Are You a Small-Town or a Big-City Retiree? You Might Be Surprised

The big city versus the little village. It’s an age-old question, and it’s one that potential expats and retirees deal with all the time.

Do I want to spend my time enjoying the slower pace and more neighborly atmosphere of a small town somewhere…or do I want to take advantage of all the shopping, entertainment, and modern amenities provided by a big city?

In our years living overseas, my wife, Suzan, and I have seen a lot of people pick one…then switch to the other. And in our experience, just about as many folks flee small-town life for the big city as the other way around.

We constantly advise people thinking of moving abroad to take long, hard, honest looks at themselves and what they really want. Being honest with yourself about how much civilization you want around you is a vital part of that process.

I thought about that just this morning as Suzan and I hit the streets of Medellin, Colombia, for a day of shooting videos and doing interviews about expat life here. We’ve been on the road in Colombia for several weeks now, and we can’t wait to get back to our quiet, laid-back little Andean mountain village in northern Ecuador.

But we’re staying in a modern hotel with HDTV and a well-stocked mini bar in the room. Outside our window, condo and business towers gleam in the sun. On the way out of the hotel we pass two U.S. fast-food chain restaurants, a casino, and a cafe and bar…before we even get to the street. We shot our first bit of video directly across from the hotel at a Juan Valdez coffee shop serving fine Colombian coffee in every imaginable way. A block down the street is the biggest mall in Colombia. It’s so large, we don’t have the time or energy to walk through the entire place. The supermarket there is bigger than a soccer field, and one entire aisle is nothing but wine.

There is something to be said for city living. And all this and much, much more is available almost around the clock.

There are cities like this in almost every country you read about in International Living, and many expats we know choose to live in them precisely because they offer so many amenities and choices.

However, it’s only taken us a few hours of being stuck in chaotic traffic to remember why we chose to live in a village of only 7,000 people. You can walk across our town in 20 minutes, and on a slow Wednesday night between festivals and holidays, you can walk down the middle of the main street and not see a single car. (And because we’ve no big city temptations, our cost of living is very low.)

This all means a lot to us. So much, in fact, that it only takes us a day or two to recover from city lust after a visit to any mega metropolis.

But make no mistake—it took us a long time and a couple of false starts to realize this about ourselves: we’re happy with the slower pace of a small town. We know just as many people, of course, who discovered exactly the opposite about themselves. After giving small-town living a chance for a year or two, we’ve seen them almost run to the convenience and diversion of the nearest metropolitan area.

If you can clarify your own wants, needs, and goals before making your move, you’re way ahead of the game. It’s a big world with lots of options: urban, rural, and just about everything in between. By talking to the people who already live there, and by taking a long, honest look at yourself and your own tastes and desires, you could save yourself a year or two of wishing you’d made a different choice.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with finding out for yourself, firsthand, whether a place is right for you or not…even if it’s not. We’ve done it more than a few times, and have no regrets at all. If you approach your initial expat exploration as a learning experience, you may even enjoy making the wrong choice once in a while.

After all, there are worse mistakes you can make than living on a deserted tropical beach for a year before deciding you’d rather be in a city.

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