Let’s Get Real About Packing and Moving to Nicaragua

“I hear there are people who actually enjoy moving. Sounds like a disease to me – they must be unstable” ~ Jan Neruda, Prague Tales



Update July 2020

We hightailed it out of Nicaragua in July 2018, leaving behind our home of 14 years. We had two reasons for leaving: the civil rebellion that killed over 350 people, and a health emergency of which we were unable to get treatment in Nicaragua because the Pan Am Highway was blocked and the government had snipers stationed in Managua and they were killing their citizens.
So here is another thing to think about if you move to Nicaragua and have to leave suddenly. Many expats were unable to leave in 2018 because their life savings were tied up in the house they bought and their belongings they had shipped to Nicaragua.
My advise is to take only what you need in suitcases. Before we left Nicaragua, we gave most of our belongings away to our neighbors. We sold our motorcycle and our dune buggy and rented our house to friends who escaped Managua  because of the violence.
Now, the pandemic is spreading throughout Nicaragua and people are desperate because they have no jobs. The crime rate is high and home invasions are common. So, another reason to buy what you need in Nicaragua and sell or store your bling bling items in your home countries.

When Ron and I finally decided to move to Nicaragua, our first question was, “How do we get all of our stuff there?” I had a brilliant-to-me idea. I contacted the cruise ships to see if it was possible to book a one-way trip from Miami to San Juan Del Sur. Then, we could unload all of our stuff from the cruise ship, hire a truck or van to take us to San Jorge, and board the ferry to our new-to-us shack we purchased on Ometepe Island. It was the cheapest option I could find, as well as sounding like a lot of fun. For a few days, we would have a floating storage locker in our stateroom on a giant cruise ship.

Cruise ship in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Cruise ship in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

“Sure, that is possible,” said the first booking agent. She proceeded to tell me how it could be done and I thought…this is so easy. I am brilliant.

I contacted a second agent to ask about luggage limits. She said there were no restrictions. Again, I told myself, this is genius!

But, the third agent must have had a bad day when I asked her if there were restrictions about what I could pack. “Can I bring a trunk with my pots and pans and is there room in the stateroom for our kayak?” I asked.

“Why would you need to bring pots and pans? You can’t be cookin’ any beans in your stateroom,” she snarled. So, I had to tell her that we were moving to Nicaragua and we wanted to bring several trunks with our possessions.

“This isn’t the Grapes of Wrath and it sure isn’t a moving company, so find another way to move!” and she hung up on me. Back to the drawing board!

The way I see it, there are three options for packing and moving your stuff to Nicaragua. So, for my monthly Let’s Get Real series…

                  Let’s Get Real About Packing and Moving to Nicaragua

I. Shipping Containers

IMG_1020We knew that shipping our belongings to Nicaragua wasn’t for us. First, most of the furniture in our house in the states is antique primitive furniture, definitely not made for Nicaragua. We sold most of our furniture, our Harley Davidson (boo hoo), and other things of which we were not sentimentally attached. The rest of our belongings are stored in one bedroom of our house in the states, and our good friends who live in our house take excellent care of our belongings.

Second, it is expensive to ship one’s household stuff to Nicaragua. Plus, I always ask, “Why would anyone want to ship all of their possessions to Nicaragua when almost everything can be bought here?”

However, there are many people who do ship their possessions to Nicaragua. Here are a few comments I grabbed off an expat forum.

Shipping. 2016-01-24 at 1.25.34 PMBelow is the experience of a couple of expats shipping their household goods to Nicaragua.
shipping story part 1shipping story part twoHow does one begin?
the process

II. Luggage on Airplanes


Our trunks and luggage waiting for the ferry to Ometepe

Our trunks and luggage waiting for the ferry to Ometepe

When we moved to Nicaragua, we brought three trunks, three suitcases, two duffel bags and our backpacks. It was a crazy beginning with a detour to Panama City because lightning struck the Managua airport. Read about our experience: My Life in Luggage

Packing is one of the most frequently asked questions on the expat forums.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 12.52.27 PM
Helpful questions about luggage regulations to ask the airlines:

1. Is there an embargo?

Depending on the time of the year, many airlines have an embargo, which basically means that you cannot bring extra luggage, even if you pay extra.

2. What is the weight and size for luggage?

We had to make sure that the plastic trunks we bought at Lowes were airline regulation.
Army and Navy stores sell strong duffel bags at cheap prices. Clothes, sheets, towels and unbreakable items can be rolled and packed in duffel bags, which aren’t very heavy because they are canvas. It is amazing what we have packed in duffel bags… always with room to spare.
If you can borrow a vacuum sealer bag and vacuum cleaner for packing, you will be stunned by how much a queen-sized fluffy mattress cover and down pillows can be reduced in size.
Buy extra suitcases at Goodwill or secondhand stores. They are very cheap and plentiful.

