Copyright John T. Reed 2014
I have read a number of books about Americans or Canadians staying abroad for an extended period.
I do not recommend moving abroad for Americans, although Canadians may need it at least in winter because of their latitude. I am a native-born American. The only time I lived abroad was during a tour in Vietnam as an Army officer in 1969-70. I did not care for it and it blows my mind that any Vietnam vet would ever go back there. Stinking hot, humid, rainy, impoverished place. One retiring overseas book called it “beautiful Vietnam.” It is apparently a cheap place to live. I believe that. There was never a single moment when I was in Vietnam that I thought of any part of it as beautiful, and I traveled extensively around the III Corps area. But I digress.
Leave US to get needed food, fuel, and medicine
However, if the USD gets hyperinflation, which I expect would last about six months to two years, Americans may find it necessary to leave the US to get food, fuel, and medicine. For example, Austrians and Germans during the hyperinflation there in the early 1920s needed to leave their countries. But because they had just lost World War I, they were generally prevented from doing so. Many starved or suffered serious health impairment from inability to get adequate food. All were cold as heck during winters because of lack of heating fuel and public transit fuel (walking is colder than riding a bus or train). See my book How to Protect your Life Savings from Hyperinflation & Depression, 2nd edition for the big picture on this issue.)
Hyperinflation cause shortages of food, fuel, medicine and other necessities when combined with price controls which prevent retailers from making a profit. Capital controls prevent residents of the country from getting foreign currency to buy food, fuel, and medicine and prevent retailers who do not have special licenses from the federal government, normally only given to certain importers, from accepting foreign currency for food, fuel, and medicine. Hyperinflation is always accompanied by price controls, capital controls, financial repression laws, rationing, and anti-hoarding laws.
I recommend that you go abroad during such conditions so you can live a normal life where you can shop normally for food, fuel, and medicine. That requires not only being in another country, but also having currency other than USD to pay for the food, fuel, and medicine there.
Living near the Canadian border in northern U.S. states may be enough to solve your problem assuming you can travel regularly to Canada to shop for food, fuel, and medicine. That would require your having a current U.S. passport or passport card and currency other than USD with which to shop in Canada. I have Canadian dollars (CAD) in a savings account in Canada and Swiss francs (CHF) in a safe deposit box there. I also have Australian dollars (AUD) and New Zealand dollars (NZD) in savings accounts in those countries which I could access in Canada or other countries by ATM cards of the Australian or New Zealand banks or by SWIFT wires.
90-day tourist visa or residence permit
Americans can generally go to almost all the countries in the world by just showing up and be allowed to stay there for up to 90 days. Then they must leave and policies vary on how soon they can come back—e.g., not for 90 more days in the Schengen Area (most of western Europe), not more than two 90-day periods per year in New Zealand, and so on. If there are two non-US countries that you would like to take refuge in and they are adjacent, you could simply walk across the border to the other one every 90 days. That would eliminate most of the expense of the 90-day moves. There are no such countries in North American or Australasia, but it can be done in Central and South America, Hispaniola, Ireland, Africa, the Balkans, Southeast Asia, Middle East, New Guinea, and Borneo.
Some countries require getting a 90-day tourist visa before you arrive, like Australia.
Virtually all countries also issue temporary and/or permanent residence visas. They let you stay longer than 90 days including maybe forever.
This article is about going abroad using a 90-day tourist visa and maybe a residence visa. I will not discuss becoming a citizen of another country or renouncing your U.S. citizenship here. See my article on that at http://johntreed.myshopify.com/blogs/john-t-reed-s-hyperinflation-deflation-blog/66497155-renouncing-u-s-citizenshipl.
I personally have never seen the need for a residence visa. It appears you only need one if
1. you want to work in the country in question or
2. if you want to avoid the expense of having to move every 90 days
Passport expiration date
If your passport is near its expiration date, renew it. Countries will not let you enter for a stay that is scheduled to end after your passport expires.
