Tag Archives: adventure

5 Considerations When Taking the Expat Plunge


Are you considering moving outside of the country and becoming an expat after you retire? You may be dreaming of new adventures, the excitement of living in and experiencing a new culture. Or maybe you are looking to find a place where you get more bang for your buck.  Whatever your reason, the world awaits. It is a big world and making the decision as to where to land is difficult at best.  You may decide to move to where every other expat is moving these days – the “latest” location touted by those expat retirement blogs – or you may do a personal search to find the location that works best for you.

In my search for the “right” location I have found a few cities that would offer me much of what I look for. I fell in love with Antigua, Guatemala years and hoped to live there someday. Then there is Cuenca, a beautiful, colonial city high in the Andes of Ecuador, that captured my heart as I wandered through el Centro on my very first visit. They are both viable options, but I am not yet convinced where I will hang my hat and I plan to continue my search… Guatemala, Chile, Spain, France, Sicily, Greece, Malaysia, Thailand…the list goes on and on.  So many locations to consider!

If you are thinking about becoming an expat here are five things to consider, besides location, before making your move:

Dig deep and ask the tough questions.

Why are you thinking about doing this? What is important to you? What do you need vs. what do you want?  Can you be happy with only the needs being fulfilled?  Are you willing to accept they way they do things in your new country or will  you expect they do it the way to which you are accustomed? Can you live without that red licorice or your favorite barbeque sauce?

Friends and family. How will you keep in touch? Will you be happy not seeing them in person on a weekly or monthly basis? Can you be such a long way from your grandkids?

Is this a forever move or will you only be going for a few years and returning or moving on?

All these questions and more need to honestly answered.  A trip to explore your potential expat city will help to answer some of these questions.  Digging deep and reflecting on your values, adaptability and flexibility will help clarify your reasons, expectations and likelihood of success.

Do your research.

Blogs abound about moving to and living other countries. The bloggers share their experiences and offer a myriad of suggestions for you to chew on.  Then there are sites like numbeo.com that provide costs and living expense comparisons, a very useful tool in seeing how far your resources will stretch.

Facebook has many groups for expats living in different locations around the world.  It’s a great place to interact with and ask questions of people who have already made their move. You will find those who have adapted well, some who are less than happy for numerous reasons, and still others who after a couple of years are heading back to their home country.  These pages generally give a pretty balanced perspective on living in that city or country and honest answers abound to any question you may ask.

Think about visas, residency requirement, and citizenship, if you are interested in going that route.

Healthcare. What are the options? Is there a government program with an option to purchase private insurance instead? What will it cost out of pocket and would that be within your budget?  Will you keep supplemental insurance for when you go back home to visit? Or will you just have travel insurance?

Then there is your best bud. Are you able to bring your beloved pet? What are the requirements to make that happen? Are there vets available and what does their practice look like? What is the culture of pets in the community?

Is the expat community active and welcoming? Starting by making some expat contacts and broadening your community to include the locals as well will only enhance your experience.

Make a plan.

A solid plan will take before, during and after the move into consideration.

Long before ever packing your bags, make a plan. How will all the “at home” requirements be handled? Will everything be handled by electronic mail?  Banking, credit cards, taxes, financial planning all need to be considered. How will those be handled? When will you move?  Do you need to sell a home before you leave? Or will you rent it…just in case?  What will your move look like? Will you only take a couple of suitcases and start fresh?  Or will you pack up your entire household and all your belongings and arrange for them to be shipped?  How will you stay in touch with family and friends?  Will emails and Facebook suffice or will you want to have more personal contact through Skype?

There is so much to consider and a written, detailed plan will only make things go so much smoother. The logistics related to the move need to be considered and fully understood. Stress mixed with excitement and anticipation will be high, so having all your ducks in a row before you hop on the plane will be critical to a smooth transition.

Set a few routines.

Set a few routines when you arrive to get you out into the community so you can begin to make connections with expats and locals alike.  Each morning after breakfast while living in Peru I would enjoy a leisurely cup off coffee in the house courtyard, and mid-morning I would stroll across town to the open air market to get exercise, enjoy the sights and sounds of the city and inevitably I would run into someone I was acquainted with.

While living in Guatemala City I had a routine on the weekends. Having taught school all week, I liked to take the bus to a nearby town, Antiqua, for the day and occasionally overnight on the weekends.  It became a favorite place to go to unwind, and I became familiar with the town and it with me.

If a weekend getaway isn’t an option, consider a Saturday morning walk along the river, ending with coffee and pastry at that quiet little bakery on the other side of town. Or maybe you will join a group with like interests, volunteer to read to children at the local school or help out at an animal shelter.

Setting a few routines at first to get out and about in a normal ‘I live in this town’ kind of way, not ‘I am here as a tourist’ kind of way can normalize your new life. It will provide you opportunity to meet people in those shops, restaurants, schools, clubs and overtime relationships will evolve and friendships will grow.

Create community.

For some this will be easy.  For others who may be a little more introverted or reserved this may feel like a daunting task.

Most cities where expats reside have welcome lunches or gatherings that are held weekly or monthly. Go to the expat hangouts to start the interaction.

