Almost every day, as an editor of Expat Daily News and Expat Daily News Latin America, I receive inquiries – mostly from North Americans – about wanting to relocate to another nation.
Many of the queries are from senior people who are considering seeing a part of the world they are fascinated by or to stretch their retirement income a little more. So I decided to write a list of things to consider when thinking about becoming an expat retiree: 10 reasons to become, and 10 reasons not to become a stranger in a strange land.
If any one or more of the following conditions apply to you, then by all means, start making plans now.
- You have a fascination for foreign cultures and faraway lands, a curiosity that cannot be satisfied any longer by watching others live your life on National Geographic and the Discovery Channels.
- Your curiosity has been aroused sufficiently that you are ready to have a tearful separation at the airport, after a final farewell dinner with all your loved ones who are questioning your very sanity, and not having any plans to return in the near future.
- You have a willingness to at least learn the basics of another language, to avoid the classic “ugly American” syndrome, where you stand in front of a counter trying to buy something, while getting more and more frustrated at the person trying to help you, and rising your voice more and more, thinking that a higher decibel level will improve your chances of being understood.
- You want to experience totally foreign concepts of transportation, such as using public transport and walking more than a few blocks to the nearest store, where…
- You enjoy the challenge of learning what’s what on the store shelves, your familiar old brand names having been replaced by new and unknown products and brands. Some everyday items that you may be familiar with and think you must have may not be available.
- You have a sense of adventure, not just for seeking out a new home, but also for eating strange culinary offerings in restaurants, market stands, and occasionally on the street. Many of the items you find on a menu will be unfamiliar to you, leaving you somewhat at the mercy of fate when you order a meal.
- You have an open mind when entering your new surroundings. Remember that the way it is done in your former home country may be different; sometimes better, sometimes worse, but rarely the same. I am talking about your basics here: plumbing, electricity, telephones, internet and transportation infrastructure just to touch on a few of the issues that will affect you the most.
- You are self-sufficient, and not completely dependent on having a maid, gardener, and driver. Depending on your living circumstances, you may need to think about how this might set you apart in your community right from the get-go, exposing you and possibly making you a target for crime. While it is usually Ok to have a maid or gardener come by a few times a week, I do not recommend providing full time live-in employment to several of the less fortunate neighbors and paying them twice the going rate to gain their loyalty.
- You relish everything about being in a foreign country, with all of its foreign customs, language, eating habits, holidays, and rhythms of life. You will of course need to get used to the metric system for everything from cooking to measuring distance.
- And lastly, rather than doing what is frowned on in your home country, you plan to assimilate into the culture of the place you have chosen to live in. Hook up with other expats to network with, but don’t allow yourself to become dependent on them. Try to cultivate friendships with local people other than the ones you employ. Join in community activities. Engage, pay attention to what the locals wear and do, and consider not sporting your Rolex Presidential wherever you go. In other words, be respectful, nice to people, and don’t forget to use common sense.
Make sense to you? Start packing now!
Now here are 10 not so good reasons to become an expat retiree. If one or more of these apply to you, may I humbly suggest Idaho, Montana or Wyoming for relocation? I am quite sure there are more than 10 reasons, but I will try to limit myself to naming some of the most important ones here and explaining why. I am mostly addressing US citizens in this segment, and I am sure to offend many with this, but here it goes:
- The Unites States of America is heading for a fiscal disaster! Yes, and it has been ever since the concept of deficit spending became a norm. Then, when the Supreme Court of the USA staged a totally unconstitutional coup d’état in 2000, overruling states’ rights and installing George W. Bush as president, the die was cast with large tax cuts and two wars that will have cost the US taxpayer 4 trillion dollars in actual expenditures for running the wars, plus all the future costs of treating injured veterans for their remaining lives. Why, you may ask, is this not a good reason to expatriate? Read on.
- The value of the US dollar is collapsing and our economy is on the way to hell on a jet plane! Absolutely correct. But if you think that things are better elsewhere, don’t hold your breath. When the US currency has breathed its last gasp, so will all other nations’ currency. Please do not delude yourself into thinking that there are secret places on the planet, where you can ride out what is surely to come. The world has become so fiscally interlaced that there will not be any habitable places which will remain unaffected. The more remote a location you will be in, the more severe the crisis will be. So you are going to move to Tonga or Tuvalu or some such exotic locale that, in your thinking, will be unaffected by world events and eat coconuts? You will have stiff competition from locals. Where will your basic staples come from? And who will pay for them? And if you stock up with all kinds of survival foods and flour and sugar etc. how will you tell your 300lb armed neighbors that they can’t have any?
