There are more than one million people receiving newsletters and magazines, following Facebook pages, going to seminars, etc., from the “Move and Live Abroad” industry, so it’s time for the truth to be revealed.
It’s all scam.
Or, it’s not.
Let’s dispense with the silly things first. Is it possible to spend every day living abroad lazily watching the sun set over blue-turquoise waters with a mildly alcoholic, ridiculously inexpensive drink, recovering from your massage, absently wiggling your toes into white, powdery sand underneath gently swaying palm trees in perpetual spring-like 75-degree weather, with total living expenses less than $1,187 per month? No, it isn’t possible. Anywhere.
Next, let’s clear the deck by addressing some of the negative observations I’ve heard from the more than 1,000 expats I’ve interviewed about living abroad.
Are there generally more poor people in places like Mexico, Panama, Belize and Nicaragua? Yes.
Are services such as electrical, Internet and water not as reliable? In some places, they are close to as reliable, but for the most part, the honest answer is that they are not.
Will it happen more often that people working for you will show up late, or not at all? For the most part, yes.
So far, living abroad is not a pretty picture, so perhaps it is a scam. The takeaway to this point is, if you believe something silly or that everything abroad will be just as it is in the US and Canada, while at the same time you’ll have all the other advantages of living abroad (discussed later), you will be disappointed. Life has trade-offs, and life abroad is not an exception. The question for each of us is, “What are those trade-offs and would my life abroad overall be better, or worse?”
By far the most important factor predicting your happiness abroad will not be how true any of the complaints above are. Rather, it will be how you would view these complaints in light of what could be considered the positive attributes of living abroad, just like you view trade-offs in your life as you do now while living in your home country. The reason I underscored “as you do now” is that it is very unlikely that moving abroad will change your basic disposition. As I’ve been told by many expats wiser than me, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
What I like to say is, “Moving abroad will make you just like you are now, just more so.” Living abroad generally provides more opportunities to be happy, but it also provides more opportunities to be unhappy, if that’s your disposition and choice. If you’re flexible and happy and welcome new experiences now, you’ll probably be the same or more so living abroad, where new experiences happen more often. If you’re inflexible, unhappy, and hate change, you’ll most likely be miserable abroad.
Living abroad is like a Rorschach test. What do you see? Let me give you some examples.
Would you focus on poverty, or would you observe and then marvel at how so many of the locals can be happy with fewer material goods than you and then try to incorporate their culture and attitude into your own?
Would you focus on the dogs in the street or would you find it inspiring how expats get together to help homeless animals, and appreciate that you can be part of the effort, meet some great people, do good, and make some wonderful new friends?
Would you bitterly complain that the housekeeper was half an hour late and snarkily criticize the “manana culture”, or be grateful that you could now afford a housekeeper while in your home country, you couldn’t, and understand that there are things more important than getting the floor swept exactly at 2:35 instead of 3:05?
If the power or the Internet went out, would you curse the day, or realize you’re spending too much time on the computer anyway and see it as an opportunity to step away from the screen and take a walk, go swimming in a beautiful place, or meet with some friends?
I’ve met both types of expats, the nasty ones mostly on social media. I get attacked constantly by people who give example after example about how terrible it is to live in [fill in the blank: Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua or Panama]. Would they just have different things to complain about if they had stayed in Boston, Omaha or Toronto? I strongly suspect that the answer would be “yes.”
Abraham Lincoln is generally credited with saying “Most people are about as happy as they choose to be.” The key word in this sentence is “choose.” One of the people I learned this from was Benny Berman, the father of a friend growing up. Benny would be happy anywhere. Was Benny just stupid or naive? Hardly. He just chose what to think about and practiced it continually. This concept, of course, has been with us for a long time. In the Book of Proverbs, it says: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he". (By the way, Benny is now 92 years old, happy as always, and living in New Zealand with his girlfriend.)
Before deciding whether the realistic and good aspects of moving abroad touted by the industry are a scam or the truth, you must do a brutal self-assessment. Are you like those unhappy expats on Facebook? Then, it’s all a scam. Or are you like Benny Berman? I you’re like Benny, then quite a bit of what the overseas industry promotes is quite real.
If you are generally unhappy and see the worst in things, moving abroad won’t change this; it will make it worse. It is only if you have already developed the habit and disposition to be open to living a better life that you can find it. The good news is, it’s all there. In the countries I mentioned, it’s less expensive (sometimes more than 50% less), so you can easily upgrade your lifestyle for the same budget. There’s usually better weather. There’s usually much less stress and almost always, you can afford household help, so you don’t have as many chores to do. There are locals you can learn from and you can lead a more meaningful, happy life. It’s all there, if you choose to focus on it.
Living abroad just gives you the opportunity to have less cost, better lifestyle, etc., it does not guarantee it. That part is up to you. If you’re ungrateful, if you’re unhappy, or if you’re running away from something and believe that moving abroad will solve all your problems, please don’t come. For you, all the good things you hear and read are just lies, propaganda, hucksterism, etc., and if you do come, you’ll just make it worse for the rest of us.
If you’re like Benny Berman, come join us. I have a feeling you’ll like it.
Chuck Bolotin is the founder of Best Places in the World to Retire(click on: https://bestplacesintheworldtoretire.com/), 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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