Why I Live Abroad

Guanajuato City

So…why did you decide to move there?

It has become so predictable that I could just make a recording on my phone to play back when people ask. The question is always the same, their struggle to ask without seeming rude so clear on their face.

Santo Cafe GTOOccasionally it’s a well-traveled person just asking what made Guanajuato speak to me—why that particular place out of so many to choose from in Mexico alone? But usually it’s a baffled person trying to express a subtext: Why would you leave the USA (or Canada) and move to a less developed country on purpose? And with your family? What were you thinking?

I patiently go through the script about how inexpensively we live, the lower stress levels, the ability to spend more time with friends and family, the ability to just go out and enjoy life more, the fact that we don’t need a car here in a city where most streets are pedestrian-only. I can communicate in Spanish now and my daughter is truly bilingual.

But often it’s a fruitless exercise. Their eyes have already glazed over by sentence two, like a robot saying, “Does…not…compute.” Moving somewhere in another country when you’re not even retired, without any job or family reason, is just, well, insane! Even if the weather is close to perfect all year and this is the view when I look out my window:

Guanajuato skyline

That’s okay though. I understand. There may be a few million of us Americans and Canadians living abroad, but that’s a tiny fraction of the total population. When we settle down somewhere exotic sounding, we run into dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of others just like us. So it starts to feel normal. But reality is we’re a small minority. We may add up to the population of Connecticut, but the population of that state is smaller than the number of yee-haws just in Houston. For now anyway, we’re a fringe movement.

I’m quite okay with being on the fringe though. I work for myself and take time off whenever I want. Unless my family is calling, I never have an urgent need to consult my smart phone. I’ve got no boss to answer to and no time clock to punch. I’m Anti Fragile. Let those with “normal” lives stress out over their bad boss, infrequent vacations, commutes in traffic, and office politics. Plus I just like living in a place that surprises me, where I can see something like this every year at the beginning of November.

Catrina day of the dead

Alas, all good things must come to an end. In total I’ve lived abroad roughly five years in three countries, this last stint two years in central Mexico. It’s always been great for our finances and I always regret returning to the land of consumerism and 24-hour noise dressed up as news.

In late July though I’ll be back in Tampa, Florida for one reason only: so my daughter can finish high school in the USA. Who knows if she’ll participate in the ever-more-expensive scam known as college, but if she’s going to have a chance at that option she’s going to need to go to a better high school than we can send her to in our Mexican city of 150,000. So I’m being a good dad and biting the bullet for her future.


At least I’ll have really fast internet again. But sorry, that’s not reason enough to spend twice as much money each month on bills. Nearly every other quality of life aspect of our lives will decrease and most of our costs will rise significantly. So as soon as we’re able, we’ll return to the house we own in Guanajuato and go back to living the good life for less. Whether anyone else gets it or not.

If you’d like to learn more about how to cut your expenses in half while having a less stressful life as a byproduct, check out the expat stories from A Better Life for Half the Price.

  1. david

    Why are you picking Tampa in florida in usa?Family roots?

    • Tim Leffel

      Yes, family there, which is nice when just my wife and I want to get away without the kid along. Plus we really like the sunshine and refuse to deal with gray winters anymore.

  2. Jack Campbell

    Keep me updated in your world…….

  3. gary

    Hi Tim,

    Best of luck for you and family on the relo.
    I hear you regarding the whole ‘higher education’ scam, although I was quite high throughout college. I pride myself in being ‘asked’ not to continue in two Masters programs. See, a bad attitude can bring good rewards!
    I’ll keep a good wish for you all. And I’m still workin’ on that transatlantic ff miles thing in biz class!

    • Tim Leffel

      Sounds like a good outcome Gary. I was once offered a tuition-free MBA program through an online university I was doing writing work for. I passed and the founder was really taken aback. “I can learn more by running my business than listening to lectures and learning calculus” I told him. Eight years later, I’m really glad I didn’t spend the countless hours going through all that.

      • gary

        Amen, Tim.

        And really, I didn’t mean to make this a discussion on the folly of university study. Again, I wish you and the fam the best in Tampa.

        PS: I bet you guys can get really CHEAP seats for the Rays’ home games. I suspect the same for the Buccaneers, too.

  4. Elna

    Lots of success!

  5. Anita

    Love your way of thinking. I wish you good luck for the rest of your journey :)

  6. Johnny

    Tim, surely there is a good H.S. that your daughter can attend there in Guanajuato. I think that a lot of Colleges here in the US would welcome a Student that had the diverse educational and cultural background that your Daughter has experienced and hey, who says she has to go to College or University in the overpriced USA. Use your Philosophy to maybe explore sending her to a Mexican or Canadian Institution. I hear that Norway will provide International Students a inexpensive College education. Look into Germany as well. I wouldn’t contribute to the giant rip off scam that the US Higher Educutional System has become, but that’s just me. I know it’s a complex isssue that has to be agreed to by your entire Family and that there is pressure from Grandparents, Siblings, etc.
    Good Luck to you and your entire Family!

    • Tim Leffel

      Believe me, we’ve studied the high school options in detail here and have three years of schooling experience to know how (not) rigorous the academics are. It’s been a worthwhile trade-off since she’s now fluent in Spanish, but she falls further behind each year on certain subjects unless we hire a private tutor. We’re just not in a big enough city. Or one with enough foreigners. On purpose. But we are going to strongly encourage the study abroad option if she goes on to university. It’s a terrible value now in the USA for anyone not following a high-money major.

  7. Rekha Rajan

    I am from India and I live in what is called the Millennial City of India…so my husband and I are enduring daily city stress. Something you were fortunate enough to run away from.

    I think, just staying here in the same city itself we can create a life like you have created in your new residence. Question is “do we want that life” … or even better question is “are we willing to make some sacrifices for that better life”

  8. Januarie

    Loved!!! This article. I’ve lived all over the states and now I’m ready to check out Mexico! The thought of a simpler life in calm beauty around good people feels like a great choice. Now might be just the perfect time to exit the States.

    I’m wondering, about how much would a single person need to bring in per month to live decently? I’m ok with roughing it and I m fine in a small living space …

    Thank you!


    • Tim Leffel

      That depends greatly on the city. Many people get by easily on less than $1,000 per month in the interior or in a beach area where there aren’t any tourists. It’s tougher to do that in a resort area though or Mexico City, so you might be looking at 50% more than that. When I live in Guanajuato my budget is generally a shade over $2K per month for a family of three, for absolutely everything except vacation travel.

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