So You Want to Be An Expat? How to Choose the Best Country for Your Lifestyle
Have you ever dreamed of living in a villa overlooking the Mediterranean? Or an off-the-grid ecolodge in the jungles of Costa Rica? Strolling through the vineyards of Tuscany? Or maybe a high-rise apartment in Bangkok with the best Asian food just steps away…The perfect country is out there for you, but which one?
I’m really surprised at how many people mention that they would love to live in another country, but then say “Oh, it’s only a dream.” Why is it just a dream? It doesn’t have to be.
The internet has changed our lives considerably. We can now chat with loved ones half a world away and virtually work from anywhere. We can share our adventures with friends back home in real time, or connect with people we’ve never met by Zoom, Skype or Facebook Messenger. Moving to a new a country is a big decision, but the world is much smaller and more accessible than it used to be.
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My Personal Experience Living in Other Countries
Growing Up in Germany
As a child, I moved to Germany twice. Now while I can’t tell you how much the cost of living was, I can tell you that experiencing different cultures, food and language as a child is very beneficial. It gave me the knowledge that the world is bigger than a road trip, adapability skills and that cultural differences are a unique part of life. If you are wondering if moving a child to another country is a good idea, I would wholeheartedly say “yes!” Kids are like sponges. They absorb and adapt much easier than adults.
Living the Island Life Twice
As an adult, I moved to the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas for work. My work associates helped me with some of the setups such as housing and work visas, but other things I had to learn on my own. Navigating roadways, communication and grocery stores are all part of the learning curve in a new country. I had two very different expereinces on the separate islands. The international community and friendly Dominicans made the transition easier. The locals in the Bahamas were not as accepting of foreigners.
Back to the USA
Moving back to the States was always the hardest transition for me. The people in my neighborhoods had lived there their entire lives. Their cliques began in kindergarten, and many had no clue the world was bigger than a road trip. In 9th grade, I even had a kid ask me if I took a train to get from Germany to Florida! The cost of living was always higher (except the Bahamas) and the commercialism was atrocious. Every time I came back, I wished for my simpler life overseas.
Mexico On Our Own
Now married, moving to Mexico was a decision Tom and I thought long and hard about. We did everything ourselves as we didn’t know a soul and our language skills were rough at best. Every day brought a new challenge, some good and some we chalked up to a “learning experience.” We both worked online so location was not an issue. Navigating the everyday like internet problems, paying for the cell phone or furniture shopping took time and planning. We did get lucky and met wonderful friends who also lived elsewhere in the world, so they were familiar with our unfamiliar.
The good news is, moving overseas is not as “unknown” as it once was before the age of the internet. We can now google “bloggers” or “expats in…” and other keywords to find people who have taken the leap.
Why Do People Move to a Different Country?
There are many reasons why people want to move to a different country. For this post, we are focusing on those that have been in the work force for awhile, probably close to retirement age, and seeing their savings not going as far in the current economic situation. Moving to a new country appeals most to those that want to see their life savings last. These are the top four reasons:
#1- to enjoy life (slow down)
#2- more time w/ family
#3- cheaper cost of living
#4- culture, food, learn a new language
Yes, we can all get 3 out of 4 of these on our usual vacations. But have you ever been somewhere that you absolutely fell in love with? That you wished you had more time to explore further? Where you could see yourself becoming a local? A place that felt more like “home” then home itself?
Top Two Reasons Why People Don’t Follow Their Dreams
Let’s address why people don’t take that leap of faith and just go for it.
The number one reason why people don’t move to another country is family. Whether you have a close-knit family, kids or aging parents, family is always the #1 reason why people don’t follow their dreams of moving to another country. If you are close to your family, you will still be close no matter where you are.
If you have small kids, it’s the perfect time to expose them to a new culture and they will pick up on the language faster than you. If you have older kids, it’s good to expand their horizons with a new language, walking through historical monuments or learning about their natural world. And unless your parents are bedridden, they are probably enjoying life more than you right now. If you move to another country, it means they can visit you longer because “it’s so far away”.