Countries typically have one-time amounts of household goods that you can bring in duty free when you first move there. Get the details. Sometimes the duty amount is so low it’s not worth worrying about.
If you just use 90-day tourist visas for your staying away from the U.S., which makes sense for a purpose like taking temporary refuge from USD hyperinflation, you are more accurately described as a “perpetual traveler” than an “expat.” But I believe it is probably a bad idea to call yourself a “perpetual traveler” especially when talking to the immigration people at the border you are trying to enter. They may think you are an unbranded cow owned by no one and therefore theirs to tax. The basic idea of a tourist visa is that you live somewhere else and pay taxes there so they do not bother you with paying taxes to the 90-day country. But if they start suspecting you live nowhere, they may try to claim you so they can tax you. Of course, as an American citizen, you have to pay U.S. taxes wherever you go, so maybe that’s just a worry for citizens of countries other than the U.S.
Advantages and disadvantages of residence visas
Compared to tourist visas, residence permits have some disadvantages, namely cost, time it takes to apply and wait for approval. Also, there is some logic and empirical evidence to suggest that bad countries treat their citizens the worst; tourists, the best; and those holding residence permits in between with permanent residence permit people being treated worse than temporary residence permit people. The reason is simple: captive audience. Heck, even the good countries treat tourists better in most ways.
If you are a tourist, they want you to stay for as much of your 90 day as possible, to return, and to recommend the country to your friends and relatives. If you are a citizen, they figure you have to put up with almost whatever they do to you. Those with residence permits typically find it more expensive, time-consuming, and wrenching to leave. So it makes sense to me that you should prefer the red carpet tourist treatment that you get by being there on a 90-day tourist visa to the more expensive and hard to get residence permit that causes the government to take you more for granted. But most of the books I read seem to push getting a residence permit or even citizenship. I do not find their arguments persuasive, especially for my limited purpose of using the countries in question as a place to keep your rainy-day savings and as a 90-day hyperinflation refuge.
The amount of money, time, and hassle it takes to get a residence permit varies from almost zero to prohibitive. Some countries want to encourage foreign people to retire to their country, including Belize Qualified Retired Persons Program, Costa Rica pensionado program, Nicaragua Law of Resident Pensioners and Retirees, Panama pensionado program, Malaysia My Second Home Program. I read in one book that you can apply for, and almost certainly get, a residence permit in Uruguay six to eight months after you arrive on your automatic 90-day tourist visa. You need to provide a half dozen or so documents with an internationally-recognized “notary” type certification. Cost, including lawyer fees, is apparently about $2,500.
Generally, to obtain a residence permit, you must prove that you have health insurance. Also in the countries that seek retirees, they typically have a monthly minimum pension income that you have to prove but in most countries the amount is less than a typical social security payment. Social Security will direct deposit your check into many foreign banks if you can prove you live in the country in question.
Medicare does not cover you abroad. I do not know if you have to still keep paying federal health insurance taxes when you have moved out of the country. Obama Care purportedly says you are not required to comply with its mandate that you buy insurance coverage if you live outside the U.S. for 330 days per year. But then ObamaCare says a lot of thing that Obama has chosen to ignore.
You can easily find the current tourist visa and residence permit policies of the countries you are interested in on the Internet.
The U.S. has a great many different climates. But the world offers an even greater variety including many where the number of heating and cooling degree days is so low year round than climate-control expense is almost eliminated. If have limited non-US funds to spend you may be forced to take refuge in such a country or your foreign currency may last longer in such a country. Generally, the places with such no-degree-days climates are at altitudes of 3,000 to 5,000 feet in between the latitudes of about 30º north and south of the equator. Some sea level climates are okay if they have consistent ocean breezes, like Hawaii in the U.S., but most sea-level areas in those latitudes are hot and humid requiring expensive electric cooling.
