Know Yourself

Dec. 11, 2012, Panama City, Panama: When trying to determine where you should choose to retire overseas, you should make two lists—one of things you prefer, enjoy, and don’t want to live without…and a second of things you can’t tolerate.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Every day, we receive hundreds of e-mails from readers wondering about their own situations. Would Belize make sense for me? Would I be happy in Panama? I'm debating between Costa Rica and Uruguay...could you comment, advise? Should I be looking at France...or Ireland? Thailand or Malaysia?

Unfortunately, it's almost impossible for me to respond productively to most of these questions. Should you consider Ambergris Caye or the Cayo (two very different options in Belize)? Would you be happier in Coronado or Las Tablas (two beach choices in Panama)?

I have no idea. Only you can make these determinations. It's a matter of knowing yourself. Relocating overseas can reduce your cost of living (maybe dramatically). It can mean better weather, a healthier lifestyle, a reduced tax burden, more interesting neighbors, little luxuries you can't afford back home (a full-time housekeeper, a gardener, even a driver, for example), and a generally enriched quality of life.

But none of that may compensate for an unreliable Internet connection if you like to day-trade your portfolio. For you, cheap organic produce at the local market may not make up for other realities of life in the world's developing regions--slow service, for example, or repairmen who promise to return mañana to finish the fix to your broken toilet or your leaking roof, only never to be seen nor heard from again.

For the past quarter-century, I've spent much of my time in the developing world. At this point, it takes an extraordinary frustration or disappointment to get a rise out of me. Ordinary frustrations and disappointments, of which there are many, every day, pass unnoticed.

That said, I have limits, and I'm sure you do, too. What would you find intolerable? What challenges would make you crazy? Approach it this way: Make a list of everything that's important to you. Big things, little things, silly things...

After all this time tromping around emerging markets, I have a list. I'm a little embarrassed to speak publicly of some of the things on it, but, in the spirit of helping you identify your own breaking points, I share it here, in full:

  • I must have a dishwasher in the kitchen. You can't take these for granted in much of Latin America...nor, in fact, could you in Ireland when we first moved there 15 years ago. Here in Panama, for example, not every plumber will know how to install one. It was a two-week ordeal to have one specially installed in our home in Marbella...
  • When it comes to doing laundry, I'm Maytag's biggest fan. That is to say, Americans make the best washing machines and dryers in the world. Having experimented with many other approaches to washing and drying clothes, I've decided it's worth the investment to buy U.S. when it comes to doing-laundry appliances...
  • I like to eat out regularly, and I appreciate good food and good service...
  • I enjoy good wine...
  • I like museums and live theater...
  • I'm infatuated by old buildings, renovation challenges, and historic cities, no matter how down-at-the-heels, the way some women are attracted to shoe stores...
  • I like to walk and am happiest living in a place where the easiest way to get around is using my own two feet...
  • I enjoy picnics in the park on the weekend...
  • I like flea markets and antique furniture...
  • I want to live within an hour's drive of the international airport...
  • I need regular sunshine, and I don't like cold weather...

You get the idea.

Now, here's another list...of things I don't mind but that you might. These are the kinds of challenges, nuisances, and frustrations you could reasonably expect to encounter once you leave developed-world living behind. These are the kinds of things I've come to take in stride:

  • Car horns, fireworks, barking dogs, blaring boom boxes, and other affronts to public quiet...
  • Taxis with broken door handles and no taillights...
  • Bugs at the beach and snakes in the jungle...
  • Broken sidewalks and pot-holed highways...
  • Dirt roads that become impassable and rivers that flood their banks in the rainy season...
  • Paying more for imported comfort foods (including French cheeses and Spanish hams, for example...which, yes, are available here in Panama's capital city)...
  • Communicating in a language that I don't really speak...
  • Drivers who've never been introduced to the rules of the road and pedestrians, sometimes on horseback, who think they rule the road...
  • Plus servicemen who show up late or not at all...tradesmen who miss appointments...waiters who forget the starter course...cooks who don't know the difference between a 2-minute egg and a 14-minute egg...people who give directions with confidence when, in fact, they have no idea how to get where you're trying to go...

Etc.

It's all part of the day-to-day here in paradise.

Kathleen Peddicord

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