Answers to The Usual Objections About Moving Abroad to Save Money

real estate prices

$219,000 in small town Missouri

There are some people who love to argue and the ones that love the practice the most seem to delight in posting comments on articles about living abroad. I’m not sure whether they feel threatened, or patriotic, or just grumpy that they’re stuck where they are, but it’s a common tendency I deal with every week.

I can’t have much impact on all the negative comments that get posted when I get quoted in the likes of USA Today. Plus it’s a hopeless battle to discuss crime stats with people who don’t want to be bothered by trivial considerations such as facts or science. For the benefit of the future skeptical readers of this Cheapest Destination blog, however, here are the ones that come up on a regular basis that I can address. Consider it a FAQ for “frequent annoying questions” that aren’t really questions.

1) “You people that write about how great it is to move abroad always quote prices in expensive cities like New York, San Francisco, or London. Where I live in (insert small town nobody has heard of) I pay $300 a month for rent.”

Well, good for you Bubba. I paid $300 a month for rent in the USA too once, for a one-bedroom apartment in the 38th largest city. But that was in 1986. You’ve generally got to be in a small rural town with no jobs available and a stagnant real estate market to get that kind of deal today. Unless you want to live in a depressed place like Flint, Michigan or Gary, Indiana, you’re going to be paying U.S. market rates for rents—which were going up even during the housing crisis because of high demand and low construction activity.

The bigger point though, is when I bring up those big city prices, I’m comparing them to prices in other capital cities. My examples of people I’ve interviewed are usually those who have moved from NYC to Buenos Aires, L.A. to Istanbul, or London to Lisbon. It’s apples to apples. If I’m giving an example of someone moving to Vilcabamba, Ecuador or Bolson, Argentina, then it makes sense to use small-town-USA prices as a comparison. It’s oranges to oranges.

Here’s the thing though. Even if you move from undesirable rural Iowa to very desirable Grenada, Nicaragua, your expenses will still go down and your standard of living will go up. That’s because prices are still far lower for health care, restaurants, domestic help, a haircut, entertainment, vegetables, and on and on. You’ll still save a small fortune. Just not as much as someone moving from a comparable attractive city.

Ecuador real estate

$179,000 view in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, on 10 acres of land

 2) “The residency (or work, or real estate purchase) laws listed on the government website say you can’t _______________”

Again, you can believe what you read from whatever source you’ve dug up or you can believe what the people actually living there are saying. Rules aren’t black and white in the USA or England either, first of all. Drugs are illegal, you can’t drink in a U.S. university until you’re 21, the speed limit is 65 on the interstate, your lease says you can’t put an apartment you rent on AirBnB without a landlord’s permission, politicians can’t accept bribes…

In developing countries, the laws are even more fluid and money talks. Yes you can get in trouble if you break the rules and if you look hard enough you’ll probably find someone who has gotten in trouble for it. But for every one of those caught there were probably hundreds who had no issue. So the world won’t come to an end if you overstay your visa in Argentina, work illegally as a bartender in the EU, or buy real estate in some dodgy partnership in Cambodia or Indonesia. Yes, all these things can be risky, but often statistically not as risky as getting in your car to go to work.

3) “You can’t find a decent apartment for the prices you’ve listed and if you have children in private school that can cost a fortune.”

Yeah, I’m just listing examples from real people who actually live there, but you must know better, right?

This comment usually comes from someone who has been transferred to a country because of their job or someone who insists on having the exact same kind of apartment and schooling (in English) for their children that they would have in the country they left. In other words, exact same life, just different weather. If that’s your desire, yes you will pay much more than the person who adapts to the new location and adjusts their expectations accordingly. Landlords and real estate agents love to see you coming. Which leads to…

Vilcabamba house

(Same house as above)

4) “I’ve heard they always try to rip off the foreigners because they think we’re all rich.”

This one puzzles me a lot because if you’ve left your $1,500 rent in your current city and are paying $500 where you’re going, aren’t you far better off no matter what? Is it really worth losing sleep over whether a local could have gotten the same house for $450 a month?

Hey, I’m against getting ripped off as much as the next guy and have come close to a fistfight with taxi drivers in India and Egypt, but eventually you have to accept the fact that sometimes the rich get soaked a little more. And if moving to Nepal on your $2.400 a month social security checks puts you in the top-2% in that country in income, then sorry, you are now rich. Stinking filthy loaded rich! Not in your eyes maybe, but in the eyes of the locals yes.

This doesn’t mean you have to roll over and pay twice the normal rate for everything, but it does mean you should probably start thinking like a person who has more money to spare than nearly everyone around you. Life’s too short to get riled up over a few extra few bucks going into to the local economy. If you overpay the maid by $5 a week compared to what your working class neighbor pays, is that so terrible? Your maid is better off, happier to work for you, and feeding her family better. Consider it a local economic stimulation. It’ll probably do more direct good than donating the same $240 a year to a charity. Compared to what you would pay where you come from for domestic help, it’s a pittance anyway.


3D_png_transparent_250Look, A Better Life for Half the Price doesn’t have all the answers  and if I interviewed another 60 people for a new edition to add to the expat stories, I still wouldn’t have all the answers. That’s because everyone’s situation is different and there’s seldom a surefire way it’s done in order to avoid any unpleasantness or uncertainty. Prices vary drastically even within a country depending on the whole rural/urban and tourists/no tourists divergence. In general though, if you move to any of the destination profiled, you will lower your expenses dramatically, even if it’s not apples to apples in terms of city size.

If you want predictability, consistency, and a clear logical path, then stay home and keep your routine. I think that’s what most people who leave these irate comments will do. It’s what they were going to do anyway because they are too scared to leave their comfort zone and like to lash out at anyone who suggests that the grass is greener elsewhere.