It gets warmer when you go south of the border right? Up to a point, yes. But if you go far enough, it starts to get cold again. Auckland, New Zealand; Canberra, Australia; Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Montevideo have about the same south latitude as the north latitude of North Carolina, Memphis, Tulsa.
Cost of food
In poorer countries, the cost of locally-produced food—produce, grains, seafood, livestock—is often significantly lower than in the U.S. Imports of all kinds of food and other items are often breathtakingly expensive in countries outside the U.S. See the Numbeo web site for details.
Quality and cost of health care
The U.S. pays about twice the world average per capita for health care—because of ambulance chaser lawyers, the high compensation of medical personnel, third-party decision makers like insurance companies and the government. Generally, other countries have two health care systems: a national one and private hospitals and doctors. The more affluent you are, the more you use the private one in order to get shorter waits, doctor choice, better care, English-speaking staff, and so on.
Laws regarding whether foreign residents on tourists can be covered by the national plans vary. For example, in New Zealand, all accidents are covered for everyone by the government including foreign tourists. Being covered by a national plan typically requires some sort of residence permit and payment into the system. There are international companies that will cover you in multiple foreign countries. Many will not take new patients over the age of 64. When my wife and I went to Australia and New Zealand for 19 days I asked our health care provider, Kaiser Permanent about it. They said we were covered. I am guessing that if you stay abroad past a certain number of days, they stop covering you.
Many expat Americans either go back to the U.S. for scheduled procedures that are cheaper there because of coverage they already have or they go to the top medical tourism venues like India and Thailand for really cheap, quality surgery and such.
That will not work for emergency care. Because many injuries and illnesses require very prompt expert care—the Golden Hour—there are many places abroad and in the U.S. where you will die or suffer unnecessarily if you need prompt emergency care because it takes too long to get it too you. The Grand Canyon in the U.S. is an example.
Reportedly, in the major metro areas, medical care and hospital care, especially in the private hospitals is essentially the same as in the U.S. including a great many doctors who were trained and/or worked in the U.S. or Western Europe and who speak English.
As with food, moving to another country may save you thousands or even tens of thousands compared to U.S. health-care prices so an economic crisis in the U.S. may cause you to be able to pay for your family’s support in another country but not here in the U.S. In countries like Thailand and India, many health-care procedures cost only one sixth to one fifth what they cost in the U.S.!
You should try to only use foreign hospitals that are accredited by the Joint Commission International. There is a list of them at their web site: www.jointcommissioninternational.org. The Association of Americans Resident Overseas offer a group health insurance plan.
The World Health Organization ranked health systems by country in 2000. Since France came in first and the U.S., 37th, I’m guessing the WHO is a socialist organization that ranks countries by how much socialism they have in their health care system. Here is that web page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Health_Organization_ranking_of_health_systems_in_2000. Note that the U.S. ranks number 1 in the world in health care expenditures per capita. Thank you ambulance chaser lawyers, guys “from the government who are here to help us,” and foreign price controls for drugs that only work if we Americans do NOT have such controls. (If you price control all prescription drugs world wide, there will be no drugs. They only exist now because the companies can overcharge Americans to compensate for the price controls in other countries.)
The International Federation of Health Plans compares costs for common procedures around the world. Here is their 2012 Comparative Price Report. That’s a pretty scary, detailed recitation of the absurdly high costs America has allowed to develop.
You should check the website of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before you travel: www.cdc.gov/travel. www.Drugs.com will tell you what various drugs are called in various countries. They go by different names in different countries.
Many books about Americans or Canadians retiring or living abroad say you will be healthier because of getting more exercise and healthier food. That’s bogus. There is no reason you cannot exercise and get healthy food in the U.S.
