To Bring Or Not To Bring, That Is The Question

Back in August of 2019, the realization that we had sold our 4000 square foot house with a nearly 2000 square foot finished basement (372 square meters/186 square meters) was setting in. Now we had to figure out what to do with all of our stuff. Glibly, I said that I’d be happy to sell or give away all of it because stuff was just stuff. Right?? (If you haven’t heard George Carlin’s “stuff” routine, click here for a good giggle). I had this dream in my head that we could live in a furnished place and simply pick up and go whenever the whim hit us. Rrrrrright.

We had moved to New Jersey from California in 2012. In California we lived in a darling little 1920’s era house of 1200 square feet (111 sm) for 13 years. When we moved to New Jersey, we rented a small place before we bought our big house in Chester. We jumped from a 2 bed, 2 bath home to a 4 bed, 3-1/2 bath home. Through my own strange justification process, I reasoned that we hadn’t lived there long enough to really acquire that much stuff. We didn’t have young children and it didn’t seem like it was filled with stuff. Spoiler alert…you always have more than you think you have.

As the process began we quickly realized we were going to have to make some tough decisions. We would sell some things, donate others, throw some out, give some away, and, in the end, store the rest (original artwork, photographs, collectibles, sentimental items, investment pieces, etc.). We knew we weren’t going to ship any household items to Portugal for a few reasons: 1) we could buy what we needed for less than it would cost to ship, 2) we weren’t sure how long we might be there…what if we got there and hated it? Then what?!, 3) we couldn’t bring anything electrical due to the differences in both voltage and plug configuration (we are, however, bringing cell phones, laptops, and tablets which can easily be charged via USB ports) 4) living spaces are much smaller in Europe so our current furniture, rugs, and beds would likely not fit, 5) we would like a more contemporary living environment so much of our furniture wouldn’t be appropriate, and finally 6) we plan to live more minimally there than here.

We pared our lives down from 6000 square feet of living into an impressively-packed 10’x20′ (3mx6m) storage space. If you’ve ever played Tetris you’ll have some understanding of what that experience was like. Egad.

And, our cars. What do we do with those? We went back and forth for months. We learned that you cannot import a car that you have not owned for less than 6 months. We also learned that buying cars in Portugal is very expensive primarily because of the VAT (value added tax). As an example it would cost us 30% to 40% more to buy the exact same make, model and year of the car we decided to take. Most cars in Portugal are manual transmission. We consulted multiple people and sources to make the best decision possible. Some said don’t bother shipping a car unless its a collectible and/or you just can’t part with it; others were on the fence. The Portuguese Consulate didn’t seem to dissuade us when we asked them about it. Paulo, our friend in Portugal, said he’d help us secure a great car, but in the end, we decided to ship one of ours because we had been the sole owners, it was only 2 years old, had 13,000 miles on it, was familiar to us, was NOT a manual transmission, and we could use the interior space (trunk and back seat only) to send some of our personal belongings. We hired Schumacher Cargo to ship the car in a private container as opposed to a “roll on/roll off” option which was less expensive, but wouldn’t allow anything inside the car.

The process to ship our car in a private shipping container required that we secure a US Federal Tax Payer ID number (EIN). The reason for this is that they no longer accept Social Security Numbers or passports due to potential fraud concerns. We also had to provide the original title of ownership (a copy is not acceptable), record of purchase (i.e. copy of a check), statement from the finance company or dealer showing the car has been fully paid for, a manifest summarizing all items in the car and finally, official documents provided by the Portuguese Consulate allowing us to import the car with a tax exempt status for both the car and the personal items inside (2 separate documents). The car could not have more than a 1/4 tank of gas/petrol at the time of drop off to Schumacher or they would charge us an additional $125.00 to siphon it out. Like a total idiot, I forgot about this detail a few days before we were scheduled to take the car in and we had to drive around burning gas. Groan…

It will take approximately 45 days from the day we dropped off the car to the day it arrives in Lisbon which we did on December 12th. Oddly enough, the majority of that time is spent here in the US waiting for the car to get through US customs and loaded onto a ship. The actual transit time on the ocean is between 7 and 10 days depending on weather. I’ll provide another update on what happens on the other end when we go to collect the car and get it legalized to drive in Portugal. Going forward we will have to learn to live with one car (psst…it isn’t that hard if you and your spouse are not working).