Get to know the locals in your neighborhood. Understand that some cultures, though very friendly, may not invite you to their home for a long time. I lived in Peru for two years and I never made it past the parlor in friends homes where guests were welcomed to visit.

Walk softly, observe and learn. Local friendships will evolve naturally over time and more often than not, expats will welcome you with open arms.

Moving to another country can be a real adventure.  Having a well thought out plan and having fully considered your reasons for moving and expectations of the experience can make this new adventure fun and exciting.

What have you done or what are you doing to make your expat move smooth and successful?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow Underwear


Last night I spent the evening with friends who are planning on retiring to Cuenca, Ecuador, high in the Andes of Ecuador, in the next few years.  They had just returned from an exploratory visit to that colonial city. We spent hours talking of our impressions of the city, the food, safety, and what retirement would be like living in a land faraway.

After they left, my thoughts wandered back to more than a decade past when I was living in the jungle of Peru.  Memories that had been tucked away returned; thoughts of living in Iquitos, the traditions, foods, friends, cultural memories and unusual experiences raced through my mind. As I stood in the kitchen putting away the leftover food and drink, I thought how different life is living in a foreign country, the challenges, the surprises, the curiosities. As I was remembering the good and bad times from living in the Amazon, a memory of yellow underwear jumped to mind that gave me chuckle.

It was the morning of December 31st and I had been invited to join friends at a street party that evening. I had readily accepted. This would be my first New Year’s Eve in Peru and from the celebrations I had attended since arriving to the Amazon, I could only imagine that New Year’s Eve in the jungle would be one wild ride.  One thing I was certain of was that there would be lots of “beverage”, endless dancing, and very loud music with scantily dressed young chicha dancers moving their hips in syncopation to the Latin beats. That New Year’s Eve celebration under the stars ended up being one of the most memorable nights I can remember, but that is a story for another day. This story is about yellow underwear.

As I sat in the courtyard of the house where I was staying when I first arrived to Iquitos, enjoying my morning cup of instant Folgers coffee with heated milk and sugar, Juanita, the owner of the hospetaje, explained the yearend tradition which included flowers, grapes and yellow underwear. She told me that I needed to acquire those items, in order to be ready for that night, and told Charo, the housekeeper and cook, to take me to the market to get what was needed.

In the heat of mid-morning sun, with sweat streaming down my body from head to toe, Charo headed out of the house to the market with me in tow.  “Let’s go to the market. I’ll help you get what you need,” Charo said.  I nodded in appreciation. “Gracias.”  My Spanish language skills were still limited, as I had been in Peru for only a short time, so Charo would be my market negotiator and guide, as we collect the necessary items for the evening tradition.  We needed to move fast, as the flower concoction needed hours of preparation.

Heading across town in the heat of the day, Charo and I arrived to the mercado. The hustle and bustle of the  market and the excitement of the impending festivities was palpable.  Market stalls were filled with people searching the merchandize, fruits, vegetables, and plastic products of all kinds. The smells of fish and platano being grilled filled the air. I noticed, unusual to the regular market items, stalls filled with the tallest stacks of yellow underwear that one could imagine.  Some were plain yellow and others had small embroidered little flowers off to the side. All were cotton. No problem getting what I need, I thought to myself.  We should be done and back to the house in no time flat.

We weaved our way through the crowds to the flower stalls. Charo, without hesitation, selected the appropriate flowers and in minutes we had five bunches of varying colors.  Flowers for flower shower.  Check.  Off to the fruit stands we went to find the grapes.  After careful examination of the produce, we purchased a little bundle of green grapes that were placed in a small plastic bag and tied at the top.  Grapes.  Check.

It was getting hotter in the mid-day sun and the market was so filled with locals that the air was still and thick.  Back to the entrance we maneuvered until we found the tables mounded with yellow underwear.  A slight breeze moved past and I felt a sense of relief that we would be done shortly and back in the house to cool down and rest before the evenings festivities. I let out a sigh.

Charo dug through the pile.  Pulling them out and holding them up, she looked at me and shook her head.  Nope.  That won’t fit.  Over and over again came the look and the head shake.  We moved on to the next table.  Again, more looks and more shaking of the head.  Charo dug and pulled and tossed yellow underwear.  Each was paired with the same shake of the head.  The lady vendor, sitting in the shade under a tarp, watched Charo’s determination to find a pair that would fit me and would glance over at me occasionally with a pleasant smile mixed with a “none of these will fit you” look.  “Gracias, Senora,” we said as we headed off for yet another mound of yellow.  Oh, please, let us find some soon.

After every yellow underwear vendor in the market was aware that I couldn’t fit in the underwear on their tables, we headed just around the corner and down the street to the underwear tiendas.  Yellow cotton underwear was not the norm for the these stores.  The merchandise they sold would put Victoria Secret to shame.  Inside of the open store front was a special table of yellow underwear, very out of place in the midst of sensual, sexual merchandise.  A middle-aged woman asked if she could help.  Charo looked at me and back at the woman saying, “Grande por la mujer, por favor.”  She’s asking for a large.  Ugh.  I had lost so much weight from living in the heat of the jungle that I would have easily been a small back home, but here I was a large.

