Travel has inherent problems no matter where you go. Searching foreign nations to find your dream home is no exception, as the options for foreign residency are many. A prospective ex-pat can chase leads forever without ever settling on any region, and cannot quite explain why. Developing consistency in your search will minimize travel problems while increasing the effectiveness of your search. Just as business travelers develop routines and preferences to simplify their travel life, those of us searching for our dream home abroad can do the same, reaping the rewards of familiarity.
The benefits of consistency start when you choose to focus your search on one country. Managing a small guesthouse in Belize, I see an amazing number of travelers jumping from nation to nation in search of their personal paradise. Five days in Panama, a week in Belize. Last year they went to Ecuador and Costa Rica. While sitting on my porch they are online researching Thailand. This constant churning of ex-pat interest is spreading their wealth around the world, but it is not getting them any closer to choosing their new home. The internet provides volumes of readily available information to be studied in the comfort of your easy chair. Many decisions about a potential new home country can be sketched out at home for no cost. Using this base of knowledge, narrow your search, make some choices and focus your resources.
Following a path developed through your extensive internet research, choose a country that seems to offer what you value. Then commit to exploring that country long enough to have a valid understanding of their culture and how you would fit in. Expect to find a significant amount of your internet research is outdated, incorrect or just doesn’t fit you. Internet reviewers mean well, but they can only convey what they see through their own personal bias. Your tastes, your preferences and your deal breakers will be different from anyone else. Remain very open minded when you go and be prepared to look at a region several times before making any decisions.
Most importantly, vow to yourself that you will make several trips to the same nation before you choose either to stay or move on. Your first visit may be wonderful, making you want to buy land and settle in immediately. Validate this first impression with multiple visits in different seasons. More than a few newcomers have made spontaneous land or home purchases they later regretted. Just as important, don’t let a bad first impression drive you away without further investigation. If research says a particular nation best fits your hopes, keep searching with the intent to either validate or disprove that initial research. My wife and I cut our first trip to Belize short in disappointment. After covering most of the nation in a six day evaluation, we just did not see a place where we could be comfortable. Back home we double checked our research. For us the key factors were English as the official language and the quick two hour flight to the U.S. We went back for additional visits and found our paradise. Three years later we have a house, friends and a life in this tiny nation that is our second home. Without a second and third visit, we would have missed the diamond in the rough potential we did not see on that first tour.
Through multiple visits the differences inherent in any new culture will gradually become familiar. A cultural difference that may have soured your first impression often becomes endearing and charming when you learn the history behind the traditions. The more you visit a particular region, the better informed you become about every aspect of that area. Whether you decide to continue exploring this region, or decide it is time to move on and look at other options, information from multiple visits is the only way to establish a true picture of the country, the people and the opportunities.
When you find that nation, region and village that connects with your expat spirit, the real fun begins. Now you can plan repeat visits knowing what you want to see and accomplish. This is where consistency really becomes rewarding, starting with the travel. From the airport to the bus station to your new favorite B&B, it all starts to feel like home. Repeated trips through the same airport create knowledge of the best times or days to make this trip. You find restaurants not seen before. Consistent use of the same airline builds up frequent flier miles with big payoffs.
The airport staff at smaller destinations can become familiar if you travel frequently. In Belize I have several great friends at the airport I can rely on to help me every trip. They see me step off the airplane and are already clearing my way through immigration or locking down my seat on an otherwise full commuter flight. My favorite immigration agent always asks how my wife is doing and waves me quickly through the process. The gate agent for the commuter airline checks airline passenger lists each day allowing him to spot his regular customers coming in. Roman is always on the ramp to meet, greet and provide support. We love the service and he receives a well deserved tip for his above-and-beyond attention to our needs.
Developing a preference for a particular city, town or village leads to relationships with the locals. From a taxi driver you know by name to your favorite innkeeper, familiarity improves every detail of your search for paradise. The housekeeper at your now favorite guesthouse, seeing your name on the check in sheet, may have your favorite beverage on ice when you arrive. She may remember you prefer extra towels and that the last bungalow on the end of the beach is where you do your best reading.
After a few repeat visits to the same area, expats already settled in their own paradise will begin to recognize your face and call you by name. A few consecutive evenings at that charming, out of the way bistro you found while out wandering will have you sharing the adventures of your day with local residents. Invitations to join the local expat events soon follow leading up to the ultimate coup, an invitation to housesit. Friendships developed through consistent presence in the community will build credibility and trust. At some point a local who needs to go stateside for some reason will suggest that you should keep watch over her house. House sitting is not an option to the occasional or infrequent visitor. The opportunity to experience local living for an extended time period through the no cost lodging arrangement of house sitting is a sign you have been accepted. House sitting is the ultimate perk achieved only through a consistent presence and involvement in the region.
The momentum of being an almost local builds when you start searching for that dream property. Knowing the locals will get you privileged information about who is selling. Throughout much of Central America there is the gringo price, that is the advertised price, and the real price on land. You do not want to be stuck paying the gringo price. The only way to discover the real price, the deal you want, is to know and be known. The old saying that it is not what you know, but who you know, counts double in international living. Cultivating contacts through consistency has value in both currency and intangibles.
If you are serious about finding the perfect place to live your dream life, then leave the whirlwind exploration to the tourists. You can spot them racing through a village checking off their list of must sees while actually missing what really matters. Tourism is something you can do after you have your new life well established. For now, you have a goal, a plan, and a purpose. Rely on consistency to reveal the truth in your search and reveal the perfect place for you to call home. Whether you eventually stay or choose to look somewhere else, your decision will be solidly based on good, first-hand knowledge.
You can contact Randall Cumley at Rlcumley1@msn.com, or at www.ParadiseVillas.BZ.