Am I a Good Candidate for Living Abroad?
Questions to Ask Yourself
Will You Be an Unhappy Economic Refugee?
Psychological & Social Issues
Friends and Family
Aging Outside the U.S.
Interacting with Locals
Single Women Expats
Male Expats & Female Companionship
Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out to move and live abroad.
In other countries the residents may have wildly different ideas about what is an acceptable level of noise from parties at 3 a.m., home improvement projects, or barking dogs. There may not be any zoning regulations (or they’re not enforced), resulting in a noisy or smelly industrial factory being in the middle of a residential block.
Sometimes the resources available online and in books about moving and living abroad or being a virtual nomad, working online from a remote location, make it sound exotic or romantic. And yes, it’s very do-able.
But realize that some of these sources may have a vested interest in downplaying the negative aspects of living abroad to sell their books and seminars. I can attest firsthand that some of these expat publications have actual guidelines that prohibit their writers from mentioning anything negative about the place. Personally, I think that misleads your readers.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Ask yourself some hard questions before deciding to move out of the U.S.:
· How adaptable are you to a strange new environment?
· How do you handle feeling lonely and isolated?
· Have you ever traveled to a foreign country?
· How do you feel about having to learn a new language?
· How savvy and “street smart” do you consider yourself to be?
· Do you have an independent personality with a spirit of adventure?
· Can you be assertive without being obnoxious or demanding?
· Do you like to experience new things and explore new places?
· How many times have you moved to a new city in the U.S.?
· How easily do you get frustrated or impatient?
· How flexible or adaptable are you to new situations?
· Is your spouse or significant other on board with moving abroad?
· How resilient are you in dealing with setbacks and disappointments?
· How judgmental do you tend to be of people who are different from you?
Do not jump into this decision with rose-colored glasses, thinking that everything will be fantastic and exciting and an adventure. You don’t want to be returning to the U.S. in a year, regretting your decision to move overseas.
Will You Be an Unhappy Economic Refugee?
More and more of the spots around the world that are popular with U.S. expats are seeing a new type of arrival – I’ll call them economic refugees. In contrast with earlier arrivals from the U.S., these folks have been wiped out financially by unemployment or health problems, or never earned much during their lifetime to be able to save, and do not have pensions. The prospect of living on a Social Security check of $950 a month isn’t very attractive in the U.S.
There absolutely are folks who are happily living abroad solely on their monthly Social Security check, but there are many more who are miserable and bitch and moan about everything and spend most of their time online posting nasty messages as “trolls.” You don’t want to be one of them.
Now, I am not saying that if you are in a situation of limited income, do not move abroad. Your money will definitely go a lot further in many places outside of the U.S. But you do not want to be one of the unfortunates who move abroad, hate where they live and are totally miserable, but don’t have enough money to move anywhere else. They’re stuck.
Do not underestimate the frustration of being unable to communicate or express yourself; it is the number one reason why people leave a foreign country and return to the U.S. Are you willing to learn at least a little of the local language?
If you don’t speak the local language very well, it is likely that you will need assistance in accomplishing certain tasks, such as local banking, finding a dentist, accessing healthcare, making phone calls, dealing with your internet provider, etc. If you’re on a really limited budget, can you afford to pay for this assistance?
Additionally, you can feel very isolated if you are not able to speak, read or write the local language. Your social circle may be limited to other foreigners or locals who speak English. You may be fine with this, but realize this before you make the leap. Expat communities can sometimes be very gossipy or clique-y. What if you don’t like the expats in the area where you are living?
If you’re not able to speak, read or write the local language, you can also be more susceptible to fraud.
Psychological and Social Issues
Some people are more psychologically fragile than others. Some people prop up their low self-esteem by endlessly attacking others; some seek attention from outrageous behavior. Other expats are so filled with resentment, bitterness or anger that it poisons their relationships. Expat “cliques” can make you feel as if you’re back in junior high school.
If you’re lucky, you might only encounter expats complaining about being bored or lonely, but sometimes, places popular with expats have a few seriously disturbed individuals who make everyone else miserable with their behavior. Other expats may be intent upon revenge for imagined grudges.
