My parents are currently looking at the process of selling most of what they own in America and retiring to Spain. After 30 years living in the US, they’ve decided life for them would be better back in Europe and Spain is the country they’ve chosen. With a lifetime of personal belongings to deal with though, should they take everything? Sell everything? Just take important items? And, if they take a lot of belongings, do they have to pay customs duty when it arrives in Spain? If you’re thinking of retiring to Spain, and worried about your belongings, here’s what you need to know to do it the easy way.
Contact the Spanish Consulate – The first thing my parents did when they decided to retire to Spain was to contact the Spanish Consulate in Washington DC, to find out what the requirements were, what they could take, what they should leave behind and any other rules necessary to know about before moving to Spain.
As they expected, the rules were pretty much the same as when my aunt and uncle moved to Spain last year but, things do change, so don’t start making any concrete plans until you know exactly what you’re
Paying Customs Duty – Before any other decision, the first thing to decide is how many of your personal belongings will you take with you? Depending on where you’re moving to Spain from and how much you take, can mean the difference between a cost of tens of thousands of dollars or just a few hundred in customs duty in Spain. Or, in the case of some people, no customs duty at all.
Under Spanish (and EU) law, if you are an EU citizen (British, French, German, Norwegian etc) and you’re planning on retiring (or moving) to Spain permanently, you do not have to pay any customs duty on any personal belongings or household items you bring with you. My parents have lived in the US for years, but they’re still British citizens, which means they can take everything they own, if they like, and there will be no customs duty due.
If however, you are American, or from another country not in the EU, you will be required to pay customs duty on anything you transport into the country, so think carefully about what’s important to you and what you can easily leave behind.
What To Take – Of course, you can take everything you own in you retire to Spain, but transporting it thousands of miles across the ocean can be tens of thousands of dollars and, not worth it if you can re-buy it cheaper in Spain.
Furniture – My aunt and uncle took most of their furniture with them, as they retired to Spain from England and just rented a large van and, on three trips, transported it themselves. For them, it was cheaper doing it this way than re-buying a house full of furniture. My parents, on the other hand, who are retiring to Spain from America, will sell most of their furniture, other than a few prized items, as the cost of shipping it from the US is far higher than buying new furniture when they get there.
Don’t forget too, buying second-hand furniture in Spain (and much of it is antique and gorgeous) is extremely inexpensive and often nicer than the furniture you would have brought with you.
Electrical Items – Surprisingly, electrical items are quite expensive in Spain, particularly compared to the US and other European countries. My parents have decided to take some of theirs with them, as they can use converters and adapters for the difference in electrical voltage, but the vast majority they’ll sell in America before leaving.
Check out the cost of similar items in Spain, before you make the decision, then sell or give away what you can easily replace at an inexpensive cost and transport the ones with you that you can’t.
Books – All of my family are great readers and, between the three of us, have several thousand books. As books weigh heavy though, it’s best to choose the ones you absolutely cannot part with and have a garage sale with the rest. English language books can be bought in second-hand shops all over Spain at extremely cheap prices. So why not replace your books when you’ve moved to Spain, or buy a whole bookshelf full of new ones?
Pets – Fortunately (or not!) for my parents, our pets died several years ago. For those retiring to Spain who have pets though, you need to check what the newest requirements are with the Spanish consulate before you leave. To get you started though, there’s some excellent information about moving your pets to Spain at a website called Spain Info (see link below)
Buying a House Already Furnished – One final thing to know, in Spain, many houses and apartments are sold fully-furnished with everything in them, including furniture, electronics and in, some cases, even things like bicycles and other more personal items.
So, when you’re doing your house or apartment hunting, factor in if you want to buy a house already fully furnished or one completely empty, and the various costs of doing both.
Retiring to Spain is actually fun and, in some respects and particularly for EU citizens, quite easy. Think of it as a challenge and a fun new start in life. And remember, most of your belongings are just “stuff” and, in the grand scheme of things, not that important. Get rid of most of it and start again. What a wonderful way to begin your golden years.