If you're considering moving abroad, are you doing so for the right reasons?
This is among the first questions someone should ask before settling across borders. The right motivation can help ensure that the expat experience is happy and successful. But some individuals don't weigh the question enough, and some simply leave for the wrong reasons.
In a recent survey, Best Places in the World to Retire, considered the issue of "why" at length. More than 500 expats contributed over 6,500 answers to frequently asked questions about moving abroad. The majority of the answers offered advice and observations on such topics as cost of living, healthcare and safety in different countries. However, many expats said that the most important first question is, "Am I moving abroad for the right reasons?"
"Question your motives for wanting to leave," said Ginny Ophof, an Portuguese expat now living in Belize. "Your reasons for leaving will have a huge impact on your experience abroad, and how well you adapt and enjoy your new country. Leave for good reasons, not because you are running away from mistakes or for other wrong reasons."
What are the wrong reasons? Here is a list of six, as distilled from survey answers and a separate study, "Expats: Expectations and Reality:"
1. Moving abroad will make your life perfect
Living abroad won't eliminate life's pesky responsibilities or other problems. Expats must pay bills and perform many of the same tasks as they had to in their native lands. "Don't go abroad thinking that you are going to escape your problems, because you will have the same problems overseas as you have at home," said Jennifer Moloney Jones, a UK native who now lives in Panama and works as the social media manager of the country's most popular expat newspaper, The Visitor Panama. "You still have to worry about taxes, paying the rent, paying the bills, etc. Thinking that just by moving abroad everything is going to be paradise is a fantasy. Many things you still have to do; just in a different place."
2. You'll lower your cost of living
A majority of expats have dramatically lowered their cost of living with the same or a better lifestyle. However, those who moved abroad solely to lower their cost of living tended to be unhappy. That's because what people who moved abroad for reasons other than lowering their cost of living would see as a positive, people who moved abroad solely to lower their costs see as annoyances. For example, those who move overseas for a lower cost of living are more likely to be annoyed by a new culture, while others may see this as an opportunity to gain new perspective and deepen their experiences.
3. You think it will be like home, only sunnier with nicer people
Other places have problems. For example, service providers can be difficult to schedule in a timely manner. Former Boston resident Kevin O'Brien, who now runs a business out of Panama City, Panama said that to finally get his Internet installed, he located an installer already working in a nearby apartment. O'Brien parked his car in a way that blocked the installer from leaving and refused to move it until after his Internet was installed. It worked. "The worst reason for retiring overseas would be moving to another place and wanting it to be like home, because sometimes things do not work the same way as they do back home," O'Brien said. "For example, the work ethic here in Panama is different from the work ethic back home."
In many places, English is not the primary language, and you have to be able to adapt to that. Former Floridian Roy Canon, who had lived in several countries in Europe before winding up in Panama, said that it has taken him time to become accustomed to some of the odd spellings and pronunciations of the local culture. "'Spanglish' does have a lot of American words incorporated, but sometimes these words have different meanings or are misspelled in a way that is amusing." Canon told us that he regularly reads advertisements in the local paper for apartments with "walking closets." Are you amused, like Canon, or are you annoyed? Your response will help you to predict how well you would do living abroad.
Former Colorado resident Boris Mannsfeld, who now runs several businesses in Placencia, Belize said that Belize may not suit someone who is looking for an ostentatious lifestyle or obvious signs of luxury. "If you want to go somewhere where it's high-end rich, Belize would not be for you," Mansfield said. "Or if you want something like the French club scene where everybody's all decked out in the latest threads and showing off in the nicest cars, Belize is not for that, either. People down here are very unpretentious. Even the rich people are in t-shirts and when you have a meeting with the prime minister, you wear just a pair of khakis and a buttoned-down shirt."
4. You're trying to avoid legal problems
Contrary to some movies, if you are trying to evade U.S. law enforcement by moving to a foreign country, you would not be successful. "If people are looking to move to Belize because they are running away from something, such as if they are in trouble with the law, if they are trying to hide money, or hiding something else, Belize is not the place to be," said Macarena Rose, a U.S. expat living in Belize. "Belize is a small country and everybody knows everybody. Belize does not want people who are like that because Belize takes care of the people who live here."
5. You think you can break laws and get away with it
There tends to be more freedom in daily life in places like Central America than in the U.S. or Canada. However, expats said you could not break the law in any serious way and get away with it. "If you're on drugs, it's a bad reason to move to Nicaragua because they'll put you away for 20 years," said Jewel Hoff, formerly from Las Vegas and now building a ranch in rural Nicaragua.
6. You don't have the willpower to break inexpensive bad habits
Jewel Hoff also warned us about the downside of a lower cost of living when she cautioned, from personal experience, "It's more difficult to stop smoking here, because a pack of cigarettes is so cheap -- $1.10."
Bottom line: If you're going on a journey, first, check your baggage.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.