According to Numbeo.com, rents in other countries can be as low as 9% of in the U.S. (Nepal) and as high as triple the U.S. (Singapore). Going by cities, here are some monthly rents for a 3-bedroom rental outside of city center in the U.S. and in some of the cities recommended by international experts for American and Canadian retirees:
- San Francisco $3,178
- Quito, Ecuador $406
- Merida, Mexico $517
- Guadalajara, Mexico $550
- Cuenca, Ecuador $591
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia $596
- Wichita, KS $725
- Buenos Aires, Argentina $735
- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico $757
- Bangkok, Thailand $891
- Panama City, Panama $950
- Montevideo, Uruguay $998
- Pittsburgh, PA $1,013
So you can see that a move to another country might save you a lot in rent compared to many but not all U.S. areas, assuming you no longer pay rent or a mortgage back in the U.S. while you are gone.
Owning a home
Buying a home in countries outside the U.S. or Canada sounds very scary to me. The systems are generally more raggedy than in the U.S. The laws are different, offering fewer consumer protections. You need a good, trustworthy, local lawyer. In many countries the ability of foreigners to own real estate is restricted or almost prohibited. For example, in some countries, you need to buy using a corporation where you the foreigner own less than 50%. Condos tend to be easier for foreigners to buy than land with a house on it. Try before you buy. Rent before you buy. Do a whole lot of research to make sure you understand all the nuances of buying foreign real estate. PathfinderInternational.net may be able to help.
You will probably be surprised to learn that the official or quasi-official currency of many countries not named U.S.A. is the U.S. dollar (USD). Some are pegged to the dollar at a fixed rate. This is typically done either by countries where they were unable to behave themselves regarding not printing too much of their unique currency in the past or were they are heavily dependent on U.S. tourists.
Here is the list of countries where the U.S. dollar is the official or unofficial currency or has a fixed peg to the USD:
• El Salvador
• East Timor
• Cayman Islands
• Hong Kong
• British Virgin Islands
• Turks and Caicos Islands
• Saudi Arabia
Since my interest is in countries that are refuges from USD hyperinflation, you may think I oppose your using these countries for that purpose. It’s a little more complex than that. You damned well should put your rainy-day savings in currencies other than the USD, namely AUD, CAD, CHF, and NZD. Do NOT put your rainy-day savings in USD in banks in the countries I just listed.
What will happen in such countries on The Day the Dollar Dies? If they try to stick with the USD, the same thing that will happen in the US. People in those countries will need to take refuge abroad, so you will not be going there when they are still in cling-to-the-USD mode. But those countries will probably wise up faster than the U.S. government and allow whatever currencies the parties to a transaction want to use. At that point, you could take refuge in those countries and access your AUD, CAD, and NZD via ATM cards from the banks in question and/or SWIFT wires.
You do not need to live in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or Switzerland to use your currencies from those countries. Indeed, they all have relatively high costs of living. It would probably be cheaper to live in a low-cost country and convert your AUD, CAD, or NZD to local currency as you need to spend it. The only advantage of taking refuge in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or Switzerland would be that you would not have to pay a currency-conversion charge to spend the money in another country.
Should you prefer a country that uses the USD or is pegged to it now as a possible future refuge from intolerable conditions here in the US? Hell, no! Those countries would not be viable as USD hyperinflation refuges until they got totally rid of the USD or a peg to the USD. At that point, they would be equivalent to almost any non-US country. A country that speaks English is a legitimate attraction, but a country that uses the USD is the opposite of an attraction when you are planning to avoid the adverse effects of USD hyperinflation.
‘No more rat race or chasing the almighty dollar?’
Many of the books on moving abroad say it’s a way to get away from the rat race and pursuit of the almighty dollar in the U.S.
I will grant that you may be able to find a lower cost of living for your particular lifestyle and needs, like medical care, in another country. But the cheapest major metro area rent in the U.S. is Wichita, KS which has rents similar to those in Buenos Aires and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. And I suspect you could find even lower rents in the U.S. in some non-metro area town that had overbuilding or a military base closure. Muskogee, OK, for example, had a rent of $533 lowest among U.S. “urban areas.”
