We seem to get a more or less, constant stream of mail from people who go “one step beyond prepping” and go so far as to actually leave and bug out of America.
George, for example, has plenty of readers, it turns out, in places like Ecuador and Chile, where lots of Americans are moving to extend their retirement incomes. But in some places, like Panama, where George’s brother-in-law is back from, it seems like the overseas boom in real estate has come to a screeching halt.
So we ask ourselves: does it make sense to leave America and move elsewhere for the long term?
What Your Money Buys
For people on fixed incomes, one starting point is to consider what things cost in the country that you are thinking of retiring to . . . or just moving to in order to escape the rat race of North America. The problem is sorting out truth from fiction about what things cost.
Fortunately, there is a widely recognized method of balancing things out using a system called “Purchasing Power Parity.” Wikipedia sums up the concept this way:
In economics, purchasing power parity (PPP) asks how much money would be needed to purchase the same goods and services in two countries, and uses that to calculate an implicit foreign exchange rate.
Using that PPP rate, an amount of money thus has the same purchasing power in different countries. Among other uses, PPP rates facilitate international comparisons of income, as market exchange rates are often volatile, are affected by political and financial factors that do not lead to immediate changes in income and tend to systematically understate the standard of living in poor countries, due to the Balassa–Samuelson effect.
What Makes a “Livable” Country?
Most of the reader’s we’ve corresponded with fall into one of two camps: Those that do not wish to learn Spanish, or some other global language, and those who do take the time to learn “something else.”
To be sure, climate and natural resources figure prominently in any equation as well, and along with this, as long as we’ve got the thinking caps on, we may also wish to consider other factors, such as population density per square mile.
Depending on how you rank these, there are plenty of different answers that could be best – but it would only be “best for you” since anyone else would likely have a different weighting model from such a decision.
In 2008, Forbes Magazine did a really thorough look at the question of where’s the best place to be an American Expat (expatriate) and topping their list was Singapore. That’s not likely to be the case today, since prices in Singapore have risen, and, remember, the Forbes article was directed at a different market than retirees – they were talking about expat job postings in the main.
George’s long-time friend, Bernard Grover, who serves as the slightly tongue-n-cheek Bureau Chief for UrbanSurvival in Jakarta, moved there several years ago and has thrived. Not only has he gotten married and been able to pursue many business interests, but he’s learned the odd mix of languages common to that part of Indonesia where, last we checked, he was working on introducing comedy clubs to the country. One drawback: many people smoke in Asia . . . tobacco smoke is far more prevalent where profits can be had from uninformed consumers.
Another of UrbanSurvival’s readers is Don DuBosque who publishes regular comments on his adventures of being an expat in Uruguay. We find “My day in Uruguay” to be a pretty insightful look at restarting somewhere else, but with the big asterisk that says “*MUST LEARN SPANISH” before such a move is attempted.
To be sure, another reader, who packed up his family after selling his home in Chicago near the height of real estate prices (tsk tsk George’s doings in part) has found success and happiness in New Zealand. While his first job was as a high-end IT manager for the government upon arrival for the first year and a half, the inevitable cutbacks in spending took their toll and he and his family were forced to do something different. Last we heard, he was still doing IT work, but also teaching baking to locals and doing classes in his local community.
Some of the little things that some from living in a foreign country are hard to put into words. George’s Kiwi reader, for example, took great delight in being able to ride a motorized skateboard, something which is verboten in most American cities.
It’s also hard to put the adventure of moving out of one’s mind for long. In 1983, George resigned from a successful broadcasting career to move his then-wife and three kids to the Cayman Islands where he lived for two years as senior vice president of the country’s national airline. While it was a “now for something completely different” kind of life, it was extremely broadening, and once in the airline business the number of cities he was able to visit skyrocketed, along with jungle adventure in Equitos, climbing Machu Picchu, lunching in Panama City, diving in the Turks and Caicos, and so forth.
But there is a downside – and this is something that people who go on about being an expat don’t talk about too much. It’s the matter of becoming, in the case of living on Grand Cayman, a bit “island happy” after a while. Because he flew into the US quite frequently, George didn’t come down with it much, but it was hard on the family living on an island with just 25-miles or road populated by a few thousand cars and, English-speaking or not, it was still a very British place.
On the other hand, Gaye lives on a small island only accessible by ferry (or pricey float plane service) and does not seem to suffer any of the symptoms of island living. Perhaps age and maturity – and no kids – are the solution to this malady.
But What About Simply Bugging Out?
In terms of a “quick bug out”, unless you can time your exit perfectly to the collapse of the global computer infrastructure/grid, it seems to us to be a pretty risky business to try a “shot at a brass ring” on the way out.
On the other hand, on Social Security could you live happily on a cheap beach in Mexico or Chile, or in a gorgeous mountain town in Ecuador? You bet.
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Contributed by George Ure and Gaye Levy of Activist Post.