It first occurred to me when I went to pick up my wife at the restaurant at a boutique hotel where she just had a facial and a pedicure. Classical music was gently playing, and the sumptuous decorations and furniture gave the surroundings an air of refinement. Seated at one of the tables were two women perfectly attired and bejeweled for their surroundings.
Nothing at all seemed out of place; exactly what you would expect at a typical, high-end establishment in a tony, upper-end US city or suburb.
But I wasn’t in a typical upper-end US city or suburb. I was in a village in Mexico called Ajijic, where there are lots of expats. Another difference was the prices. The combined cost for my wife’s pedicure and facial at this hotel was around $23 and the sophisticated lunch the women were having would probably cost them around $6 each, without the wine they were enjoying.
They were leading a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget!
After that, I saw it everywhere; at other restaurants, going to the movies (about $3 for first run American movies in English), out dancing, or to a play. A large portion of the expats I saw looked like they could easily be in West LA, leading typical upper-middle class lives.
The difference was, they weren’t paying typical upper-middle class prices and many of them didn’t have typical upper middle-class savings or income.
More than a few were living off Social Security and just a bit more, as I was told repeatedly. One incident that stands out is what was told to me by a man we met at a restaurant in Mexico. He announced to us he was wiped out in the 2008 financial meltdown. He had lost his job and had zero savings (not a great planner). Now, he was laughing while relating his story, sipping the wine he had just ordered to go with his lunch, and telling us about the house he was renting overlooking the lake. He had figured it out, and he didn’t even speak Spanish.
There are lots of others who had also figured it out, not only in parts of Mexico, but also in parts of Panama, Belize, and Nicaragua. The reason I know this is that I’ve personally interviewed more than 1,000 expats from these countries and asked them about their cost of living and other aspects of their lives.
It turns out that it’s not only that the cost of living tends to be much lower south of the border. There are other things that can combine to provide a very significant lifestyle bump compared to the US and Canada.
Here are a few:
No Chores to Do
Of all the expats I’ve interviewed, well over 90% of them do no chores whatsoever other than those they choose to do because they wanted to. The reason is quite simple: the cost to hire help is extremely low sout of the border; generally less than $3 per hour for a housekeeper, gardener, handyman, driver, etc. With fewer chores to do, expats just enjoy their life more with all the free time they were gifted.
Without insurance, and for an initial visit that usually lasts about an hour, a typical doctor visit in the countries we cover can run from $12 to $35, out of pocket. And it’s not that the healthcare provided is sub-par. Most of our contributors tell us that for most issues, the healthcare they receive abroad is on par with what they would receive in the US or Canada, but with much more time being taken by the healthcare provider. Lower costs for competent, caring medical services is a big lifestyle boost, as is the worry one no longer has about getting wiped out financially by a serious illness.
Certainly, too much stress can hamper a lifestyle upgrade, and moving and living abroad can provide its own stress, just like moving anywhere, but more. However, once that’s over, what we tend to hear and what we’ve been told in the studies we’ve conducted is that stress levels go way down compared to the US or Canada. Why? See above, relative to cost of living, chores, and healthcare.
Are there downsides to moving abroad as well? Of course, there are. There are downsides to moving anywhere, and before you do anything, you need to fully investigate not only where you may be interested in moving, but also you need to understand yourself very well. These are issues that should not be minimized, but cannot be discussed in the short space allotted here.
However, if you’re unhappy about the lifestyle you can afford where you are, you may like to know that there are plenty of others who have come before you and successfully and significantly upgraded their lifestyles… but for less money than they were paying before.
Chuck Bolotin is the founder of Best Places in the World to Retire, a website that provides credible information to those researching moving, visiting, or doing business abroad. Prior to that, Chuck founded, funded, ran and sold two companies. He is a frequent guest lecturer at the Eller College of Management MBA Program, mentored at the Arizona Center for Innovation, and frequently sat on the Desert Angels Screening Panel in Tucson, Arizona. After selling his home in Arizona and completing a one year road trip through Mexico, Chuck now lives in Ajijic, Mexico, with his wife, Jet, and their two dogs.
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