The incidence of housing bargains where there has been overbuilding also applies to foreign areas where has recently been overbuilding like Spain and Ireland and maybe in the near future in Canada and Australia.
A website called the black man’s survival guide said the lowest rents in American were $322 in Marion County, AL. You’re probably wondering whether it is a black town. No. 90% white.
Full-time RV living
Full-time RV living can reportedly costs $500 to $1,000 a month in the U.S. That is obviously what’s called boon-docking, dry camping, or coyote camping, which means you park for the night in a location that costs nothing or only a nominal amount. There are many places in the U.S. where you can do that legally like state parks, national forests, many Wal-Marts and casinos, friends’ driveway, and so on. Generally such places are away from major metro downtowns. And you can sleep almost anywhere in retail parking lots during daylight hours. http://www.rv-dreams.com/fulltimingbudgets.html says you can live on $1,000 a month full-time RVing if you make a game out of spending as little money as possible but they thought $3,000 a month was “moderate.”
Full-time RVers also have climate and weather advantages. They can drive to the best climate location in the continental U.S. for each month of the year. They can also park in the sun and sheltered from the wind in winter and in the shade and in position to benefit from breezes in summer.
But the obvious bottom line is that there are plenty of people right here in the U.S. who are no longer in the rat race or chasing the almighty dollar. You do not need to leave the U.S. to leave the rat race. You do not need to live in an RV. If you can live off savings or passive income like Social Security or interest, you need not chase the almighty dollar.
What living abroad gets you—and doesn’t get you
• living abroad may get you a better climate and lower cost of some things you routinely buy like locally-produced food, health care, and housing
• higher prices than in the U.S. for items not produced in the country you move to
• an “adventure” in a foreign culture including usually a foreign language—the books speak of the “theater” a lot as a cultural benefit for expats—in a foreign language? (Beware of getting into a habit of excusing everything that’s bad in your new country as “an adventure” and thereby losing sight of the difference between good or acceptable and bad
• escape from possible future U.S. price controls, hyperinflation, capital controls, rationing, financial repression laws, anti-hoarding laws, U.S.-only economic downturns
• loss of the protections of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and U.S. consumer protection and other laws
• no escape from U.S. income tax laws or obligations like alimony, child support, judgments against you
• greater distance from U.S. family and friends
• typically inability to legally make a living—Getting a work permit or business license is a whole other subject beyond the scope of this article.
• a majority of the low-cost countries have lousy corruption ratings by Transparency International. The list of non-corrupt countries is shorter: Uruguay. And Uruguay is a relatively high cost, low-cost country, if you can follow that. Here is Transparency International’s world corruption map. http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2013/results/ Yellow is good; red, bad.
• diminished presence of the Seven Pillars of Prosperity (rule of law, property rights, free trade, sound money, minimal regulation, minimal taxation, minimal artificial uncertainty caused by government) These countries are low-cost because they are poor and they are poor because of the lack of the Seven Pillars in their culture and history.—Many foreign countries are better than the U.S. with regard to some regulations, but since you typically need a hard-to-get work permit or business license to come under their regulations, it may be moot. Lower foreign tax rates are of no value to an American expat because the U.S. government generally charges its tax rates no matter where you are. Any foreign tax you pay is either in addition to U.S. taxes or the U.S. just gives you a foreign tax credit for whatever you paid to the foreign country and makes you pay the rest to the U.S.. If you own no home in the U.S. at the time you live abroad, lower foreign property taxes are a benefit. With regard to taxes, you need to compare retiring in the U.S. to retiring abroad, not retiring abroad to working in the U.S. If you stop earning money, your income taxes go down no matter where you live.
Technology has made living abroad much easier
Computers, the Internet, and satellite communications have made living abroad much easier for Americans. Roughly speaking, your computer, iPod, smart phone, can do abroad what your radio, TV, phone, computer, iPod, movie theaters, and smart phone now do here. It used to be that moving abroad for an American meant losing access to all your favorite radio and TV stations and cheap phone calls to friends and relatives and the latest movies and music. No longer, assuming the particular place you move to has high-speed Internet or satellite communications. Many, but not all, do.
