The Expat List of What To Bring

Home made pineapple kiwi popsicle.

When you find out you’re moving to another country, one of the big questions to rattle around in your brain is what to put on your packing list.

It seems like it’s the biggest topic of conversation for expats. What can I not live without? What do I need to feel more at home? What kind of things will I need that just aren’t available where I’m going? How many pounds of Mexican spice mix can I fit in my suitcase?

My list used to be huge.

Now that I’ve handled three international moves, I’ve narrowed that list down quite a bit.

As I was laying on my couch in front of the fan savoring my home-made popsicle I thought about the things I brought with me this time. Which of them have been the most necessary? Which of them do I use the most? Which of them did it turn out that I don’t really need like I thought I would?

Here’s what I brought, and the actual usefulness of the items:

  • Six million ziplock bags, both sandwich and 1 gallon freezer size – I hoard those ziplock bags like they’re made of crack. If they weren’t used for meat, I’ll wash them and reuse them until they fall apart. While it is possible to find them here (I’ve found one store that has them), the’re really expensive (about four times the cost in the US), and they come in packages of five or ten for the small ones, and two or three for the big ones. I want my Costco sized box of 100!
  • Slow cooker and juicer – The slow cooker and juicer are used a few times a month, and I’m really glad to have them. I’m sure I’ll be using the slow cooker a lot more in the winter when I love soups and stews. I have found juicers here, but again the prices are four to five times higher, and the quality here is questionable. For an example of appliance prices, we ordered a simple drip coffee maker when we arrived and it cost us about US$50. It would have cost about US$20 in the States. It died after six weeks. We now use a simple filter and heat the water on the stove. Cheaper, tastier and break-proof.
  • Popsicle molds – Those popsicle molds have become my very favorite imported item in my kitchen. It’s high summer here, and we don’t have A/C in our apartment. Frozen home-made treats are a daily life saver! However, I have since seen that exact set of molds in a local home-wares store so it turns out I didn’t need to bring them all the way from England. (Note: I only saw them once, and others have told me they never could find them. I’d advise bringing your own so you don’t risk going without!)
  • Good knives – Again, it’s a matter of cost and quality. I’m glad we picked up three good knives before we came and we use them almost every single day. They’re solid, sharp and comfortable in our hands, which is something I can’t say about any knives we’ve ever bought here.
  • Taco and enchilada seasoning mixes – The Mexican spices! I used up the thirty or so packets of seasoning within the first couple of months here. I love me some Tex-mex cooking and just couldn’t help myself. It was such a sad day when I ran out that I may have made a few dramatic flounces and proclamations on the sofa after dinner. Oh, my beloved Mexican breakfast scramble is to be no more! However, Pinterest saved the day. I found a few recipes, made some notes and came up with a blend that I really liked. Google translate helped me with a few of the spice names in Portuguese and off I went to the local bulk food/herb store. (I’m very lucky to have a store like that close to home). Now I have two big jars full of home-made seasoning mix, and will never have to run out again! If you’re interested, click here for the recipe I came up with.
  • Multivitamins – While I have been able to find general multivitamins here, the quality is questionable and they’re extremely expensive. Specific supplements like reservatrol or probiotics are much harder to come by. I haven’t found them yet.
  • Razors – OMG, the extortionate prices they charge here for razors! Easily four to five times the cost of razors in the US, and I think they’re expensive up there to begin with!
  • Bedding and towels – We could find these things here, but the quality is… different. I love my big, fluffy towels, and our bed sheets are a higher thread count than I’ve found here so they’ll last longer. They also cost about 25% of the prices I’ve seen here in Brazil.
  • Solid deodorant – I’m sorry, but I absolutely hate roll-on deodorant and it is all I can find here. I brought about ten sticks with me. Everyone who has to stand close to me in this heat will thank me.
  • Good, heavy non-stick skillet – I’ve found these of a lesser quality here at an upscale shopping mall, and the prices would have killed me. No, I’m very glad I brought my own good one.
  • Good, heavy non-stick wok – See above for the skillet.
  • Stick blender – I use this thing all the time for blending soups, but we brought it from the UK which means it’s wired for 220 and our power is 110. It works, but sounds like it’s dying. I’ll be picking up a new one in the US where they are about $20. I found one here and it was over R$200! (US$85)
  • Water pitcher with filters – The water pitcher is my second favorite thing. Our tap water is safe to drink, but tastes funny. Also, I don’t entirely trust it. Having a full pitcher of clean filtered water in the fridge at all times is really nice. The fact that it’s nearly ice cold in this heat is an added bonus.
  • Power adaptors – Necessary, but less than I though. I’ve found good ones here for low prices. It’s much easier to find them for US plugs than for UK plugs though.
  • Clothes iron – Easily available here. We just happened to already have one and Brian found room in the suitcase.
  • Travel coffee mug – I haven’t seen any here, and coffee “to-go” is not a thing that Brazilians do. I am a sllloooooowwww waker-upper, so drinking my caffeine on the way to wherever I have to be in the morning is very helpful for all involved. I’m glad I brought it, and I use it every time I leave the house early.
  • Kindle – I used to always have a huge list of books to bring back, as any books in English are really expensive and nearly impossible to find here. My Kindle has saved me from that particularly heavy and space hogging habit, not to mention saved me about a bajillion dollars because I can download most books from the library for free.
  • Jeans – Really any clothing. I prefer to buy our clothes, especially jeans, in the US. Not only is the quality a hundred times better, the prices are dirt cheap. I also like the way US jeans fit me. I haven’t been able to find any here that I like.


