Our Eight (or Ten) Suitcases

Our big move to Costa Rica is just a mere week away. As our pre-trip to-do list shortens and it gets closer to July 23, we are getting more and more excited. One of our last major tasks is, of course, packing. This blog explains why we’re bringing only what fits in ten suitcases and what each of those suitcases will contain.


Bananas on top of a truck Costa Rica Picture

Moving your entire life in only ten bags may sound extreme but upon considering the options, we’ve decided that it’s our best bet. Shipping via a cargo container didn’t make sense because, having previously lived in a small condo in the city, we simply didn’t have a lot to ship. Shipping is also more expensive and involves paperwork, as all containers arriving in Costa Rica need to be cleared by customs (and taxed). Plus, we knew that we’d be renting a fully-furnished home (common in Costa Rica), so there was no need to ship our furniture and other large items.

What We’re Bringing

The bulk of what we’re bringing is clothing. There are also several random items that are difficult to find in Costa Rica and/or much more expensive there. Below is an inventory of exactly what’s going in our bags. Keep in mind that since we will be checking our luggage, each bag contains a mish-mash of items so as to stay under the airline’s 50-pound weight limit. In other words, clothing will be mixed with electronics and towels will be wrapped around breakables.

Suitcases 1 and 2: Clothes (packed in Space Saver bags), including one formal outfit in case we need to go to a event like a wedding, baptism, or funeral. Costa Ricans typically dress up for formal events.

Suitcase 3: Overflow clothes, shoes, flip-flops, hiking boots, oh and the blender for refrescos (fresh fruit smoothies).

Suitcase 4: Pots and pans (extreme, we know, but Jenn loves to cook and our stainless steel cookware was the one impractical item we wanted to bring. We decided early on that we could bring something impractical, as well as something we didn’t necessarily need that would remind us of home.); coffee grinder (difficult to find in Costa Rica, and something we’ll surely need with all that delicious native coffee); and a wireless router.

Suitcase 5: One small tool bag with the essentials for basic auto and home repair (screwdrivers; wrench set; hammer; pliers, electrical tester); snorkel masks; flippers; water shoes; beach towels; binoculars; rainy season gear (rubber boots, ponchos, waterproof sandals); head lamps; and Red Sox baseball hats (a little piece of home).


Suitcase Picture


Suitcase 6: Travel books on Costa Rica, Panama, Central America; books on writing; file of important papers that are impractical to store digitally on a Cloud; road maps of Costa Rica; essential medications (cold and flu remedies) and travel first-aid kit; toiletries; lots of extra sunscreen (expensive in Costa Rica); and a few paperbacks of our own book, Two Weeks in Costa Rica.

Suitcase 7: PlayStation (plan to use this as our DVD player); DVDs of our all-time favorite movies; raincoats; lightweight jackets (for visiting cooler parts of Costa Rica, like the cloud forest); a couple sets of bath towels; two sets of sheets (we read on one of the moving to Costa Rica forums that quality sheets are hard to find); indoor grill/griddler combo; and our favorite kitchen knives.

Suitcase 8: Mini-speaker for iPod (hopefully this will do as a stereo system); travel alarm; hairdryer; a few essential kitchen utensils; four wine glasses (our casual, stemless ones that we used on our porch in Boston- another reminder of home); photo given to us by our friends at our going-away party, with messages written on frame; two small backpacks for day hikes; camera tri-pod; and an air mattress for those extra guests.


Moving to Costa Rica Picture


Suitcases 9 & 10: TBD- but nothing, hopefully!

Carry-ons: Two laptops (for writing/blogging, of course!); digital camera (electronics are much more expensive in Costa Rica); cell phones (unlocked phones for use in Costa Rica); Kindle; other valuables; and a gift for our Tico friend Roy.

*   *   *

So What Happened Next . . . ?

In July 2013, we boarded a plane for a new life in Costa Rica. Want to follow our story as it happened? Check out the posts below to see how our dream became a reality and what it has been like so far.