If you have existing psychological issues, are prone to depression or are not fully functioning in a social, psychological, or mental sense, please don’t move abroad thinking that a new location will solve all your problems. It won’t.
All your existing issues will still be with you, plus you will have the additional stress of living in a foreign country and social isolation. Some people find themselves less than welcome in expat groups due to needy or inappropriate behavior, which can breed yet more resentment. It’s not a pleasant situation for anyone.
What about Friends and Family?
How Does Your Spouse or Partner Feel About Moving Abroad?
If you have a spouse or partner, is he/she on board with this move? Many divorces or breakups result from a move outside of the U.S.
Typically, one person is enthusiastic about the move and the other is reluctant. After living in the new country, the reluctant spouse hates it and wants to leave. Sometimes it’s the opposite: the one who wanted to move abroad hates it, and the reluctant spouse loves it – with the same resultant conflict.
Any existing problems in the relationship are magnified by the stress and isolation of living in a new country far away from a support system. Moving abroad will not “solve” any existing relationship problems, but will only magnify them.
Will You Miss Your Family?
Do you have children or grandchildren that you will miss seeing? Maybe you have no grandchildren currently, but how will you feel in ten years when there are grandchildren? What about nieces, nephews, and cousins?
Various surveys and studies consistently list the top reasons for returning home to the U.S. as frustration with the language or culture, missing children and grandchildren or other family members, a new serious health condition that can’t be treated in the new country, or elderly relatives back in the U.S. (such as aging parents) who need help.
During the coronavirus pandemic, a significant number of expats living abroad moved back to the U.S. out of concern that they might never see loved ones again if they should die from coronavirus.
Aging Outside the U.S.
What may be fine for you in your 60s or 70s may be completely different as you age into your 80s or 90s.
If you are part of a couple, what will you do if one of you becomes seriously ill or incapacitated and needs round-the-clock care? If your partner or spouse dies, what will you do? Are you prepared to remain in the foreign country, or would you want to return home to the U.S.? How do you feel about dying in a foreign country far from family?
If you plan to live outside of the U.S. indefinitely or permanently, what are your plans for when you can no longer manage on your own? What if you have a serious illness and need assistance with the “activities of daily living”? What if, God forbid, you develop Alzheimer’s or dementia?
Remember that you will be a foreign resident; there may not be any Medicaid-equivalent safety net to pay for nursing home care. If you become a citizen, there may be some indigent care available but you may not like the standard of living in many places.
That said, it is entirely possible to plan for old age (it’s not like we don’t know it’s coming), and the cost of caregivers, cooks and housekeepers is far lower outside of the U.S. Every country has elder care facilities, often at far lower cost with higher quality (due to better staffing levels) than in the U.S.
When I fractured my ankle in Cuenca, I was able to hire a local who had a business cooking for expats. A week’s worth of meals — customized to my choices and gluten-free since I have to avoid gluten — cost $45 plus the cost of the ingredients.
Plan on getting old eventually; nobody gets out alive in the end.
Will You Interact with the Locals?
When some expats first arrive in a new city, after getting settled in their new apartment or house, they go for walks every day to learn about the neighborhood. Then they get on a city bus just to see where it goes and see the sights along the way — of course, before you get on a city bus, you should have some idea of whether there are any bad parts of town that you as a foreigner shouldn’t go.
This is the right attitude to have: a sense of adventure, along with the appropriate level of common sense and caution.
A fair number of expats only interact with other expats. Whether this is from an inability to speak the local language, fear of crime, physical infirmities or just shyness or timidity, I can’t say. I have been surprised to find expats who have lived in a city for four or five years and still don’t know major boulevards, parks or landmarks.
If you stay home 90% of the time, watch only U.S. TV and sports programs, and only interact with other expats, you are missing out on a lot of the benefits of living in a foreign country. Your adopted home is a fascinating place with many interesting people and a different perspective on many aspects of life.
The more you venture out from home, the more familiar you will be with the community and the more comfortable it will feel. Give it some time and it will seem less foreign.
The local grade school, junior high or high school would be thrilled to have a native English speaker volunteer as an assistant in their English classes, and universities would be happy to have a volunteer as well. By interacting with locals, you will have a much better understanding of the place you call home.