3. Compare first class tickets to economy class. Usually, you can take extra luggage free in first class. 

4. Know the restricted items and regulations for what can go in your carry-on and what can go in your check-in bags.

Extra computer batteries must go in your carry-on. However, if you bring laptops, the batteries do not have to be removed. We always have problems with bringing  barbecue torches. Some airlines say they are acceptable in carry-on luggage, other airlines say they are not permitted in any luggage.  The last time we flew United Airlines, I put the new unwrapped barbecue torches in my carry-on backpack because the airline page said they were not restricted items. At the check-in, I asked if they were accepted and they said no, so they received a gift of 4 new barbecue torches.

Now, I don’t have to worry about bringing them to light my propane stove because they are available in Nicaragua! Yea!
In fact, we can buy most items we need in Nicaragua, but there are a few exceptions. That will be my next post in my Let’s Get Real About series.

Helpful links for packing:

A Reminder to Never Pack Your Valuables in Checked Baggage

10 Things to Bring on Every International Flight (and three things not to)

The Best Way to Pack a Suitcase: Five Methods Compared

III. Body Packing

My homemade travel vest

My homemade travel vest

For those of you who like to pack and travel light, a travel vest is just the thing. I made my travel vest to transport children’s books for my children’s library on Ometepe Island. I can pack 40-50 pounds of books in my vest and waddle through the airports. I also wore several layers of clothes and didn’t need a suitcase. Body packing is the cheapest way to go!

My Travel Vest explains my first trip with my vest. On my second trip, I accidentally dropped my vest on the armrest of the plane when I was trying to lift it above my head and into the overhead compartment. The armrest broke in half. Here is my post on that experience: What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.

And I hear that there are people who actually enjoy moving…not me…not ever.
I’ve learned to travel light now that we have lugged most of our stuff to Nicaragua. And luckily for us, our lists of things to bring back to Nicaragua get shorter and shorter every time we return to the states.

This story may inspire you to think simple.  This woman traveled the world with only a toothbrush and an extra pair of underwear. The Craziest OKCupid Date Ever

After all, who needs to bring 20 pairs of glasses to Nicaragua? Yes…that’s how many pairs we brought.
IMG_2680Which option would you choose if you are considering moving abroad?

22 thoughts on “Let’s Get Real About Packing and Moving to Nicaragua

  1. Hi there! I would like to move to Nicaragua, I have 2 kids ( teens) will be better live in Managua? San Juan has any international school middle and high?



    • Hi Mercedes. Thanks for your questions. I am not familiar with international schools in Nicaragua, but I know there are several good ones in Managua, Granada, and San Juan del Sur. I just don’t know the age levels. I think your best bet would be to join the Expats of Nicaragua Facebook forum and ask your questions there. They will have specific information for you.

  2. Hands down the best most informative article written on moving and packing to Nicaragua. I remember when my older sister wanted to move to Nicaragua from Miami, FL. She just got a 40′ container and sthe stuffed 2 cars, personal items, furniture, and pretty much everything in between. It took us a whole day to stuff that bad boy!

  3. Great post as usual. When we moved to Ecuador we brought two suitcases each and a carry-on. Unfortunately I booked our flights before checking about luggage embargos flying into Quito. We made do until we returned to the US for the first time almost two years later. You can find a lot of items here if you don’t mind paying the price. We left 36 tubs with our daughter and cleared out 30 of them on our first visit back. At least 50% of the stuff we thought we had to keep found a new home or went to salvation army etc. Your needs and wants change over time especially when living in a small fishing village. 🙂 We now fly out of Guayaquil , no luggage embargos, just in case we decide to buy and fill a tub with items on our wish list. I’ve heard horror stories of what some people had to go through , here in EC, shipping and picking up their container when it arrives. So bottom line, less is better.

    • Does Quito have an ongoing luggage embargo or is it only at certain times of the year? Boy, do I hear you about the stuff you leave behind. Every time we return to the states, we get rid of more and more stuff. And the crazy thing is…we don’t even remember why we saved most of it. 🙂

  4. Whoa! I’m glad we decided to get rid of everything BEFORE we came up with a country that we wanted to live in. Traveling with the absolute essentials that you have to carry gives you a great idea of what you really need versus what you want. For me the hardest thing to get rid of was our photos but once we figured out how to scan and store them online I was fine. In our years as full time travelers we learned, like you mentioned, that just about everything can either be bought in country or it’s just not important. And we keep a list ongoing while we’re out of the US of those really important things that we can bring back next time we go “home.” Things like replacement Kindles, petite size clothes (come on, I know there are short women overseas!) and spices. And one thing about “less is best” – you spend less time taking care of your stuff and have much more time to meet other people and learn about your new country! Anita P.S. Love your travel vest Debbie!

    • Anita, you are welcome to borrow my travel vest anytime you need it. lol You mentioned keeping a list of things you want to bring back. I do the same thing and I keep my lists in a folder on my laptop. It is really interesting to go back and look at what we bought 5 years ago because we couldn’t find it in Nicaragua. Now, we can find almost everything. The exception is electronic equipment and cameras. They are so expensive here, but they are available. I would love to compare lists from around the world of what items expats bring back to their new home. That would be really interesting.