One expat American I read about is a grandmother who lives in Latin America but still reads a bedtime story to her young grandchildren back in the states every night via Skype. Skype and several other Internet phone services Vonage and MagicJack are essentially free or have a low flat rate.
Technology and the absurdly high cost of medical care in the U.S. appear to be the two main drivers of the recent upsurge in Americans moving abroad or going abroad temporarily for “medical tourism.” They are also two main reasons why you may want to reconsider the matter if you rejected it in the past.
I got tried of trying to keep up with how you handle cell phone in foreign countries. Too complicated. Ask the expats in the country you are moving to what they do. Ditto foreign snail mail. Even the Canada Post is driving me nuts. Maybe EarthClassMail.com or ExecutiveMailDropServices.com.
For TV and movies abroad, use USTVnow.com, Netflix.com, Apple or Slingbox.
There are already American and Canadian expat communities in almost all of the foreign cities you would consider moving to. Find them on the Internet and ask them for advice on moving and living there. As a group, they have up-to-date, important knowledge that you should try to benefit from. Plus, you should be trying to acquire new friends and connections in the new country ASAP. The existing expat communities are the best place to start that as well.
There is an Association of American Residents Overseas (www.aaro.org).
Some of these American expat communities are very large and long established like in the Panama Canal Zone or around Lake Chapala in Mexico. Live and Invest Overseas author Kathleen Peddicord says these six places have the most attractive American expat communities:
• Georgetown, Malaysia
• Ambergris Caye, Belize
• Boquete, Panama
• Cuenca, Ecuador
• Hua Hin, Thailand
• Panama City Beaches, Panama
South America is not south of North America. It is southeast of North America. This means you have to think about time zones if you plan to have much live contact with America or Canada. For example, Rio is in the same time zone as West Greenland. Montevideo is in almost the same time zone as Newfoundland. Buenos Aires is across the river from Montevideo. Western South America is in the same time zone as New York.
The world beyond the borders of Canada and the U.S. apparently is full of late slobs. I did not notice that in Australia, New Zealand, U.K., Germany, or Paris, but I kind of picked up that vibe in places like Spain, Mexico, Italy and it might exist to a large extent with regard to repairmen, government bureaucrats, and so on even in the no-late-slobs-in-my-experience places at the beginning of this sentence. As a brief visitor, I had almost no occasion to interact with repairmen, deliverymen or bureaucrats.
Multiple books report that the amount of time it takes to accomplish things in other countries are very frustrating for one used to Canada or the U.S. One book said when they first arrived in Ecuador, their first foreign home, they went out with a to-do list of about ten things and were able to accomplish none of them in a full day of trying. After more experience, they only try one item per day. I say that’s a reason not to move abroad. They try to make a virtue out of switching to the laid-back local way. Bullshit! It may not be a deal-killer, but it is sure as hell no virtue. Widespread very bad habit is the accurate description. And just because that bad habit is widespread, or even the rule, does not make it good or even acceptable. If you see some trade-off that makes lowering your standards like that a net gain for you, fine. If you are good at kidding yourself about such things, fine. But don’t try to kid me that entire continents full of extreme late slobs are just another “when in Rome” issue.
“Attitude is everything” is a line in the Retiring Overseas book by Haskins and Prescher. No, it’s not everything. You need to have some objective standards. If the people in the country in question don’t meet them, don’t move there. You will be unhappy.