I find politics interesting around the world; I enjoy observing how different countries conduct elections. In Mexico I observed presidential election campaigning, watched political analysts on TV discussing the candidates and issues, and watched televised debates between the candidates. Ecuador held presidential elections in 2021, and I did the same thing. It’s all very interesting and gives me a better understanding of the culture. It’s a fun way to improve my Spanish, too.
Recognize that in some countries, expats are an important part of the local economy because they may have more purchasing power than most locals. Some expats mistake this appreciation for purchasing power with genuine friendliness, when it is more likely to be a reflection of locals’ need to survive and feed their families.
I am not saying that many locals do not feel warmly towards expats; many do, but it is more likely that they are appreciative that your presence enables them to earn a living. I have heard expats say how “friendly” everyone is, but unless you speak the language well and understand the cultural contexts, don’t jump to conclusions.
Can Single Women Live Abroad Successfully?
Absolutely! I know many single, independent women who are thriving as expats, able to pursue long-deferred dreams. Financially it can be so much cheaper to live abroad that single women find that they can have a superior standard of living to what they would have had in the U.S. with many more options to travel or pursue other interests. Divorcees, widows or never-marrieds all are living full, rich lives as expats.
There are many places around the world with expat communities that have a good number of single older women, who often create their own social groups based upon mutual interests – a rotating dinner club, quilting, bridge, golf, writing, you name it.
Male Expats & Female Companionship
For you fellas out there seeking female companionship, you should know that the local gals already have your number. There are women who specifically target foreign men to get money out of them, and some of these men are foolish enough to spend thousands of dollars on their “girlfriend” only to find out that she’s only interested in their money.
Some (but not all) foreign women view U.S. expats as a meal ticket, and if they can snag one, they expect to be taken care of from head to toe, and may be “high maintenance.” You have been warned. That said, there are cases of genuine romance and affection that result in long, happy marriages.
For some reason, Colombia seems to have more of these situations than other places, although Vietnam and the Philippines are also places to watch yourself. A British expat in Vietnam lost his life savings in a scheme involving a forged deed and a crooked notary (his girlfriend ended up owning his house).
If you are moving abroad to join your “soul mate,” whom you’ve only ever dealt with online, and have already “helped” her pay for family or health emergency expenses, be prepared to be disappointed. She probably has multiple online “soul mates” and might even already be married. “She” may not even be a she. If she’s fifty years younger than you, do you seriously think that she’s head over heels in love with you, having never even met you?
Needless to say, if you’re into pedophilia, narcotics or other illegal activities, you’re upping your risk profile big time. If you don’t get killed, you risk being deported for criminal activities, after a prison sentence with, shall we say, less than comfortable accommodations.
The U.S. government’s Homeland Securities Investigations (HSI) unit has 10,400-plus employees in 73 offices in 47 foreign countries who actively investigate, in conjunction with local country authorities, transnational narcotics trafficking, money laundering, financial fraud, cybercrime, human rights violations and war crimes as well as child pornography, child sex tourism and child sex abuse crimes committed abroad by U.S. citizens.
Some expats specifically move abroad because they want to be able to have sex with children more easily, due to lax local laws. Colombia had an expat who was a notorious pedophile who always avoided prosecution every time he was arrested. He even gave a media interview from his yacht boasting about how he was untouchable. Shortly thereafter, he was found murdered (gee, what a surprise).
A newspaper in Medellin, Colombia in 2017 had a very interesting article of two full pages that analyzed every single murder of a foreigner in the city in the past two years. About 95% of them were involved in some sort of illegal activity, including poaching upon the territory of locals in selling drugs or booking sex tours to foreigners. The locals didn’t appreciate the competition.
The state police of Baja California, Mexico have a 12-officer unit dedicated solely to catching U.S. citizen fugitives who are wanted in the U.S. for various crimes.
When you move to a new country, things that are not a crime in the U.S. may well be criminal in your new home, so take time to find out what is prohibited locally. Ecuador has a criminal statute against slander and libel; publicly maligning the reputation of a person or business can land you in prison. In other countries, same-sex relationships may be illegal.
Follow all local laws and avoid illegal activities.