“Quality of life” means something different to each of us. On top of that, it changes over time.
What makes for great quality of life when we’re in our 20s doesn’t work so well when our kids are in Middle and High School, or after they go off to college.
And nothing teaches you about quality of life more than living overseas as an expat. In the pressure-cooker environment of living in a place that’s completely new and different, you find out fast what’s really important to you.
Our move to Las Tablas, Panama was a desperation flight from certain financial ruin had we stayed in the US.
Considering how little time we spent here (four days/three nights), and how little time we spent in Panama (ten nights for me, seven for my husband) before the move, we made a very good choice.
Is it perfect? Of course not. In fact, I recently wrote about 10 things I hate about Panama.
Overall, though, our quality of life here is good.
That’s why I’ve been surprised to find that some of our people back in the States assume that our life here is deficient in some way.
It’s also a question I’ve been pondering as our second anniversary as expats came around. If you’re curious, you can read about our first year here.
What Does a Good Quality of Life Mean to You?
Noplace is perfect, and you’ll never find the perfect life. The best quality of life, for anyone, is finding a manageable balance between the things you like vs. the things you don’t.
If you can’t stand a week away from your grandchildren, life in Asia is not for you, no matter how idyllic the setting.
If you wither and die away from the hustle and bustle of big-city life, don’t plop down in the middle of nowhere.
Those are pretty obvious, but what about the less obvious?
For example, one of the things I greatly miss is the cafe culture I used to enjoy. If I needed a change of scene, I could grab my laptop and head out to a coffee shop where I could enjoy a latte and still get some work done. That just doesn’t exist here.
Is that important enough to my quality of life to make me move again? Not really — but in contemplating future moves that’s one of the perks I’ll look for.
Another thing I greatly miss is good quality, fresh vegetables. They’re abundant in Chiriqui Province and in Panama City, but here on the Azuero not so much (although it is getting better). While I have no plans to relocate in search of better veggies, you can be sure that’s something that will be at the top of my list next time.
On the flip side, one aspect of life here which has delighted me is the ease of making friends, and the ease of spending time with friends. Compared to life in the US, where everyone is frantically busy all the time, our social life here is enormously better.
How to Figure Out Your Quality-of-Life Priorities
It’s not enough to read about a destination.
You simply won’t know if it checks all your boxes until you get there. That’s why it’s a good idea to spend some time in a place before you move, and then to rent for at least six months (a year is better) before you buy.
But it’s very worthwhile to do some soul-searching ahead of time — with your partner if you’ll be moving with someone else.
I recommend starting with two lists. List everything you:
- Love about where you live now
- Dislike about where you live now
Include everything you can think of, including intangibles like how often you see your children/grandchildren, friends, other family, the places you enjoy going and the activities you’re involved in. Also include things like weather and traffic.
Those lists will give you your basic quality of life outline.
Next, start applying those lists to choosing a country, region and city.
Finally, after you’ve narrowed it down to three or four (no more) possible locations, visit. Spend as much time as you can in each one.
Then go back to your favorite and rent for at least six months.
Rinse and repeat as needed.
Some Helpful Previous Articles
How to Choose the Best Country for YOU
How to Choose the Best Country for your Overseas Retirement
How to Choose the Best Country for your Overseas Retirement, Part II
Finally, a Real Roadmap for Moving Overseas