Top 10 Unspoken Expat Rules on International Travel & ‘Muling’ Etiquette for Expat Friends!

When you live abroad in less developed countries, you miss the convenience of everything in more developed countries. Personally, one the thing I miss most is the ease of shopping at local box brand stores or just ordering from Amazon! Its not always that easy to find random thingamabobs in this little town. Thankfully, with a bit of patience, sometimes your friends will be willing to help get these items and “mule them down” on one of their trips abroad.

Incredible almost anecdotal stories will be shared by those who live abroad on this topic… just ask them and enjoy 😉

“Muling” for Friends Abroad

Muling is the action of receiving a package in the mail or shopping for something at the store and bringing it in your luggage with you back to the international location you currently live in.

In many cases, the more accurate definition of Muling, becomes ‘begging’ your friends who travel to bring something back for you. Best way to go about this is having said item sent to friends house via mail delivery. At least 2 weeks prior to their return to Nicaragua.

So, when the traveller arrives to where ever they are staying it is common to have a large pile of boxes waiting for them upon arrival.

Once you have unpacked all the amazon packages waiting for you upon arrival, there is a moment of relief when you do not have to go out hunting in the malls and stores for each item on your list!

Basically, when your friends find out you are traveling abroad, most will jump for joy and ask you the dreaded question “can you bring something back for me please!?” And the many muling requests begin…

Most good friends will say “yes” the first time, until the one of the ‘unspoken expat muling rules’ is broken!!

Seasoned expats have learned these rules via personal experience. New expats learn the rules as people begin to slowly deny their travel address or an opportunity to mule something back for them. So make sure you abide by the 10 Rules below to keep in your friends good grace!

There are 4 piles of items here for 4 different expat families. 2 families are “newer expats” and 2 are long term experienced expats. Only 2 families will be notified the next time we have international travel abroad and offer to “mule” things back! 😅

1. Ask for permission before you order to friends house!

Always ask for permission prior to ordering things to their house! Luggage weight limits become are real rules with financial consequences. Weight and space inside your luggage is like gold for those who don’t travel often. Unspoken etiquette says that what you order to a friends house should Max amount of cumulative weight should be 5lbs at most, preferably closer to 1 or 2 pounds.

2. No repeat items

Never send more than 3 of the same thing (repeat items are more likely to get taxed upon entry to country at a commercialization taz rate). Customs office will consider these items as if you are trying to make a business out of selling said items within country and start a business. No business license to import? More taxes!

3. Phones in original packaging are a No 👎

Never ask an expat friend to bring you a phone in original packaging – they can get stopped and asked to process a license to bring in this phone (only the traveller can process this paper work) while the phone gets confiscated. Anything with a GPS device requires additional permitting that requires payments (almost equivalent to the cost of the phone) in addition to requiring stamps from 3 offices. Collecting these stamps can take 3 days depending on lines and transportation.

4. Computers are a Big Ask!

Bringing in Computers, same as bringing in a smart phone. Only very close friends will bring you a computer, they should be traveling with no computer and it should be out of the original packaging and have a charged battery. To simulate it is in use (not new)

5. Big NO to 2 way radio devices

Never ask for 2 way radio devices like Walkie Talkies or “farm” radios like the ones aficionados use – not even children’s toys! These never get past customs and will likely be seized. I believe specialty permits are required and can only be obtained through military institutions.

6. Medications only with prescriptions

Controlled medications in large quantities can be confiscated if prescription are not in the name of person traveling. The National Ministry of Health would likely seize medications traveling without proper prescriptions

7. Remove tags and packaging

All items will be inspected and taken out of the original packaging. That is just the way it is. even the US checks things in your baga before you leave the country, they leave a random customs check form inside your bag. In any case, packaging increases weight and chances are, the person traveling will get stopped and taxed.

8. Be mindful

Only have your friend mule items not found in country. Its bad etiquette to take up weight/space on an international flight for items that can be found in country, even if only found in the capital.

9. Order for delivery 72 hours in advance

Always order items with at-least 72 hours before your expat friend’s departure to ensure it arrives on time and avoid stress of last minute packing or tracking down delivery trucks of said items!

10. Name that order

Items for delivery must be ordered in the name of person traveling, incase there is an issue with the actual delivery. Only the person whose name is on the package can retrieve packages from Postal service providers such as DHL, USPS, Amazon Prime etc.

After thoughts…

I gotta say… what I do love about this system is the highlighted unspoken knowledge that we all need each other! This is usually a new learned lesson for most expats. Most first world countries prize independence. Needing each other is not a “bad” thing. It’s a system that cultivates compassion and nurturing of relationships. It makes for a strong knit community of expats who help eachother willingly.

If you have questions about expat life in Nicaragua, feel free to contact us on Facebook or Instagram @newnicaragua… you can always peruse our little website for more posts like this one 🙂

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