My Budget’s Really Tight — How Can I Explore a New Country?

lettersIt’s time for another peek in the expat mailbox.

I recently received an email from Matt. Matt’s a medical professional who’s starting to research a move to one of the Central or South American countries. He’s not sure how transferable his professional credentials are and asks:

“Thank you once again. I really want to get this project off the ground, and I’ll take all of the help I can get.

“Which leads me to another question: how can one get started in this without much money?”

When Money is Tight, Get Creative

Matt, you’ve come to right place. We were pretty much wiped out by the financial crisis of 2008-2009, so we’re making our move on a shoestring.

However, you really do need to have a little money or at least usable credit.

Matt didn’t explain what “without much money” means to him. Does he mean he doesn’t have $100,000 to invest in the country, or that he doesn’t have a few hundred dollars for a plane fare?

Either way, the first thing Matt should do is narrow down his list of countries from six to no more than three. Then he needs to figure out how he can visit the countries on his short list.

It doesn’t matter how great a place sounds on paper, until you’ve had your boots on the ground you can’t possibly know whether you’d be happy living there. Once Matt narrows down his country choice, he’ll be in a better position to figure out what he needs to actually move there.

When funds are really tight, you need to get creative. What can Matt do to get himself to one of his country choices?

As a medical professional, it’s quite likely he could take some time away without worrying too much about finding or returning to a job when he gets back.

My recommendation to Matt: explore possible volunteer opportunities. Look for something that will pay expenses of transportation, food and lodging in the country and arrange to stay as long as you can. Rent out your home or apartment while you’re gone.

Ideally, Matt could arrange back-to-back volunteerism so he could try out two or even three of his countries during a six-month period. At the end of the six months, he should have a pretty good idea of where he wants to live.

Then he can return to the US and go back to work for a bit while he maps out his next step.

How to Narrow Down Your Country Choice

There’s an almost limitless number of factors that can influence your country choice. Some of the more obvious include

  • climate
  • language and culture
  • work or business opportunities
  • cost of living
  • health care
  • ease of travel to “home” country

To weigh out what’s really important to you can require some deep soul searching.

And, if you’ll be moving with a spouse, partner or children, the equation becomes even more complex.

It’s certainly possible to step through this exercise on your own, or with free help from websites and online forums.

There are lots of good country-specific forums out there. I’ve been hanging around the Panama Forum quite a bit in recent months, for example, and there are some good country forums on Yahoo as well.

If You Can Afford Some Shortcuts

If you have a bit of discretionary income to invest in the process, though, there are a couple of resources I recommend.

The first is 52 Days to Your New Life Overseas. As its name implies, it’s a 52-day (or longer, depending on how much time you have to put into it) series of thoughtful and thought-provoking materials to get you from wherever you are now to your new country. (You can read a review here. For contrast, here’s a review of a program I found to be nothing but fluff.)

The second is not a program for expats as such, but was designed by a life coach to help you really understand what makes you thrive. Called Live Bold & Bloom, it promises to help you create a life that is fun, adventurous, peaceful, exciting, challenging, engaging and meaningful.

You can read more about Live Bold & Bloom here.

photo by paul-simpson.org on flickr

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