You Want to Move Abroad? Do Some Soul-searching

living abroad

“I’m a ____ from _____ who makes $_____ and I want to move abroad. Where do you suggest?”

I get some variation on this question every week in e-mails and blog post comments, which is a big reason I’m putting out a book in August called A Better Life for Half the Price. It’s about drastically lowering your expenses by moving abroad. (Sign up here to get pre-release updates and post-release tips.) The book will have loads of info on the why and where, while some more comprehensive packages will include worksheets, live webinars, and some personal consulting.

I’m adding that last part to the options, as well as interviews with other expats, because telling you where you should move to is like telling you who will be your perfect mate. Getting anywhere close to the target requires learning a whole lot about you, your wants, your needs, and your ability to deal with change.

Most of all though, it’s about priorities. What’s more important to you than anything? Super-low costs? Perfect (for you) weather? The ability to get by in English? Hot women who will treat you like a stud? Great food? The ability to walk everywhere?

These are just a few things that may be at the top of someone’s list. Then there are other factors that may get pushed to the top whether you’ve thought about them or not.

If you’re gay and don’t want to hide it, Argentina, Mexico, Hungary, and Portugal are great. In Uganda or Nigeria, being gay could put you in jail for a decade or more.

If you are a stoner, there are a good number of cheap countries where the marijuana laws are lax or unenforced. In Malaysia, however, a few joints could get you executed.

If you like a regular glass of wine and to go out on the town for cocktails, Panama, Nicaragua, Hungary, and Cambodia are a dream. Morocco, Ecuador, Turkey, and Ecuador are a nightmare.

living in the tropics

How well will you deal with finding this in your shower?

Then there are the factors that will remove a place from your list. Some people can’t deal with creepy crawlies. Others will remove any place where they can’t drink the water. Some don’t want to live anywhere they have to wear a jacket. You and only you can decide what’s a deal breaker and what’s not.

As with most things in life, doing something worth doing is going to require some time and effort. Some people visit a place for a weekend, pack up and move there, and it turns out fine. In far more cases, a hasty move without any real soul-searching and a trial run turns out to be a bad idea. You can’t get to know the pros and cons of a place on paper without doing a bit of research. You can’t truly know if a place is right for you without spending some real time there being more than a tourist.

There’s lots to love about my adopted home in Mexico, but plenty that could drive someone crazy in a hurry as well. You can say that about pretty much any place in the world. One person’s perfect spot is another person’s “Get me out of here!” Spend some time and spend some money to figure out which is which for you. Unfortunately, there’s no quick answer and no button you can push that will spit out an answer.

But I’m happy to help you get there.


  1. Anthony

    Tim –

    I picked Brasil/Brazil for a few reason I will disclose.

    1) I am single/never married so of course the pool of available women is factor, but it goes deeper than that, but that’s all I will say.

    2) It’s the “B” in BRICS countries. It may not matter to those of advanced age with grown children, IE retirees; but even to my unborn children this will be a major factor in many things.

    3) Second largest population of people of African decent, ahead of the US. Given the state of the Blacks there is no community so I won’t even call it that and that’s all that explaining that needs to be said, Google the rest of it.

    4) The southern part of Brazil in some areas has a climate similar to Southern California.

    5) Like much of Latin America, the opportunities for the average person to become successful are plentiful, compared to the US where it’s saturated.

    6) Even if there’s a real estate bubble all over Latin America, it’s still between 40-60% cheaper to rent a home or apartment even in Sao Paulo compared to Los Angeles, which is where I live.

    Strange creatures, lower exchange rates compared to other Latin countries, racism (some say as bad as the US if not worse), crushing bureaucracy and “jeitinho” are all interesting but not deal breakers.

    I would expound on point #1 but it tends to be controversial or provocative depending on your POV.

  2. John Elkins

    I start soul searching, then I go to the library and get 12 books, then I read then I read those books and I get so confused…. I throw up my hands in despair…
    and I never have to do anything…. seems to work for me!

  3. Wade K.

    Thought provoking post. And I too get a bit frustrated at the sheer amount of choices. There are places like Sucre, Bolivia that look fantastic but the red tape and cost of travel between there and the States makes me look elsewhere. Arequipa, Peru is a worthy substitute but I noticed that the movies are almost always dubbed in Spanish whereas in Mexico many are in English with Spanish subtitles. Might not matter to some but I and my wife like going to the movies. And some countries in Latin America just have better internet than others, a component that’s important to us. Bolivia is supposed to have a satellite launched this summer that’ll make for much better internet. Ecuador is supposed to be laying fiber optic cable from the States. But the weather in Ecuador’s mountains seem too wet and overcast to my liking. There’s no perfect place, but compromises have to be made it seems to enjoy affordable living. Ultimately worth it to us because the States aren’t getting any cheaper.

  4. gary

    I reckon that finding the best retirement lifestyle option is akin as to when to take Social Security.

  5. central

    If I find a spider like that one in my shower I die

  6. Jim

    Re: If you like a regular glass of wine and to go out on the town for cocktails, Panama, Nicaragua, Hungary, and Cambodia are a dream. Morocco, Ecuador, Turkey, and Ecuador are a nightmare.

    I don’t understand why Ecuador would be a nightmare and not Nicaragua or Panama. They are all Latin countries where alcohol is no problem. Morocco and Turkey are Muslim countries, and Muslims are forbidden alcohol. However, non-Muslims in Morocco can have a perfectly good dinner with wine, and I would guess in Turkey even more easily, but I have been there.

    • Tim Leffel

      Taxes on alcohol are more than 100% in Ecuador and a bottle of wine will cost you three times what it does in the USA, even ones from nearby Chile and Argentina. Turkey also has taxes of more than 100%, even on the locally made raki, and the religious prime minister has pretty much banned alcohol sales after 10 pm. Tough place for nightlife these days.

  7. Jim

    Thank you, Tim! Great answer!

  8. Veronica

    Curious…why you didn’t choose Nicaragua or Ecuador to live abroad ?

    • Tim Leffel

      I’ve been to both and like them, but the food is better in Mexico and there’s more diversity, more culture. It’s also easier to get back to the USA when needed, which has been important at this point in life—3 of the four parents still alive. I’ll probably live in both for a stint when the kid is off to college or whatever.

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