I Want to Move Abroad. Where Do I Start?

living in Mexico

My current home – 40% less expensive than the last one

I used to get this question every month or so. Now that I’ve broadcast on a regular basis that I am living in Mexico, I get it every week or so. We’re living it up and spending 40% less than we did at home, so I can’t blame anyone for asking how they can move to a foreign country and do the same.

Many people seem to want to move abroad to lower their expenses or escape the hectic life of always-on connections and 24-hour bickering on TV. But the idea is so daunting they don’t even know how to take the first steps.

So here goes.

First of all, change any prevailing mindset that everything you need to know can be gathered up for free online. Good information, solid information that’s reliable, costs money. Not a fortune, but not free either. If you’re going to ask where and how you can live on a few thousand dollars less a month than you’re spending now, be willing to invest a hundred or two to get you there. Spend a little, save a lot.

1) Get International Living magazine.

Sure, they’ll wear you out with sales pitches and they’re in bed with some people they recommend for purchases, but they’re still the best resource, period: International Living. That takes you to the order form, where it’s $49 a year or $89 for two. The best investment you’ll make in living abroad for less. If you need a stronger hard sell though, browse around their site and they’ll pour it on thick: they’ve obviously got a few direct-mail copywriters on staff. Hype aside though, what’s in the magazine is well-researched info with real prices on the ground, usually from writers who are living in the places they’re writing about.

2) Buy the right books.

Sure, The World’s Cheapest Destinations is a nice start, but that’s mainly a travel book, not a living book. Before I moved to Mexico with a daughter, both my wife and I read The Family Sabbatical Handbook and found it helpful. I’ve since met a dozen other parents who have used it as well. Follow the Amazon recommendations that pop up along with that and you’ll get to books like Getting Out, How to Retire Overseas, and Escape 101.

If you already know where you want to go, dive into a book for that country, if it’s available. Moon Handbooks puts out a lot of good Living Abroad guides, like Living Abroad in Panama or Thailand. Do an Amazon search for the country you’re interested in and you’ll probably find more. Naturally you’re going to find more info on living in Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic than you will on some obscure country where you’re the only expat, but if there’s a sizable number there’s probably a book on moving there.

If you come up empty on physical books, start trolling for e-books. Often you’ll find something on International Living or EscapeArtist.com, but if not keep looking. Often a locally run website or expat message board can point you in the right direction. Sometimes these e-books are pricey: the author is giving away insider information to the few who really want it and can charge a higher price. Again though, if investing 40 bucks saves you $400 a month on rent or $4,000 on closing costs, isn’t that worth it?

3) Read Reliable Web Resources

Anybody can post anything on the web without getting called out on it, so there’s a lot of misinformation and just plain misleading advice that will take you down the wrong path. I’ve found EscapeArtist.com to be more reliable than most overall, though you can stumble across things that are way out of date. Also look to living abroad articles from Transitions Abroad.

If you can find a local expert who really knows his/her stuff, like Lan Sluder for Belize, then embrace their site and use it as your main guide.  Most countries have at least one really good authoritative site you can trust, like Mexperience for Mexico or Travelfish.org for Thailand and its neighbors.

Sometimes you might have to pay a little for “special reports” with all the dirty details, but usually they’re worth it.

4) Travel

You can ask a hundred questions and read a hundred books, but there’s no substitute for getting out there and giving a place a trial run. Think you might want to live in Central America but you’re not sure where? Get a one-way flight to Guatemala and start moving. You’ll get a real sense of prices and you’ll find out where you would truly be comfortable.

I spent a month in Guanajuato with my family a year before we moved here for our sabbatical. I knew from my travels which places I definitely did not want to live in, even when they were cheap and looked great on paper. They just didn’t have the right feel. The only way you’ll know that is if you pack a bag and go.



  1. Sol

    Next trip is to New York for me. Maybe not exotic, but very exciting. Have a nice thursday!

    • helen

      Firstly, I think its normal for youngsters to want to travel & see the world. Living in a foreign country is different be it for a short or longer time stay. People who choose to live abroad have their own personal reasons. I think its the thought start of a new life with more varied company, such like. I think it can work, but only if one approaches emigrating for the right reasons. Negative reasons being that you don’t have solid social company, & you think by moving elsewhere will make it right. – wrong. It depends on many factors, depends on type of person you are. It can work & it can be positive living in a different country. Its different language, culture etc. People can integrate very easily, if everything else in their life is settled. However, sometimes it doesn’t always work long term because people can miss their original country. Sometimes sadly It doesn’t work out as planned although approached from a positive angle. The advice given here is very clear.
      Indeed often the course of life can change for ex – you may make a friend who lives overseas & that can be another reason. However, these friendships may break off merely through living in different places. And with this being a factor involved in maintaining a friend.

