If you bring up the idea that you’re thinking of moving abroad to save money, or for any reason really, be prepared for some resistance. Just as some people won’t support your year-long trip around the world, you’ll get lots of objections about living abroad, especially if you’re American.
I know: I get the e-mails, I get the blog comments, and let’s not even talk about the trolls on YouTube. I’m not sure whether these attackers feel threatened, or patriotic to the extreme, or just grumpy that they’re stuck where they are, but it’s a common tendency I deal with every month.
I can’t have much impact on all the negative comments that get posted when I get quoted in the likes of USA Today or Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. Plus it’s a hopeless battle to discuss crime stats with people who don’t want to let the facts get in the way. For the benefit of the future skeptical readers of this Cheapest Destination blog, however, here are the objections 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 moving 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.
According to data released in the summer of 2018, the median apartment rent across the USA has soared past $1,400 a month. This increase applied almost everywhere too: 88% of the 250 largest cities saw an increase. Midland/Odessa in Texas saw rents rise by 37%. Orlando rents went up 8.4 percent, Las Vegas prices were up 7 percent, in Phoenix 6.4 percent. Until I moved out of Tampa last year and high-tailed it back to Mexico, I was paying $2,100 for a three-bedroom apartment in a good school district and that was a good deal for the area. (In Mexico, a couple can easily live on that amount for everything.)
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 are moving abroad from NYC to Buenos Aires, L.A. to Mexico City, 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 Antigua, Guatemala, 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.
2) “The residency (or work, or real estate purchase) laws listed on the government website say you can’t _______________”
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, remember. Marijuana is federally 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 under a partnership agreement 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.
Keep in mind too that visa rules can change quite a bit from year to year. It’s been a major hassle for me just to keep up on the current laws for living in Thailand, which have changed at least three times since my A Better Life for Half the Price book came out. An article on the internet without a date is often suspect, so check local message boards to find out the real deal.
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 expats who actually live there and are sharing what they spend each month, but you must know better, right?
This comment usually comes from someone who has never left the country and heard that from a friend of a friend. Or they have been transferred to a country because of their job and they insist 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…
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 $550 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 this furnished 2BR apartment in the center of Cuenca that’s pictured below for $500 a month instead? If it’s a great deal regardless, take it and move on.
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 combined $2.400 a month social security checks puts the two of you in the top 2% in that country in income, then sorry, you are now rich. Stinking filthy rich! Not in your eyes maybe, but in the eyes of the locals yes. You are loaded.
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 bucks going into to the local economy if you’re in one of the cheapest places to live in the world. 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 the few extra dollars a local economic stimulation. It’ll probably do more direct good than donating the same $240 a year to a charity, where half goes to overhead and fundraising. Compared to what you would pay where you come from for domestic help, it’s a pittance anyway.
Look, A Better Life for Half the Price doesn’t have all the answers and when I interview another 60 people for a new edition to add to the expat stories, I still won’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 destinations profiled in that book, you will lower your expenses dramatically, even if it’s not apples to apples in terms of city size. Moving abroad to save money works, as millions have confirmed already.
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.