  5. Deborah…. always enjoy your posts…. Liza and I are moving to Nicaragua this Sept 2016.. have been planning since 2014. For Some reason I am no longer getting your blog posts automatically into the email… could you please re-sign me in…? Thank you…

  6. Hi!!!
    Im getting rid of all my shit that I won’t remember WHAT I had anyway 6 months from now ….

    Let go,,,start over ,,,

    I just got back from all around Nicaragua… and u can find everything now anyway ,,,

    its growing……..

    Im checking 2 luggages and have my little dog…..

    65.00 for 2 bags ,,62” TOTAL,,,,
    AND 125.00 FOR Lulu Ball…UNDER THE SEAT.. and my purse .AMERICAN ,,,THEY SUCK ,,I KNOW…
    I’m also shipping 8 boxes thru OPTIMA CARGO ,,,DOOR TO DOOR SERVICE…. SEE INFO ABOVE ,,, boxes can be 24x24x24..

    but call them,,,delivery to wherever your living is $ 40.00,,,,or pick up yourself in Managua….WHY?


    HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Thank you! Perfect timing! We’re moving to Ometepe on Feb 29th. Unfortunately, because we are flying a pit bull, we only have one choice in airline… United. Also, we are confined to economy because of our other pets (we are bringing our 2 dogs and 1 cat) and couldn’t ride in 1st class. So our travel plan so far is taking 2 check ins (at 50 lbs each) per person and 2 carry ons per person. I downsized our 3 bdrm house to one room and then into tubs divided into 3 trips from the States to Nica. The first trip down alone will be an adventure!!! 🙂

    • Melanie, good luck to you and I only hope the Managua airport isn’t struck by lightning like it was with our first trip. haha. Let me know when you arrive and if there is anything I can do to help. We have an excellent vet clinic on Ometepe now and most things you need are here, too. What side of the island will you be on? I can set you up with our Ometepe Expat Google group. Just let me know. Safe travels and I hope to see you soon.

      • It’s been a busy time planning the move. We are down to 8 days for the beginning of our trip (a drive from Los Angeles to Houston) and are very excited! We arrive on the 4pm ferry on Feb 29th and already have our rides booked. It’s great to know that there’s a good vet clinic there now. Our little pittie has managed to find some stray nail and needed stitches last night. I’d love to be on your Expat Google Group. We will be in Balgue at La Via Verde for several months to start. Eileen from La Via Verde has been an absolute gem in our entire planning stages. Can’t wait to meet you too. 🙂

  8. This is very timely, Deb! I’m still trying to clear out my house of a lifetime’s worth of *stuff*!! Turns out I have way more papers and photographs, and computer discs (I can’t even remember what they’re called) and cushions and pillows and unmatched sheets, and books (about 30 books on the topic of adoptions alone!–and no, I’ve never adopted anyone), oh, and shoes! So many shoes! After a LOT of questioning, I think I’m planning a compromise: Flying with as many bags as I’m allowed (possibly 1st class or COPA depending on time of year, price, baggage allowances), and shipping some boxes through a Nicaraguan shipper in Miami after I get my cedula, so they can come in as household goods. I know I need to find a broker in Nicaragua for that end of things. Oh, and likely driving all this stuff from California to Florida with a UHaul, if my old beater car makes it, then storing the stuff to ship in Miami till cedula time. I’m hoping some friends on the East coast can store a suitcase of winter clothes and a box of winter bedding for me just in case I have to be somewhere cold sometime (like Virginia for Thanksgiving or Christmas)!

    I have been saving Facebook conversations on these topics for the past two years, so somewhere in there I can found most of what I need. You are such a down-to-earth and efficient organizer of important information. Thank you a million times for pulling all this information together in one place!

    • Hi ,
      Im using OPTIMA CARGO,,,,,305-593-6288,,,OR 786-283-3539…..



      I got this info, from the owner of MONTEBRISA B AND B IN MATAGALPA,,, RITA is her name…
      She also lives in Miami ,,,,,,and speaks english , she grew up in the states….

      anyway call them …..they go door to door or u can pick up in Managua….
      all u need is identification ,,,no cedula

      ITS 1.50per lb for anything old and 2.50 a lb. for new stuff ,,,like a new tv or whateverrrrr

      call them ,,super easy!!!!

    • Claire, as I was reading through your post, I completely forgot to mention the other option of driving to Nicaragua. Your comment about driving a UHaul from CA to FL reminded me. I will have to make a separate post for that option because I know some people who have done it.
      Oh, I don’t envy you. It takes forever to sort through an accumulation of stuff, doesn’t it? What ever will you do with 30 adoption books? jeje Thanks, Claire for your thoughtful comments. I always enjoy reading your responses.

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