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Moving to Mérida, Mexico

Spanish colonial architecture in Merida
Credit: Jo Ann Snover | Shutterstock

No one likes moving. It’s expensive, time consuming and nerve wracking. I have done it too many times, including twice from ocean- to-ocean. But this was a whole new ballgame. We were moving to Mérida, Mexico, and that meant dealing with Mexican import policies and shipping everything across the Gulf of Mexico.

Preparations began even before we closed on our house in Mexico. The closing itself was disarmingly simple, a single signature from each of us! But now every detail must be considered and executed in precise order. One of us would go to Mexico to get residency, a process that can only be initiated at a Mexican consulate in the U.S., and must be concluded in Mexico within six months.

With residency attained, subsequent visits to the consulate in Miami obtained approval of a menaje de casa, a detailed inventory of our household goods. Copies of the menaje de casa were sent to the shipping company and the customs broker in Mérida, without whose assistance nothing would arrive. It is essential that the broker be engaged before anything is shipped. His fees were actually greater than the cost of the actual shipping, but that’s Mexico! A major caveat: all electronics must be used (older than six months), and have model and serial numbers included in the inventory.

We sorted through years of accumulated books, music, furniture and knickknacks, knowing that everything would spend two months in storage before shipping and excess could mean extra cost. Furniture made from soft woods were sold or donated. They would not do well with Yucatán’s humidity and termite risks.

Our biggest worry was finding a reputable and affordable company to build crates for the harpsichords, rare and fragile instruments that lack the steel bracing of pianos, making them sensitive to extreme temperatures and humidity.

With our move occurring in winter, there was less likelihood of extreme heat, humidity or warpage if the container were delayed in transit. During a previous move an instrument was dropped and irreparably damaged. I wanted no recurrence of that! The crates were solid, but panic set in when one was inadvertently sent to North Carolina by mistake. Several days later it returned intact, but this reinforced how vigilant we must be each step of the way.

The day we closed the sale in Florida was frantic. Everything had to be removed from the house, and the charities that were to pick up the donated furniture had crossed signals and couldn’t pick it up. Much had to be destroyed at great expense, financially and emotionally. We should have stored more, and shipped it in the container, which, it turned out, was not even full!

Marshal’s residency process in Mérida was expedited, something that is a total gamble. (A month later mine was not.) He was back in Florida within three weeks, and shortly thereafter the consulate approved our menaje de casa.

We had contacted the shipping company, Linea Peninsular, months before the move. They ship across the Gulf from Houston, Panama City or Tampa at reasonable cost for either a half or full container, but they do NOT load anything, so we needed to hire movers to get things from the house into storage, and thence onto the container. Once loaded, the container was sealed and sent to Tampa, where it was stacked on the ship for the crossing to Progresso.

By the time the container arrived in Tampa, we were already on the plane to Mexico. The available insurance only covers goods if the entire shipment is lost. In truth, there has never been an incidence of total loss, so we nervously decided to forego it.

Five days later the shipment arrived in Progresso, and two weeks later the broker had cleared everything through customs without extra charges. Mérida prohibits container trucks on its streets during daylight, so the delivery occurred at 1:00 a.m. The customs broker arranged for a forklift to unload the crates (at extra cost) and a crack team of movers had everything in the house in short order.

The next morning the harpsichords were un-crated and we were rifling through boxes, checking them against the menaje de casa. In the entire shipment only three glasses broke, a pretty good overall result.

Some will say it is better to sell everything possible and move to Mexico with nothing more than a few suitcases. But while Mérida is the beginning of retirement for me, I wanted to re-evaluate life’s experiences, not to dispose of them. Bringing memories of a lifetime in the form of useful objects was important to me, since I would still be performing and needed resources. We soon learned that many things we eliminated were not so easily or inexpensively replaced.

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Keith Paulson-Thorp
Lifestyle blogger Keith Paulson-Thorp is a retired professor and church musician who lives in beautiful Mérida, Yucatán. He plays with local chamber music groups and with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Yucatán. “Dr. Keith” taught at Valparaiso University, the University of Louisiana, and the University of Miami’s Osher Lifelong-Learning Center. He also was music director at large churches in Houston, Palm Beach and at the famous Old Mission Santa Barbara in California. Email: KikiPT@aol.com. You can read more from Keith at https://www.meridaexpat.net.