The Untethered Expat Life

the untethered expat life

photo by ckroberts61 on flickr

Untether Yourself is the title of the free e-book I recently released. (If you missed its release, you can grab your copy here.) But what does the untethered expat life mean?

Is it:

  • the freedom to travel constantly, flitting from place to place and exploring all the world has to offer?
  • the opportunity to live on a tropical beach soaking up the sun?
  • the ability to live where you want but travel back to your native land whenever you want to visit friends and family?
  • simply a move from one place to another, where you’ll settle yourself and put down roots?

The untethered life can be all of these or none of these – it’s entirely up to you.

Nomadic Matt travels all the time. I just noticed, while writing this, that the tag line of his blog is “Life Untethered.”

Melinda and Robert Blanchard chronicled their move from Vermont to a Caribbean island in A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean.

Peter Mayle wrote a novelized version of his move from England to south of France in A Year in Provence (reviewed here).

All these are examples of the untethered expat life.

Unless you’re independently wealthy, the untethered expat life probably doesn’t mean doing whatever you want, exactly when you want, with no advance preparation. Unless you’re very young with boundless energy, it probably doesn’t mean just plunging ahead and going wherever the whim takes you either.

I can’t tell you what it should mean to you, but here’s what it means to me.

Finances

My husband and I are not independently wealthy. On the contrary, thanks to the economic meltdown last year, our retirement savings are gone. We had counted on our house appreciating in value as part of our retirement, and that’s gone, too. We have to earn an income to support ourselves.

We’re close to retirement age. We hope like hell the US doesn’t turn its back on our generation and destroy Social Security. After all, we’ve contributed to that system all our working lives and as things stand now, it would be our only retirement income. But we’re not counting on Social Security being there for us.

To live an untethered life, I need to earn a living in a way that’s not attached to any specific location. For me, that means online, through writing and blogging. My husband isn’t so sure. He thought for a while about teaching English as a second language, and may still do that, but he’s considering other avenues as well.

We would like to be able to travel back to the US a couple of times a year to see family and friends. I’d also like to do some traveling in other parts of the world that we haven’t yet seen. To do that, we’ll need to work and save.

Where to Live

Wherever we live, it has to be affordable – and for us, that means cheap. So we’re focusing on countries where it’s possible to live on a Social Security income. (Even if it’s not there for us, it gives us a guideline for “cheap.”)

Health care must be of decent quality, and affordable.

We need to be able to take our dogs. (We have three adorable Papillons.)

The language should be English or Spanish.

It should be someplace our kids feel comfortable visiting.

The climate is warm year-round.

My ideal is a small or medium-sized city with walkable neighborhoods and lots to do. I would not be happy out in the country.

I love the mountains, but don’t want a high elevation because it gets too cold. “Year-round springlike temperatures” are not my idea of a good time. Close to the coast would be nice, but not at the beach.

Since we don’t have the financial resources to travel to a lot of different places before we find our ideal location, we’ll spend the first few years as nomads. We’ll rent a few months someplace and then move on.

Eventually, though, I’d like to settle somewhere and put down some roots. While I admire those who can feel at home when they unpack their favorite coffee mug and sit back with a good book, I’m not one of them. I’m happiest when I’m grounded in a specific place.

It’s a State of Mind

Most importantly, being an untethered expat is a state of mind. It’s a place where

… you are firmly grounded in reality, but allow your vision of what your life could be to soar.

… you recognize what’s important to you, and focus on that while cutting away all the clutter.

… you explore new possibilities, unafraid.

… you’re open to new experiences and adventures.

… you can laugh at yourself when something doesn’t go quite right.

… you can find enjoyment in the little things.

What Does the Untethered Expat Life Mean to You?

It will probably take you some time and effort to figure out. You’ll need to be realistic about your financial situation and how you might change it if need be. You’ll have to decide what’s really important to you and what’s not.

It’s a process, and sometimes a long one. (Five years is the average length of time someone thinks about expatriating before actually taking the plunge.)

Once you define the untethered expat life for yourself, you’ll have the world at your feet.

What does the untethered life look like to you? Do you know where you want to live? How did you decide? If you’re reading this online you can leave a Comment below.

Comments

  1. I think an untethered life still means sacrificing to get what you want. You can live abroad, sustain yourself financially and travel and have new experiences, but you may not be able to have the luxuries or comforts you had at home. You will be away from family and friends and may need to be flexible in regards to how you earn a living. You always give up something to be free.

    • Or, conversely Lauren, you might have more luxuries and comforts overseas — depends where you’re going from and to, I think. I do agree about the sacrifice, though. That’s why you need to be realistic about what you have to work with.

  2. I know how it feels like to be at a new place as I have just moved to a new city. However, I also dream to live in a small town myself and would be very happy the day this dream comes true.
    Best of luck to you, may god help you achieving all your dream! 🙂

  3. Although I have not done the research yet to back it up, Costa Rica seems to have all the qualities you are searching for. My best friend just moved down there a few weeks ago and my fiance and I are starting to make plans to follow suit in about 4 years.

