You’re On Your Way!
As part of my opening remarks for our Live and Invest in France Conference here in Paris last week, I shared details of some of our own live-and-invest-overseas adventures. As I explained to our assembled group our first morning together…
Lief and I made our first overseas move about 13 years ago. With the help of the international publishing company where I’d been working for more than 13 years at the time, I relocated with my family from Baltimore, Maryland, to Waterford, Ireland.
The morning we were to fly to Dublin to launch this grand adventure, my then 8-year-old daughter lay crying on her bed, holding her grandmother’s hand and begging to be left behind. Between sobs she’d mumble, “I’m an American. I belong in America.”
Ignoring her pleas, we loaded her into the SUV, along with the 10 oversized suitcases we’d packed with all the worldly possessions we wanted to have with us upon our arrival on the Emerald Isle, and set off to discover firsthand, finally, what living overseas would really be like.
We didn’t choose Ireland; it was chosen for us by my employer at the time, who had an interest in establishing an EU office base.
Fast forward seven years, and we were moving again, this time for our own reasons. Our daughter (who, yes, did eventually adjust to life in Ireland) decided she wanted to spend a year studying in Paris. I made a half-hearted attempt to find a Parisian family for Kaitlin to board with for the year while, at the same time, working to persuade Lief that, really, the best option would be to use this as an opportunity for the entire family to spend time living in Paris.
Which we did.
Then, four years later, two summers ago, we moved from Paris to Panama City.
Paris to Panama City?
After we’d made the decision for this most recent move and I began explaining our plans to family and friends, we were asked again and again…why? Why would we leave Paris and move to Panama?
Paris, from where I write this morning, is the world’s most beautiful, romantic, interesting, and engaging city, and life here is hard to beat.
On the other hand, France is one of the least appealing jurisdictions anywhere in the world from which to consider launching or operating a business.
For us this was reason enough to make a plan, two years ago, to relocate to Panama City.
Lief and I could be living anywhere at this point in our lives. After I retired from International Living and decided I wanted to launch my own publishing group, we agreed to focus on this business objective. Having made that decision, the next one, to leave France, developed organically. We’d had experience enough by that time doing business in this country to know that trying to build the Live and Invest Overseas enterprise in Paris would be stacking the deck against ourselves.
We considered the world map. We’ve seen a lot of it, and we’ve spent time and done business in dozens of countries. When we got serious about prioritizing our current business agenda, therefore, it didn’t take us long to alight on Panama.
There are many reasons to think about moving to a new country. I’ve given you ours, over the past 13 years, for relocating to Ireland then France and now Panama. Your current situation and your own reasons for considering a move to another country right now could be entirely different.
These are tough times, and retirees in the States right now face a serious dilemma. Many have lost much of their retirement savings as a result of market downturns. Investors, too, have taken a beating, not only in the States but in many markets worldwide.
The political climate, too, in the States, is changing. Personal freedoms, even investment freedoms, are increasingly restricted. Those with assets are ever more concerned about making sure they’ll be able to hold on to them.
All these things–a desire or even a need to reduce your cost of living in retirement, a desire to live safe and free, to generally improve the quality of your life, a desire to pay less taxes, to enjoy better weather–these are all good reasons to think about moving to a new country.
The challenge as you prepare to launch your new life in a new country is to make sure that you’re moving for your own reasons and that you understand what these reasons are in your own mind. The most important thing as you consider your options is to be honest with yourself and, very important, with your significant other if you’re not moving alone.
I can cite business, financial, and tax reasons for why Lief and I decided to move abroad, first to Ireland, then to Paris, now to Panama. And, indeed, we’ve enjoyed serious financial, investment, business, and tax advantages living in these places.
But these aren’t the real reasons we’ve pursued a life overseas. The truth is, we savor the adventure. We look forward to finding out where it leads us next. I suspect that you share this sense of wanderlust and adventure and that you, too, are looking to discover where next.
As you work to find an answer to that question, I’d like to share what I consider to be the two most important things I’ve learned after 13 years as an expat abroad.
First, you can’t spreadsheet a new life in paradise. Yes, as you consider your options, you want to review detailed budgets for the countries that interest you. You want to understand the local tax rates and the average temperatures by season, the residency requirements and the standard of available medical care. This research and planning is important. But, once you’ve carried it out, set it all aside. Let your heart take over.
A place will feel right…or it won’t. For reasons that you may not be able to plug into a formula in a spreadsheet. But these can be the reasons that matter most. How will you know where in the world you should think about spending your time and your money? You’ll just know.
Here’s the second most valuable thing I’ve learned in my years as an American abroad: You’ve got to show up. Woody Allen once said that this is 80% of life.
Do your research, make your plans, then take the leap. Don’t spend your best and healthiest years analyzing and planning. These are years of your life that you’ll never recover.
I’ve met many people over the years who’ve been thinking about living or retiring overseas for years. They can tell you how to get a visa, where to open a bank account, how much to budget for rent, and the per-square-foot price of buying a home in a dozen different countries. Still, they’re deliberating, weighing the options, not quite sure that the time is right.
To these people, every one, over the years, and now today to you, I say: Just do it.
There is no right time or right place. But there is a place that’s right for you right now.
Sometimes life takes you by the collar and pulls you along. Other times it waits for you to create your own momentum.
And that’s just what you’re doing, reading these dispatches each day. You’re taking a first step toward following your dreams, realizing your objectives, and launching your own global adventures.
Where might they lead you? I can’t imagine. But you can…