Like everyone, she asked what I missed most.  I have a standard answer, which has never changed – Marks & Spencer.  I advised her to stock up on Marks & Sparks lingerie.  In Tenerife, at that time, undies were either very expensive or so cheap as to almost qualify as disposable, nothing like the combination of good value and prettiness M & S provided.  She followed my advice, and filled a couple of suitcases apparently.  After clearing out her local branch she and her husband loaded the possessions they were bringing into their estate car, including stacking the roof rack to capacity. Unfortunately for them, seduced by the thought of sunshine and warmth here, they forgot that driving from the English Midlands and across Spain to Cadiz they weren’t guaranteed such good weather. They had heavy rain all the way, resulting in some wonderfully rainbow-colored new undies which had been packed in those cases on the roof rack!

The best decision we made was to employ an experienced and trustworthy removal company.  We could have packed everything ourselves and then they would simply have collected it.   The estimates seemed outrageous, but it was worth every, single penny we paid, plus, this way if anything broke it was their responsibility, and we were insured against that.  We made enquiries, chose the one we deemed to have the best reputation, and on the given day they came and “export wrapped” everything that was going.  All my worries melted away as I watched them work, expertly bubble-wrapping fragile antique table legs, delicate crystal, and even the plastic toys, at what seemed like the speed of light.  By the end of the day they had everything carefully protected and loaded into the container, and the leftovers delivered to our little apartment.  We were almost good to go.

I’d gotten through a hugely hectic time.  The ex had come on ahead.  He was buying a business here, and so most of the organizing of the move and the disposal  of possessions had been down to me.  I’m a great list maker, I’ve even been known to make lists of lists (honestly, that’s not a joke)..….. so my advice is sit down with a nice glass of either that Scotch you may not be able to buy so often in the future, or a glass of the local plonk of your future land to get you in the mood, and make at least one list.

There is no way can I tell you everything that should be on your list, because it depends on where you are going, whether you’ve already got a job, whether you’re married/a couple with/without children, your age, any number of things.  Ours was something like this:

–          Sell house.

–          Buy small apartment (we thought we needed a back up in case it didn’t work out).

–          Sell businesses.

–          Cancel insurances (cars, house, businesses).

–          Sell cars.

–          Organize farewell party/parties.

–          Give notice to school and nursery.

–          Organize medical insurance cover appropriate for Spain.

–          Cancel telephone/newspapers/milk (first of those more complicated now, others easier!)

–         Arrange for mail to be forwarded

–         Pay all outstanding bills where possible & where not possible make arrangements to pay.

–          Call nearest Spanish consulate to sort out paperwork.

–          Re-organize bank accounts (to be changed to non-resident accounts at appropriate time.)

–          Sell items of furniture not being shipped or kept in apartment.

–          Organize insurance for apartment.

–          Purchase anything I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy here (not so much these days, but back then more than you might have thought)

–          Find good home for dog.

Note that last item?  That was a really hard one.  We had the biggest, softest Labrador in the world, and had I understood things better no way would I have left him behind.  I thought it was going to be much hotter here than it is, and I thought a dog used to plunging into ice cold lakes and rivers would suffer in the heat.  Wrong!  He would have adapted fine.  Not one of my better decisions in life.  Nowadays, dogs have their own “passports”, and so long as they are fit and healthy it’s a doddle to take them with you.  Vets are more accustomed to pets moving around the world than they used to be, and they have all the information you need.

For every one of those items you need to make a sub-list, and if you are immigrating to certain places you also need to check out the vaccinations etc you might need.  It all takes weeks and weeks of planning and organizing if you are leading a fairly normal life, with possessions, family and friends all needing attention.  The “organize farwell party/parties” for instance might have had a sub-list which looked like this:

  • Send/phone invitations (and yet another sub-list of invitees of course).
  • Ring restaurant and arrange date, and plan theme/decor.
  • Arrange menu (check who’s veggie/vegan/lactose intolerant etc and make sure there are enough alternatives – ditto for kids’ menu and drinks)
  • Arrange transport/accommodation for those who need it.
  • Get birthday presents for Uncle Joe and Cousin Kate – there birthdays are in the first month after you’ve left and you won’t have time to shop and send them.
  • Two days before confirm every detail with the restaurant.

Getting around to see everyone before you leave will be impossible.  So do consider throwing a party, or two, and invite them all.  If you can afford it, do it in a hotel or pub or restaurant (it doesn’t need to be as formal as I suggested above, that was for list-making purposes), because the last thing you will need at that stage is the preparation and clearing up after a party.  The hangover is optional.

So it came to pass that on the 28th of July, the house sold, the businesses sold or in process of sale, insurances cancelled, having taken leave of friends and family, and our bolt-hole all locked up we and our thirteen pieces of luggage boarded a plane for Tenerife.  Yep, that was THIRTEEN pieces of luggage!  If it had been Ryanair back then we would have had to charter an entire plane just for us, but rules and regulations were much looser, and my only preoccupation was making sure that none of them went missing.