The number two reason people don’t pack up is because of money. I remember talking to a salesperson at my former corporate job. He told me he will retire when he has 3 million dollars in savings. Most people barely have $3000 dollars in savings. People are worried about how they will far their money will go in a new country mostly because they are drowning in bills at home. Today, most corporations have international offices or partner companies. If you have an elite set of skills, you could ask your company for a transfer. Working remotely on freelance projects is another option, which is what Tom and I are doing. You have valuable skills. You just need to open your mind on how you can use them elsewhere.
Or do something completely different! You might decide to make a hobby into an income stream. Are you good at photography? Writing? Househunting for others? This could be your chance to not only follow your dreams of moving to another country, but of doing something you love, and getting paid for it.
How Do You Find the Perfect Place for You?
Let’s find the perfect place for you based on what you want and what you don’t want. That may be easy when you are trying to find a house because you have so many options in one city or country, but that location has to meet certain criteria to feel like home.
To find the perfect place for you, you must do some research. This move cannot be taken lightly. You need to know why you want to move, what makes you happy, what you don’t want in your new life, and where you want to go.
Let’s start by making two lists of what you like about your town, and what you don’t like.
Ask yourself and list the pros and cons of each:
- Do you like being close to your neighbors?
- Do you like the city or the suburbs?
- How close are your daily conveniences like grocery shopping and medical care?
- Is it too hot or too cold to exercise or be outside at certain times of the year?
- What is your commute to work? Is it reasonable?
Next, make a list of your “perfect place”. The weather, the activities, the food, your neighbors, dog-friendly, cost of living, etc. Write down every detail of what your daily life would look like.
Now it’s time to do the nitty-gritty research. The following are all things to consider in finding the perfect location for you:
The Perfect Country Climate
Some people want summertime beach weather all the time, others want seasons. Coming from Florida where it is hot and humid 10 months out of the year, Tom wanted something cooler, but I drew the line at places that had snow. If you live in Michigan or Canada, you probably don’t want to deal with the snow either, but are hurricanes and humidity in Cancun something you are willing to deal with? Weather can be a big factor in how you spend your time outdoors so take a look at average, high and low temperatures for the past year in places you are considering.
City Life or Small Town?
In the city you have access to restaurants, shopping and events. You probably wouldn’t need a car because everything is close and there is public transit. Be aware that living space will be smaller and more expensive, outdoor space will probably be hard to come by, and it can be noisy. Smaller towns or outside the city will give you more space, but you will either need a car to get around or choose a place with reliable transit. When I talk to expats around the world, many seem to gravitate towards what they didn’t have before. So if you live in the suburbs, and everything is a good drive away, choosing a city center location might be a fun option for you.
Beach, Mountains, Jungle or Desert?
The terrain and flora play a huge part in your happiness, more than you might realize. This is what you will see out your windows, walking through your neighborhood or driving around. It also determines what type of outdoor activities you will be doing. Hiking, scuba diving, zip-lining, and volunteering are just some activities to consider. Also keep in mind what type of insects and other creepy crawlies you might encounter in these environments or in your home.
Is your “prefect place” in a natural disaster zone? Does it have a hurricane or typhoon season? Are there volcanoes within 100 miles? How often are earthquakes felt? These are some important things to checkout. They can affect your insurance rates.
Cost of Living and Safety in Your Perfect Country
For cost of living and safety factors, check out Numbeo.com. This free website allows you to compare your city against your “dream” city. We compared Orlando to Queretaro and found that most things cost less, plus Queretaro had 1/6 the crime of Orlando.
Are you ok with eating one type of ethnic food? Or do you want an international community with more choices? Small towns are nice but may be limited in cuisine options. Big cities may be overpriced or too touristy. If you love Mexican food and cheese, you might have a hard time finding these in Vietnam. Little towns in Sicily may have excellent pasta, but lack your favorite Thursday night Thai takeout. You can google “restaurants in….” to know your options.
Wherever you go, you may encounter the mainstream language mixed with dialects and slang. Some type of language learning may be needed to develop a base, and neighbors can help fill you in on the conversational part. For example, perro is dog in Spanish, but in Mexico everyone uses the word perrito or perrita. I was told adding –ita or -ito at the end of certain words softens the word and doesn’t sound as harsh.
If you are only comfortable with English, this will limit your destinations. Canada, Belize, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Malta, Jamaica and the Bahamas all speak English. There are communities in other foreign countries where English speakers congregate and have meetups which can be helpful, but getting to know real locals is a big part of the expat experience.