    I like how it’s easy to get to, flights to and from almost anywhere in the US is very affordable, there are lots of expats already there, it’s foreign business friendly and from what my friend tells me the health care/insurance is very good and cheap too.
    Aside from the rainy season, the weather is nice and hot year round.

    • Marianney, thanks for your comment. I know that Costa Rica is very popular, and becoming more so now that the new highway has opened up the southern part of the country.

  4. Good post FutureExpat.

    I completely agree that living abroad does not require wealth. It is wise to have finances in good shape, i.e. no haunting credit card debt.

    For you and your husband, I suggest you look into Costa Rica. While Indonesia, Turkey or Philippines are also good contenders, your need for 2-3 trips to US would be budget killers.

    I’m left curious about a detail you gave – what’s the source for “Five years is the average length of time…” ?

    Again, thoughtful post. Thanks.
    -Jeff

  5. Great article! There’s a lot of information here and a lot of food for thought. I am so saddened by all the reports from the States about the downturns everywhere. I can understand why people want to leave for that reason. I think there is so much incredible possibility that is unrealised or thrown away in the States–not by individuals but by governments that can’t seem to join forces with opposing sides to move the country forward. I’ll get off my soapbox. I wish you all the best with finding the right solution.

    • Yes — for governments that can’t seem to join forces, we have the “party of no” which opposed everything this past two years simply to obstruct and cause failure. And proudly admitted it. It used to be the minority party was considered to be the “loyal opposition,” but those days are apparently done. Now it’s all about power, not governance. It’s very sad.

  6. I am an expat, and have lived abroad for years.
    I might change my place of residence again, because I feel I am not untethered enough were I live (France).

    The country is great in terms of food and weather, the health system is the best in the world–something to consider when you are past 60–I have been to a local hospital recently for some tests, and the medical people were competent, polite, friendly, the room like in a 3 stars hotel (not the case in all hospitals), and it cost me nothing.
    Also it’s reasonably germ free–I can’t live in tropical places, I get sick all the time.
    I know the culture well and I speak the language.

    One big problem though: the country is heavily in debt, and the government doesn’t want to curtail welfare and health coverage; the result is that the taxes are sky high, the highest in Europe except for Belgium. And the bureaucracy is awful: regulations, red tape, etc.
    And the economic situation is very bad, the unemployment is high, and the people are depressed.
    In a nutshell: the taxes are too high and the State too invasive for me to feel untethered.

    I am thinking of going to a place where the taxes are more reasonable, and the cost of livingt is cheaper. Morocco used to be a great place (I owned a house there 10 years ago), but there is too much political instability in this area nowadays.

    I was thinking of Croatia, and would like to hear from expats living in this area.
    In particular, are the taxes reasonable?

    These considerations are of major importance if you really want to be untethered.

    • FutureExpat says:

      Thanks for your comments, Domnine, and sorry about the delay in moderating — I’ve been traveling for several days.

      I have no idea what the tax structure is in Croatia. Since they’ve just been admitted to the EU, I imagine their taxes will be increasing. Hopefully someone with some experience in the country will jump in.

      • Domnine says:

        Thanks for your answer.
        I know that a major French actor and wealthy businessman, Gérard Depardieu, not willing to put up with the new 75% tax rate he would have incurred if he’s stayed in France, managed to get a Russian passport and settled in Russia, where the tax rate is very reasonable.
        But this a move a bit too extreme for me.

        • SusPerkins says:

          I read about Depardieu’s change of residency. . . I thought it was pretty extreme as well. But not everyone is in that 75% tax bracket surely???

  7. Kevin Kelly says:

    Looking for a cheap place, political climate should be ok. Freethinking is a plus. Ck. Dominica, panama, belize. All ok but would like something without a lot of expats thanks

  8. RubixCube49 says:

    Hi, All!

    My family and I lived and worked in the Middle East for 6 years back in the 1980’s (when it was a safer place). Folks at home thought we were living in a Bedouin tent and riding camels around. I didn’t try and change their minds. Fast forward 25 years and I’m ready to head off again in retirement, this time to Central or South America.

    Remember the movie, “The Matrix”? That’s a perfect metaphor for the Untethered Expat – living outside of the Matrix!

    However, you have to do your homework before you head out…”you don’t know what you don’t know”. Best to avoid any nasty surprises, and watch out for those cultural mistakes – that’ll mark you as a gringo for sure!

    FutureExpat is a wonderful resource from folks who have “been there, done that”. Keep up the good work!

  9. Mychal love says:

    Hi, just signed up for your website again. I am three years from the bottom rung of retirement. I am a counselor in Co. I have been discussing relocating with my daughter for a few years . I don’t want to count on retirement income and have student loans to pay for, but I know I am almost ready to go elsewhere. The place must speak English and I need to be able to work, as a counselor preferably. However I am having difficult getting info on moving and working . For instance U.K., although I’ve read about a shortage of counselors they are not on the shortage list. I find the situation confusing and don’t know where to turn for accurate answers. I have experienced the same confusion when looking at Thailand and France. Can anyone offer suggestions?

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