- The United States is turning into a socialist country, what with Obamacare and having to pay taxes to support the lazy no good free loading individuals (who were fired and now are not being re-hired by the major corporations that are enjoying record profits)! When it comes to socialism, there is a colossal misunderstanding in the USA about just what that word means. Ever since the Russian Revolution, the flames of paranoia have constantly mixed up Communism and Marxism/Leninism with socialism. For reference purposes, please be advised that the USA has practiced socialism for several generations now, with things such as Social (ist) Security, subsidized way below market rate mortgages (FHA) to allow almost everyone to participate in the American Dream (Nightmare), by going into a huge 30 year federally insured debt for that stapled together American Dream House, agricultural subsidies that allow consumers to purchase grains, dairy products and clothing at an artificially low price. These are just illusions, because you have paid for these savings with tax dollars in an oh-so-socialistical way.
- You want to leave the USA, because your white race is being diluted by immigrants from third world countries. Yeah, that’s right; people from Central America are clawing their way up to the USA, just so they can pick your lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries and all other fruits. After having conducted extensive interviews with many illegal aliens, as well as legal residents that do your dirty work, it has become quite clear to me that, given a choice, they would rather have stayed in their home countries with their families, if only there were opportunities to better themselves there, better education for their children, and the possibility of living in a house that does not have dirt floors and is in danger of blowing away in the next above average storm. And by the way, where did your ancestors come from, and why did they come?
- The United Nations is taking over the USA by forcing cities to install bike paths, and Bill Clinton sold the National Parks to pay off his national debt etc. Please start taking your bi-polar medication again.
- The North American Free Trade Treaty, NAFTA, was designed to take away American sovereignty and to have a superhighway dividing the land in two, a superhighway going from the Mexican border to Canada. All right, you have been paying too much attention to Lou Dobbs and perhaps Glen Beck. The bad news for you is that this planned superhighway was finished a generation ago. It’s called Interstate 35, and it has not cut the nation in two.
- The government (or the United Nations) wants to take away all your guns. But that will never happen, because there are way too many gun owners who will not allow that to happen, possibly by instigating something along the lines of an armed insurrection, with the support of the police and military, as the members of those organizations are almost without exception proud owners of firearms. And try owning firearms as a foreign resident in your utopian disconnected destination. We’ll send an American Consul once or twice a year to wherever you are incarcerated, to make sure you are still alive.
- I am tired of paying taxes to support (fill in your reason). Currently the average US citizen pays much less in income taxes that virtually any other civilized nation. Let us ignore for a minute that most of that money falls between the cracks and gets wasted. True, there are nations where it is most of the private income that slips through the cracks and is never taxed. But do you really want to live there? Abysmal water or sewage systems, highways that are pothole-laden obstacle courses, unreliable medical care are just some of the results of little public spending, and things that you take for granted, such as automobiles, TVs, electronic gadgets, etc, being the main source of tax revenue, renders them horrendously expensive. No more $300 32” flat screens and $300 laptop computers.
- The United States has become a police state. Absolutely! Why do police officers all wear SWAT style uniforms, jackboots, those scary haircuts, dark sunglasses, and they are equipped with the latest combat gear? Armored personnel carriers? Urban assault vehicles? Just what are they scared of? The people who they were sworn to protect? But you think you will get away from that? No way Joe. United States police and military assistance programs are making sure that all “friendly” governments have access to the same inventory by giving them foreign aid, which must be spent on such goods and US training, which can only serve to oppress the masses.
- To get away from people like me. Too late! Wherever you go, there I am. There are hundreds of thousands of us out here who left the USA and Canada as well as many other nations for all the right reasons. If you are just generally unhappy with everything, it will not make a bit of difference where you go. Almost all countries are UN Members, taxation is universal in one form or another, and the world is full of evil and good. The choice of which you prefer to adhere to is yours. There are many good reasons to leave the USA, many of them being ideological, but some of them downright ridiculous.
If you are ideologically motivated and are looking for a good place to live, look at Uruguay. It is a socialist democracy, like most nations south of the US border are to some extent or other. Uruguay has one of the best educational systems in the world, with free access to post-graduate education, free laptops for all the children, plus great medical care, decent infrastructure, and a very worldly population. They achieved all that with a relatively reasonable income tax burden, and a liberal political party whose current president drives an old Volkswagen Bug …and they do not start unprovoked wars with nations a half a world away. Now that is socialism, and not that Red Scare version that has circulated in the USA.
Many destinations worldwide will welcome you with open arms, provided you go there and live there with an open mind and tolerance of things that are alien to you. But hopefully, that is why you are exploring distant shores to begin with.
About the author: Jamie Douglas is an Adventurer, Writer and Photographer with an amazing array of Nikon equipment, and a lifetime of experience traveling and documenting. He currently enjoys the great weather and fine wines of Mendoza, Argentina, and edits Expat Daily News and Expat Daily News Latin America.