  2. DML

    Checking out ex-pat message boards for the city/community you are interested in is helpful too. They are easy to find with a Google search and many expat communities have one. while this information is “free” it is no substitute for all the suggestions listed above. However, it can help answer some questions from people who are already living there

  3. Sara Gabrakirstos

    I agree travel mags and books really help! If it’s a place you’ve never been a trick I learned is that in books and online, the same places might show up in images. You can read more about those locations but chances are that is a good indicator for what there is to see around that area. And it also is a good indicator of the size of that location. But you should always go into this experience abroad with an open mind, chances are you aren’t going to live somewhere for several months and not learn a thing!

  4. Don Nadeau

    Great post.

    Be very careful about booking oneway flights into a country.

    If traveling as a regular tourist, some places won’t let you enter. Others will give you special treatment at immigration asking that you prove resources, etc. before deciding whether or not you can enter.

    In many cases, the cost of an advanced purchase return fare does not exceed the cost of a oneway ticket. Try to buy one that allows return date changes relatively cheaply. You might need this.

    • tim

      Don, I’ve heard that “be careful” advice a lot, but in two decades of travel I have only ever been asked for an onward one once: in England, 1994. In close to two decades of travel, I’ve only met one person who was ever forced to buy a ticket at the airport for a return or onward flight. And again that was in Europe, not Latin America or Asia. And that person always dressed like they were homeless instead of looking nice when landing in a new country, so they made immigration suspicious I’m sure.

      If you want to be safe, however, there are some cheap insurance tactics that can help you in case this rare situation ever does come up:
      1) A bus or train reservation out of the country.
      2) Hotel reservations for another neighboring country to show you’re moving on.
      3) Bank statements showing you’re wealthy enough to keep traveling and aren’t on your last dollar.

      Immigration people mostly just want to make sure you’re not staying on, working illegally, taking money instead of bringing it. If you can satisfy them that this is not you, thwap thwap in your passport and you’re golden.

  5. Serena

    Thanks for the valuable information. Packing up and moving abroad is something that has always been on my mind! It is a big step, and Mexico seems the most feasible. I loved Guadalajara when I lived there for a month, but I do hear that Guanajato is just a lovely place. Great advice and inspiring thoughts.

  6. anders i göteborg

    How are your experiences of the different countries in Africa? Have you been there? ..

    • tim

      Been there, but haven’t lived there. Most people who move to Africa seem to do it because a job is taking them there, apart from a few spots like Morocco, Egypt, and South Africa. But if you’re interested, dive into the resources above for info.

  7. Melanie

    Hey, thank you for this. Very inspiring.
    I’m in the planning stage myself and currently being bogged down with the boring tasks of opening new bank accounts, applying for visa and sorting out my overseas medical insurance so this has really helped me get back into excited mode!

  8. expat who chose poorly

    Don’t move to New Zealand without reading expatexposed.com and the E2NZ site at WordPress. We made the mistake of moving here a couple years ago based mainly on one recon visit and a bunch of material we found online, and also on the glowing recommendations of some expat Kiwis, and found that it had problems that were not widely known. We later came to know other expats who either moved home or moved to Australia from here, but the human development indicators for New Zealand do not really accurately depict the sorts of problems you’ll run into here. It’s lovely in terms of scenery, and the weather is mainly nice (if you can find a warm affordable house in winter), but do your research first. Jobs are scarce, low-wage, housing and most other things are very expensive. Nice place to visit once in a lifetime with a lot of money and a really fancy camera! Not so nice to live in with a family on a middle-class income. There are reasons why so many Kiwis hop the ditch to Oz or go on their OE and never come back, and these have little to do with earthquakes!

  9. Priscilla Martinsen

    I want to relocate to the Seychelleys IS. Victoria or ecuadore I am on Social security and read international living post cards. There information and yours were interesting. My sons live in Japan 29 years and teach english. They love it. My oldest son wants me to move to Thailand or indonesia. I am not sure where it would be best. In the usa I can barely get by on 1000.00 a month.

