Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why you might not want to move somewhere

Santiago de Chile
Santiago de Chile. Maybe not so bad?
By ChaTo (Carlos Castillo)
In my informal reader poll, back when I had half the readership I do now, I asked readers where they wanted to move to and aside from the "anywhere" respondents (23%), only two people said they wanted to move to the Americas. One person responded with USA and another responded with Mexico. Nobody voted for an African country. In fact, less than 10% of respondents listed a non-European country.

I can't prove why people overwhelmingly choose Europe, but it's not simply that they want a high standard of living. There are plenty of non-European countries on the planet where you can enjoy a very high standard of living but some aspiring expats seem to not know this. In speaking face-to-face or via email with some would-be expats, I've often found that they change their mind about alternative destinations once they learn a bit about them. It's like sports: I've found that some people who claim they don't like sports actually enjoy them once they learn a bit about the rules and the players.

However, it's still worth doing your homework. In a recent Business Week article entitled China: For Many Expats, It's Not Worth It, there are many links to blogs from expats in China explaining why they're unhappy with the country. Much of it is attributed to institutional racism: you will never be Chinese (I don't know if this is true or not, but it's a comment I've heard often), but some of it is the pollution, corruption, or the food poisoning scandals.

If you're planning on heading abroad, make sure that you're not a starry-eyed dreamer. No, scratch that. A starry-eyed dreamer is fine, but make sure you know what you're really getting into. When I lived in Amsterdam and had a Dutch gentlemen angrily challenge me, demanding to know what I was doing to integrate into Dutch society, I was taken aback but I wasn't surprised. That's not something that would happen to an American in the UK, but certainly can happen in other countries (to be fair, most Dutch people are far too polite to be as blunt as this Dutch person was).

If you want to move abroad, you'll often find that non-European destinations have a lot to offer, but make sure you do your homework. It's a big planet and there's more stuff to see than you would imagine.


  1. What I tend to like about Europe (and I've travelled to a lot of places) is the sense of culture, history, and sustainability. Europe has very well-developed sense of society, traditions that seem to be reasonable, rather than ideological, and fairly decent political systems. Coming from Portland, which also has great bike networks, composting, recycling, etc., it feels to me that emigrating to a place without many of these functions is a step backwards.

    While I love Portland, the US has some blaring issues: it doesn't respect the health of poor people, its politics have become very difficult to handle/manage/deal with, DC is FAR away and is a different place from my reality. Environment is almost always sacrificed for economic quality here. Asia shares a lot of this (especially China, with one time zone, for fuck's sake, and no human rights, political parties, or environmental stewardship to think of), so that writes it off for me.

    What I think I like most about Europe is a deep-seated sense of history with a real understanding of the Now. The US has lessons to learn and wisdom to gain. It seems that Europe has learned many of these and is on a path to greater freedom, goodwill toward men, and inexpensive access to chorizo (the most important thing of all, really...).

  2. Steven and I are planning on South America due in large part to your entry about Uruguay. We did some research and have a short list of possibilities - Uruguay, Panama, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia - that we're keeping our eye on. We plan to travel extensively once retired and want a home base that's inexpensive and safe. Our target year is 2025.

  3. Curtis - I happen to have posted two blogs this past week with the title "Looking for boltholes" (parts one and two), which might be of interest to others. My wife and I have lived in the Caribbean for the past 34 years, and were expat residents of four other countries before that. Now aged over 70, we bring a slightly different perspective to the subject of moving homes.

    My posts don't go into detail, but do favour Latin America in the event of a worldwide economic collapse. If we were to choose a place there, we might come to regret not speaking Spanish, but for now we're happy to take our chances.