On a day when it was announced that Fidel Castro died, I thought it fitting to write a post about travelling freely in defiance of a man and a regime who have always strictly controlled the freedom and the movement of its citizens. Luckily, if you are reading this, you likely aren’t one of those people and you have the freedom to travel pretty much anywhere in the world you would like.
Given this freedom and the fact that in the US we live in one of the richest societies on earth, I find it a bit strange that only 36% of US citizens even have a passport at all. Yes it can be expensive, but flights now are cheaper than they have ever been. If you can afford to fly across the continental US you can surely afford a trip to a foreign country. This post however is not going to be about vacationing. For people with a mobile lifestyle, be that a job that doesn’t tie them down to one place or someone who is FIRE (Financially Independent and Retired Early, as the blogger lingo goes) there is a wealth of opportunity abroad in terms of improving one’s quality of life and potentially their earnings that they are missing out on by confining themselves to the US.
Picking a Place
This is the most important part, you don’t have to choose one country although you probably want to start with one at the top of your mind so that you can focus on maximizing your effort and energy there. Here is a list of the factors I think are most important when picking a country to maximize your lifestyle in:
- How safe is it?
- Is the US dollar strong there?
- The quality of the internet access
- The stability of the banking system
- Do you know someone already there?
- Do you speak the local language?
- Are there already many Americans or expat foreigners there?
Safety – This can’t be stressed enough, no one is going to enjoy a place where they don’t feel safe. However my advice on this front is to take yourself out of the “third world vs. first world” mentality that everywhere not rich is dangerous. This is a falsehood that builds fences mentally around any place that you may consider to go. People tend to think there is an inverse relationship between how poor a country is and how dangerous it is, which is not always the case. You also have to be wary of writing a particular country off due to being on a ranking or list as unsafe such as The Global Peace Index any list is going to paint an entire country with a brush when large cities or smaller sized cities within the country may be very safe. For me personally I like to make sure there is some degree of political stability and that the country does not have elevated levels of violent street crime. You may see on the news that Mexico is like a war zone but the problems are confined to certain areas in the North and there are thousands of Americans living comfortable retired lives in other parts of Mexico.
When I tell people in the US that Medellin Colombia is one of my favorite places to go, some of them look aghast; all they can do is associate it with violence and drug cartels. You would never have any idea, that it has a great bike riding culture, a subway and the temperature is literally like spring all year round due to its elevation. In this case it will pay you twice over to do your homework.
The US Dollar Strength – The dollar is strong again but “strong” is relative. While travelling abroad I felt much more rich in places like Egypt or Colombia than I did in say, France. So no matter what the headlines are, you want to focus on a country that provides you with a higher standard of living then what you are getting now. A good website to start with is one is Numbeo, they even provide you with a heat map of expensive and cheaper cities, This will give you a good idea of relatively how far your money will go, even if the value of the dollar swings a few percentage points. For example, eating out and rent would be about 80% lower than my lifestyle right now in the beach town of San Juan del Sur Nicaragua.
Quality of the Internet – OK this one is a little easier to objectively measure. Also of note is that you will want a place with a consistent power supply or else the cost of a generator will have to be factored into your budget. A list of countries by speed of their internet can be found with a company named Akmai here Internet penetration is important as well, you can’t buy a service that few offer, I would avoid some of the countries at the very bottom of this list.
The Banking System – Cash Chronicles ran into this problem in Argentina recently. If banks in the country to not have international lines to foreign banks or there are strict capital controls, getting a hold of you money and converting electronic money to cash may present a problem. Each country is different in this respect so it will take some of your own research on this front to get an idea.
Do You Know Someone There – Besides knowing the language this is the next best thing. When I say someone there I mean a local, or at least a foreigner who has been living there for a few years, but a local is best. If it is not a relatively rich country, most locals will want to make sure you are taken care of end have good things to say about their country whenever you go back so they will go out of their way to help you get set up. They can point you to the best places to live, what government agencies to talk to and which ones to avoid and they may be even able to hook you up with a local connection for either your living space, a maid or transportation that will really reduce your cost of living. Again if you don’t already have this it is something you may need to cultivate. Maybe someone you know here is from there and has family that can help you? Think outside the box on this one, it can go a long way.