The woman dug through the endless pile, shaking her head.  Grande. More digging. Grande. Looking at me and mumbling grande, the sales lady turned to Charo shaking her head.  “Ella no es grande.” I am not a grande? A large won’t fit me? The woman walked to the front of the open air store and yelled to the people in the street in Spanish, “I need GRANDE, GRANDE for the gringa! Anyone have GRANDE, GRANDE?  Everyone in the street stopped to look. I was horrified as I retreated into the shadows, hidden by lacey bras and underwear that hung everywhere. How in the world would I go back out into the street again?

Now, just let me say right here and now that I was thin, having lost weight from the unrelenting heat of the jungle. And I was considerably smaller in size from walking all over the city on a daily basis. So a grande was a surprise and a grande, grande was completely unexpected.  What was even more unexpected was everyone on the entire market street knowing it.

I turned to Charo and said, “The grande will be just fine.”  Charo looked a me in disagreement and I responded with, “Let’s just buy it and get out of here.”  Reluctantly, Charo made the purchase and handed me a small plastic bag with the “grande” yellow underwear and we slipped out of the store quickly, quietly, and I thought stealthily, as everyone on the street turned to stare.

Bundles of flowers, a bunch of grapes, and grande yellow underwear in hand, we headed back to the house with all the necessary items to bring in the new year.  Charo gathered the flowers and took them to the kitchen for preparation. The grapes were plucked, and twelve plump ones were counted and put in a bowl for later.  I returned to my room, unwrapped my purchase, sat on the bed and looked at the yellow underwear, wondering just how in the world I would ever get them on.  Note to self: next visit back to the States buy yellow underwear that I can actually fit in to.

The continued saga of the yellow underwear will be shared in a later post.  For the time being, think tingling legs and a tumble to the floor in the darkness of the night.

As my mind returned to the task of cleaning up after entertaining my friends, I thought how wonderful other cultures are, how much can be learned, what lovely memories are created, and how much humor needs to be ever present in every little thing you do.  And, yes, it’s always an adventure, even when going to the market to buy a pair of yellow underwear.

What wonderful memories do you have from living in or visiting other cultures?

Blame it on the Tiramisu


It has been a while since I have written anything in this blog.  I think writing is mostly inspired by our unresolved emotions, fears that haunt us in the quiet hours of the night, the stories of our past that create our now and future realities undefined. When I first started writing this blog, I started in a flurry. I was in a constant state of internal turmoil, circling my future life, the life that would be my retirement and, as a result, the words fell on the page in rapid fire. It was a time of questioning whether I would be able to live a good life when I retired. What would it look like and where would it be? I have to credit this blog and what could be called a public journaling experience to calm my soul and take me to a place of now. It’s good to be home again, in my mind, in my heart and in my soul.

A number of readers of this blog have asked me over the past few months why I had stopped blogging. The truth is that I never really stopped. I simply paused. I paused because of one cappuccino in a small café.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESIt was a few months ago that my blog postings paused.  And, coincidentally, it was also a few months ago that I traveled to Cuenca, Ecuador, a city high in the Andes that has been touted as the number one place in the world for US retirees to relocate. I had been planning to travel there 6 months later with a friend, but those travel plans were moved up so that I could get a taste of my possibilities, sooner rather than later.  I needed to know.  I needed to quell my uncertainties, satiate my curiosity and affirm that one of the many options racing through my mind was viable. Waiting 6 months to find out if it was an option was not reasonable for me, unless I wanted to waste 6 months racked with unknowns.

So, I hopped on a plane to find out if one of my potential retirement options was something that I could hold onto as an option or something that I needed to walk away from forever.

It was during my eight days exploring Cuenca, Ecuador that a shift in consciousness took place and for the first time since the market crashed and the shell of my nest egg cracked, that I felt at peace.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAfter wandering the city for several days, meeting welcoming expats and locals alike, I found a little dessert café off Parque Calderon, at the other end of the block from where the cathedral stands. I settled in by the window to enjoy a tall Italian cappuccino and tiramisu. I sat with my thoughts and gazed out the window, watching life in Cuenca pass by. The cappuccino was tall, rich and beautifully layered. The tiramisu the best I had had. For the first time in a long time I felt at peace. I was present. I was in the moment. I was not searching for a solution to my future. I was living it. The cost of the cappuccino and tiramisu barely touched my wallet. I knew that I could afford to live here. I could be happy here. I liked the city. I liked the expats. I liked the culture and the locals. And, well, truth be told, I loved the tiramisu. Retirement would be just fine.

It was in that moment, sipping on that cappuccino, that I realized that not only did I have one good retirement option, but I had a world of options. I recognized that retirement can be anything I want it to be. It can be nomadic, moving from country to country experiencing this wonderful, culturally diverse world. It can be on a beach or in the mountains in a far away land. It can be in a small RV traveling around the US or in a park model nuzzled in with a community of other retirees. My options are unlimited.

I will be returning to Ecuador in the near future. There is so much more of that beautiful country that I would like to see, the smaller cities and villages, the hot springs, live volcanoes and waterfalls.

Truth be told, my reasons for returning are mixed. I guess on some level I want more of that delicious cappuccino and tiramisu in that little café just across from the park…or maybe, just maybe, what I really want is another dose of the peace that came with it.

