The Secret To Being Happy In Your New Life Overseas—Confessions Of A Serial Expat
Holiday travels in the States these past couple of weeks gave us a chance to reconnect with extended family, old friends, and former business partners who reminded us, in turn, where we’ve come from…
“You and I couldn’t wait to escape Baltimore,” one longtime friend who knew me back in the day reflected when we met for a Christmas toast.
“Now, decades later,” he continued, “Baltimore doesn’t seem so bad!”
“Indeed,” I replied. “I appreciate Baltimore more with each passing year. Plus,” I added, “I think it’s improved considerably since you and I took our leave.”
In fact, for me, going overseas was never about escaping. I wasn’t running from but venturing off in search of. Back then, with but 22 years of living behind me, I couldn’t have articulated precisely what I sought, and I didn’t realize yet that the seeking itself was a big part of the attraction.
For about a dozen years, starting at the age of 22, I came and went from my home base in Baltimore then finally made the leap to establish a new home base in Waterford, Ireland. After Waterford, Paris… then Panama City…
In each place, in series, my family and I have been at home.
“Being in the States was fun,” my son Jackson remarked as he and I stepped out from the arrivals hall at Panama City’s Tocumen Airport Sunday night.
“But I sure am glad to be home.”
I had to admit that I agreed, and, with that thought, I wondered again, as I have before, how I got from Baltimore to where I am today.
Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit that it was all an accident. Each decision each day led to more decisions the day after and on and on.
When I loaded my 8-year-old daughter and our eight overweight suitcases onto the flight from Baltimore, Maryland, to Dublin, Ireland, all those years ago, did I envision that, seven years hence, Lief and I would be loading two children and our trappings onto a one-way flight from Waterford to Paris?
Or that, four years after that, we’d all be shipping ourselves and our household from Paris to Panama?
The truth? I never imagined any of it.
I set off on my international living adventures before I was old enough to know myself well enough to understand either why I felt the urge for going or where I hoped to end up.
I didn’t make a plan for my life overseas. I simply took off overseas.
If I had it all to do over again, I’d employ the same non-strategy.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing against planning. Plans are great. It’s just that I’ve found that plans don’t always lead where you expect. Better not to get too attached to them.
In business, in investing, and in life, I’ve learned to let one step lead organically to the next.
Success, then, can have a lot to do with how efficiently you’re able to filter your options.
Expanding your life to include living and investing overseas components is all about making choices…
Should your second home in the sun be on a white-sand Caribbean beach or the crashing Pacific…
Should your Old World adventure feature a French farmhouse… or one in Italy…
Would you prefer to live among fellow expats or as part of the local community…
Are you up for learning a new language… do you want to be able to travel back to the States regularly to visit family… do you need or want to earn an income to supplement whatever nest egg you have…
How do you like to spend your Friday nights and your Sunday afternoons… what view would you enjoy most from your bedroom window every morning… would you like to be able to watch the sunset each evening…
Do you want to live in the place full time? In that case, options for establishing legal residency are important.
If your priorities are more profit-focused than lifestyle, your decisions could have more to do with things like trying to time currency exchange rates (I recommend against it)… identifying markets where leverage is a possibility… and taking advantage of business incentives and investor tax breaks.
These are all big questions with big implications and consequences. You want to weigh them and respect them.
At the same time, don’t belabor them. And definitely don’t let yourself be mired down by them.
Ready, fire, aim.
If your first shot lands far from the imagined mark, adjust your sights and fire again.
And who’s to say that the place where you didn’t intend to land isn’t precisely the place where you really want to be?
Making what can seem like colossal decisions, one after the other, gets easier with practice. The key is identifying and protecting your priorities.
If I had to choose between a plan and a short list of what’s most important to me, I’d go with the list.
The secret to being happy in your new life overseas isn’t sticking to the plan you’ve made for launching a new life overseas. It’s sifting out the choices that conflict with your priorities.
There’s no right or wrong way to go overseas. There’s the way that suits you.
Second, once you’ve begun this journey, you’ll find that it’s an ongoing evolution. Again, each decision leads to new options lead to more decisions…
For me, so far, it’s been Baltimore, Waterford, Paris, Panama City.
Nearly two decades post my departure from Baltimore, here’s what I finally understand about myself…
I’m neither running from nor running to.
I’m simply moving around… and making myself at home at key points along the way.
This summer will see Lief and me, fresh empty-nesters, returning to Paris. We look forward to slotting back into the home we’ve made for ourselves in the City of Light.
And, as well, this New Year, we’re considering establishing another connection point, this one in the Dominican Republic. Stay tuned.