Proximity to “Home”
How close do you want to be to an airport?
How long will it take you to get back home if there is an emergency?
How close do you need to be to your family?
How often will you go back “home”?
These are all questions to consider and are based on your personal choice.
How Will You Support Yourself?
Will you need to work? Will a company hire you, or will you work remotely via the internet? Do you need a work permit? Or are you retired and living on savings or Social Security?
Being able to live within your means comfortably is a huge factor. Compare the cost of living with the money you have coming in every month. If its tight, you may need to consider additional income, or a cheaper place to move.
Retire Abroad for Less Than You Think
What are the requirements for the country you are going to? Contact the country’s consulate in your home country to learn about the requirements of the temporary or permanent visa process before you go. All countries have different visa requirements, and some are easier than others.
TIP: Double check how much money you need to “prove” you can support yourself. Some require a certain amount in the bank and assets plus a monthly income, others are fine with a monthly income.
What is the level of healthcare in your chosen country? Will you be able to get public or private healthcare?
For healthcare questions, visit expat websites to find out the rules and regulations, and visit expat blogger sites to read about personal experiences.
The International Living website is also a valuable resource to help answer many of these questions.
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Final Research Tip: Recon Trip to Your Perfect Country
Internet searches can help you with the above factors, but your research isn’t complete until you visit the country and city of your dreams. While a place may tick all the boxes during your research, a recon trip is an invaluable experience. What is traffic really like, are there dog parks, and can you get your favorite peanut butter at the store? This is the time to check out neighborhoods, restaurants, grocery stores, furniture and appliance stores. Knowing these costs beforehand can help you with house hunting later. This is our #1 recommendation before moving anywhere.
Once you decide on a country, what should you do to get organized for your move? Read our post on 11 Things You Should Do Before Moving to Mexico. The advice in this post can be used for any overseas move.
The perfect country is out there for you, maybe more than one. Tom and I love Mexico, but maybe in another few years we will move to Europe. Who knows? We found the perfect country for us right now, and with some research and a few trips, we know you will, too.
Save our free Perfect Country Checklist PDF to help you research the perfect country for you!
Do you have questions on prices, neighborhoods, and expectations about starting your new life in Mexico? Ask us directly! We can set up an hour long video conference call on Whatsapp and help answer questions that pertain to you and your lifestyle. Our consultations are $70 USD for an hour. If we go over the allotted time, no worries. We won’t charge you extra. We want you to get the answers you need to make the best decision for a new life. Plus, we will send a follow-up email with other resourceful links specifically for you.
Thank you for your blog-it was very helpful. My husband and I have just begun exploring Mexico- we just returned from a month in CD, last year we enjoyed Guadalajara and Lake Chapala. This summer we are planning to explore Querétaro and San Miguel for 2 months. Do you have any recommendations as to what areas we should look to rent in both of these cities? Are there expat communities we might be able to meet up with people? Any information would be much
Thank you again,
It depends on what you like and what you want. Queretaro’s Centro is amazing, but if you prefer a more suburban life closeby, look into Juriquilla (15-20 minutes north of Centro. San Miguel is a smaller city, but to reach many of the stores that you need, you will still need to drive. The commerce centers are south of San Miguel, but still within a 10 minute drive to the walkable parts of teh city. Guadalupe is the Art District, there’s rresidencial areas out by the lake (south), and there’s many other neighborhoods on hills surrounding the center. Contact Donna on her website at http://www.nomadwomen.com/ for more information on San Miguel. She has lived there for a number of years and is more familiar with the neighborhoods.
Such great tips! We thought through a lot of these when we decided on Prague and it ticked a lot of the boxes. It’s so much more than just falling in love with a pretty photo of a place. Lots of logistics and long term things to think about.
You are right, it is so much more than falling in love with a pretty place. The food, amenities, distance to things and the people all contribute to the perfect place. 🙂
Great article! I think I would love it living overseas, actually Tuscany sounds fabulous! So awesome you lived on those tropical islands, and US, and other countries! Weather would be a huge factor for us; as we can not do cold. But if we decide ever to take the leap, I’ll definitely bookmark your site and article! Such informational tips too!
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