Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why we flee

Yes, this blog post is horribly misnamed. It has something to do with a morning alternating between writing a paragraph or two and going back to my daughter who is at the "I need plenty of attention stage". She falls asleep every 20 minutes or so or else I would never have gotten this written.

This blog has been going strong for about four months now. It's getting more and more followers, the number of comments is increasing and I've been getting email from folks who are actually trying to get out. For those who are new here and want to understand what's going on and for those who've been around for a while and need a reminder, I think it's time for a quick recap of what we're trying to do here.

In short, this is for people who want to move to a new country. You don't give a damn about discount tickets to sex museums or Eurodisney's hours. Spending two weeks somewhere on vacation and living there are simply not the same thing. You have, however, two serious problems:

  • Getting there
  • Staying there

Getting there

Getting out is hard. As I've written about previously, one study shows 10% of US households wanting to emigrate to another country with another 10% considering it part time. Those are huge numbers. What's stopping most? Knowledge. They just don't know how to do it. That's why I keep offering different strategies for you whether you're a skilled worker and need to know how to get a work permit, an unskilled worker who's willing to teach English overseas, or maybe you have a small, permanent income stream and you're looking for countries who will let you move there if you have income, such as Uruguay.

Barring convicted felons, people with major communicable diseases like tuberculosis and a few other things which vary from country to country, you can probably get out. You don't have to be rich. You don't have to be skilled. You do have to be willing to compromise. Many would turn down a job in Lima, Peru because they want Paris instead. I can't help you there.¹

The main thing to getting out of the country is that you have to take action make it happen. If you don't understand Count von Europe and why you'll say "no" to his offer of a job in Europe, you're not going anywhere. I recently had one friend tell me they could get ready to go in a couple of months. I knew the obstacles they faced and argued strongly that they already set themselves up for failure by not putting themselves in a position to leave immediately. When your think "I'll get around to getting myself ready to leave" sooner or later, it means that you probably won't do it. When I spoke my friend later, I was not surprised to hear them say "one or two years" instead. Their reasons are perfectly valid, but the reasons we put forward often are. It's a question of how bad you want this.

Staying there

Wanting to get there isn't enough. If you find you can't handle it, you may be pretty upset with yourself if you tuck tail and run. However, many people do. The number of expatriates returning home early from overseas assignments is as high as 68% in some cases. If you can't adjust to your new culture, that combined with homesickness could easily drive you back. That's why instead of just telling you about how to get out, I also try to give you insight into some of the challenges you'll face, from cultural difficulties to struggles with food.

In short, after you plan to get out, you have to actually make that escape and stay there. It's a lot more than just "hey, I gots me a job!". It's about turning wishful thinking into a concrete plan of action. That's what this blog is about. Now get off your tail and start looking for a new country.

1. As I get constantly reminded, when people say "I want to live in another country", what they often mean is "I want to live in Europe". That's fine, but they have to realize that this is often harder to pull off. Does Montevideo not appeal? Is Seoul not sexy enough? There's a good chance that it's just because you don't know them.


  1. Leaving your home country and being successful somewhere else in the world strongly depends on how (un)happy you are at your current geographical point.
    If it is just a short headache that comes and goes, your journey will never last too long - because the pains of getting settled abroad are much stonger then pains of staying. If it is more like razor sharp pain that just does not go away, your chances of sticking around in your new enviroment are high.

    Coming across expats as myself for few years now, i have always found an underlying reason of pain and some sort of crisis that drove some of my friends away from their home, county and country.

    It may not be the rule of thumb, but it happens often.

  2. If one is only running away FROM something, they'll end up back at the beginning.

    Clearly define what you're running to and why; chances of success are much higher.

  3. It's worth noting that at least one study shows that people's chance of successfully transitioning abroad is tightly coupled to how well they try to integrate with their new culture. That being said, due to the nature of the study, there's strong sample bias, so take that with a grain of salt :)

  4. Argh! I typed a long post only to be told "we are sorry but we are unable to continue". Bye bye long post.

  5. I find the underlying assumption of this post rather odd; while America might not exactly be my cup of tea, and I can understand why some people might wish to emigrate to another country, I would not have put America down as the sort of country you want to emigrate from just to get away from it.

    If you say "I want to move to France/Germany/England/Italy/Spain, or China/South America/Australia, etc. etc.", that I can understand. Even saying something like "I would like to move to Europe" I can vaguely understand (although there is so much variety, I don't think that would be a very good starting point". But saying "I just want to get out of here" is not something I can quite follow.

    I should probably add that I have only been to NY twice, briefly, on holiday, so don't have that much insight into the American way of life, but it does not strike me as so dreadful that one has to leave, irrespective of which country one might end up in (unlike, say, if you were a Jew in Germany in the late 1930s).

    I can fully understand wanting to go TO some place, but if there is just a desire to get AWAY from the current set-up, surely there is enough diversity within the US to allow people to move & make a fresh start without having to leave the country?

    whiskeylover (also unable to continue when trying to log in...)

  6. Why you might want to leave the US? I am an expat currently living in Chile (so I have perspective). Many expats I know or know of are looking or have found that moving from their home country (US or Germany) gives them two things 1)More opportunity - many countries (often with great weather and incredible views; Uruguay) have a lot of "holes" that the locals don't see and are easy picking as entrepreneurial pursuits with very low barriers to entry. 2) Work life balance and/or simpler life. I live in a middle class neighborhood here in Chile and I only need about 18,000 year to live comfortable (and Chile is expensive to live in) and we have a full time housekeeper/cook. For me to live this cheaply in the US I would be in a VERY BAD neighborhood. And, because its much cheaper to live well outside the US, I work less and have more time with my family (including 3.5 month old daughter).
    As for Uruguay - been there and I highly suggest it as a top pick for moving to.

  7. Jesse, I can understand someone saying that they prefer living in Chile, or Uruguay, due to the lower cost of living (don't use that with the UK), or the better weather (DEFINITELY don't use that as a reason to move to the UK...).

    I too have "perspective", as someone who has spent half his life in a country that is not the country of my birth (although I have stayed in Europe).

    What I found a little peculiar was the comment in the post: "You do have to be willing to compromise. Many would turn down a job in Lima, Peru because they want Paris instead. I can't help you there."- which does rather sound like "I don't care where I go, as long as it's out of this country". Now, I can understand that approach if you are talking about a year abroad, some experience, or similar, but to actually emigrate properly, I find that a tad on the irresponsible side.

    By all means say "I will consider working/living anywhere in the world", but surely one should consider the proposed country of future residence to decide whether one actively wants to go there, rather than just leave the current country?

    whiskeylover (still having problems signing in)