Expat Retirement: Torn Between 2 Loves


Are you considering expat life as your retirement nears?  Maybe you already are an expat who has moved to the country of your dreams?  As I circle around all my options for retirement, I think about the allure of living the life of an expat.  I have lived outside the country before, so I have realistic expectations of what expat life in my retirement years will look like and get very excited about that option.  But then I think about my friends and family who would remain here, while I ventured on.  Conflict.  Torn between two loves.

I suspect if I were one half of a couple that this decision would create less conflict, but I am not sure.  Maybe it is even more difficult for a couple, because of the ties that each have.  There is a pull between affordable adventure that will allow me to save money, travel home for visits while putting money away for long term security, or living downsized on a tight budget, with little to no disposable income, but the closeness of friends and family.

When I lived in the Peruvian Amazon in my late 40’s, after an adjustment period of 6 months, I bought a very simple house outside of the city of Iquitos, in a joven community, a newly established community, near the little airport.  Most of the houses in that community were made of slatted boards with dirt floors, but mine was created of cement blocks, a little more upscale than the majority of the others in that area. It had belonged to a local judge who was moving to Lima. There was no window glass or screens and it was protected above by a corrugated tin roof that sang loudly when it rained.  I only paid a few thousand dollars for it, which I thought was reasonable, although local friends, on the other hand, repeatedly told me  “You paid too much. You paid too much.” I was a “gringa” after all, so I expected that I would pay more than a local.  I was fine with that.  I liked having my own home and that’s what mattered.  It was quite simple and required a dropdown ceiling be installed, only because rats racing across the cross beams while I slept was way outside my comfort zone.

I did enjoy living there, even though the community was located 15 minutes outside of town and I would need to hop the chicken bus, take a mototaxi, or drive my 20 year old beater of a Volkswagen Bug that I called “Broken Down” to get into town. Broken Down was guaranteed to die daily, at least once, as I went to and from the city center. I found myself running back and forth to town throughout the day, and most evenings, and often Broken Down and I would end up waiting for my dear friend Waldermar to come and fix my car that seemed to prefer sitting on the side of the road rather than moving down it.

In Guatemala, I lived in the city, in a hotel, not far from the center, that had been converted into small, but efficient apartments. Things were closer and buses were frequent, so reliable transportation was never an issue and I didn’t have a temperamental VW Bug to deal with.  The hustle and bustle and energy of the city was palpable. I loved urban living.

Eights years from now is my target retirement date, so I spend a lot of time considering what lifestyle would be best for me when retirement comes, as a single woman in my seventh decade of life and beyond.  I am healthy and get around easily and anticipate that will continue, so neither health nor mobility impacts my decision.

In this moment, I am leaning toward a secure apartment in a bohemian or artsy type neighborhood in a city, so that I can walk, have ease of access to transportation, easily visit the market, restaurants and entertainment. The idea of walking to the market, to my favorite coffee shop, arts and entertainment events, and an evening strolling along the river or malecon as the day comes to an end means a full life, daily exercise and continued health.  Those are important considerations.

I think I have decided that I will live in the city if I, ultimately, decide to live abroad.  But the song “Torn Between Two Lovers” keeps coming to mind.  Well, maybe not “lovers,” but loves.  My love for adventure and foreign cultures tugs at me.  It calls to me during my sleep and my waking hours. It never leaves me. It calls for me to come.  Those calls and tugs trigger my senses to recall international living, the smells of traditional foods being cooked in open air storefronts, the scurry of activity in the market as vendors set up for their day’s work. I hear the chatter of a language that becomes more familiar everyday and cherish the experience of being in a different culture, in a foreign land.  I love.

On one side of the coin the love of a new life adventure calls, while on the other side of that same coin there is a whisper in my ear asking about the love of my family and friends, tugging at me to stay.  I feel torn.

When I was in my late 40’s and early 50’s, I would just make up my mind to move, sell off all my belongings, hop on a plane, and be in another culturing living the life I dreamed of.  It was a blink of an eye decision.  It seems funny to me now, that in just a decade’s time, the same decision that was made 10 years earlier isn’t as simple and clear cut as it was back then.

If I stay in this country, then the question to be answered is equally complicated.  Sell the house and then what?  Will I still be around friends and family or will I move to a different state to live in a 55+ community or travel the country in an RV?

I know these questions will be answered over time, but for now…my head spins around my two loves…life as an expat in a foreign land or life here with family and friends.

Are you experiencing any of these same questions that tug and pull as you think about becoming an expat?  How are you reconciling the question of “two loves?”

 

 

 

This Fun Adventure Can Add $24K Or More To Your Nest Egg


Is your retirement savings less than you would like it to be?  Maybe another $24,000 dollars socked away would make you feel a little more secure.  Do you love other cultures and traveling to other countries?  Are you a helper?  Do you have sincere desire to make the world a better place?  If you answered yes to those questions, then I think this idea might be perfect for you!

An Idea Is Born

I lay in bed trying to fall asleep as wonderings of my retirement years dance in my head.  What will I do?  How do I build my savings so that I feel more secure?  At this rate I won’t be able to stay in my home and will have to move, but where will I go?  Can I downsize and cut costs by maybe living in a park model or RV or a 55+ community somewhere warm?  Am I ever going to be able to travel outside the country again?  Oh, I so love traveling!  Maybe I could become an expat and live in a country where my money goes farther. On and on the thoughts circle in my head, until – flash! – the light bulb switches on and a new idea is born.