Here’s what I’m going to pick up and bring back from our trip to Portland next week:

  • Coconut aminos
  • Food processor
  • New hand mixer with the proper voltage
  • Soup/stock pot
  • Haggis
  • Plastic wrap
  • New glasses and sunglasses
  • More vitamin supplements
  • More ziplocks
  • More water filters
  • More razor blades

Did you notice you don’t see peanut butter on that list? I used to LONG for peanut butter, and would haul four big jars of it back with me every time I went to the US. I’ve stopped eating it entirely (we eat paleo) and will start making my own almond butter instead. Thus the food processor.

Why plastic wrap, you ask? Well… If I have one huge pet peeve with Brazil its the following; Why the fu** do you not have plastic wrap that comes in a box with the metal cutting edge!? Seriously, how are you supposed to cut off the amount you need with no blade? That stuff doesn’t exactly rip cleanly. If you tear it apart, or cut it with scissors, or gnaw it with your teeth, you might get the right sized piece that you need, but then you will NEVER AGAIN find the edge of the remaining plastic wrap on the roll. It just sticks to itself seamlessly and you might as well just throw the whole thing away. Is there a trick to this?

So I’m going to buy a roll of plastic wrap in a proper box with a cutting blade, and I’m going to guard that box like Gollum with the ring for the rest of my life down here. If the box falls apart, I will find a way to craft a new one out of whatever building materials I can find and mount that blade on it for continued use.

I think the haggis is self explanatory. No, it’s not paleo, but I happen to have a great big Scotsman who loves his haggis. If I bring back four or five cans, that’s enough to keep him pleased as punch for a whole year.

Glasses and sunglasses? Cheap in the US, extortionate down here in Brazil. I’ll be happy to make an appointment in Portland with a local eye doctor and find a buy one/get one free deal. I’ve never actually owned prescription sunglasses before, so I’m kind of excited about those.

Everything else we can find here. I don’t know if things have improved, or if it’s because we live in a slightly bigger town than we did before, but I’m having a much easier time finding goods that we need here. My list used to be about three times this long. That may also be due to the fact that Brian and I are pretty simple people and we like to live with a minimal amount of stuff.

So how about you? What kinds of things would you bring, or do you already miss something from home? What have I forgotten to add?

Don’t forget to read the comments below. Some of you have really good ideas of other items to bring.

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About akil3655

A Scotsman and his American photographer wife traveling the world and writing about it. Tales, reviews, photos, interviews and crazy goings on. Because you never know what's going to happen.

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12 Responses to The Expat List of What To Bring

  1. Jade @ Tasting Grace January 31, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    Hear, hear on the bedding, towels, deodorant, and Kindle! My other must haves include my favorite shampoo/conditioner, really good fitting, quality jeans from the US, and good quality, comfortable shoes from Europe (my feet blister easily and the EU seems to understand we need cute & comfy!)

    I would now also add children’s stuff because it’s often hard to find the good stuff here and what is available is way more expensive than in the US.
    Jade @ Tasting Grace recently posted..Momma Chat: On Life Unfolding and the Banana ExperimentMy Profile

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      January 31, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

      Oh, I would have a huge list of children’s items if we had small kids! I should have added the jeans. I plan to pick some up next week in Portland. :)
      akil3655 recently posted..The Expat List of What To BringMy Profile

  2. Jim February 1, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    This is a list compiled after some serious personal experience. Good on you. Nothing frivolous. Definitely the Popsicle molds!! I have searched high and low and have only found pink Disney princess ice cream molds… I use those long skinny “sacolé” plastic bags that I fill and tie off. Definitely bring molds! Also, ice cube trays… the local ones break quickly if you are one to twist them to get the ice out. The plastic does not stand up to regular use.

    Definitely – ALL THINGS KITCHEN. Bring what you want, and then a few dream items. Nothing local will compare – IF you can even find what you are looking for. Good knives, cutting board, all appliances, pasta maker, etc. etc.

    I love my electric razor, but admittedly my partner is not one to insist on a super smooth face. Standard shaving razors here are stupid expensive and of low quality, so you burn through them pretty quickly. This adds up $$ fast. My electric razor has saved me hundreds of R$$ a year.

    Great level headed list.

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 1, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

      Ice cube trays! Yes, the ones I’ve found here are brittle, and I haven’t found any that make the right sized cube. I’m not a fan of tiny ice cubes, but I can live with it. Good idea.

      We had no problem finding a good cutting board, but I agree with you about the rest of the kitchen items.

      I’ve made a note on the popsicle molds. While I have seen them here, it was only once and I’d hate to have gone without them. Bring them with you! :)

      Thanks, Jim!
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  3. Born Again Brazilian February 1, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

    Ice cream maker
    Clothes for the extent of your life here
    Socks and underwear
    Thank you cards
    Any kind of birthday gifts you think you might need, especially for children

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 1, 2014 at 10:34 pm #

      Fans? We’ve had good luck with those here, but I totally agree about the ice cream maker! Adding it to my list now. :)
      You’re right about the rest, and I’d add that if you’re a crafter you should bring all your supplies with you.

      • Jim February 1, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

        We brought an ice cream maker that includes the cooling unit. It gets the ice cream almost to perfect, then you finish freezing it in the freezer. Our freezer here is way too small to accommodate those freezer bowls many ice cream makers have. It weighed a ton getting it here in our luggage, but we use it ALL THE TIME.

  4. Amanda February 4, 2014 at 11:52 am #

    We love using the reusuable ice cubes. Much easier and less trouble in the long run. Definitely packed my T-Fal pots and pans when I moved here, and a coffee maker! Clothes and shoes are almost a given to always bring. And perhaps measuring cups and spoons. I am still not used to the metric system haha.

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 5, 2014 at 3:05 am #

      Good point about the measuring spoons. I forgot to list those, and I did bring them from the US. Most of the recipes I find online are using US imperial measurements so they’re really useful!

      I like the idea of reusable ice cubes too. I wonder if you can find them here.
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      • Jim February 5, 2014 at 8:46 am #

        I’ve seen the reusable cubes at a boutique kitchen gadget store and also at a high end gifts shop (like for wedding gifts). The price was scary both times. But I have seen them.

  5. Nancy Beem February 7, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    Be careful about the BOGO glasses. If they aren’t right, you can’t get them corrected from Brazil very easily. I invested in prescription sunglasses a few years ago and now won’t travel without them. They stay in the car and are always used on the way to the airport and then slipped in my carryon when we arrive and head to boarding. Costco is a good place to buy inexpensive, well made glasses, but I don’t know if you can get them in a week. Reusable ice cubes are a good alternative; try Sur La Table or BevMo. You should be able to find them either place for a good price (more reasonable at BevMo). Have fun in Portland and happy skiing!

    • akil3655
      Twitter: kiltandacamera
      February 9, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

      I use my ice cubes to blend into smoothies. I’m going to pass on the reusable ones! But I agree that the reusable ones are a really good idea for those that use them to cool their drinks.

      As for the sunglasses, mine will be ready to pick up in Portland in a few days! I’ll be happily wearing them at the pool in the 95 degree weather by next Monday. ;)
      akil3655 recently posted..365 Photo Project – January 2014My Profile