Perhaps you’ve noticed the enticing headlines that practically drip with breathless enthusiasm and the promise of all things good:
“Revealed: The 10 Best Places To Retire Abroad!”
“Eight Cheap Locations Overseas Where You Can Live Like Royalty On Your Social Security!”
And perhaps you’ve allowed yourself to imagine your life in some wonderful, appropriately exotic location with ridiculously low prices where you spend your days walking along the beach and engaging in your favorite hobby, all while you savor yet another glorious sunset.
Or, alternatively, perhaps you scoff at what you believe to be the pure marketing come-ons of the writers and naivete of anyone who would be so clueless to believe them and instead you envision living abroad to be more like a Dickinsonian nightmare filled with uneven streets, frightening customs, poor, grasping people, crime, bad plumbing and constant gastric distress.
Whichever you imagined, you’re most likely correct… for you.
As the founder of Best Places In The World To Retire, I’ve heard both extremes and observed expats as they lived and responded within their perception of their life abroad. Also, now as an expat myself, I have my own experiences from which to draw.
How do we account for these differences of opinion on what is essentially the same objective experience?
Consider the more than thousand-year-old parable of the Six Blind Indians, none of whom have ever seen, touched or heard of an elephant. The animal is brought into town so that the blind men can describe “what is an elephant.”
Rather than move around the animal to feel multiple spots, each man feels just one spot on the elephant. The man who feels just the animal’s leg reports that an elephant is like a thick tree. The man who feels just the elephant’s tail can’t believe how ignorant the first man is, says that the first man is mistaken and argues that the elephant is just like a long rope. The man who feels the elephant’s side tells the two other men that they are completely wrong; the elephant is like a broad wall. In some versions of the story, each blind man is so certain that he is right (and of course, he is right, given his own, limited experience) and that the others are wrong they actually come to blows.
Living abroad (or anywhere, for that matter), is a lot like that. There is the objective reality (the whole elephant), and then there what parts of the elephant upon which you choose to focus.
A friend of mine had just became a lawyer and was about to argue his first case. Evidently, the opposing attorney was also new. In order to inject some wisdom into what he assumed would otherwise be a strident and unpleasant trial, before the trial was to begin, the judge called both of the young opposing attorneys to approach.
“There are three versions of the truth,” the judge informed them.
Pointing to my friend, he said, “Number one: there’s your version.”
After a suitable pause, the judge then pointed to the opposing counsel and said, “Then, there’s your version.”
Waiting again for what he said to sink in he, he proclaimed, using expansive hand gestures and looking upwards, “And then, there’s the truth.”
“Now, to start out” he said, pointing to my friend, “give me your version.”
So how do you determine exactly what is “the truth” about living abroad?
Here’s what I’ve learned, from talking with more than a thousand expats, reading more than 10,000 answers to questions about moving abroad, conducting six studies about life abroad, and living abroad myself.
The first thing you must do in order to determine if you will enjoy living abroad is to do a ruthless assessment, not of the cost of living or quality of the infrastructure or any of the other things given numerical expression for you in the articles I’ve described above, but of yourself. The reason is that all of these other factors, objective though many of them may be, are secondary to how you respond to them.
- How do I react in situations that are different than what I’m used to?
- Do I put difficulties in perspective? For example, when something goes wrong, do you focus and obsess over what’s wrong, or do you accept what is wrong, consider what is going right, and then decide to focus on what is right?
You’ll notice that I wrote both questions in a form that asks you how you act now, as opposed to how you would act in the future. For example, I didn’t write “How would I respond to situations…” I wrote, “How do I respond to situations…”
Here’s the reason: it is extremely unlikely that your personality will fundamentally change after moving abroad and being under the stress of living in a new place. The best bet is that you’ll be just like you are now, only more so. That’s what I’ve seen, and that’s what I’ve experienced personally. For example, after being accused of not describing enough of the bad things about living in Mexico, I wrote an article about the worst things about living in Mexico that gave my perspective from my view of the elephant.
Know yourself first. Then, and only if you pass that test, do further research and read the comparisons of where to live.
Yes, it is true that there are those gently swaying palm trees and white, puffy sand and shrimp cocktails for 80% less than in the US. But there can also be power outages, and the Internet may be slow today. The locals may be kind, friendly, and with an easy-going lifestyle from which we can learn, or you may perceive them to be lazy and uneducated. It’s all there.
What part of the elephant will you choose to see?
If you choose well, you can have a wonderful, fulfilling experience abroad, because there is so much to enjoy. If you choose poorly… well, you know.
I created BestPlacesInTheWorldToRetire.com because I couldn’t find what I wanted—credible information from a diverse group of knowledgeable people about retiring abroad. Several years later, our site has more than 600 contributors, 10,000 answers, 300 stories, two eBooks and six research studies, all about life abroad. In 2016, my wife and I decided to try life abroad ourselves; selling, giving away, or putting into storage anything that wouldn’t fit into a large, white van, in which we and our two dogs toured the best-known expat areas in Mexico, staying in vacation homes along the way, all while knowing very little Spanish. More recently, I created Best Mexico Movers. It is from this background and perspective that I write for you about life and retirement abroad. I hope you enjoy it
The Mazatlan Post