Now, let me preface this by saying that this idea is not for everyone.  If you don’t like helping people, or traveling to another country, or saving money, then this might not be your cup of tea, but keep an open mind and see if the seed that is planted begins to sprout.

I have spent most of my life working to pay my bills, like most people, and I envision myself not working during my retirement years.  That would be my ideal vision of my post-work era.  A good number of my jobs have been in the non-profit sector where I have gotten a great deal of personal satisfaction knowing that in some small way I was making a difference.  In my retirement, I hope to continue to be able to do the same.

Before I share my – flash! – idea, let’s consider a few questions.

Question 1. Would you like to have another $24K in your savings?

I can’t imagine anyone saying no to this question.  Like many others, my retirement savings took a hit a few years back when the market took a nose dive and I am rebuilding, so I am open to considering all types of options to increase my nest egg.  “From humming bird egg to ostrich egg,” is my retirement mantra!

Pictures from Memory Card 442Question 2.  Internationally, what country do you dream of visiting or living in?

Imagine living in another country, maybe in Africa, Asia, or Central or South America.  Maybe it is a country that calls to you on a deep level, one that you have always want to travel to. Or maybe the country you dream of is one where you would like to setup housekeeping during your retirement, but you don’t know the culture yet and haven’t had a chance to visit.   I have always had an affinity to Central and South America.  I think I might choose Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, or maybe even Chile.  What country would you choose?

Question 3.  When you retire, will you have the freedom, the desire, or the need to move?

Can you free yourself up from the housing ties that bind you?  Are you going to have a housing transition when you retire?

I realize that am going to have to sell my house when I retire, because my incoming won’t cover the outgoing.  I am going to enjoy my house for the next 8.2 years, and then my options will be wide open.  Are you planning on downsizing to smaller place?  Maybe you think about moving to a 55+ community in the land of the sun or buying an RV and heading down the road to destinations unknown?  If you are going have a “transition” period between the life you lead now and the life you will be leading after retirement, then this idea just might be for you.

Jungle house on the river peruQuestion 4.  Are you up for an adventure?

Retirement is a time to live the life you have always dreamed of. For some, that means having the adventures you have only read about in books or seen in movies. The exciting thing about retiring is that you can now create the life you want, including the adventures of your dreams.

Question 5.  Can you commit 2 years of your life to having the experience of a lifetime, while making a positive difference in the world at the same time?

If you could volunteer, save $1000 a month of your social security income, and have an international experience in the country of your choice, would you do it?  That would be a $24,000 increase to your nest egg in only 2 years.  Tell me, you aren’t just a little intrigued right now?

So, Here Is The – Flash! – Idea

Join an organization for a 2 year commitment, while volunteering and living in another country, and save money in the process.

First, you will need to figure out how to detangle yourself from as many bills as you can before you go.  Sell your house, rent it out to someone you trust, or plan the timing so your volunteering commitment coincides with the end of your lease. You now have the essential cost savings plan in place.

Now, join the Peace Corps!  Yes, the Peace Corps.  It’s not just for young adults anymore.  More and more retirees, couples (straight and same-sex) and singles, are joining the Peace Corps well into their retirement years… their 60s…70s and even 80s!  The application process has been simplified and the wait time for acceptance has been shortened to about 6 months.  You can pick the country you would like to serve in from a list on their website, as well as the kind of service you are interested in doing.  You choose!

For the 2 years that you are living in a land that you have dreamt of, while providing service to the community, you are not paying any rent, mortgage or utilities back home.  The money you would have spent from your social security check toward those expenses can now be dropped directly into your retirement savings!  Estimate a $1000 a month savings (yes, probably on the low side for some) for 2 years and wha-lah, your savings will have a $24,000 boost. Oh, and did I mention that they pay returning volunteers a readjustment allowance of a little over $7000?  Add in 48 days of vacation, full medical and dental, family leave in emergencies, travel to and from the country, training and more, and you have a perfect package for overseas volunteering.  What are the Benefits?

heartThe Most Important Consideration

Beyond the financial benefit, I think the most important consideration in this equation is, do you want to be of service on a global scale? Do you want to give back and make a difference in another culture?  If you do, then the financial increase to your retirement nest egg is only a small bonus. The biggest bonus is how much the experience will fill your heart and the hearts of those you encounter. It’s overall a win-win, wouldn’t you say?

Would you consider volunteering outside of the country when you retire?  Where would you like to go?  Your comments, as always, are welcome below.

 

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Expats – 5 Questions Before You Pack Your Bags


Are you considering moving overseas when you retire?  Have you asked yourself some of the key questions that can make or break your expat experience?   Moving to another culture, far away from family and friends, can pose some interesting challenges that many people never consider before making the decision to move.

When I moved to Peru, back in 2000, I had done some international travel.  I wasn’t a world wanderer by any means, but I did have a few developing countries under my belt.  Did I ask myself all the right questions before I left?  No. Did I make mistakes.  Yes. Did I wish that I spoke the language better?  You bet.  Was the experience something I regret?  Absolutely not.  Even with those questions and answers, I still wish I had asked myself these key questions.

