More time, more space, less stress, fewer expenses, more adventure, where should I go?
Moving first in your mind
There is a moment in the beginning of every expat’s preparatory journey. A moment after you’ve checked a bunch of countries’ exchange rates but before you’ve hit up the US State Department’s Travel Advisory site, when you think “wow, I could go anywhere!”
This of course, is not the case.
Not that you couldn’t or shouldn’t go anywhere, but that somewhere in this glob of beautiful languages and delicious cuisines, there is the best place for you to go now.
Perhaps the largest filter in your strainer is language. Are you interested in language emersion? If not, that greatly helps limit your destination to English-speaking countries. Are you interested in a language the the State Department rates as difficult (like Arabic) or easy (like Spanish)? A language that is spoken by many, or few?
Or perhaps language has little baring on your interests, so on to the next filter. Does a westernized locale with all the amenities that provides appeal to you, or is living in a vastly different cultural environment more your style?
Now continue a generalized, no-google-required filter. Do you want to be in the tropics? The mountains? A city? A village? Once you’ve narrowed down the general wish list, start looking at specific countries.
I chose Mexico. Is that the country for you as well? I’ve made a flow chart to help you decide:
Flow charts aside, you do your research. If you’re like me, this means staying up past your bedtime, awash in the glow of your laptop, testing how many windows Chrome will let you open at once. I first believed Costa Rica was the country for my family; Latin American, ecologically rich, yummy gallo pinto, maybe too touristy, but worth the trade-off for safety.
So why Mexico? It checked boxes that Costa Rica couldn’t. When moving abroad, I find these framework questions helpful, especially when debating between two desirable countries:
- Does saying aloud “I life in (X) county” make me smile?
- How many hours in a plane is it back to my home country?
- Can I afford to live there? Or more specifically, can I afford the lifestyle I want there?
- Is it a place friends and family will visit me if I want them to?
- Would this place feel like a vacation or a home?
- Am I challenging myself enough? Or too much?
And if you have kids you can add….
- Are there schools or childcare options that work for me?
- Are there pediatricians that meet my needs?
- will my kids smile when they get to our new home?
Once you’ve answered these questions, the nitty gritty research begins.
Back in San Francisco, as I was gleefully clicking through Trip Advisor accounts of various waterfalls, and blogs about hiking the cloud forest, I came across the term border run. What is a border run you ask? It means crossing the border (in Costa Rica’s case every 90 days) in order to renew your Tourist Visa.
Two kids, carseats, stroller, diaper bang and at least one suitcase across the border every two months?? “What a great excuse to explore the neighboring countries” the optimist within me chirped. “I’d rather sit on a chair of thumbtacks every two months” my realist shouted back.
If you’re thinking of moving abroad, visa viability is a big concern. Mexico’s visa process was much more amenable to our life situation. Unlike other Latin countries, you can get a visa even if you’re not a retiree (Pensionado) or don’t own property. And if you choose to live on a tourist visa and do border runs (which I do not recommend), at least you get 180 days. The irony of Americans doing border runs to stay legally documented in Mexico is not lost on me.
Interested in visas? let me know and I’ll do a post on the topic.
Of course Mexico had far more appeal than just legal practicality. Mexico is massive. Imagine a foreigner moving to Florida and saying they understand US life. What about NYC? What about Rural Wyoming? You cannot box Mexico into one ecological, social or culinary experience. The ability to travel the country, to transition climates and cultures really appealed to me. The proximity to the US (4.5 hours direct to the Bay Area) was a selling point too.
But mostly, as a native of Southern California, I felt like Mexico was a neighbor I needed to know better. After all, I was born on what was once Mexican soil.
Still not sure where to go? This may sound too “vision-board-y” but do it anyway. Make yourself a list of words that currently represent your life (e.g. fast, convenient, fun, repetitive) and a list of words you want to represent your life. Do you see a pattern? A theme? I’m guessing you do. Somewhere on this planet is the best place for the life you want now.