Going Local When Living Abroad
We knew not a soul in Ireland when we moved to Waterford 10 years ago. Looking back now, I realize how much that slowed us down. We’d brought both our family and our business with us from the States. We needed a house to rent while we searched for one to buy, a school for our daughter, office space, bank accounts, utilities connected, a car, local staff, a doctor, a dentist…
When we found the house we wanted to buy…and discovered that it required far more renovating than we’d figured…we then also needed a contractor, cabinet-makers, plasterers, electricians, plumbers, landscapers…
Then we needed a washing machine, a dryer (uncommon in Ireland 10 years ago…in the end, we ordered Maytag shipped from the States), a dishwasher, and every other household item we hadn’t schlepped across the Atlantic Ocean with us…
Over the course of a decade, we accomplished all these things. We came to understand how different the banking and credit industries are in Ireland than in the States. We learned (the hard way) that, in rural Ireland, where we decided to settle, you need back-up for your electricity. We figured out where to shop for what we needed, and we came to take for granted that many shops and other businesses close at lunchtime (this is almost no longer true but was very true and very unexpected 10 years ago). We learned to enjoy regular tea breaks, which are de rigor in this part of the world, and even to understand Irish-English (sort of).
Slowly, over 10 years, we penetrated the surface of Ireland, and, with the help of friends and contacts we made along the way, we got to know the place as locals. We’re established and connected in that country. We have a developed in-Ireland infrastructure…the resources to do most anything we might like to do there.
Ah, but…we’re no longer in Ireland.
Four years ago, we began spending time in Paris. This time, our transition was leveraged a bit thanks to help from the few local friends we had, both American and French, who’d been living in the city long enough to know how to navigate it.
Neither Lief nor I spoke French, though, and the going was slow.
Fast forward four years…and, as in Ireland, today, we have good friends in Paris and a network of local contacts. With their help, we’ve been able to scratch well beneath the surface of this beautiful city. We no longer feel like tourists in Paris. We fancy ourselves locals.
Ah, but, again…we’re no longer in Paris.
We’re three weeks on in Panama, and, I have to say, at the risk of exposing perhaps premature exuberance, that, this time, it seems our transition time from tourist to local is being seriously fast-tracked.
There’ll be setbacks and detours, of course, but, having been through this twice before, I think I understand the difference this time.
When we moved to Ireland a decade ago, we’d visited that country but a handful of brief times before becoming residents. On the other hand, Lief and I both had been traveling to Paris for a dozen years or more before we began spending time there four years ago, and, again, we had a few expat friends whose footsteps we could try to follow.
We’ve been doing business in Panama, visiting for as long as six weeks at a time, for 12 or 13 years at least. We’ve bought real estate here, opened bank accounts, installed Wi-Fi, renovated buildings, hired staff, shopped for appliances… We know how to get around and where to go for help.
In three weeks, we’ve been able to rent two apartments (one for us, the second for my marketing guy arriving in the country tomorrow), to finalize Jack’s enrollment in school, to engage a nanny, to hire an assistant, to set up interviews for additional local staff…
Things that took us months to sort out in Ireland and Paris.
It’s who you know.
A reader wrote last week to say, “I am interested in global real estate investing and living overseas. How do I get started?”
You do what you’re doing right now, dear reader, by reading this dispatch: You get yourself connected…tied in on the ground wherever you’re thinking you might like to invest your time and your money.
And recognize that it’s not information you need (well, not only information)…but experience. Expertise.
After 24 years traveling, scouting, researching, and spending time in the world’s most interesting and appealing markets, I’ve been able to develop a far-flung network of in-country resources. Experts and expats with real-life experience doing all the things you’re imagining you might like to do now.
As a reader of these dispatches, now you know who I know.
For example, you know Mike Cobb, who, last week, detailed for you the “12 Critical Questions You Should Ask Before Buying Real Estate Overseas.”
And you know Christian MacDonald, our Roving Latin America Correspondent, who told you how to “Reduce Your Cost Of Living Big-time” by moving to Argentina and taking up residence in Buenos Aires. How much to live well in this lively, cosmopolitan town, even at one of its best addresses? Christian’s careful budget says as little as $1,290 per month. (In previous weeks, Christian has also presented detailed budgets for living in the world’s other most affordable retirement havens, including Ecuador, Uruguay, and Nicaragua.)
You know Nikki di Girolamo, our Italy Correspondent, who introduced you to “Romantically Tantalizing And Irresistibly Affordable Buys In Italy’s Most Overlooked And Undervalued Region.”
And you know Giulia Gonzalez, who can help fast-track your new life in Panama, just as she’s been helping us these past few weeks. Giulia seems to know everybody worth knowing in this town. She even managed to find a rental apartment (in the banking district) to suit my Marketing Manager’s budget. Thanks to Giulia, Harry, arriving in Panama City tomorrow night, has a place to sleep.
P.S. Sometimes being a tourist is ok, of course. See below…