As of the date of this post, we are scheduled to leave one week from tomorrow. It is both exciting and slightly unnerving. We are super excited to finally be so close to truly stepping into this adventure and hope we have crossed all our ‘t’s and dotted all the necessary ‘i’s! Well, I guess we’ll find out soon.

My next post will be devoted to Sweet Pea, our wire haired fox terrier, and all the planning and prep we did to bring her along (photos included – because she’s super cute).

If you have any specific questions or are curious about any aspect of our planning and move, please post a question below. I’d be happy to provide an answer or even devote a blog post to it. Thanks!

Published by Beth Thomas-Kim

After working in corporate America for companies like Mattel, Nestlé, and Johnson & Johnson, I retired and moved to Portugal in January of 2020 with my husband Won and our 12-year old wire fox terrier, Sweet Pea. We now live in Monte Estoril, a lovely seaside town just outside Lisbon. We spend our days happily exploring this beautiful country and learning about its fascinating history, engaging culture, warm and welcoming people, delicious food and wine, and stunning architecture. This blog was started primarily as a way to keep family and friends updated on our transition from the US to Portugal. Now, my subscribers include people from all over the world. Enjoy!

18 thoughts on “To Bring Or Not To Bring, That Is The Question

  1. What a wonderful way to start this next decade! Living your dream! Loved this post and looking forward to keeping connected in your new life!!!


    1. Hey Charlie – if you live in larger metropolitan areas, most people speak English and menus are available in English. They teach English in the school system early on. Regardless, we are going to learn the language. We believe it is respectful and appropriate. Plus, one of the reasons we are moving to a foreign country is to challenge ourselves and our brains. That is a big part of this whole adventure.


  2. So excited for you guys!! I can’t wait to hear about your adventures in my home country! I wish you Boa Viagem & Boa Sorte!
    Any don’t forget to go get some Pastéis De Belem ASAP!! They are the most amazing custard cakes!! YUMMM

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Obrigada! We have been to Lisbon a few times now and have enjoyed the Pasteis De Nata every time we’ve been there, but haven’t yet had the Pasteis De Belem, which we know is world-famous. It’s certainly on our list of things to do, though!


    1. Funny you should ask! 🙂 We are taking 2 with us (a 2000 Barca Veha and a port from my brother-in-law’s winery, Loxton Cellars). For the remainder, we drank as much as we could without damaging our livers and gave the rest to friends. The only thing we are storing are two bottles of Camus cognac we each personally blended when we were in Cognac in 2016. It can sit and just continue to age.


  3. Beth, you are a natural blogger! And we may take you up on the offer to stop in as we consider redoing our Portugal honeymoon this summer for a 30th anniversary celebration! In the meantime, I will live vicariously through you and watch the adventures unfold!!!


    1. Thanks, Nidya! I think your baby boy is coming up on his first birthday, isn’t he? It’s amazing how fast time goes. Cherish every moment. I’m glad we’ll be able to stay in touch via my blog.


  4. We are moving from Atlanta to Portugal next month and are debating bringing a car. We are told that we have to make it EU compliant before shipping but do not have the foggiest idea of how to go about it. What did you do? Much thanks.


    1. That is a loaded question, Tom and not easy to answer quickly. Since you are planning to arrive next month (by the way, I’d love to know how you swung that given the current travel ban from the US to Portugal), you may not have enough time to get everything prepared. I would strongly suggest you read my blog posts “To Bring or Not to Bring, That is the Question,” “Hoy Ship!” and “Holy Ship! – Epilogue” (links to all my blog posts are at the bottom of each page). These posts cover our experience importing our car earlier this year from the US. I include the time frame, documents required, and all the costs. One other important factor – if you haven’t owned the car for at least 6 months prior to arrival, you will automatically be required to pay a significant VAT which can be up to 50% of the purchase price of the car (NOT the fair market value). If you have owned the car for more than 6 months you can bring it in without the VAT (with the right document), but that is only one of MANY required steps. We are in the process of legalizing our car to drive here and I am in the process of writing about that now, which again, is quite complex and would have been easier had we known what would be needed/required before we left the states. So again, given the timing of your move I don’t know if you’ll be able to get everything ready before you leave. I’d love to know what you ultimately do so please keep me posted. Where do you plan to live once you get to Portugal?


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