How We Chose Our Expat Destination

Posted on 05/22/2014 ~ Categorized as Live
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dhalbert@escapeartist.com

As the lead inbound marketing consultant and web designer, Don Halbert practices what he preaches and enjoys living, working, playing and investing abroad in Costa Rica.

How We Chose Our Expat Destination

Moving is considered to be one of the most stressful events a person or a family will ever go through. Rated just below divorce, moving can take its toll on our mental and physical health. It would serve anyone well to do a good amount of research before considering to auction off the furniture and pack those prized possessions into a sea-worthy container.

Setting The Parameters

Let us first lay out for you the basic criteria we employed, when we began our search for the best place to live, conduct business and invest or purchase Real Estate. When we began to realize that moving into a new country just might be in our future, we (ONE of us anyway….) began to make lists. We had many lists: of the Pros and Cons, Features, Necessities, and we probably even had a List of the LISTS somewhere! Suffice it to say we had lists for comparative analysis.

In the very beginning there was no need for a list, just a lot of reading and armchair traveling. We also did venture out and take some fact-finding treks. We traveled with our entire family. We visited Europe. The Netherlands and France were at the top of the list. Since we absolutely love being on the water and had owned a houseboat for many years, we dreamt of owning a canal barge and cruising the canal system of Western Europe. We then changed course and salmon fished in British Colombia and researched becoming residents of the Canadian Rockies. After Canada we traveled to Mexico and increasingly shared stories of our travels with friends who were moving to, had once lived IN or owned second homes in Mexico.

Then we thought about Australia or New Zealand.We happen to have a cousin who fell in love and expatriated to Australia (where she still resides), over 35 years ago.

We also kept in contact with friends who had moved to Panama, Australia, The Netherlands, Costa Rica and Canada. We had cast our nets out widely, fishing for any insight or bits of information we could snare. Also, through the many months and years we would read and re-read the Escape from America E-Zines and repeatedly searched through various issues and pages of the EscapeArtist website and other websites as well.

We have a feeling that this is a familar objective for many of our readers. Anyone reading this particular article may be doing this very thing, right? Well, as we poured over articles, we finally narrowed our search down to two countries, both of which we had never set foot upon, except in our minds.

Mexico did have some allure for us, at first. It was close to “home,” but this was also one of its negatives. We rationalized this particular problem in this way: if we are moving somewhere because it is close, then it would be just as easy for others to move there as well and in no time at all, it would probably end up just as bad as the place we were leaving. Also, if we didn’t like a place well enough to travel farther away, it must not really be such a good idea. Truthfully, the over-population, level of poverty, close ties and proximity to the USA, were the reasons we ruled against Mexico. Dealing with a particularly bad case of sand fly bites on our last visit kind of sealed Mexico’s fate in our families’ minds.

Europe was actually never a really serious consideration for us since we felt they have many of the same issues confronting them as the USA does, namely an aging population, almost un-restricted immigration, a soon-to-be over-burdened retirement system and economies which once were manufacturing-based but are NOW almost totally service-based.

We have always tried to live by the saying, “moderation or balance in all things.” For us, Europe seems currently out-of-balance. “To go Euro or not to go Euro,” that seems to be the question. We are speaking of Western Europe. We never really researched the Eastern European countries, for there was very little to find/read about statistically and we were not too keen about the many civil wars.

Asian countries were not a consideration, either. Asia has vast cultural differences. We were just plain not brave enough to take that particular challenge. Also the snakes, diseases and population issues did not seem particularly tempting to us.

This left us with the following areas in the world for our more detailed research and evaluation: North, Central or South America, the Caribbean and Oceania. We are sure there are many among you who have favorites that are not listed here. We would love to hear about them, but for us, this is how it all ended up. We had decided fairly early on that our new home would probably be in one of these locations in the world.

Researching “The Biggies”

To put our criteria together, we started making those lists referred to above and then we researched how each country measured up on our “Biggie List.” This list took many things into account, from politics to snakes (is there a difference?):

  • A fairly stable government that possessed a low likelihood of domestic or political upheaval
  • Economic affordability
  • A low level of corruption
  • Out of the crossfire of terrorist hot-spots
  • A low level of poverty, which tends to also link up with our next item on this list
  • A high level of education
  • The ability to invest in and/or own Real Estate
  • A low population density
  • The ability to import personal belongings without penalties
  • A culture that promotes ethics and values
  • A high quality of health and dental care
  • Low crime with a safe environment
  • The ability of us to obtain visas and work in our new homeland
  • Ease of importing family pets
  • Lack of widespread disease(s). We preferred an area with little-to-no Malaria, Yellow Fever or Dengue, TB, Cholera, Hepatitus, Typhoid Fever, Mad Cow, etc. (One of us is a walking treat for mosquitoes!)
  • A relatively low number of disease-carrying insects or other pests other than the above mentioned mosquitoes
  • A clean, hospitable environment and culture
  • Last, although probably not as big of a deal as we make it out to be, WE ALL HATE POISONOUS SNAKES AND SPIDERS! I guess it is a phobia our entire family shares. Maybe it is coded in our DNA, but we are scared to death of these things!

This “biggie” list of ours was actually a pretty tall order and it helped us to eliminate most of the countries from our list of the prospective countries we had been looking into. While this all seems quite simple, it actually took many, many months of painstaking research before we identified what “biggies” we should actually be paying attention to. At the end of matching our prospective countries up against the “Biggie List,” we ended up with only three locations which quickly became two.

At this point our list of potential relocation areas was composed of the following countries:

  • Honduras Bay Islands
  • Belize
  • Costa Rica
  • Panama
  • Dominican Republic
  • New Zealand (Australia has WAY TOO MANY poisonous snakes and spiders for our tastes!)
  • Canada
  • Ecuador
  • Argentina
  • Uruguay
  • Chile

Excerpted and adapted from "Moving To Chile, Part Two: Chile Measured Up!" in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 76.


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