First Impressions on Living in Costa Rica
Living in Costa Rica: One Month Update
Buying a Car in Costa Rica
Fun Facts From Our First Six Months in Costa Rica
Our First Year in Costa Rica
House Sitting: How to Live in Costa Rica for $2,000 a Year
Where We’ve Lived in Costa Rica

Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde


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Installing a Pool in Costa Rica: Our Experience
Living in Costa Rica During Rainy Season
What It’s Like to Live in Costa Rica in Rainy Season
Private School Options Costa Rica
Private Schools in Costa Rica: Part 2, List of Options


  1. Wish we could have moved that lightly, but it was not to be! If you ever need to move bigger stuff down later, I know a great partial shipper. Price includes everything and your stuff is stored in a bonded warehouse. Have a nice journey!

    1. Thanks Casey! We are lucky that we were able to pack light but at the same time are not looking forward to hauling all those heavy suitcases through the airport. Fingers crossed nothing gets lost during our layover in FL.
      -Matt & Jenn

    2. I would be interested in knowing who you use for partial shipments. I want to ship a washer and dryer. Do they pick up in NC? Any help appreciated!

  2. I stuffed my whole life into 2 bags and my Wii took up half the space of one 😀 But I was lucky bc my boyfriend already had all the essential home stuff here. Your list is pretty complete, for me I just brought a ton of asian food that I wouldn’t be able to find here, spices and such. I would also include a Spanish textbook, dictionary or at least the Lonely Planet Costa rican Spanish guide…(unless you already know Spanish) Best way to assimilate into the culture is to learn the language 🙂 Good luck!

    1. Samantha, great to know we are not alone with the suitcase only method. We do have a copy of the Lonely Planet Costa Rican Spanish Guide along with a Spanish dictionary and Spanish coursebook packed and ready to go. Spanish is priority numero uno!
      Muchas gracias,
      -Matt & Jenn

  3. I’m from Italy, I’ve been living in CR during the last 6 years. I’m lucky because my girlfriend is from Costa Rica so I packed all my stuff in just 2 suitcases. I left all my winter clothes in Italy and finally started living there. Now I realized 3 things: 1) It’s not necessary to spruce ourself, they use more informal clothes than in Italy; 2) If you wanna buy something nice, It’s better go back to Italy or to EEUU; 3) Do not forget your technological stuff, CR is very expensive!

    1. Hi Sammy, those are excellent tips. We are realizing that we brought too many nice clothes. The style is definitely more laid back in CR than in Boston. So true about computers, cameras, etc. costing a lot more too. We bought a lot of the technological stuff we needed before we came. Cars are also very expensive…hard to believe that a 15 year old SUV can cost more than $5,000!

  4. Hi, we moved from Dallas, Texas to Grecia in June. I had read your book about a year ago but never your blog. Glad you guys are heading down. We came with 9 suitcases because a pallet was going to be outrageois. On AAirlines if you fly business class you get 3 free (instead of 1) and 70# instead of 50# – I wrote a blog about it here – http://costaricacurious.com/three-things-in-three-weeks-part1/. I wish you both good luck in your new adventure.

    1. Hola Greg, thanks for reading our book. Great to hear that you have made the move too. We’ve been here for about two weeks now, living in Manuel Antonio. Next month we’ll be moving farther south. Still getting used to things but so far everything has been going pretty well.
      We actually almost took AA business class to get here too but then Jet Blue lowered its price so it ended up being less expensive even with our eight suitcases. Definitely a good option for people to consider though.
      Thanks for the link to your website. We’ll have to keep in touch and share CR info as we go. Pura vida!

  5. Thank you for all the great advice. I’m coming for a third trip to CR this summer to identify a place to land next year.
    My biggest concern is moving with my cat, my dog (8 lbs)and last but not least my pot bellied pig (not very minerature @125lbs)!
    I can’t find any info on relocating with !s Truffles.
    Can you give me some ideas on where I can find information? Of course she is a pet and a BIG part of my life!!!!!!
    Any info will be appreciated.
    I look forward in reading more of you blogs.
    Many thanks
    Dona Hatch

    1. Hi Dona, we didn’t bring any pets, pig or otherwise ;), to CR so we don’t have an answer for you. What you could do is pose the question on one of the Facebook expat groups for people living in Costa Rica. A lot of people post specific questions like that on there and usually someone in the group has had some experience with the issue. A couple we’re in are: Gringo Expats in Costa Rica and Expatriates in Costa Rica. Best of luck finding a place to settle down!