  10. Cindylee

    i want to move out of arizona and to move abroad. BUT it has to help me with my medical. we need to know also how we can move for the cheapest cheapest way. we want to move so we can get my health taking care of and learn new things new languages etc…

  11. cindye

    ok I stumbled upon this blog and i am glad I found it. I have been divorced for going on 3 years now and i recently lost my job. I get about $110. a week for childsupport right now. I have been trying to find a place to move for a year or so that i could afford if I lost my job. I would love any information you can send me on iseal places. My son will be going with me and he will also need a place that we can continue to recive his meds for ADHD as well as his Seizures. I am looking for a new start in life for the new chapter in my life. Please help me.

  12. cindye

    the hymalaians sound great. I would love the area you describe. and the walk to town would help greatly for me i need to lose weight bad to. please help with information

  13. Amy

    Some great advice but you’ve missed out one really important thing: learn the language!

    If you can’t speak to the locals you’ll never be able to fit in.

    There’s some more good advice for anyone seriously thinking about moving abroad here: http://www.stormclad.co.uk/blog/should-you-move-abroad/

  14. mrs abba

    hi we are family of 5 and are luking 2 move 2 spain my hushband is qualified tilier over 25 years experience my daughters and myself are qualified nursery nurses my son is 13 we dont really knw how 2 go about it wud be grateful 4 any help any 1 cud give us plz x

  15. mary

    hi, my name is mary and i have two lovely kids,age 11 and 9yrs, i am currently living in my own country Papua New Guinea that i cant cope with family business and relationship. i am a Travel consultant and want to live and work abroad, please help

    thanks for reading
    mary nicholas

  16. Innocent Dlamini

    Hellow everyone my name is Innocen Dlamini anyone can help me I want to move and work overseas in Canada or USA I stay in South Africa I am the professional driver with code14 I realy want to go find the better life for my famely and the future of my kids anyone can help me please my cell no:+27(0)724323273

    • Sarah


      I am also from south africa, did you get a chance to move?
      I am also looking to move.

  17. My name is Michelle

    I left my husband when he started saying things under his breath about trying to find a place to dispose of my body. I ran with my cats and the clothes on my back. Not divorced yet cause I can’t afford a lawyer. Going Monday to see about filing bankruptcy. I want to get away to some far away place (island would be good) where i can start again and live as cheaply as possible. Would be happy in a grass hut. Someplace beautiful. I NEED to take my cats with me. Any ideas? Where do I start? Want to go within the next year (by March 2014 when my current lease is up and hopefully all legal issues will be behind me). Thank you!

  18. Katie

    I’m so fed up of my life in Englad I have nothing to keep me here and want to leave my fiancé everything is making me so depressed, almost suicidal. I have money in my bank and a 10 year passport. Where do I start? I’ve always wanted to backpack Thailand/Vietnam/China.

  19. Jenny

    Why not ask someone who has, and still is, living in the country u want to move to what is like to live there? They may have more information on what u need to do before u move to lets say England than someone whose an expat.

    • Tim Leffel

      Jenny, I’ve rarely found that to be a helpful plan. Most true locals are a great help for things like finding an apartment or where to buy groceries, but they’re not much help when it comes to visas, private schools, the best towns for expats, etc. England is easy. It’s moving to a cheaper, culturally different place like Vietnam or Nicaragua that’s difficult.

  20. Laura

    Can anyone recommend an international moving company? I am moving to Australia the end of July with my husband and I need to ship some boxes and furniture from England to Australia. Everything would fit in a 10ft container.
    I don’t know where to start searching for a trustable international moving company. Could somebody give me any tips where I can find a good one that can help me ship everything? Please let me know!
    Thanks a lot :)

    • Robert

      Hi Laura,

      I recently moved from Germany to Italy, I also didn’t know where to start! I used Moovmii to help me find the best international moving company. You just fill in the form on their website and you will receive 5 free quotes within 24 hours! It really helped me, I saved a lot of time and money using their service! :)
      Good luck!

      Greetings Robert

  21. Chrissy

    There has been three years from the moment I’ve decided I want to live in the UK and two weeks later I started packing. Best decision in my life, travel and explore, people! Cheers!

    • Sarah

      Which country did you move from? Was it diffcuilt?

  22. Julie

    Really want to move abroad were privately renting now but would like to move out for at least 6 months to a year try out

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