Adapting and enjoying the expat life really is dependent on your personality, whether you are flexible, adaptable and can laugh at yourself.  These are key characteristics that will help you more easily adjust to and enjoy this great, new adventure that you have embarked upon.  Looking back on some of my experiences, living in both Peru and Guatemala, I identified 5 questions that would be useful for anyone considering the expat life.

Have you traveled outside of the United States – to a developing country?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESMost expats move to developing countries where they will get more bang for their buck, allowing them to live a good life on less money. If you haven’t traveled to a developing country, you may find that living in one is a very different life. Values are different. The clock runs at a different speed. Food will be different. Guinea pig, anyone? English will not be the language of the land. You won’t find your favorite brands of clothing, foods and electronics and, if you do, they will most likely be quite pricey. On the other side of things, you will find beautiful people, a culture calling to you to be experienced, wonderful new friends and endless surprises.  You will be the one adapting to a country and culture, not the culture and country adapting to you.   If you haven’t traveled to the country you are thinking of retiring to, do so a few times before you make the big move.  Spend enough time to get a taste of daily life.  Rather than being a tourist and staying in a fancy hotel and eating at the best restaurants, instead stay in a typical hotel and eat the local menu in someone’s home.  Get to know the country and the people and think to yourself the whole time, “Can I live here?”

Are you patient?   Or at the very least, can you learn patience?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESPart of life in another country, especially a developing country, is that life is lived at a different pace. What might take an hour in the United States may take a few hours or all day in another country.  If you live in a larger, more cosmopolitan city within a developing country, you may find the pace faster somewhat faster, but live outside the city, life moves much slower.  One challenge I had that I never quite became accustomed to was time.  “I am on my way over” could mean I am on my way over, but if something comes up or I run across someone on the way, then I am still on my way over.  I remember I made plans for New Year’s Eve with friends when I lived in Iquitos, Peru.  They said they would come by at midnight to head to the street party.  At 2 a.m. they arrived with big smiles, ready to head out to the celebration.  I said, “I thought you were going to be here at midnight.”  They looked confused that I had expected they actually be there at that time.  They said, “We stopped on the way,” as if this was the norm, and, of course, it was the norm.  I smiled and said, “Well, I’m ready.”  Off we went to enjoy the most amazing New Year’s Eve celebration I have ever experienced.  I could have been upset.  I could have caused a fuss.  Or I could have said to myself, “This is part of the culture, let it go.”  Patience.  Understanding that what you expect may not be what the culture will offer you.  Take a deep breathe and go with the flow.  If you can’t let go of your expectations of life, then you may have challenges living in another country, let alone a developing country.

Are you interested in meeting locals or are you just going to insulate yourself by spending all your time with other expats?

There is nothing at all wrong with finding other expats to connect with when you move to another country.  They can add a bit of normalcy to your life and keep you connected to home.  That being said, my best experiences living outside of the country were with local families and friends. Through my relationships with them, I learned about the culture, family, traditional holidays, funerals, protests and celebrations. If you plan on searching out only other expats to the exclusion of locals, then you may be find disappointment in your expat experience and you certainly will be limiting the full experience of being in another country and another culture.

Can you be respectful of this new culture you have chosen?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWhen you arrive in a country that you have to chosen to move to, you have arrived in someone else’s home.  You are living in their culture, in their land, in their community.  I remember there were a number of expats in Iquitos who had lived in the jungle for a number of years. Sitting amongst them one evening, enjoying a cold beer, I remember the conversation turned to everything that was wrong with the life and people in the city.  It was harsh.  It was unkind.  And I was embarrassed for the waiter who had to serve these people who were bashing his city, his home, the city they had chosen to live. This was an “Ugly American” moment.  It was a sad example of expats who expected the culture to adapt and cater to them.

Are you ready for an adventure?

Everyday will be an adventure. This is a guarantee. You will learn something new about yourself, about the people of the land, and about this new wonderful culture.  Are you ready for it?

My life in Peru was one big adventure.  Day after day, I was always amazed at what I learned or the surprises that availed themselves that day. One late afternoon, I got lost in the jungle as it was growing dark, in a downpour, wondering where exactly that big cat was that just let out a growl.  I got stuck in the mud on the shore of the Amazon, knee deep in the mid-day sun, as 3 young Amazon guides did their best to pull me out. Sitting on a crooked and rusty metal chair into the wee morning hours, I shared a beer with locals bypassing a community glass, as we talked about life in a language that I was still learning.  I danced in the rain on New Year’s Eve, until the sun came up the next morning, surrounded by thousands of locals.  The most beautiful Christmas I have ever had was in the home of a local family that I had become close with, sharing their holiday meal, just a simple meal. There were no wrapped gifts to exchange, only the gift of friendship and love.

Adventure. Adventure means different things to different people. The new, the different, the challenging and the unknown are all waiting for you if you become an expat, but most of all guaranteed adventure.

Are you ready for an adventure?  Post your thoughts below in comments.