But now I can just link to this post instead of posting the same responses over and over.

  1. Charles

    Excellent article! By the way, it contains one erratum: “into to”.

  2. Adam

    You forgot “They don’t even use real money there, do they?”
    That’s right ignoramus, they’re still trading shells and beads for goats.

  3. Craig

    I live in Thailand, and met you at TBEX. One big issue here in health care. If something major crops up, you can easily be looking at a bill of $100,000 or more. Easy. Rooms in a decent hospital are $1,000/day and up. And very difficult to obtain health insurance here. It’s not unusual for them to just drop you after you turn 65 or so. Plus, facilities are very dodgy here.

    As for apartments. Sure, you can get an apartment here for $100/month. But it’s not a place many would like to live. Decent apartments run $1,000/month and up. Still a good deal for a beautiful city like Bangkok or a beach city like Phuket.

    • Tim Leffel

      Craig, you’re the first person to tell me hospitals in Bangkok are expensive. I know loads of people who fly there from Cambodia or Vietnam regularly and they rave about the value. It’s also a major medical tourism destination, with prices roughly 1/5 of what they are in the USA. I can’t imagine how you could spend $100K in one there, unless you’re getting the equivalent of a $500K visit in the states. They’re also quite transparent about the rates:

      Their rate for a hip replacement (including 3 nights in the hospital) is $18,569. My father’s insurance paid around $76,000 with only one night in the hospital in a small city in South Carolina.

      I don’t believe I ever said you could get a nice apartment for $100 a month anywhere in Bangkok. But 5,000 baht is very common.

      Their rate for a hip replacement (including 3 nights in the hospital) is $18,569. My father’s insurance paid around $76,000 with only one night in the hospital in a small city in South Carolina.

      • Marty

        A lot of my friends live in Thailand and they said the healthcare is excellent and cheap!

        I don’t know the process for getting cheap hlthcre ins. So can’t comment and the nicer places of course cost more but it’s nice to have the option of Two hundred dollar apartment for us who dont care for the highest quality.

        My place in Xela is 150.00usd brand new,and the perminant residency was cheap and easy for me,and if your looking for a cheap hmo type health ins. And can open an account there you will qualify for the 35 to 50 usd a month’s policy and if you want the deluxe policy its closer to 150 usd,so its nice to have these options in life if you want a change in life or just a cheaper way to without sacrificing quality to much.

        Thank for providing the cool content!

  4. Raymond Grant

    Next year for me! Retirement here I come!

  5. Wade K.

    Unfortunately I’ve worked with many bigots who assume places like Mexico are hellholes, otherwise why would so many try to get into the U.S.? Nothing persuades them. That being said I find as I get older I just want to blend in, and have fast internet. The only place that truly seems doable is southeast Europe. If comparably priced places in Latin America had 50 mbs+ Internet I would certainly consider them but then there’s crime, pollution, etc to think about too.

    • Tim Leffel

      Panama and Santiago, some parts of Mexico City. Otherwise it’s tough in Latin America for that kind of speed. It varies a lot by region though. In Europe, Romania is tops! Estonia next.

      • Wade K.

        Things are developing nicely in Europe. Romania is about 5th or 6th now for average download speeds. There’s a cable company in Serbia offering up to 150 mb’s in it’s largest cities. Macedonia is promising 30 mb’s nationwide by 2020. Bulgaria has good speeds and they actually have a retiree visa although there seems to be workarounds in most countries. I’m looking at Novi Sad, Serbia for retirement but there are easily 20 cities worth considering in the region.

    • sean

      I live in Melbourne (Australia), an expensive city by most standards, and I struggle to get more than 1 or 2 mbps speeds because of the crap wiring and congestion.
      Sure, it’s very annoying, especially considering what I’m paying in rent and internet charges, but it’s still fast enough to work from home sometimes and watch netflix – you don’t *need* 50 mbps+.

  6. Lynn Gardiner

    Hi Tim! Do us all a favour and leave whinging Americans to wallow in their ignorance where they are : I certainly don’t need them living in my spa e.
    Excellent articles!!! Well done.

  7. Scenic_Kate

    My favorite response when I talk about Mexico or Thailand or wherever I have been is people just don’t believe you. They say “Why would you go to Mexico Don’t you know it’s not safe!” When I ask if they have ever been there, they say no. When I say well I have and I have never felt unsafe. They just refuse to believe you. They would rather listen to some crap they hear on their 24 hour news channel than open their mind to another narrative.

    I love Rick Steves’ response when people wish him safe travels – “Don’t worry I’m not flying through Chicago.”

  8. Melina

    This may not be one of the usual objections, and not to do with money really, but what would you say to people who claim you’re endagering your children and their future by (thinking of) moving to a cheaper and obviously less developed country? (Generic ‘you’ used here.)

    My situation is of course different from most on this site, living in Northen Europe, in a country touted as having the best (and free) education system in the world… Plus very affordable public healthcare, among other things. (And without going into too much detail, one of the kids has health problems, which of course adds to the obstacles on the way.)

    • Tim Leffel

      There are kids everywhere and contrary to what we think in the richest countries, they’re often pretty darn happy and well-adjusted. They have fewer allergies, fewer mental problems, and fewer suicides. So maybe we’re focused on the wrong metrics. My daughter who spent three years in Mexican schools is not doing any worse than ones who were only in the USA all that time, in good neighborhoods. Plus she’s a lot more worldly wise. Your mileage may vary, of course and the older they get the more the education quality matters, which is why for the moment we are back in the USA so she can finish high school.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *