By Deb Zulawski
Blogger, artist, photographer, global traveler, and soon-to-be expat, currently living in the Pacific Northwest.
Are you considering moving outside of the country and becoming an expat after you retire? You may be dreaming of new adventures, the excitement of living in and experiencing a new culture. Or maybe you are looking to find a place where you get more bang for your buck. Whatever your reason, the world awaits. It is a big world and making the decision as to where to land is difficult at best. You may decide to move to where every other expat is moving these days – the “latest” location touted by those expat retirement blogs – or you may do a personal search to find the location that works best for you.
In my search for the “right” location I have found a few cities that would offer me much of what I look for. I fell in love with Antigua, Guatemala years and hoped to live there someday. Then there is Cuenca, a beautiful, colonial city high in the Andes of Ecuador, that captured my heart as I wandered through el Centro on my very first visit. They are both viable options, but I am not yet convinced where I will hang my hat and I plan to continue my search…Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, Spain, France, Sicily, Greece, Malaysia, Thailand…the list goes on and on. So many locations to consider!
Overlooking Cuenca, Ecuador from the Turi outlook.
If you are thinking about becoming an expat here are five things to consider, besides location, before making your move.
Dig deep and ask the tough questions.
Why are you thinking about doing this? What is important to you? What do you need vs. what do you want? Can you be happy with only the needs being fulfilled? Are you willing to accept they way they do things in your new country or will you expect they do it the way to which you are accustomed? Can you live without that red licorice or your favorite barbeque sauce?
Friends and family. How will you keep in touch? Will you be happy not seeing them in person on a weekly or monthly basis? Can you be such a long way from your grandkids?
Is this a forever move or will you only be going for a few years and returning or moving on?
All these questions and more need to honestly answered. A trip to explore your potential expat city will help to answer some of these questions. Digging deep and reflecting on your values, adaptability and flexibility will help clarify your reasons, expectations and likelihood of success.
Do your research.
Blogs abound about moving to and living in other countries. The bloggers share their experiences and offer a myriad of suggestions for you to chew on. Then there are sites like numbeo.com that provide costs and living expense comparisons, a very useful tool in seeing how far your resources will stretch.
Facebook has many groups for expats living in different locations around the world. It’s a great place to interact with and ask questions of people who have already made their move. You will find those who have adapted well, some who are less than happy for numerous reasons, and still others who after a couple of years are heading back to their home country. These pages generally give a pretty balanced perspective on living in that city or country and honest answers abound to any question you may ask.
Think about visas, residency requirement, and citizenship, if you are interested in going that route. Healthcare. What are the options? Is there a government program with an option to purchase private insurance instead? What will it cost out of pocket and would that be within your budget? Will you keep supplemental insurance for when you go back home to visit? Or will you just have travel insurance?
Make a plan.
A solid plan will take before, during and after the move into consideration. Long before ever packing your bags, make a plan.
How will all the “at home” requirements be handled? Will everything be handled by electronic mail? Banking, credit cards, taxes, financial planning all need to be considered. How will those be handled? When will you move? Do you need to sell a home before you leave? Or will you rent it…just in case? What will your move look like? Will you only take a couple of suitcases and start fresh? Or will you pack up your entire household and all your belongings and arrange for them to be shipped? How will you stay in touch with family and friends? Will emails and Facebook suffice or will you want to have more personal contact through Skype?
There is so much to consider and a written, detailed plan will only make things go so much smoother. The logistics related to the move need to be considered and fully understood. Stress mixed with excitement and anticipation will be high, so having all your ducks in a row before you hop on the plane will be critical to a smooth transition.
Set a few routines.
Set a few routines when you arrive to get you out into the community so you can begin to make connections with expats and locals alike.
Each morning after breakfast while living in Peru I would enjoy a leisurely cup off coffee in the house courtyard, and mid-morning I would stroll across town to the open air market to get exercise, enjoy the sights and sounds of the city and inevitably I would run into someone I was acquainted with.
While living in Guatemala City I had a routine on the weekends. Having taught school all week, I liked to take the bus to a nearby town, Antiqua, for the day and occasionally overnight on the weekends. It became a favorite place to go to unwind, and I became familiar with the town and it with me.
If a weekend getaway isn’t an option, consider a Saturday morning walk along the river, ending with coffee and pastry at that quiet little bakery on the other side of town. Or maybe you will join a group with like interests, volunteer to read to children at the local school or help out at an animal shelter.
Setting a few routines at first to get out and about in a normal ‘I live in this town’ kind of way, not ‘I am here as a tourist’ kind of way can normalize your new life. It will provide you opportunity to meet people in those shops, restaurants, schools, clubs and overtime relationships will evolve and friendships will grow.
For some this will be easy. For others who may be a little more introverted or reserved this may feel like a daunting task.
Most cities where expats reside have welcome lunches or gatherings that are held weekly or monthly. Go to the expat hangouts to start the interaction.
Get to know the locals in your neighborhood. Understand that some cultures, though very friendly, may not invite you to their home for a long time. I lived in Peru for two years and I never made it past the parlor in friends homes where guests were welcomed to visit.
Walk softly, observe and learn. Local friendships will evolve naturally over time and more often than not, expats will welcome you with open arms.
Moving to another country can be a real adventure. Having a well thought out plan and having fully considered your reasons for moving and expectations of the experience can make this new adventure fun and exciting.
What have you done or what are you doing to make your expat move smooth and successful?