Do You Speak the Language – If you have a country in mind already and you don’t speak the language, LEARN. Long term this is the one factor that will lower your cost of living the most besides your US income. There is a stereotype in many countries that all people who speak English are rich, so if you are approaching someone in English, the price of whatever you are trying to get just went up four fold if they can communicate with you. However when someone has a strong command of the local language people will be intrigued. Most native English speakers don’t want to bother to learn another language, they will ask you questions, they may even invite you over for dinner, and they probably won’t forget you. As a Spanish speaker, even in New York I regularly get discounts at delis and shops where the workers speak Spanish. I know one woman who lived for a time in Korea, learned the language relatively well and to this day, her local Korean laundromat in New Jersey refuses to accept any payment from her for doing all her laundry. These are just the discount here in the US, think of what your novelty language ability can get you overseas.
Are There American or Expat Foreigners There – Hopefully you can use 5 and 6 to stay away from this group. They are like gentrifiers and are to be avoided if possible, especially when they congregate in large communities. They quadruple the price of everything and destroy your ability to live more cheaply. If they are in the country en masse I would avoid this country. I find that European international travelers tend to be a bit more adventurous so I have more tolerance for them but there are just too many Americans. Once a place is a fad for them they flock in large numbers and eat away at the affordability of the place. Think parts of Mexico, Costa Rica a few places in the Caribbean and large cities in Western Europe.
What you will also find is that if you are one of the few foreigners there, you may have easy access to power that you would have never had in your home country. Many people we may consider middle class or upper middle class in terms of wealth are part of a small ruling class within their home country and they often want to associate with foreigners. If you are in a large local economic center or national capital, the bars and restaurants you may visit that are known to foreigners may likely also be the stomping grounds to the business and political elites of the country. This may give rise to new friendships, local connections and business opportunities. Getting outside of your bubble may provide a wealth of opportunities if you give it time.
Now that you have my advice on how to pick you place I am going to give you a few places that I believe fly under the radar of many travelers but can provide a very high quality of life on a budget for a digital nomad or retiree
Nicaragua – This country has relatively low crime, low prices and flies under the radar of its popular neighbor Costa Rica. The Caribbean islands on the Atlantic side offer the experience of the Caribbean before the tourists arrived.
Ecuador – They use the US dollar as their currency and many Americans have quietly found a nice life there living very cheaply compared to their retirees in the US.
Portugal – Lisbon is affordable but if you venture outside, you can find some extremely affordable places to set down for long periods. The south is good for Oceanside towns which can provide a slower pace and quiet for focus either on your hobbies or a business.
Vietnam – There is a community of digital nomads that have been building up here. Even in the large cities someone with a foreign income can live very well and the internet speed is supposed to be very competitive.
South Africa – Specifically Cape Town, I would avoid Johannesburg but the dollar has strengthened considerably against the rand lately and the area around Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Crime in Cape Town tends to be lower than in the rest of the country. This can also be a springboard to explore other parts of Africa that may be even cheaper.
There are many more examples but I thought I would give you these five as a base of areas a bit off of people’s radar that may be excellent opportunities to maximize your nomadic or retired lifestyle. If you don’t like one you can always pick up and try for another country.
The information provided by www.cashchronicles.com is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice. You should consult with an attorney or other professional to determine what may be best for your individual needs. www.cashchronicles.com does not make any guarantee or other promise as to any results that may be obtained from using our content. No one should make any tax or investment decision without first consulting his or her own financial advisor or accountant and conducting his or her own research and due diligence. To the maximum extent permitted by law, www.cashchronicles.com disclaims any and all liability in the event any information, commentary, analysis, opinions, advice and/or recommendations prove to be inaccurate, incomplete or unreliable, or result in any investment or other losses. Content contained on or made available through the website is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice or investment advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed. Your use of the information on the website or materials linked from the Web is at your own risk.