More and more people who are curious about a new way of living are pondering the decision to move out of the U.S.
Let’s face it, things are getting intense in our home country, so it might be attractive to explore other options until things settle down.
I moved abroad almost three years ago and have traveled extensively around the world since then. It was, without a doubt, the best decision I have ever made. That said, making a change with so many moving parts was, at times, overwhelming, scary and lonely. Now that I have the hang of it, I am prepping to move from Costa Rica to Colombia next month—I am now realizing that the process is much simpler than I used to think it would be.
It turns out, a lot of my hesitation about taking the leap was emotional fear masking a misconception that the logistics of moving was too much of a nightmare to bear. I want to dispel that claim for anyone who is also considering moving abroad; hopefully this will assist in your transition.
1. “I’ll have to quit my job.”
For many reasons, it was clear that quitting my job was the right decision for me. But, it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. Technology is so advanced these days that I might have been able to convince my boss that I could do my work from overseas, negotiate a pay cut for less work or take a sabbatical. Also, I realized that I was operating under the false idea that if I quit my job, I would never be able to get another one again—definitely not true. I know I’m a solid employee and I have a lot of people who would be happy to refer me to employers. That said, my biggest concern regarding the job front had to do with #2.
2. “I need to make money.”
Yes, but was I sure I had to earn an income right away? After years of work being my one and only priority, I had a pretty nice chunk of change saved. In fact, after I moved abroad, I didn’t have a solid job for over two years and I spent less than $10,000. And I know many people who have spent less money than that and have been unemployed for longer. I personally wouldn’t recommend taking the leap if you have less than $5,000 saved up, but the fact of the matter is that the United States is one of the most expensive places to be. My dollar was able to stretch out much further when I was traveling around other parts of the world. For example, I had a beautiful, three-course meal in Colombia a few weeks ago for under $4. Also, I pay $400 per month for an adorable, two-story cottage in the jungle, five minutes away from the beach here in Costa Rica.
Along the way, I also learned tons of ways to actually make money in other countries. I worked at a travel agency for a year, for example, where I was sent all over Costa Rica and stayed in the top hotels—all for free—and made a nice living. I also did freelance work where I would write articles for various companies and get paid about $30 per 500 words—not bad when the cost of living is so low. There are websites where people can outsource online services (like writing, editing, website design) to just about anywhere in the world. There are also programs where people can trade a few hours of work per week for housing and food. In short: I am glad I didn’t let the fear of money scarcity stop me!
3. “I just don’t feel comfortable making such a permanent decision.”
Another feeling based on a premise that just wasn’t true. Even though it felt like a huge, unchangeable decision, it really never was. Sure, I’ve been away for three years, but I know I can go back any time I choose. I also know lots of people who have created a life where they work for six months in the U.S. and spend six months traveling. For me, however, when I discovered the more connected and relaxed quality of life outside of this country, I created my own business and don’t have any intention of returning to the U.S. anytime soon. This only has to be as permanent a decision as we choose for it to be.
4. “This is bad for my future. I need to be responsible.”
Yes, it would have been very responsible for me to spend my life working at a job that I didn’t like, only dreaming of the life I wanted to live so that I could afford to retire at 65, play golf and then die. But then I woke up! I realized: This is it, this is my life. I am not guaranteed a future, so why spend my entire existence saving up for it? Plus, the little known secret is that by following my dreams, I ended up getting what I needed and then some. For example, I am making eight times more money per hour than I ever made in the U.S. Think I just got lucky? Wrong. I followed my dreams and my gut instincts. I chose to no longer be responsible to the system but rather, to myself, and now I am reaping the rewards.
5. “My friends and family will think I am crazy.”
This was true, at first. Most of my friends and family indeed thought I was silly for leaving a high-paying job to dive headfirst into the unknown. But they loved me and they got over it. In fact, in the end, many of them ended up being incredibly inspired by my choice and a few even followed in my footsteps and moved abroad themselves!
6. “I will be sad to miss my friends and family.”
Again, with technology these days, I keep in better touch with many of my friends and family than I did when I lived in the same city as them. Plus, I have made new friends from all around the world. This has not only been incredibly eye-opening, but has also given me some serious street cred on this little blue planet of ours. Anywhere in the world I go, I will know someone there (or someone who knows someone) who will have my back.
7. “If I get hurt or sick when I am away, I won’t be as well taken care of as back home. Plus, I’ll have no medical insurance!”
Many of the hospitals abroad (even in developing countries) are just as good, if not better than those in the U.S. Costa Rica, for example, is known as a place where people specifically travel to get medical and dental work done because it is advanced and inexpensive. As far as health insurance, there are dozens of companies that specialize in this. I actually haven’t had health insurance for a couple of years, but when I did, I got the tip-top version (which included helicopter rescues and all that jazz) for about $100 per month.
8. “I don’t speak the language.”
After traveling around Central America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, I realized that it was such a great opportunity to learn different languages. There is no better way to familiarize oneself with a new language than to be immersed in it. Plus, it turned out that I actually didn’t need to know that many words to get around relatively easily. I was able to figure things out more quickly than I expected, especially with other helpful non-verbal communication like voice inflections and hand gestures, where I could pretty much guess what a person was saying even when I didn’t understand the words themselves. Lastly, in most places around the world, English is still king. So, even if a country’s native language is not English, chances are good that most people will have at least an understanding of it, if not be fluent.
9. “It isn’t safe to live outside of the United States.”
In many places all over the globe, it is just as safe to live (if not more so) as it is in the United States. Sure, I wouldn’t want to wander around dark alleys in Tel-Aviv or Lima at night, but I wouldn’t want to do that in New York City or Los Angeles either. Looking at statistics, the U.S. falls somewhere in the middle of “safest” countries in the world, so this idea that the U.S. somehow guaranteed my safety just was not true. It may have initially felt safer to me because I was familiar with it, but in actuality this false sense of security might have been why I was robbed far more times in my own country than I ever was abroad (at least six times in the U.S. compared to one time abroad—and the time abroad was when I was ignorant enough to leave my bag on a seemingly deserted beach while I went for a swim). Now that I live abroad, I am actually more alert than I was when I was living in the U.S., perhaps making me far more safe than I was at home.
Just like these myths I have listed, any other concerns were, ultimately, all in my head. I was fearing what bad things could happen rather than all of the wonderful possibilities that were out there for me. Of course I faced challenges along the way, but I learned that I was smart enough to be able to figure them out like I have with every other challenge in my life. The fact of the matter is that I could make up any story about why moving abroad wasn’t a good idea but, for me, the alternative was worse. I would rather take a chance at achieving true fulfillment than continue to live a life that no longer seemed like mine, but rather one that I was told I should have.
My experiences outside my home country have changed me for the better in ways I never thought possible for myself. And now, I am on the side of those extremely fortunate who chose to have experiences for the sake of continuing to evolve as much as possible within their very own lifetimes.
Am I missing something on this list? E-mail me to let me know!
Author: Melanie Lennon
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron