With my third entry in this ongoing series let me go to the beginning. Why become an expat? Why leave the country of your birth and nationality to live among strangers in a very different culture, perhaps one with earthquakes and volcanoes? My primary reason for moving abroad was that I always wanted to. I grew up reading Burroughs, Doyle [his lost world stories, not Sherlock Holmes], and later Graham Greene whose books were largely about expats getting into trouble. My goal almost from the first was to retire to another country. As I grew older and saw how narrow the lives of most of the elderly were, primarily from lack of money, I became convinced I didn’t want that for myself.
Being from Arizona I frequently vacationed in Mexico where I met a number of expats. They seemed to be fleeing marriages and/or debts. Later, I made a number of trips to Costa Rica before it was discovered and destroyed by expats and had any number of fascinating conversations with fugitive expats taking advantage of the lack of extradition. Later I had some good fortune. I lived most of year in Portugal working on a book and there got to know a number of British expats. Over a pint I often discussed their reasons for living in Portugal. Most were fleeing what they saw as the decline in British society and its economy. Others had married Portuguese women. Many lived there because it was cheaper and the quality of life was quite high with what fixed income they had.
Later I traveled for work in Vietnam and Thailand. Again, mostly in bars, I meant a wide range of expats, in this case from the U.K. but also from Australia and Europe. Two men I talked to told the same story. One was from Belgium, they other from The Netherlands. They were unhappily married with children. Their company sent them to Vietnam or Thailand. They acquired a local, very accommodating girlfriend who soon had a baby, asked for a work extension, then asked for another which was refused. In both cases they quit their job, found a local one managing in one of the new Western companies opening up and just stayed. They both told me they never told their wives what they were doing, never contacted their families and had no regrets. Well, maybe. I also met a U.S. graduate student supposedly writing his dissertation. He said his adviser cautioned him to come back, that the last candidate who had gone to Asia never returned. This guy had been there six years and was teaching at a regional college. He said he was going back and I pretended to believe him.
Here in Ecuador your average expat is retired from the U.S. or Canada, is married and here with his wife. A surprising number have minority spouses or, as I do, a wife originally from another country who immigrated to the U.S. They say the primary reason they live here is economics. They can simply live a much better life here on a retirement income that would only keep them alive in North America. Some want a foreign experience and always plan to go back home.
I have to agree on quality of life for your income. We live in a penthouse with commanding views of the Andes and Tomabamba River, belong to the country club, travel whenever we want and have absolutely no money concerns. We’re not alone. I know two couples who had serious financial reverses n 2008, moved here, rebuilt their fortune as they didn’t need it to live, then returned to the states.
There’s a lot more to my story: the poor quality of American food, lack of control of medical care, taxes and insurance costs, the increasing leftward movement of all social institutions, lack of tolerance for those not conforming, many more, but I’ll write about those later. Be well, be happy. Life is too short to be miserable.