 

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The Day that Ricky Martin and I Met the Amazon Queen


Living in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, in the city of Iquitos, Peru, I stood in the living room of my traditional house with Ricky Martin hanging on my neck.  No, not the singer Ricky Martin, instead a baby monkey that the neighbor girl had brought to me.  It clung to my neck, and clung, and clung…continuously clung.  It was apparent that I had become the baby’s new  mother.  Every few minutes, I would feel a dampness running down my chest and back.  I was sweating ferociously because, well, I was in the Amazon after all, but I knew this particular warm stream of dampness was not sweat and this was not something I could live with until Ricky reached adulthood.  I had to do something.  A few days later, it became apparent while showering, with Ricky still attached to my neck, that I needed to return him to the jungle.  He belonged there.  It was his true home.  And, to be honest, I just couldn’t handle the intermittent trickle down my back any longer.

I spent several days with Ricky attached before I learned that there was a non-profit lodge in the jungle, near the source of the Amazon, that rehabilitated monkeys and returned them to the jungle. Perfect!

If I said it was an adventure getting Ricky to the lodge, it would be grossly understated.  Leaving in the early hours of the morning, I hopped on a launcha, a barge type boat with hammocks hanging all over, and up the Amazon River we went until we disembarked in the darkness of night.  I say we, because not only was I traveling with my sidekick, Ricky, but I was accompanied by a so-called jungle guide. I found out not much later that he had taken guide training in Lima and had never been to the jungle before.

dugout canoeAfter the launcha docked and we made our way to shore, we hiked about an hour through the jungle in the darkness of night (not the best idea under any circumstance!) until we arrived at a tributary.  The mosquitoes were the size of Volkswagens and all I could hear was the incessant buzzing around my head.  On the edge of the tributary, hidden in the overgrowth near the shore, we located a dugout canoe.  The guide climbed in, followed by me.  We adjusted our seating, so as to balance ourselves. In this carved out log, we headed off into the a darkness like I had never seen before.  As he paddled the canoe forward, all that I could think was that this was not the best idea.  Really, not the best idea.  Here I am being guided by a city guide through crocodile and piranha infested waters.  If we were to tip over, it would be all over, except for the crocodile’s burp and a smile on the piranha’s face.

After about a half hour of slowly moving down the tributary, we arrived at the lodge.  By this time it was about 4 o’clock in the morning.  Down the steps came the lodge manager.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.  “I was told you would take this baby monkey.”  He looked confused and said, “I know nothing about it.  Follow me.  I’ll take you to a hut to get some rest.  We can talk about it at breakfast.”  Oh, this is great. He didn’t even know I was coming.

After a few hours of restless sleep, I arose with Ricky still attached to my neck, and after a very much needed shower we headed to the main lodge for breakfast.  I was offered pancakes.  Ricky got a banana.  We were both starved.

I looked up from my pancake to see a beautiful woman entering the dining room.  She seemed kind and gentle.  She greeted me warmly, quietly sat down and began eating.  An American, I thought.  She seemed very calm and content.  I, on the other hand, was in the process of a heated circular conversation with the lodge manager.  “I was told that you would take this monkey,” I said.  “No, I will not take that monkey.”  “But I came all this way…so you have to!” It continued. He said firmly this time, “I am not taking the monkey!”  Yes, you are.  No, I’m not. Yes.  No. Yes. No. There was a long pause.  We were at a standoff.  I didn’t know what I was going to do.  I was annoyed and frustrated.

Ricky Close UPFinally, after some time of staring each other down, he looked at me and said, “OK, fine.  I will take the monkey.”  I responded immediately with “No you won’t.”  “Yes,” he said,” I will!”  “Well, you didn’t want him a minute ago, so you I am not leaving him now.”

Finally, I bolted from my seat to leave with Ricky, my permanently attached monkey, and a very confused jungle guide.  As we exited the dining room, the woman who had entered earlier and who quietly watched this contest of wills said, “Do you mind if I go back to Iquitos with you?” I turned her way and calmly replied,  “Sure. Not a problem.  Are you ready to leave now?”  She collected her belongings from her hut and for the next 18 hours we reversed the sequence to get back to Iquitos…dugout canoe, jungle hike with giant mosquitoes and a very long and very hot boat ride back to Iquitos on the launcha.

It was during this time, as the boat moved slowly along the Amazon River, that the woman that I came to call the Amazon Queen and I had a chance to talk.  She had spent a month at that jungle lodge, volunteering at a local clinic, and I was in Peru doing startup work for a non-profit that I had founded.  Diana and I talked endlessly throughout that journey about life, the jungle, the needs of the people in Peru, and volunteering.  I ultimately returned back to the United States after coordinating a nutritional program for 12 communities along the Amazon.  And, the Amazon Queen?  She stayed on. She made Lima her home base and created a successful ONG that provides very much needed medical education and community medical care through volunteer efforts for the people of the river communities of the Amazon.

And that is the story of the day that I met the Amazon Queen.

What happened to Ricky Martin you may ask?  Well, upon my return from the jungle, I connected with a young man who was involved with the University of the Peru in the Amazon.  He arranged for Ricky Martin to be returned to the jungle to live out his days.  I guess that would have been the easier route to get him back to the jungle in the first place, but then again, if I hadn’t taken the route I did, I wouldn’t have met the Amazon Queen!

Have you volunteered in a foreign country?  What was your experience like?  Comment below.

