What You Get, and Give Up, Living Abroad

moving abroad

Definitely not Kansas

The reviews I’ve gotten on A Better Life for Half the Price echo something I heard a lot when I put out Travel Writing 2.0. In essence, “Don’t expect a lot of sugar-coating.”

I like sugar. I probably eat too much of it. But I try not to spoon any onto the information I’m giving out, especially when someone could be making big life decisions based on what I’m telling them.

cheap living abroadLife is like a box of chocolates as Forest would say, but part of the appeal of escaping your boring predictable life and moving somewhere completely new is, you get a much bigger box. You get a huge variety of surprises on a regular basis instead of one or two a month at home. (Ooooh, a new TV series with my favorite actor! Look at that, a new Chipotle at our strip mall!)

Thailand is not Nicaragua and Bulgaria is not Mexico, but here are a few commonalities expatriates or location independent nomads run into when they move from the familiar to the new.

Upsides to Moving to a Developing Country

You spend far less on living expenses and have more disposable income.

The costs of restaurants, clubs, and entertainment shows are lower so you can enjoy them all more often.

Domestic help is drastically cheaper, so you can afford a maid, tutor, gardener, frequent taxi rides, or a weekly masseuse.

The weather will probably be better—unless you already live somewhere warm and sunny.

You’ll probably be healthier, due to less stress, cheaper healthy food, and lower medical bills. Most non-U.S./Canadian cities are also more pedestrian friendly, so you’ll probably walk more.

You’re not deluged with the constant negative and bickering non-news that the 24-hour cable channels dish out every day.

Your life will get much more interesting. Every day you’re hit with new and different stimulation of all five senses, and you’re regularly meeting new people who aren’t like you.

USA beer selection

Portland, not Pokhara


Downsides to Leaving Your Rich Country Home

You won’t be able to buy 24 types of mustard and 48 kinds of beer in a local supermarket.

You will not have the breadth of clothing or cosmetics shopping variety you have in a typical first world city.

You will pay more for electronics than you do in the USA unless you move to China.

You may not have the lightning fast internet service you’ve gotten used to.

You may have to communicate in a different language.

You may have to put up with more garbage, more graffiti, more paperwork, lazier bureaucrats, corrupt policemen, and sewage systems where you can’t flush the toilet paper.

You may not be able to drink the water from the tap.

You will probably miss some things about home that feel like a part of you, such as:

– The greenness, the mountains, the changing seasons, or the colors of changing leaves.
– A lush garden full of plants you know and recognize.
– Your local friends and community.
– Your favorite grocery store, the local bar, your regular restaurant.
– 248 channels of TV in English plus a DVR with a terrabyte of storage.

overcoming obstacles abroad

Are You a Good Hurdler?

In the end, no matter how many things you have in one column and how many things you have in the other, a lot of it comes down to attitude. Are you someone who wants an interesting life and thrives on adventure? Or are you someone who prefers routines and predictability? Can you deal well with uncertainty and a need for patience? Or do you get flustered when things move too slowly for your tastes and when everything is not prim and neat?

Most things worth doing in life require some work, and the overcoming of obstacles. Staying put and doing nothing is the easy choice, of course. Making a big move requires some commitment and a willingness to meet new challenges.

That attitude can be influenced, of course, by finances. If you spend most of your time figuring out how to reduce your tax bill and where you’re going to dock a larger yacht, you are probably just fine staying where you are. If you have trouble finding enough cash to pay the bills each month though and never seem to get ahead, cutting your expenses in half could have a life-changing impact on your future.

If you’re in the latter camp, follow this link.

  1. aleta h.

    very good article!!

  2. Sergio

    I may need to communicate in a different language? SIGN ME UP, PLEASE! :)

  3. Frank

    All very true Tim – but I will say that pedestrian friendly differs significantly place to place just as in North America (Montreal is very pedestrian friendly, whereas I know many American cities are not). In Prague we loved walking and, except for some of the over-crowded streets of the old town, it was a great place to walk around. Thailand’s cities not at all pedestrian friendly and funny enough, it’s what we’re missing the most. It’s one thing to come as a visitor, another as someone living here and every night being an obstacle course between crappy sidewalks, huge cockroaches, rats, and soi dogs (I had one yapping at my heels just yesterday).
    Having said that, we wouldn’t give up the expat life for anything. Interesting food, cheaper booze, making new friends, getting away from winter…and just getting away from the routine. And wifi is now good anywhere if you make it a priority. It’s the first thing I check into when renting an apartment.
    I remember we discussed the relative costs of Prague and Bangkok. I published a post yesterday that you may find interesting: http://bbqboy.net/cost-breakdown-montreal-vs-prague-vs-bangkok/. There’s this sentiment out there that anywhere in SE Asia has to be cheaper than a city in Central Europe…but the times are changing…
    Goof post as always.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  4. Anthony Thomas (@djfourmoney)

    How much of your life back at home you won’t get to experience abroad depends heavily on where you end up.

    For the last five years I have had only two options, take the bus and walking when I happen to be somewhere or sometime the bus isn’t running…

    That has not only happen at home in the San Fernando Valley, but it’s happen in Frankfurt, Germany and Stockholm, Sweden! I don’t like being without an option to drive my own car.

    An extension of that is being an auto enthusiast. So while lots of Latin America has poor infrastructure (plumbing, roads, wired internet, etc) Brazil has fewer of these problems and enjoys a fairly popular car culture that includes not only road course racing but drag racing as well.

    That is ANOTHER reason why I have targeted Brazil. I can continue to drive, even if fuel prices are bit higher than the US and there is all sorts of road taxes and fees.

    Also some part of the Southern Brazilian coast line has weather conditions similar to San Diego, CA.

    In other words, I wouldn’t be missing too much. The biggest problems are only about 10% of the population speaks English, unwieldy and slow bureaucracy with the included long form paper work that sometimes gets lost; but crime, trash and poor plumbing is really only a problem in and around Favelas.

    There some very nice middle class and upper class/rich neighborhoods that wouldn’t look out of place in the US.

    You can find this in Rio or SP but at a tremendous cost. But outside of these major cities the best, safest and cleanest parts of Brazil can be found at a much reduced cost.

  5. Tim

    For the most part, the downsides of expat living are outweighed by the benefits, but there are things I love so much about home that I have to get back for regular visits. Being able to experience both is what I love about the location independent lifestyle.

  6. Ethan

    What I wonder, personally, is which int’l destination(s) would work best for me trying to live abroad “stuck” in my electric wheelchair. Some US cities handle it better than others, for sure. My life could use a change of scenery.

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