I saw this mind set with lifers and their spouses in the Army. They moved an average of once a year in a 30-year career. And wherever they went everything was “wonderful.” When they start pushing that too hard on me after they get out of the Army I ask if it was so great how come you instantly and permanently switched to the way I have always lived my life—staying in one home for decades—after you got out of the Army. Their usual answer is they loved the Army life, but now they want to do something different. No, you put up with it because you did not think you could do as well on the outside. You were wrong, but you were afraid to try. So you spent 30 years lying to yourselves and your kids to rationalize this rather unattractive, nomadic, isolated, rural, Army base life you lived. The Army lifers had a bit of an excuse. They were ordered to Armpit-of-the-Confederacy, South Carolina or wherever by the Army. The retirees reading these attitude-is-everything books about living abroad have no such excuse.
If you don’t like the late slobs or crime or any other aspect of the country you are trying, it’s okay. You have my permission to return to the U.S. or to find another country. Don’t let all those “attitude is everything” experts make you think you have to put up with a bunch of foreign cultural bad habits because of some “when in Rome” rule. Here’s my rule,
When in Rome, or any other foreign city, and you don’t like the way they generally behave there, go home.
If you move to a country where they speak Spanish, Portuguese or another language, you generally need to take an immersion course to learn it. You can get by often by staying close to big cities and fellow English-speaking expats, but not smart. Asian languages, however, are a whole other thing. Plus, their cultures are very different and integrated with their languages. Your small children may have a chance to learn to speak those languages by living in another country and going to school with natives, but not likely you if you are an adult. See my web article “Don’t learn Mandarin.”
I was always an excellent language student. But although I could do well on tests in an American classroom, I never was fluent or comfortable talking to native speakers of the language in question. I could phrase a wide variety of statements and questions, but if their answer was said fast or did not contain words and phrases I was expecting, I could not understand. I would probably pick that up fairly fast in Latin America. I studied Vietnamese when I was in that country and could practice daily with the Vietnamese civilians who worked on our bases. But it will still take a while, I’ll bet, for me to become everyday fluent after I move to a foreign country. My wife has never shown any great aptitude for foreign languages, and she was born in Indonesia and grew up there and in Taiwan and Ethiopia. She would probably find learning Spanish or Portuguese or Cantonese (for, say, Hong Kong) an ordeal with perhaps an unsatisfactory long-term end result.
But there is some good news. A number of exotic foreign countries that you might not expect to speak English, indeed, have English as their official language or one of two official or quasi-official languages:
• Caribbean countries generally
• over a dozen African countries
• Oceania countries generally
• Pakistan and India
• Hong Kong
• Puerto Rico
Some of these have cost-of-living benefits. Be warned that just because a country says English is its official language does not mean you have zero to learn to communicate there. Even in Britain or Australia, you will have to learn to speak and understand a whole lot of different words or pronunciations. In my Harvard Business School section, we had a bunch of foreign students. The hardest to understand was a guy from India, where he had been speaking English his whole life. He talked like “Apu” of the KwikiMart in the Simpsons.
The book The International Living Guide to Retiring Overseas on A Budget has a list of recommended Spanish and French language school for expats in Latin America and Paris.
The truth is there are now places in the U.S. where English is not the predominant language if you want that exciting foreign experience.
If you move abroad, you will probably go back to the U.S. or Canada periodically. If so, that needs to be one of the costs you take into account. Plus, the farther your foreign home is from your friends and relatives in the U.S., the greater the cost and the more grueling the travel. Our March 2013 round-trip from San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand cost $1,390 each and took 13 hours in the plane. Those places are “down under.” I have a news flash for you, so are Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. Asia and Africa are farther. Even Berlin is about that far for us West Coast Americans.
Air fares from the U.S. and Canada to foreign countries vary considerably and you can often save large amounts by shopping around and picking the right day of the week, time of day, right time of year, booking well in advance.
I already discussed health insurance. You should also consider:
- trip cancellation insurance
- traveler’s health insurance (different from residing-in-foreign-countries health insurance)
- travel insurance that automatically comes with your credit card
- evacuation insurance (transports injured or sick you from rural area to civilization, including in another country, where you can get quality medical care)
Consider InsureMyTrip.com, Square-Mouth.com. I got some evacuation insurance as part of my membership by joining the American Alpine Club for my five-day backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon.
