During our 12 years abroad, my wife, Suzan, and I have lived in houses, apartments, condos, town-homes, hotels… accommodations of all kinds.
Over those years, our attitude regarding different types of properties has changed a bit.
When we first started out, we had an attitude about gated communities shared by many new and potential expats we met. In brief, we thought that anyone who lived in a development with a gate around it was probably a grumpy gringo who didn’t want to learn the local language…or have anything to do with the local community and preferred to hang out with other grumpy gringos to complain about how strange and backward the locals were and how good things were back home.
Looking back, it’s not hard to understand why we felt this way.
Like so many new expats, we thought our first move overseas was going to be the last move of our lives. We imagined that the very first home we’d own would be our dream home where we would happily grow old and die immersed in a vibrant new local culture in an exotic landscape, scented with the intoxicating aroma of local delicacies cooked in our kitchen, and surrounded by a new and loving community of colorful local friends.
I’m not being facetious…we earnestly thought all this. And in reality, all this stuff actually does happen for many expats.
Our lives, however, took a different path.
For one thing, we’d gone abroad in the first place to work. We’re writers, and it’s been our job for the past 12 years to explore places around the world where expats might find a good life outside their home countries.
That means lots and lots of travel…and, as we discovered, if you own a free-standing home in the middle of a local community or out in the countryside, you’ll need to be confident that your home is secure while you’re away. You do the same where you live, I’m sure.
That’s not an impossible task if you’re only away once or twice a year for a week or two at a time…but a nearly impossible task if you travel more often than that, and especially if you depart at a moment’s notice.
And this doesn’t just apply to people who travel for a living, of course. Want to spend a week at that mountain waterfall spa in the south of the country? Close up the house. Planning to visit family for the birth of the new grandchild? Close up the house. Sick friend needs you back in the States by tomorrow night? Close up the house. Not sure how long you’ll have to stay with that friend once you get there? Close up the house—tight— and find someone reliable to keep an eye on it regularly for however long you’re gone.
The plain fact is that, no matter where in the world you live, empty houses full of expensive appliances and electronics—the kind North Americans like to own—are tempting targets.
After a few years of our own traveling and closing up of houses, often on just a few hours’ notice, gated communities became more appealing to us. We understand the attraction of a place you can lock and leave…with a wall and a gate and lots of other owners, most of whom are home at any given time and paying attention to what goes on inside those gates.
Travel Well, Be Happy
Over the years, we’ve pared down our belongings to a few items that travel well and really, really make us happy…and it turns out that we don’t need a huge house to fit our stuff in any more. A small condo handles it quite nicely. And somebody else mows the lawn and fixes the roof and stops the leaks, even when we’re gone. We can leave at the drop of a hat…go anywhere…stay as long as we want…with almost none of the concerns that we’d have if we were leaving our dream home in the countryside unattended.
The gated community concept also makes complete sense if you are a ”part timer”—someone who, for reasons of work or family or personal preference, has one foot in the country of your choice and one back home and who moves freely back and forth between the two. Gated communities help you do that easily and without the worry about your home or possessions.
It gives you the freedom to “try out” or live in several places in various countries… The people we really admire have three or four lock-and-leave units in three or four of their favorite places. They’ve taken advantage of low real estate values in these areas, and they move between them as seasons or whim dictate…because a small condo is easy to close up and leave unattended.
And—get this—sometimes they rent out these unoccupied units when they’re not using them. Many gated communities allow this and even have resident rental managers. So not only is it easier and more secure to leave your home…it can cover its own association fees and monthly expenses and even throw off a little income to boot.
Are there grumpy expats who never want to learn a new language or have anything to do with the local community in some of these gated communities? Sure. And I’m sure there are gated communities out there that are filled exclusively with grumpy, unhappy, jingoistic expats…but we’ve never lived in one. Never had to. There are so many options in so many parts of the world that you can usually find whatever you want, and at bargain prices compared to the U.S. and Canada.
As we learned ourselves over the years…whether it’s a house in the country or a townhome in a gated community or an apartment in the city…it doesn’t make a difference as long as it makes you happy.
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