Are You Cut Out for the Expat Life?

What makes for a happy expat? This is something I think about often, because honestly…not everyone is cut out for the expat life. The rewards are tremendous and it’s a wonderful, life-changing experience, but there are challenges—and most are easy to get beyond.

From my experience (and I’ve been an expat for 13 years now), those who thrive living overseas are those who are well prepared ahead of time. They’ve done lots of research and they know what they’re getting into. Overall, they have positive, optimistic perspectives about most everything…

And they all seem to share these 7 attributes:

1. Love of adventure. This pretty much goes without saying. If you love exploring new places and seeing things you’ve never seen before, then you’re on the right path, because that’s what expat life is all about.

2. Appetite for novelty. Your neighbor brings you a bag of some strange kind of spiky fruit you’ve never seen before and tells you it’s good for your love life…the entire village is going to “cleanse” themselves in an ice-cold waterfall at midnight and has invited you along…at the last minute, the entire country has taken the day off to watch an important World Cup match… If you can embrace and immerse yourself in the spirit of it all, you’ll be just fine.

3. Tolerance for cultural differences. Does it drive you crazy when things don’t happen at the appointed hour? Get used to it if you’re thinking of moving overseas. We joke that in Latin America, “mañana” doesn’t mean “tomorrow” but “some time in the future.” The thing is, priorities are just different outside the States (where my husband Dan and I are from). Instead of chasing the almighty dollar and punching the time clock, most of the rest of the world runs at its own pace. Family obligations come first and are always more important than work or money, and that’s as it should be.

4. A large dose of self-confidence. If you believe in yourself and your ability to deal with just about every situation you might possibly find yourself in, then you’re good to go. And here I might add that you need to believe in the concept of “personal responsibility.” Trip on a crack in the sidewalk and twist your ankle… Have a reaction to the detergent used by hotel housekeeping… Forget your phone in the back of a taxi… The menu is only in Spanish… Back home, if you get hurt or, even sometimes, just find yourself in a bad mood, you can sue someone. The rest of the world is not like that. (And, of course, the good news is that it’s doubtful you’ll ever be sued yourself.)

5. An aptitude for self-reliance. I have to laugh when new expats complain that certain products aren’t available in Ecuador, where I live. No, we don’t get some of those old favorite (and usually unhealthy) comfort foods here. We do, however, get enough of them, believe me. You do know what Half & Half is, right? It’s half milk and half cream. Pretty easy to make yourself. The Internet is full of do-it-yourself recipes and substitution suggestions. And, of course, there are overseas destinations where you can get just about every American product there is…so if that’s important to you, see point #7 and do your research about where those places are.

Tolerance for different cultures, an appetite for adventure, and a go-with-the-flow attitude will help any expat enjoy the tremendous rewards of living abroad.

6. A go-with-the-flow attitude. Everything I’ve mentioned so far has been leading to this. If you’re the type of person who can embrace the challenges and, even, find the fun and adventure in them, then you’ll be just fine in a foreign country. Laugh it off… You discover so much about yourself and then have great stories to share.

7. They’ve done their homework. You cannot move overseas without learning as much as you can about where you are going. It just won’t work otherwise. You need to know about the culture, the weather, the residence laws, the health systems, insurance options, and much more. And to collect in one place all the documents that will be required along the way. You’ll want an idea of what your moving and upfront costs will be. You need a plan for communication with friends and family back home, and an idea of how you’ll do your banking and manage your financial life, and more. Getting all this organized before you move will vastly enhance your expat experience.

In fact, that’s my single biggest piece of advice: do as much advance research as you can. Read, watch videos, talk to the experts, establish a lifeline to some of the on-the-ground resources you’ll need (like attorneys, visa facilitators, health care professionals, etc.), and definitely talk to other expats about their experiences. (You can do all of that and more at the upcoming Fast Track Your Retirement Overseas Conference in Las Vegas this October. For more information, see here.) We all have stories to share and advice to dish out—expat life is always a learning experience and always entertaining.

As an expat, you will never be bored, believe me. It’s a wonderful life and I’ve no doubt you have what it takes to make it successfully happen for you.

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