In theory, you can drive abroad, but many Americans find it too difficult. And/or the cost of a driver is so cheap they figure why risk it. You have a number of countries where they drive on the left like the British Commonwealth and Japan. And you have a lot more where they drive like suicidal maniacs, or, with regard to pedestrians, homicidal maniacs.
Many people think all beaches are “paradise” and so wonderful. I lived in beach resort full-time in my elementary school years in Wildwood, NJ. Beach areas tend to be a pain with regard to constantly blowing sand that gets everywhere, heat and humidity, crowds in high season, insects. I also don’t like the sun reflecting off the water and sand constantly and in every direction to the point where you feel like you are constantly squinting into flashbulbs going off. In other words, while the beach has its virtues, it generally gets old for most people.
Favorite brands, restaurants, and foods
Foreign countries generally sell different brands of products you use and foods you eat. You may not like theirs or they may, at best, take some getting used to. You will miss you favorite restaurants and it may take you a while to replace most of them and maybe forever to replace some.
The book The International Living guide to Retiring Overseas on a Budget says most places outside the U.S. and Canada are a lot louder than we are used to. Animal noises, vehicles, people yelling, church bells, and so on. I can believe it. I used to stay in Motel 6s. But I had to stop because they became full of Latinos and those folks would hang out on the outdoor walkways until the wee hours partying. Once, my wife and I and our kids rented an RV and stayed at a campground. The Latinos in the next RV space played their Spanish language TV until about 1:30 AM. The next morning, my wife got up around 8AM and played her conservative talk radio at the same decibel level for the then sleeping Latinos. When you move to the noisy country, you can’t just move to a different parking space or change motel chains the following night.
Tricks to being the new guy in town
When I was 10, we moved to another state in May. There, we shared a driveway with the man who was the coach of the only Little League team in town. I made the team as a result. When school started in September, I already knew the boys on the Little League team and they introduced me to the other kids in school. Sort of seamless. But I did not think about it.
Four years later, we moved to another state in October. I normally played football in the Fall, but not that season because I knew we were moving. I knew nobody—for months. I just went to school, went to class, and went home. Junior year, I decided I wanted to get into West Point and noticed the cadets had a lot of extracurricular activities when they were in high school. So I joined some athletic teams and other school clubs. Boom! I had a whole bunch of friends. I ended up being elected “Most Quiet Boy” senior year—a title which most definitely does not go to the actual most quiet boy in a class of 373—because the truly most quiet boy does not know enough people to get any votes.
When my middle son changed schools at the start of high school (we did not move, he just preferred another school), I insisted he either go out for a Fall sport or join a club that met weekly and actually did stuff, like the school paper. He complained rather strenuously that it was unnecessary but complied signing up for freshman football. He played the season with 80 classmates. He later admitted it was miraculous. “Dad, you were right. Because of football, I knew 80 boys. Then, in September, I couldn’t walk anywhere on campus without my teammates introducing me to all the non-football players.” My oldest son also changed high school coming out of middle school. He also played football but out of love of the sport. And he was a star. So he not only met 65 or whatever teammates but he also made a great first impression with his six years of tackle football experience—only five other guys on the team had that experience—but also his athletic ability. He ended up being recruited by Columbia, Dartmouth, and Yale for football and played tailback at Columbia for four years in college. Our youngest son went to the school with the same kids for 12 years so he did not need to join but he was also on the football team.
The books for would-be expats make that same point. You need to learn the language and join organizations when you get there otherwise being in a new country can be solitary-confinement lonely.
Use credit cards that do not charge a currency conversion fee: Amex, Capital One, Chase, Discover. Check www.creditcards.com.
Use a US ATM card that does not charge a fee for withdrawing money from your US account in a foreign currency. Charles Schwab Bank is one that I use.