Wouldn’t It Be Easier Just To Stay Home?
“Do you ever miss living in the States?”
We get this question all the time. And this Thanksgiving holiday week in Baltimore, we’ve remembered that, yes, of course, we do.
When we took off for Ireland more than a decade ago, we left family, longtime friends, support systems, and everything familiar. We set out for the great big unknown on the little Emerald Isle. Over the past 10 years living, working, and sending our kids to school outside our home country, we’ve made many new friends, of course, and we’ve built new networks of support…but here in Baltimore this week, we’ve visited with friends from childhood and work colleagues of more than 25 years. We’ll never replace those relationships, no matter how long we continue our adventures abroad.
We leave shortly for the airport for the trip back to Panama.
“It’s a sad day,” Jackson remarked a few minutes ago, as he finished stuffing new toys and candy from his grandmother into his backpack. He doesn’t want to leave…and, to tell you the truth, right now, I wouldn’t mind sticking around a little while longer myself.
The morning we left for Ireland a decade ago, my mother sat on the side of the bed with my then 9-year-old daughter Kaitlin, the two of them crying, hugging…Kaitlin didn’t want to leave…and her grandmother sure didn’t want to watch her go.
Many things about launching a new life in a new country are difficult…but these farewells after sweet and treasured visits may be the most difficult thing of all.
“I don’t understand how you do this,” my sister remarked the other evening. “All the packing and moving around. Don’t you get tired?”
Yes, we get tired. So…why do we keep it up?
After particularly trying days, when the trials and tribulations of life in the developing world nearly overwhelm us, Lief will look at me and ask that question.
“Maybe our families are right,” he’ll remark. “Maybe we should just go back to the States. Life can be so much easier there…”
We’ve learned, though, that those, “Gee, I don’t know if I see the point of this any longer” days pass…and are quickly followed by many more days of discovery, delight, and adventure.
Living in Panama now, we’re enjoying some little luxuries that we wouldn’t be able to afford in the States…like full-time household help and a driver on call…
And, since we’ve been living abroad, we’ve enjoyed a greatly mitigated annual tax burden, taking advantage of the foreign-earned income exclusion…and the zero-tax benefits for foreign residents in Panama…
But those aren’t the reasons we’re in Panama right now…and, certainly, low cost of living wasn’t the reason we spent the past four years in Paris!
You can list out the quantifiable benefits of living in another country…and, sure, you’re happy to be able to take advantage of them. I appreciate having someone to help me every day around the apartment in Panama City right now…and Lief couldn’t be more delighted with our advantaged tax position as Americans abroad.
But I’d argue that the real benefits of living abroad…of investing in a new life in a new place…have less to do with cost of living and tax breaks…and more to do with the chance to see what you can see…to discover what there is to be discovered.
Sure, you can launch an adventure abroad based on purely budget concerns. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Moving to Ecuador or Nicaragua right now, as we remind you regularly, could be the best answer right now to how you make sure you don’t outlive your retirement nest egg.
But if you make a move because you want to find a way to live cheaper, what you’re going to find, in addition, is that a reduced cost of living is only the start.
This living overseas thing comes with a big, unpredictable, completely unplannable upside. I can’t tell you how your life will be enriched when you begin living it in another country. It will be, but you’ll have to find out why and how for yourself. Right now, you’ll have to take my word for it.
I promise you: Every day you don’t get up and get started, you’re missing out.
You’re missing out on sore shoulders and aching backs from toting luggage and sitting up for hours at a time in airport lounges and ridiculously small airport seats… You’re missing out on lost-in-translation confusions, frustrating bureaucracies, and sometimes maddening local idiosyncrasies (like taxis without door handles in Panama City and transit workers who go en greve at the drop of a beret in Paris…)….
So…what’s the point?
You’ll have to find the answer to that question yourself.
And that, dear reader, itself, is the point.