  6. Now i am via Croatia, I’ve been living in CR over the last 6 many years. Now i am fortunate simply because our girlfriend is actually via Costa Rica and so i jam-packed most our material in only a couple of luggage. We left most our winter weather clothing inside Croatia lastly started out dwelling there. Today We understood 3 factors: 1) You won’t have to spruce our self, these people utilize far more laid-back clothing compared to inside Croatia; 2) If you wanna purchase anything wonderful, It really is much better resume Croatia as well as to EEUU; 3) Keep in mind your current technological material, CR is quite pricey!

  7. I moved with 10 suitcases and one cat via Delta. It was exhausting, and I was glad when those 10 bags were checked! My husband drove down with our three dogs and our other cat. He as able to bring a few tools and stuff like that in the car. Our suitcases were mostly clothing, toiletries, jewelry and documents.

    1. Flying down by yourself must have been exhausting, yikes! And your husband is brave for driving…we thought about doing that but weren’t brave enough. Good idea to bring the tools and heavy stuff down in the car. We were limited with what tools we could bring since we flew and Matt wishes he could have brought more. Thanks for reading!

  8. So you didn’t have any problems checking that many bags on your flight? I am moving in June and think that is the route I want to go. Would rather not spend money to ship unnecessary stuff. Also, I am wondering about anyone’s experience bringing pet food (sealed and in its original packaging). My cat eats a special kind, raw freeze dried chicken, and I was hoping to be allowed to bring in a supply. I have heard customs at LIR can be very particular.

    1. Hi Nancy, we had no problems checking the 8 bags- we flew Jet Blue. As for the cat food, people bring all kinds of strange things with them so I don’t think that would be a problem. It would be a good idea though to scatter them throughout your bags so they’re not all in one place. As long as your stuff is for “personal use” (you’re not selling it), it should be fine. We flew into SJO so don’t have experience with LIR, but I can’t imagine it would be a problem.

      Also, I know a lot of people get their pet food shipped from the US as they need it. Not sure where you’re going to be living, but each area has its own way of getting packages here for not too expensive. Where we live in the Southern Zone, we can get stuff shipped from Amazon to an address in FL where it is combined with other packages into one cargo container to split up the cost. Good luck with the move!

  9. We are leaving for Liberia Costa Rica on 6/14/15 via United. Just found out they have an excess baggage embargo in place 6/1-8/1, so each of us is limited to 3 bags. Yikes, we have a total of 10, and found out we can only bring a total of 6. I really can’t pare down what we’re bringing. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Nancy,
      Yikes, that is a bummer. Did they disclose the embargo when you bought your tickets? If you didn’t know, maybe you can cancel them and go with a different airline. We flew Jet Blue and I think most of the other airlines are allowing excess baggage to Costa Rica right now. Hope you figure it out, how stressful! Another idea if you’re stuck with the tickets is to go in on someone’s cargo container and get the rest of your stuff shipped. Just a thought…good luck!

  10. I’m bring 5 pieces of luggage and a friend with 4 and two dogs. I fear what will happen. I’ve never done this before. I’m moving with my German Shepherd and Jack Russell terrier. Any info would be good thank you!

    1. Hi Lida,
      How exciting! When is the big day? That’s not much luggage so I wouldn’t worry too much. Based on our experience and what we’ve heard from other people, as long as you mix up what’s in your bags, you shouldn’t have a problem with customs at the airport. They opened one of our bags (the one with the blender) I think because of the motor, but that was it. No questions asked. As for moving with pets, we’ve never done it but know a couple of people who have. Here are some links to their blogs if you want to hear more about their experiences: http://www.travelmother.com/flying-a-dog-to-costa-rica-romeos-adventure/; http://www.ramblist.com/travel-to-costa-rica-with-your-dog/. Best of luck with the move!

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