How To Choose a Foreign Country

If You Could Live Anywhere…

Editor’s Note: Kathleen and Lief remain unplugged in Medellin. We’ll let you know when we hear from them. Meantime, here’s another of the very first Live and Invest Overseas dispatches, published during the new venture’s very early days in Panama City four years ago this month…

Jay Snyder and his wife chose Granada, Nicaragua (where they’ve built something extraordinary…you can take a look here. Tuey Murdock settled recently in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, and sends rave reviews of her new life in what, for her, qualifies as paradise.

David Finzer chose Uruguay, which he compares to “Eisenhower’s America” and insists is one of but four places in the world where any sensible soul would hang his hat given any choice (the others according to David are Croatia, Slovenia, and Panama).

Mike Sager says he can’t understand why anyone would live anywhere other than Ecuador, where he’s been savoring the beach life on the cheap for the past year-and-a-half.

Lee Harrison retired young from a life in New York to build a new one in Cuenca, Ecuador…then, three years later, he and his wife decided to continue farther south. For a while, they divided their time between Montevideo and Punta del Este, Uruguay. Today, they’re establishing a new base in Medellin.

Alex and Judith considered the whole world when they decided it was time to leave London, where they’d been spending time for many years. After months of exhaustive research and weighing the pluses and minuses of dozens of countries, the relocation destination that ranked squarely at the top of their list? Panama.

Paul Keppler settled last year on Croatia’s Istrian peninsula.

Bill and Akaisha don’t want to settle anywhere. As Akaisha explains, “We just finished up a year in Thailand and have come back to Arizona. Right now, we consider Chiang Mai, Thailand; Chapala, Mexico; and Arizona our three ‘home bases.’

“In the two-plus decades years since we retired, we’ve spent about 30% of our time in the States,” Akaisha continues. “The rest of the time we’re on the road, using Chiang Mai and Chapala as travel bases.”

Paul and Vicki Terhorst, the “George and Martha Washington of cashing out early,” have been likewise perpetually on the move for more than a quarter-century, since they retired at the ripe age of 35. Last year, though, they decided to establish a base in one of the places they most enjoy spending time. They built a house in Cardales, about an hour outside Buenos Aires, Argentina.

If you could live anywhere, where would you live?

It’s a question worth considering, because, the truth is, that’s your option. You really could live anywhere.

No matter your current circumstances—be you 30 or 70…single or married for 40 years…with children or not, young or grown…active business interests or passive investments to manage…a million dollars’ worth of assets or nothing like it—I promise you: I know others with similar life stories who have taken the leap and who are, as you and I consider the possibilities right now, already living their dreams in their chosen Shangri-las.

To get from where you sit today to where you’d like to be, you’ve got to do two things.

First, get up. As Bill and Akaisha Kaderli point out in their book The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement, a Common Sense Approach:

“A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to rot.”

Second, figure out where you’d like to be. This is where the trouble starts. The more you open your mind to the possibilities, the more confused you’re likely to become. How did Alex and Judith choose Panama over the dozens of other countries they considered carefully? Why did Jay Snyder and his wife decide to spend their time and their money in Granada? What’s Paul Keppler doing in Istria?

I’ll let each of them tell you their stories themselves, over time, in these dispatches. In each case, the reasons have something to do with business and investment…and something, as well, to do with fun and adventure. But, without exception, the common denominator is that all these folks wanted a change…a chance to start over and to try something else…to be someone new…to enjoy a richer, fuller quality of life.

It’s cliché, on one hand, but, on the other, it’s the only point worth making…the only agenda worth remembering. You’ve got one shot. Make the most of it.

You’ve got to consider cost of living (and of real estate), health care and costs, telecommunications and other infrastructure, ease of coming and going and of getting around once you’re in the country, taxes, residency options, the local language, the safety of the cities, the stability of the government, and the weather. These are the boxes to check…or not.

And that’s one approach to take when trying to answer the question, if you could live anywhere, where would you head? Create a spreadsheet. Into the rows and columns, place checkmarks. No, Nicaragua does not have reliable infrastructure…yes, Mexico is easily accessible from the States.

Or you could create a ranking system. Panama is accessible from the United States (give it an 8 out of 10) but not as accessible as Mexico (10), while New Zealand is on the other side of the planet (2).

Lief and I have done this work, as has, each in his own way, everyone I’ve introduced to you in this e-mail…and you should, too.

Then, when you’ve finished the exercise, toss your spreadsheet aside. Because you’ve also got to allow for things that can’t be plugged into it. Unless you lack any adventuresome spirit or romantic soul whatsoever, this isn’t a question that number-crunching can answer for you completely.

Take Waterford, Ireland, for example. It spreadsheeted pretty well when Lief and I first made our move there. The costs of living and of real estate were both very affordable; foreign residency was possible in several straightforward ways (that could lead to citizenship); and foreign residents paid tax in the country only on money they remitted to the country.

While we were living there, though, we watched as the country transformed into a place the Irish themselves referred to as “Rip-off Ireland.” Real estate values climbed to crazy heights, as did the cost of living (Dublin became more expensive than Paris). Meantime, it got tougher for foreigners to take up residency (as the Irish worked to curb over-migration from Africa and Eastern Europe), and the tax laws were changed so that foreign residents had to pay tax in Ireland on their worldwide income. Yikes.

When we moved there, Ireland would have come out tops on most anyone’s survey. By the time we left, spreadsheeted Ireland was a disaster, a disgrace.

Yet, my position on the country didn’t change. I enjoyed our life in Ireland all seven years we lived there, and I’d consider returning today.

Not Lief. For Lief, the figures in the spreadsheet would be too difficult to ignore—the new tax laws too much for him to take, the cost of living too high to make sense in the context of the standards of services and infrastructure.

The difference is that, for me, Ireland’s appeal has more to do with its history, its pastoral landscapes, and its country charms…the castles, the gardens, the Georgian style…than tax and residency laws.

On paper right now, Panama City is hard to beat. Affordable cost of living; international-standard medical facilities; the best infrastructure in the region; an enviable tax system for foreign residents and straightforward options for becoming one in the first place.

At the same time, Panama City isn’t for everyone. It’s hot, humid, and dirty. Its expanding population struggles morning, noon, and night to travel back and forth along the city’s narrow and congested thoroughfares. Don’t drive in this town if you can’t control your temper. Remember, this is a developing nation and one at a critical turning point in its history. Maybe that doesn’t work for you.

Panama City today could be considered the mirror image of Ireland in a way. Ireland no longer spreadsheets so good, but life in that gentle, peaceful, emerald green country can be bliss, depending on your agenda. Panama City spreadsheets gold, but the reality on the ground is more gritty than green.

Works for us, though, because of what we’re trying to accomplish. And, I have to say, we’re enjoying our time here and our ring-side view as this country pushes and pulls itself toward developed-world status.

Kathleen Peddicord

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