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What Kind of Expat Would You Be?

moving to another country

The word “expatriate” or the shorter “expat” can mean a lot of different things depending on who it is applied to. Whenever I go to the Travel Bloggers Exchange Conference in Europe or Asia I meet loads of people who are not living in their home country. In one day when it took place in Athens in I met a Brazilian living in Paris, lots of Americans and Brits living in Greece, an American woman married to a Moroccan living in Marrakesh, and an Australian using Lisbon as a base.

In many cases these people are digital nomads and could be living anywhere, but in others they are where they are because of someone important in their life. Here are a few expat categories that can have a big impact on where you end up and what your life is like. There are three main factors that go into choosing a destination for moving abroad, but in all three the priorities are going to change depending on your situation.

The Expat Family Abroad

I have done a few articles and have gotten quoted in the media a good bit about living abroad for less as a family. We lived as a family in Mexico for a total of three years before my daughter headed off to college. Walking the pedestrian streets of hilly Guanajuato, Mexico while living abroad.

There are plenty of families doing this, on every continent, but it’s not always as easy as for a single person. Start first with what you’ll do about education, especially if they’re beyond elementary school level where it doesn’t matter much and there aren’t so many testing requirements back home. Think about how you’ll deal with language options too. (Full immersion? International school in English? Home schooling?) Then narrow the potential list down to places where you’re going to feel both safe and stimulated.

Because you’ve got schooling and social activities to think about for the kid(s), expat families have fewer choices than the next category, where the main concern is good WiFi connections…

The Digital Nomad

If you’re working from a laptop and can travel light, you can live the digital nomad life and not be all that concerned about pesky visa rules and long-term housing options. Assuming you’re childless, you don’t have to think about schooling so most of the world can be on your list of potentials.

One of the hosts of the Tropical MBA podcast estimated he could live anywhere in the world for $2,500 a month or less if he just took out a few outliers off the list, like New York, Tokyo, and Zurich. Based on my own experiences living in four countries, I would agree. In many countries, you could do it for less than half that. Just find an apartment (or long-term hotel rental) with decent internet, eat like a local would eat, and shop where they do for groceries. When you hit the tourist visa limit of two, three, or six months that’s in place locally, pack up the bag and go.

The Expatriate Retiree

If you’re putting the old life in storage and moving abroad to retire, your key factors are probably going to be a bit different. You want a place where you can stretch your fixed income/savings—a place where you can easily get a better life for half the price. If you want to retire by a beach for cheap, follow that link for a few places to put on your short list.

You also have to be more concerned about health care though, probably picking a place that’s not more than a few hours from a major hospital or medical facility. You’ll likely want warm or spring-like as opposed to a place requiring a parka and a snow shovel. You’ll find plenty of great candidates in this book.

luxury real estate Panama City

The Overseas Employee

Often a person living abroad is doing it for job reasons, either because they took an opportunity abroad or their spouse did. Often this is a beautiful thing because it means a higher standard of living from getting a good salary in a country where it goes a long way. There may even be a housing allowance built into the deal.

For this situation you don’t have many decisions under your control, so you’re mainly going to go with the flow. If you have a choice in where you’ll be posted or choose to apply for jobs, however, you’ll get much more of an advantage out of it living in a place where you can easily afford a maid, gardener, driver, masseuse, and tutor than you will scraping by in London or Oslo.

The Online Business Builder

If you’re an entrepreneur trying to build a location independent business, cost is going to be a big factor. So is community too though, unless you’re fine having just virtual support and no physical support. Someone with an established business doesn’t have to worry much about finding a supportive community, where one who’s just starting out can get a lot of real support and moral support if surrounded by people in similar situations.

expat living abroad and working

If you do want a local tech labor pool and people or your kind to collaborate with, that can have a big impact on your choice of location. Great cities for this right now include Saigon, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Cebu City, Medellin, Buenos Aires, Panama City, Barcelona, Berlin, and (not as cheap) Santiago. There are pockets of people elsewhere too of course, and if you start looking at where those tribes hang out online, you’ll see lots of other locations popping up.

The Expat Tagalong Spouse

Many people end up expatriated because of love—or a least companionship. A Canadian woman with a Mexican husband, an American man with an Argentine wife, a Kiwi woman with a Czech husband, a German man with a Thai wife. Often it’s better for both parties to live in the cheaper country where one side of the family is than to try to go through years of paperwork on the more difficult and expensive side of that equation. It’s often better for the current or eventual kids as well, with a bigger local support system.

I profiled a few couples and families in my book that are in this situation, from India to Portugal to Cambodia. In this case the place is usually the choice of A or B, but choose the living situation carefully if you want to retain a bit of the privacy you’re used to!

The Escapee

Many expats fit the stereotype of the escapee, someone trying to get away from a situation they found too painful or too boring to keep enduring. Divorcees and life crisis types fall into this category, as do overworked execs who barely escaped a nervous breakdown. If this is you at you’re at the end of your rope, go somewhere temporarily where you can take a deep breath. Often people in this situation aren’t thinking clearly and they stop in the first place they land and call it their new home. A year or two later, they’re disgruntled again because it wasn’t really a good match in the clear light of later.

For guidance on the best places to live for a good price and what to consider when moving, see the Cheap Living Abroad site for package options. Or sign up for my newsletter to get monthly updates.



Wednesday 18th of March 2020

This is very helpful as we make plans, thanks.


Monday 13th of January 2020

Nice article, after reading the last paragraph 'The Escapee' Jimmy Buffets 'Banana Republic' song came to mind....