There comes a time when you might want to get the hell out of the U.S., Canada, or whichever country you call home. Some people end up retiring abroad to enjoy a lower cost of living, more accessible medical care, and a better quality of life. Others want to bring their young family abroad to live a culturally rich life with an international flare, and even more young travelers and college kids just want to see the world and have fun! Either way, when you decide to actually live abroad – whether it’s for six months, a year, or the rest of your life – you have some big choices to make.
I’ve actually lived abroad as far back as ’99 and permanently resided outside of the U.S. since 2011 in a handful of countries, so I’m happy to give you some advice, based on my own experience and also chatter from other travelers and expats.
Today, I’ll start with where you DON’T want to live: a perfect tropical white-sand beach. While this may seem like a strange place to start my advice on places you DO want to live, I assure you that it’s valid.
If not, then I would just start listing every beautiful white-sand beach and tell you to live there, but that’s not the case in my experience. Why?
When you actually live in a place – which I assume includes the need to work in some capacity – there are far more considerations. Believe it or not, the beach is amazing, but if you live there every single day with nothing else going on and you’re not a professional surfer or SCUBA instructor, it can get a little boring.
I know – that sounds ridiculous, and many people think that would be paradise. But you don’t find many expats living on the same beach area for more than a series of months or a year, max.
Living in the heart of nature, you just get so burnt out on the heat, the bugs, the blackouts and brownouts, and the like. There are usually only a handful of establishments like restaurants, bars, shops, etc. that you can patronize, so you start to feel more and more isolated over time. The internet tends to be far worse and the AC harder to find, so if you do have to work, options can be limited and far less than glamorous.
And there are only so many times you can lay in the tropical sun every day and take a swim.
The other reason for that is because you also fall victim to the Tourist Syndrome, as I call it. On beautiful islands and white-sand beaches, there are new tourists coming in every single day. They enjoy their time there with sun and fun and generally act like tourists. That’s great if you are actually making money off of the tourism industry in your job (like if you own a hotel), but it gets pretty annoying if you live there. It makes the place feel like a tourist façade but not real, like a destination but not an actual community – and that makes a big difference when you live in a place. Tourists party every single night and aside from sitting around with drinks at sunset or partying along with the tourists, there’s really very little to do on a tropical beach at night.
After a while, you’ll start really missing amenities, better infrastructure, a variety of meals and places to go, cleanliness and better AC, malls, movies (especially during the rainy season, which we haven’t even mentioned yet!) and ease of travel.
But don’t worry – in this series of the best places to live abroad, I’m going to break down my list of specific locations that are great to live in across various regions, starting with Southeast Asia. And I’ll be sure to find a great balance that includes plenty of beach time for you!