Three years ago my wife Christine and I started a new life overseas.
We fell in love with Cuenca, Ecuador, South America’s city of festivals, because it had everything we had ever wanted in a home—warm friendly people, year-round pleasant weather, wonderful restaurants, live music everywhere, a sense of pride, and the invigorating challenges of living in a new culture and language that makes every day an adventure.
Since then we’ve explored over half the South American continent on our regular trips, and had more fun and more adventures than we could possibly have imagined we would back in 2008, before we took the leap to a new life overseas.
Of course, that’s not to say we didn’t learn some lessons. Here, are my eight best pieces of hard-earned advice so that your move will be even easier and smoother than ours was.
1. Don’t assume that your move will be permanent. There are two critical times for new expats: the six-month mark and the two-year mark. These seem to be the times when people get most frustrated with the language, miss family and friends, decide to go back home or move on to a new adventure in a new location.
You don’t want to find yourself ready to move but unable because you’re tied down in some way. Give yourself the flexibility to easily change your mind and your location. Start off renting in your new paradise. Short-term arrangements on furnished apartments are common in many countries. Get yourself moved in and comfortable and see how you like it. There are thousands of wonderful places in the world, each with their own pros and cons.
Hold back on that desire to throw out a real estate anchor and give yourself a chance to check out your new life.
2. Don’t try to take more insurance than you need with you. There is a saying that 99% of all illness is stress related, and as we talk to people considering an international move, it is obvious health care and insurance are major stress factors. The good news is this is a uniquely American worry; it is simply not true in most of the rest of the world.
Your new life abroad will be one of more freedom, choice, adventure and vitality. Your stress levels will be lower because you are in control. There will be more time for exercise, family, friends and healthier eating and living.
Prices for medical services are market-based as everybody pays cash so it’s easy to tell what you are spending and what you are getting. It’s very reasonable to find yourself needing a doctor’s care and only paying $15 for a full half-hour visit.
The bottom line is you most likely will feel better, have less stress in your life, and find yourself needing care less often than you did back home.
We came down here spending over $700 a month for an insurance plan that no longer met our needs. Look into a high-deductible catastrophic insurance plan that will cover the cost of getting you back home and into care there, should you ever need it…then forget about it.
3. Don’t assume your tastes will stay the same. One of the more startling aspects of an expat life is finding that some of the things you always assumed you wanted don’t seem so important once you are living outside of your home culture.
It can be a little unsettling to find that after working decades for that beautiful country home on a hilltop, that you prefer city life in a small apartment in the thick of things. We’ve seen numerous couples arrive in Cuenca to live in temporary apartments while their dream homes are built, only to find that they love the hustle, bustle and sense of community here so much they never move into the new house.
Editor’s note: To get the rest of Kent’s “8 Mistakes to Avoid” article, see the April issue of International Living magazine—out in three days. See here for more information on becoming a subscriber.