International Living’s Retirement Index always brings back fond memories of my own analysis that preceded my first move abroad.
My means of choosing a country back then was simple. I only studied the categories on the Index that were important to me and threw out the countries that didn’t score well in those areas.
Cost of living was high on my list…as were climate and real estate. I didn’t particularly care about the ratings for political stability, or the ability to get half-price movie tickets.
So I really picked my finalists based on just three or four criteria.
Then I visited the prospective winners…and when I got to Ecuador, I loved it.
So that’s where we went.
There was no study of macroeconomics, no worries about the president’s politics, no deep analysis of the property market. All I used was a basic checklist of my likes and dislikes, and my reaction to the city and its weather.
Choosing a house was the same. After a few days of looking, we picked one we liked in a pleasant neighborhood…with no real analysis, other than the fact that we liked it.
And I had no regrets. We loved the country and made a great home there for years.
In retrospect I was fairly ignorant compared to what I know today about choosing a country or a property. And that simplicity of thinking was a blessing.
Now let’s wind the clock ahead a decade.
Since that first trip to Ecuador, I’ve accumulated a huge body of knowledge, experience, and statistics that I can use to choose a country and a home abroad. I’ve gained a far better understanding of property markets, macroeconomics, and currencies.
So it should be easy for me to pick a home abroad, right?
It’s not. In fact, having that much information to analyze makes choosing a country, city, and home almost impossible.
Our new place in Medellín, Colombia is a case in point.
Picking the city of Medellín itself was easy. Once I saw it, Medellín was such an overwhelmingly good choice for us that no amount of over-analysis could cloud the issue.
But picking a property was another matter. I studied the market extensively and came to the city four times to scout properties. All told, I looked at more than 60 condos there—many, more than once—and kept detailed records on about 50 of them.
For each one, I knew its price, and what it cost per square meter…so I could accurately compare the value of one to another.
I also could statistically compare any apartment to others like it in the same neighborhood…not to mention all of their projected rates of return and “rentability” quotients.
I thought that having all these facts at my fingertips would make the choice simple…like a mathematical equation. But it actually made it harder.
With so many facts to juggle, I couldn’t make a clear case for anything. For every potential property, there was always some fact lurking out there that argued against it…some flaw that showed itself among the data.
For months, I was deadlocked by too much information.
In the end, I cast all the analysis aside. For a place to live, I picked the homiest. For a rental property, I picked one with a great view in a convenient, sought-after location.
I finally got back to the basics. That is, I threw out those that didn’t meet my basic criteria, and then simply picked the ones I liked.
Frankly, I should know better than to over-analyze. I preach against it all the time when talking to readers but failed to practice it myself.
I have a good friend in San Diego who was evaluating overseas locations back when I started, in the 1990s. He was having a hard time deciding which country to go to, so he sought more information. Newsletters and subscriptions began to pile up in his inbox and on his doorstep, as mountains of information poured in.
Today he’s unquestionably an expert on the subject of living abroad…yet he’s farther from making his decision than he ever was. He’s paralyzed by information overload. No matter which country comes to the forefront, some newsletter brings another fact to bear, casting doubt on his selection.
Now, after 14 years, it’s likely that he (and his accumulated data) will remain in San Diego forever.
A good, logical analysis of the pros, cons, and options is an essential step to moving or buying a property abroad. But that same analysis can also be your biggest impediment. And the time spent analyzing is time taken from your new life overseas…time that’s gone forever.
We all need to remember that moving and living abroad is an adventure; not a math problem. So don’t be discouraged if no clear winner emerges from your analysis…that’s normal and expected.
The trick is to take a rough cut and visit your finalists…but then go with your heart. That’s the most important criteria of all, and it doesn’t appear on anyone’s index.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, you can subscribe here.