You’ve heard me talk about living abroad and warning that it’s not all kittens and butterflies. Many of us read about it and it sounds like heaven. But beware of companies that are telling lies to lure you into buying their products or attending their “lifestyle” conferences. They are telling you whatever you want to hear because they are trying to sell you something. Here are the six lies about living aboard that I find most commonly.
Most Common Lies About Living Abroad
Lie #1 Cost of Living: It’s dirt cheap – you will live like a King on almost nothing.
This is not true. Although in general, cost of living is cheaper in the countries we’re considering, it’s not without some sacrifices. If you want to realize the savings of living abroad, you will need to adjust your expectations. Put simply: US style amenities cost US style prices. In Costa Rica for example, a huge house on a beach will cost you nearly the same amount of money as it does in US.
But if you forego your 3 bedroom house at home and settle for a 1-2 bedroom apartment abroad, you will save some serious cash. Also, remember that not everything is cheaper. North-American-made products tend to be even more expansive than in US or Canada. I saw a jar of Jiffy peanut butter in Costa Rica for $6! And like back home, living near cities with amenities, costs more than living in rural areas.
Lie #2 Real-Estate: It’s best to invest in real-estate right away, while it’s cheap.
Don’t let this one get you. As Americans we’re used to “owning” our homes (or more accurately banks owning our homes). So, some of us may balk at renting. But you really need to try renting for a while to get a feel for the place. What if a year from now, you realize: this place just isn’t for me?
Besides, as an expat you may encounter lots of red tape and regulations on buying property while living abroad. In Mexico for example, you can’t own costal property. Instead, you have to lease it from a Mexican trust. This can get very complicated and confusing. I strongly advise toward renting at least for the first few years. After all, you’ve just become location independent, why tie yourself down right away?
Lie #3 Healthcare: Healthcare abroad is not as good and you have to wait for care a long time.
This is a matter of opinion really. But I will say this: if American insurance companies are sending US citizens to get treatment in Costa Rica or Panama, why would you think that healthcare is any worse there than in USA?
There are many options for healthcare when living abroad, anything from national insurance to private or international insurance. There are always two sides to this story. You can read about my research findings into Costa Rica’s healthcare in my posts: Healthcare Options for Expats and Truth about Healthcare in Costa Rica.
Lie #4 Taxes: You don’t have to pay US taxes.
Not true. US government requires all of its citizens to pay taxes on income; regardless of where you live. Depending on the country you choose, you may end up paying taxes to both your current and home countries.
There are tax treaties that can reduce tax burdens on expats but they often require an expert to navigate them. My advice: hire a good accountant knowledgeable in tax laws of both your countries – that’s what we’re going to do!
Lie # 5 Language: You only need to know English.
I hear this a lot. Although, this may be true in some areas, I would advise that you learn your new country’s language. If you plan on doing any banking, business, big purchases, or medical care you will not be able to navigate without a translator. Imagine trying to explain to your new doctor about your bothersome hemorrhoids, just sayin’…
Besides, you will get bored quickly, if you’re only able to participate in English-speaking activities. Let’s face it, you’re in a foreign country and if nothing else, it’s polite to at least know some of its official language.
Lie # 6 Culture: You will live in paradise and life will be easy.
Unfortunately, time and again, I hear of folks moving abroad and returning 1-3 years later. When I talk to them, the main reasons are culture shock and lifestyle problems.
Culture Shock: “The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” by Google
Yep, that’s right, as much as I hate to say it, this is almost a given. No matter how traveled you are. I spoke with a person that was planning a return from Mexico back to the US because she could not adjust to how Mexican’s treat their animals. That’s culture shock.
Lifestyle Problems: “The typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture” by Merriam and Webster Dictionary
Living abroad is not the same as living in the US. Just about everything is different: language, customs, behavior rules, food – everything. Adjustment can be difficult and it can pose problems. If you are used to getting things done quickly and efficiently, imagine waiting for 3 weeks for someone to come out and fix your stove. You will likely want to strangle your repairman for his “mañana” mentality. That’s a lifestyle adjustment.
In my opinion, the best thing to do to avoid both culture shock and lifestyle problems is to do your research upfront and try it on for size. Don’t just jump in both feet because you may be disappointed. Try a place for 3 three months and see if you like it; better yet try two places. And why not?