Living Abroad in Nicaragua
What to Take to Nicaragua
2006 © Randall Wood and Joshua Berman, from Moon Living Abroad in Nicaragua, 1st ed. Used by permission of the author(s) and Avalon Travel. All rights reserved. For more info please visit Moon's website, Moon.com, and GotoNicaragua.com, a site created by Wood and Berman for fellow Nicaphiles to come together, plan their trips, and ask questions.
Take everything you simply cannot live without and will not be able to acquire in Nicaragua, and nothing more. That requires two careful evaluations: what you simply cannot live without, and what you cannot acquire in Nicaragua. The first question is yours to answer and yours alone, but we can help you with the second.
You can find just about everything you’d need in Nicaragua provided you don’t have exorbitant tastes: Imported goods are universally more expensive, sometimes up to 40 percent more so. Notably absent are general merchandise stores, common throughout the United States, where you can purchase housewares, inexpensive furniture, linens, bath supplies, and the like. You can certainly find all those goods in Nicaragua, but it will require a bit more legwork. Managua’s overpriced malls cater to the Nicaraguan elite (the 10 percent of the population that owns 45 percent of the nation’s wealth), and though you can find American specialties like Benetton and Gap, the price tags will put you in cardiac arrest. At Managua’s new Galería Siman Santo Domingo, for example, you can even find brand names like Kenneth Cole and Gant! But once you are accustomed to getting around, you’ll do better in the nation’s open-air markets and smaller boutique shops, where you’ll find better deals among the locally produced goods and goods imported from elsewhere in Latin America (and thus subject to fewer importation taxes).
Some examples: You can find fluffy towels and fine Egyptian cotton linens in Managua, but they will all be 40 percent more expensive than prices in America; or you can purchase not-so-fluffy towels and slightly scratchy linens elsewhere for prices that are reasonable even by American standards. You won’t find fancy, factory-made wooden furniture sets, but you’ll find skilled carpenters who can create furniture of your own design for reasonable prices. Appliances like blenders, toasters, and cappuccino makers are all available from Managua stores like La Curacao, but they are more expensive than back home.
Expats tend to take the following things from home: electronics, laptops and computer equipment, stereos, DVD players, etc., even if they simply bring one item at a time down in their luggage as they make trips back and forth. You may want to bring a fresh pair of your favorite footwear, as large sizes are difficult to find in Nicaragua, but don’t worry at all about clothing, as you can get a custom-tailored wardrobe for reasonable prices once you’re here. Also widely available are English-language books, mostly of the used-and-left-behind-by-backpackers variety, plus a few bookstores selling new, overpriced titles.
You should bring down any special medicines you take regularly, any toiletries you simply can not live without (although you’ll find a pretty impressive variety of creams and shampoos throughout the country), and jewelry without which you simply wouldn’t feel like yourself.
Another approach is to reevaluate what your “needs” are and simplify them. Once you’ve spent some time among Nicaraguan families and seen how much they are able to do with so few resources, you might reconsider some things you previously thought were indispensable. This is highly personal, but you might very well discover that in your new lifestyle in Central America you can live more simply than you’d expected.
That said, you can just as easily bring it all with you, particularly if you are a retiree. One incentive the Nicaraguan government has implemented in an effort to attract retirees to Nicaragua is a one-time tax break that allows retirees to bring US$10,000 of personal possessions plus their vehicle with them to Nicaragua. You still have to incur the expense of actually shipping all that stuff, of course, but if you rent a container and ship your belongings all at once, you can take the opportunity to bring south your nice furniture, kitchenwares, garden tools, computer equipment, fine linens, your wardrobe, and whatever else you can think to pack in there (just to make sure you’re not a vehicle importer playing fast and loose with the rules, you are prohibited from selling your vehicle for five years following your move).
Alternatively, you could easily get on the plane southbound with nothing more than the clothes on your back and set up a decent house in Nicaragua based simply on what you purchase in country. In fact, that is what most expats we know have done.
Getting It There
Once you decide to move all your stuff down to Nicaragua, you need to find a shipping company that will deal with the high seas for you. Bernuth Lines is one such company. Based out of Miami, they will send you a container on a truck, which you proceed to load at your leisure. In go your boxes, furniture, even your vehicle. When you’ve finished, they send the truck down to the port at Miami, load it onto a Nicaragua-bound ship, pick up your container on the other end, and route it to Managua for you to clear through customs and pick up.
The second part of the process is clearing your goods through customs in Managua. The same company will hold your hand through this, too, for an additional fee, or you can choose one of the dozens of agencies aduaneras (customs agencies) to do it for you: Check any Nicaraguan telephone book once you arrive to find them.