NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- You've probably seen lots of articles about how great it is to move overseas. And, while some of what you read seems plausible, other parts may come off as a thinly veiled promotion.
As a result, much of what you read, you don't believe to be true. In many cases, you're right: what you read is not true.
The truth is that opinions vary.
For many people, moving overseas is, in their words "The best thing I ever did," while, for others, it's a horrible experience. Which group would you be in?
In speaking with over 500 expats who contributed to our site, Best Places In World To Retire, I was struck by how two people who are in essentially the same situation can view things so differently.
I always interview expats separately, so that the answers I receive from each are not influenced by the opinions of others.
I also ask open-ended questions. This allows me to receive answers that are the most revealing about how an expat really thinks and feels. The question I asked was along the lines of "What's it like to live in Matagalpa?"
One expat offered good detail in complaining about the increase in people panhandling (especially children) and how that annoyed him. Other than that, he had very little else to add.
The other expat, Jewel Hoff, from Las Vegas, told me a story about how, the previous day, she was driving in her jeep and saw a poor Nicaraguan woman holding some flowers. When Jewel stopped to tell the woman how beautiful her flowers were, the woman thanked her and offered the flowers as a gift.
Here's an excerpt from another answer on our site from Jewel: "When I buy five packs of bubblegum (which costs me $1.20), I pass it out to 25 kids and I get 25 smiles. I get 25 smiles for less than five quarters! They're so happy over a piece of gum. You try to make an American 12-year-old happy with a piece of gum. They won't even look at you."
What are we to make of this? Are there panhandlers in Matagalpa? I don't doubt it. Is there an increase? I don't know; perhaps.
However, are there also poor Nicaraguan women who would offer to make a gift of flowers to a complete stranger who is obviously much wealthier than her?
Yes, there are. I have heard similar stories many times.
Which description of living overseas would be true for you?
To answer this question, let's pretend that you live in Boquete, Panama, and that the guy who was supposed to install your Internet was two hours late. Which of these would be your reaction?
- You complain that Panamanians are hopelessly lazy, and that it's no wonder Panama is not a First World Country. Your entire day is ruined.
- You learn and understand that Panamanian culture is different, that being late is not an insult to you personally in any way, and consider with an open mind that Panamanians have different priorities. You observe that, in Panamanian culture, it's OK to be late if a friend is sick, or it's a nice day, or if they met someone on the street and have an extra long conversation, and that being on time for work is a lower priority than any of this. You find this "OK," even if you don't agree with it.
So what's it really like to move overseas? It can have great benefits, such as a lower cost of living, better weather, the possibility of personal re-invention, the fun of learning a new culture, greater meaning, warm, happy, admirable people, and smiling children.
Or it can be filled with lazy panhandlers and people who have it in for you and don't respect your time.
Ultimately, the choice is yours.