It had been hard work, but everything had gone more or less as it should.  I’d done all that, I’d worked  up to almost the last minute and my kids seemed to be happy about everything that was going on.  Although they were young, and possibly would have just gone along with anything we did, oblivious to the fact we were moving 2,000 miles, we talked to them a lot about it, making plans, talking about what it would be like.  I did this to the extent that weeks after we arrived Guy kept asking when we were going to Tenerife……I took that as a testament to how smoothly it went!

My life is so different now, life in general is so different now. I haven’t had one moment’s regret, nor one moment’s homesickness from the time I set foot on Spanish soil to now.  I cushioned myself against the possibility by bringing familiar things, but the person I am now wouldn’t need them anyway.  Emigrating changed me, put things in perspective and taught me that there are a thousand ways of looking at the same thing, a million even.  I would recommend it to anyone, but how you do it can only be decided by you.


Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

12 thoughts on “Becoming an Ex-Pat 2 : Packing and Preparing

  1. Very informative post. When I moved to Germany from Canada I got rid of everything, except for about 10 boxes which I shipped, which was mostly artwork, books and clothing. I don’t have children though so I agree it’s different for everyone. I had 2 cats which I brought and although I was worried about how they would do on the long flight they recovered very quickly and I’m so glad to have them here. I chuckled over the long to do list as it is so true. I was up so late so many nights trying to get everything done before I left. I agree that it’s different for everyone, and different things will work for everyone, but for me it was well worth the effort.

  2. I would SO do it differently next time! Since my nest emptied I’ve downsized everything, but including mentally too, so I wouldn’t have so much attachment to things another time. Even given the same circumstances, actually, although I would have brought all of the kids’ stuff and the bed (which one couldn’t buy here then) I wouldn’t have brought the rest of the stuff. I am kind of addicted to new starts I now realize! And definitely the dog.

  3. you know me and how my mind works – so how did the dog fare in his new place? I assume you kept in touch with his/her new owners? as for the rest – just leaves me feeling very very tired. full admiration but still very tired at the prospect of what has to be done. this must be why people just ‘do it’ and leave a mess behind them.

    • No, or at least only directly. He went to live on a farm, which belonged to a friend of a close friend, but I didn’t want to disturb either him or us, or confuse the kids by going to see him. We had reports from our friends and he was having a ball. He was a country dog at heart for sure, a gun dog. We had lived in the country when he got him, and I don’t think he was all that happy in St Annes-on-Sea, living on a main road with restricted freedoms!

  4. Great write up and has made our minds up on moving to Tenerife as well.would love t.o hear from people living out there for further advice

    • Hi, Mick. I’m so glad it was useful for you. If you try any of the links under the Tenerife heading on my “My Favorite Web Stuff” page you’ll find all sorts of info. Janet Anscombe in particular is a mine of information regarding the legal/bureaucratic maze. There is also which is a local chat room. I have to say I don’t use it. There is a type of expat who just loves to rant and moan, and/or hold forth as if they are expert about some topic/place, and you tend to find an awful lot of that type there, and an awful lot of nonsense spouted on account of that, but, that said, there are well-meaning and kind folk too. If you are in any doubts about what you read there, double check it somehow. Sadly, Tenerife being, principally, a tourist destination many people emigrate with no intention of experiencing any other aspect of the island’s amazing variety; and whilst perhaps folk dancing/hiking/museums/whatever might not be one’s cup of tea, the island has hundreds of faces.

      I just re-read what I wrote, since it was some time back, and I don’t think I would change anything. I was 40 when we emigrated, and with children, the decision to bring a bit of our comfort zone with us was good. Younger or older I think it’s different. Younger you haven’t built up the same attachments to possessions, and older you realize that you don’t need so many possessions.

      I wish you lots of luck and if you have any questions I can help with don’t hesitate to contact me.

      • Hi thanks for your reply just returned from Tenerife and found a property which we may buy.Regards shipping a car out there do you know what is involved i have heard different stories about reg the car under spanish plates which can cost £13000 thanks

      • Hi Mick. I don’t know anything about cars, I’m afraid. I didn’t bring one, and of course the steering being on the wrong side didn’t appeal. But here’s a useful site for any of those sorts of questions. My blog is more personal experiences than practical advice, but Janet is an absolute mine of information about all things legal and fiscal. I don’t know for sure she covers cars, but I imagine so, and if she doesn’t I’m sure she will be able to point you in the right direction.

      • Hi again not sure what your first name is but thanks for replying i have sent Janet an email and await a response.
        What part of Tenerife are you living in thankls

      • Good morning, Mick. My name is Linda. You can find my page on FB at I’m living in El Médano at the moment. I’m sure Janet will be able to help in one way or another. She’s very knowledgeable! When do you take the plunge??

      • Hi Linda where is El Medano?is there a place where you can meet x pats to make new friends etc.At present i am just in the stages of putting my house on the market we hope to move by the end of next year or sooner depending on the house sale.Is Janet a solicitor or just specialises in conveyincing work.Obviously we do not know her and have to be very cautious after hearing about so many horror stories when moving to a different country.

  5. Pingback: Deciding, Discarding and Dreaming | Islandmomma

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