Recently this article came out about the $755 condoms in Venezuela. While that number is large, the biggest news is that CONDOMS ARE HARD TO FIND. This makes me think of my annual packing list, which is especially important in Venezuela, where so many items are very difficult to find.
If you have been teaching abroad for a while you know that you should pack a professional wardrobe, whatever tools and books you can’t live without in your classroom, and whatever makes your apartment feel like home to you. When it comes to packing for Venezuela you need to consider packing several other items as well!
Remember, if you are lucky enough to find these items in Venezuela there is no such thing as brand loyalty. As I tell my students, “you get what you get, don’t have a fit.” If you need to use a certain brand it is highly unlikely that you will find it in Venezuela, so just bring it with you. For example, I like Crest toothpaste but in the 2.5 years I’ve been here I’ve never seen it in stores, so I now use Colgate.
While the following items are considered basic to many people, they are very difficult to find in Venezuela. You either have to wait hours in line for these products or find a black market and pay someone two or three times the amount to wait in the line for you…if you are lucky and they don’t sell out right away too.
If you think I am exaggerating or that you will get lucky I would hedge your bets and bring enough for a couple of months, otherwise consider bringing or mailing yourself enough for at least six months.
- Shampoo & Conditioner– I have not been able to buy shampoo in a regular store for more than 6 months. You can find deep conditioners and hair masks that might do the trick, but if you want something you can use daily then you should bring it yourself.
- Deodorant– In the past six months I have only seen this available on one day.
- Razors– Many people have started getting waxed or lazered because you can’t find razors here.
- Face Wash– Becoming more and more difficult to find. If you do find it, it will most likely be imported and very expensive.
- Bar Soap/Body Wash– I haven’t seen any body wash in the past six months and now bar soap is also becoming hard to find.
- Toilet paper– For the first six months of the school year you could find this easily, but ALL of the last school year and this month I have not seen toilet paper in stores. Consider taking four rolls (remove the cardboard to save space) just in case and if you see it in stores here buy 12 or more rolls at a time.
- Tampons– I suggest you get a DivaCup unless you like thick pads.
- Condoms– while you can find some condoms with brands I’ve never heard of, they are not easy to find and they are not cheap.
- Birth Control– you can get a pill version of birth control, but you should hope your body likes the generic version, because there is not much choice. Nobody has heard of the NuvaRing. I usually get a year’s supply and bring it with me.
- Hair Gel/Hairspray- I don’t usually bother with hair products, but most of the stuff I see is made for getting your hair as straight as possible. If you have curly or wavy hair you might want to bring your own supplies.
- Mosquito Repellant– Mosquitos are everywhere in tropical Venezuela and they also carry Chikungunya which is similar to Dengue.
- Makeup– Most makeup is imported and is therefore hard to find. You might be ale to find some local brands, but in my experience they are not good quality and are mostly made for people with olive to tan complexions.
- Nail polish remover– not as necessary as some of the other things, but very hard to find.
- Shaving Cream– I have found this exactly twice this school year. I like to get a couple bottles of shaving oil as backup (but perhaps since my water doesn’t get very hot, the oil clogs my precious razors).
I love food and some things are nearly impossible to find so I just bring them with me:
- Peanut butter
- Miso paste
- Dried seaweed
- Curry pastes/powders (you can only find the basic yellow/brown indian curry here)
- Sriracha hot sauce
- Coconut oil
- Any hot spices/chilies
- Taco seasoning
- Favorite spices (even local packaged spices are becoming hard to find but you can still find fresh herbs like rosemary, basil, and thyme in the markets)
- Dried shitake mushrooms– you can only find basic white mushrooms and occasionally portabella mushrooms
- Cheddar cheese– most of the cheese is hard, white and salty
- Granola bars
- Green tea– if you see it here it is usually flavored with lemon or honey
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Chocolate– If you like good quality chocolate you should bring it with you. While you can find bars of great quality plain chocolate made by El Rey de Chocolate, you cannot find bars with fancy flavors or with nuts.
- Also know that flour and sugar are hard to find, let alone any boxed items you might see in the baking isle back home.
- Coffee– even though Venezuela produces coffee, I rarely see it in the stores here. I have never seen flavored coffee so if that is something you like you should mail some to yourself.
- Cranberry– if you like anything with cranberries in it you should bring it. Cranberry sauce for thanksgiving will not happen unless you bring it.
Ask your school what they provide for your house and kitchen. Quality items are hard to find and basic items are expensive.
- Sharp knives
- Good pots & pans– my school gave me one tiny pot and one tiny pan
- Can opener
- Vegetable peeler
- Wine opener
- Blender– this is big and heavy so only bring it if you regularly use one. My friend searched a month for hers in Valencia.
- Kitchen thermometer– my oven only has pictures of flames on it to tell how hot the temperature is…and I’m not even sure that that is accurate.
- French press/coffee pot- you can find a cheesecloth cone thing that you can dangle over your mug, but I prefer my French press that I brought with me
Getting Your Stuff Here
I suggest that you try to pay for extra luggage. This might be impossible depending on the airport you are flying out of, because there is usually a luggage embargo during the summer months, which only allows you two pieces of checked luggage. Call your airport/airline to get the specifics.
I have had great luck (no missing boxes nor items and everything arrived within three weeks from the date they left my house) using a courier service called Garkan. You simply ship your boxes to their office in Miami, and they somehow get it safely to your school in Venezuela. My school reimburses me for shipping costs up to a certain amount (with receipts) so ask about that.
I also try to divide my items so that in case someone at the airport has sticky fingers I will have backup items in my boxes I mailed, and the same goes for my boxes. I recommend getting luggage locks for your bags. Locals would also advise you to get your bags wrapped in plastic at the airport. Anything electronic or very expensive I try to carry onto the airplane with me.
Please comment: did I forget anything? What are some items that you always bring when you move abroad?