To learn more about Diana Bowie and DB Peru’s medical projects and volunteer opportunities in Peru, CLICK HERE.

Copyright 2014 Budget Retirement / Debra Zulawski All rights reserved. 

 

 

Expat: To Be Or Not To Be…


That is the question.

Does the idea of becoming an expat call to you?  Do you enjoy new experiences, different cultures and want a retirement adventure?  Then moving to another country may be the perfect option for you.

There are many countries that offer a better lifestyle on less resources.  Deciding which one to move to can be overwhelming without a plan, and moving to a new country without completely researching it is a recipe for potential regrets.

For me, moving to another country that is within my budget is certainly an option worth considering.  Having lived outside of the U.S., in both Peru and Guatemala, I know that I enjoy other cultures and adapt well to countries that could be called “retirement affordable,” but I also recognize the need for planning.

“Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completes a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.”

 

– David Sedaris

Once you decide that becoming an expat is an appealing retirement option, then it’s important to take time to make the best decision for you.

Read, Research and Ruminate

Do some reading.  There are lots of resources on web, books in the library and videos on YouTube that will help inform you. There is a lot to learn so start dreaming, but back up those dreams with data.  Travel guides can provide you solid information about a country you are considering, the cities, culture, weather, getting around etc.  You will want to have a travel guides on hand when you actually visit that country for the first time.

Vacation

Once you determine that the expat life may be an option for you, then the time would be sooner, rather than later, to begin determining where you will move to when you retire. Vacationing is a perfect way to start.  In the week or two you are vacation in a location you can get a feel for the city and culture your are considering.  If you are not an experienced adventure traveler, then you may want to visit the country of your choice with a tour group first.  You will get an idea of the culture, food and climate from a tourist’s perspective.  You will see the major sites and you may even get some free time to wander around the city.  It’s a great way to get a mini and usually rapid paced look at part of a country.  If it feels right and you think you might be happy there, try to get back a couple more times to explore further, branching outside the city into the small villages, hamlets or pueblos.  It may be that you decide after further exploration, to your surprise, that you prefer small village life over the hustle and bustle of the city,

Extended Stay

As time get closer to making the move, you may want to consider an extended stay in the country of your choice.  Vacations can provide some information about a country and the culture. An extended stay will provide you with a more day-today experience, a closer taste of what life might really be like.

In many countries you can stay in a room in someone’s house. I lived my first 6 months in Peru in a “hospetaje,” somewhat similar to a B&B in the United States, in concept, but with a different cultural twist.  You can stay for a short time or for an extended stay at most of them.  Choosing to stay in this type of accommodation offers an opportunity to meet locals and get to know the owners, maybe even become friends.  It’s a nice way to start your time in new city and is easier on the wallet, and more culturally real, than staying in a hotel.

Another excellent option is to rent an apartment.  In many locales you can rent an apartment for short term leases, month-to-month or a few months at a time.  Living in an apartment will give you a more realistic perspective of what daily life would look like if you were to move there full-time.  Daily life would afford you the opportunity to shop in the market, cook your own meals and occasionally venture out to a local restaurant for a meal or to a pub to listen to some local talent.  It will give you the chance to search out and connect with expats who live in the area, ask a few questions and listen to stories of their adventures.  Most expats are happy to connect with someone from back home who are considering relocation and share their experiences.

Once you have considered the various countries that you might like to live in and decide where you are headed, it’s time to learn the language.

Are you considering retiring to another country?  What research have you done to ensure you are making the right choice for you? Share your thoughts below.

Visions of Retirement


One of the hardest things I have tried to do is define my retirement.  What am I going to do?  What will my life look like?  If you are like me, and you are nearing retirement age, the unknown of what is to come can send your head a spinning.

Will you live as you always have, just not heading to your job everyday?  Or maybe you will work part-time doing something you love. Is downsizing in the future?  Will you be moving to a smaller place to live? Maybe you plan to travel around the country or see world.  Are you thinking about volunteering at your church, the local food bank or for an international non-profit? Maybe personal growth is a desire, taking a course or two online or at the local college or your preference is taking care of your wonderful grandchildren a few days a week.  There are so many options. When it comes to defining retirement it will look different for everyone.

The one thing I am allowing myself to do is change my mind daily.  One day I am trying to figure out a way to stay in my house and continue living life as I have, without working, of course!.  The next minute I visualize myself heading off to the Peace Corp or becoming an expat in a culture that calls out to me.  Everyday day is an adventure in defining my retirement and I am finding joy in the exploration and creation.

Things to remember when defining your retirement:

  • Visions of your retirement will change and evolve over time, until you find the one that will work for you, and then, who knows, maybe it will change again.
  • This is your life and your time.  Create a life that will make you happy.  There is no right and no wrong.
  • Consider your budget. (We’ll talk more about that in another post.)
  • Look at all your options. Think outside of the box.  Don’t be afraid to try something different.
  • What is on your bucket list?
  • Remember that any decision that you make can be reversed.  Nothing is set in stone.
  • Retirement is your oyster.  Open the shell and find your pearl.

Comment below on how your define your upcoming retirement.  But before you do, check out how the kids describe what retirement is, how much money you need, and how long it lasts.