Lately, quite a few people have been asking how my writing is going. If you're a reader of this blog you'll know the answer: slowly. But there's a good reason behind this slower pace. Moving to Sicily is hard work!
Creating a life in a new country is never easy. Especially when you're launching a business at the same time (my new copywriting and SEO strategy business is called Evergreen Words). And dealing with the very real challenges of grief, since Marco lost both parents in the past year.
The truth is, creating a life you love requires work.
Your ideal life doesn't just fall in your lap. First, you have to dream it up. This is harder than it sounds because you actually need the space to imagine what a new way of living might look like. (Not easy when you're running between meetings and conference calls and doctor appointments.)
Then you have to decide to actually go for it. This also isn't easy. Moving abroad means leaving a lot behind. Thanks to the pandemic, we know how easily transportation can be suspended. We know exactly what it's like to not see family for years on end.
This blog has already followed me and Marco through these first two stages. We dreamed and we decided.
Now, we're in stage three: plan and execute. Which I thought I'd dig into a bit today for anyone else who might be pondering doing the same.
Shipping Stuff to Sicily
When you're moving abroad, there are a few options for shipping:
Ship a container. With a container, you can send pretty much whatever you want, including large furniture. Recent price quotes from other expats include $11k for a 20-foot container and $14k for a 40-foot container.
Ship half a container, a crate, or a pallet. With this option, you're obviously shipping less, but can still include some items like smaller furniture. Pricing for crates and pallets varies significantly depending on size. I found quotes ranging from $4k to $6k.
Ship boxes only. With this option, furniture is pretty much out. We're talking clothes, books, and other smaller personal possessions. You can use traditional shipping companies (DHL, FedEx, UPS) which charge $300 to $400 per box, or a less-traditional shipping company like Send My Bag, which costs $100 to $200 per box (depending on size and weight).
Since we already had basic furniture in Sicily, and our "small NYC apartment" furniture wouldn't cut it in our Sicilian house, we decided to leave all furniture behind.
That left us with boxes and a couple of framed art pieces to ship. We decided to use Send My Bag to ship everything but art. And, if we sized the boxes and weights right, it would only cost $99 per box. For the framed art, we hired an art shipping company to pack and ship it for about the same cost that DHL or FedEx would charge.
Marco and I spent the last 12 years living in a 600-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in NYC. We were always pretty cautious about how much "stuff" we brought in. But even though we thought we lived small, it turned out we still had a lot of stuff. Too much stuff! So, as described in our packing post, we culled through our belongings. Just imagine the biggest spring cleaning or closet purge you've ever done—but where you have to pay a fee for every item you keep.
We got it down to 16 boxes. DHL, contracted by Send My Bag, came and picked up our 16 boxes two days before our flight. Then, amazingly, DHL delivered it a few days after we arrived here in Melilli. No customs issues. No lost boxes. No arguments about finding our house in the historic center. It was truly a five-star experience!
Of course, once we started unpacking in Sicily, we realized how little furniture we actually have. Just imagine: We shipped several boxes of books but don't own a single bookshelf here!
Thus began an unexpected project: Choosing and ordering more furniture. A project we've been working on since, alongside our other many projects...
Preparing Our House for Next Winter
Upon our arrival in Sicily, it wasn't just furniture we needed to purchase.
We knew before coming that our big priority would be preparing our house for winter. Yes, Sicilian winters are mild, but that's outside. Inside, stone houses with tile floors are designed to stay cool in the heat. This means houses stay extra cool in the cold too.
After spending our first winter in Sicily, we knew we needed to upgrade our "stay warm in winter" system. That means getting new, more efficient mini-splits (also called heat pumps in the US), adding a wood or pellet stove, and increasing the kilowatts for our electricity so we can run more than one heater at a time. Eventually, we're planning to add solar to the house to reduce electricity costs.
We had all of that planned out, but then Sicily threw in a new wrinkle. We found a small water leak in our bedroom from the exterior of our house. We'd planned to redo our facade in the future, but it turns out the future is now!
So, with help from our friend Rosanna, we embarked on finding a good muratore—similar to a general contractor in the US—to repair and redo the entire exterior of our house.
This is still in process, but we're close to being ready to sign on the dotted line. I'll be sure to write more about it in the future. Renovations in Italy are a whole other kind of experience!
But what's cool, is we're starting to be able to see how this lovely house will look and feel, both inside and out, once we're settled full-time.
Getting Paperwork in Order for Residency
Since we're going to become official residents in November, we want to make sure we have all of our paperwork in order. So far, we've done two main things:
Marco has submitted an application to renew his Italian passport so that he will have a non-expired Italian identity document. He's been on the passport appointment waitlist for the Italian Consulate in NYC for three years! So his cousin Santino, who lives in Melilli, helped Marco submit a passport request in Sicily instead (which is done through the local police headquarters one village over).
We've made a list of official documents we'll need from the US. For now, it's our birth certificates and our marriage certificate. Each document will need to be translated and apostilled. We'll get the documents ready when we head back to the US for three months later this summer.
Once we come back in November, Marco will need to register as a resident, then I'll need to submit an application for my carta or permesso di soggiorno, which will allow me to stay in Italy as the spouse of a citizen.
Once that is all sorted, I'll finally submit my citizenship application. The bonus of submitting my citizenship application once we are residents is that my application will be processed locally.
Attempting to Get Fibra!
And, finally, I spent several weeks attempting to get fiber internet.
On previous visits, we put Italian SIMS in our phones and used our unlimited data for hotspots. It worked and it was cheap. But doing video calls could be a bit hit-or-miss. So I wanted to find a more stable internet connection.
There was just one wrinkle: In order to get fibra, you need an Italian IBAN (aka an Italian bank account number). But in order to get an Italian bank account (that isn't ridiculously expensive), you need an Italian identity card (which you only get as a resident).
I tried every way imaginable to make it work. But fibra for this stay was not to be.
So, after many many calls with WindTre, I ended up buying an internet key (aka a USB dongle) and a data-only SIM. It's not perfect, but it's more stable than my hotspot, it's cheap ($12 a month), and it works well for video calls. I'm calling it a win! And I'm looking forward to "Getting Fibra: Part 2" this fall.
If Our Life Were a Novel...
If you've read this far, then it should be clear that moving to Sicily requires coordinating a LOT of logistics. Sure, we knew this going in. But knowing something and experiencing something is very, very different.
Marco and I are both writers, so we of course think of things through a writer's eye. Most novels (and movies) have a few standard elements that writers talk a lot about. For example:
The inciting incident—where the main character's ordinary world is turned upside down.
Acceptance of the call to action—where the main character accepts the new quest or challenge (even knowing that hardship will inevitably ensue).
Raising the stakes—where the main character has to continually take on new challenges (and realizes everything is harder and more important than it initially seemed).
The saggy middle—where the writer gets tired of writing in the middle of the book and not much happens for the main character (or the reader).
In real life, Marco and I are in the "raising the stakes" portion of our story. We're encountering challenges left and right (like the packing crate that was too heavy to carry into the house, so we disassembled it in the street). And we're tackling those challenges with a dose of good humor—and lots of help from friends and family in Melilli!!
But for our blog readers, this might just be the saggy middle. Yes, we'll throw in some adventures—like our recent marvelous Saturday wandering around Ortigia—but our biggest adventures are things like understanding the Italian government's 50% bonus scheme for renovations.
So, dear readers, we hope you are ready for some gripping tales of paperwork and muratori and ordering doccia boxes! Because we're in for some serious excitement.