Why Life as an Expat Really is Better

10-Oct-2016

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By Bonnie W. Hayman, International Living,

In my 40s, I started thinking about retirement. Living in expensive San Diego, I never pictured a house with an ocean view because that was out of my financial reach. I had a technical writing business that gave me a good living, but I still had to put two daughters through college.

I presumed I’d stay in my townhouse for the rest of my life, maybe get a couple of cats, and have nothing to do but enjoy my days. But when the first financial crisis hit, my financial advisor told me I would never have enough money to retire in San Diego…unless I won the lottery. No retirement? I couldn’t believe it.

I’d have to move elsewhere—somewhere cheaper—if I ever wanted to retire. It seemed unfair. I had worked since I was 16, yet I would never have enough to retire. And worse, I’d have to work for the rest of my life. What a gloomy future.

My daughter took me to Nicaragua for my birthday in 2006 and I was hooked. Six months later I returned with a friend and bought a house in a day (it worked out for me, but it’s not something I’d recommend). I went back to the U.S., wrapped everything up, rented my house in San Diego, and left for my new adventure in Nicaragua.

I went alone and didn’t know a soul…but the last eight-and-a-half years have been the best of my life. As an expat, my life is so much richer and fuller…and freer.

Here in Nicaragua, I’m free to be me, free to live the life I want, free not to be bothered by neighbors complaining, free from keeping up with the Joneses, free from the stresses of my home country. I can paint my house bright orange if I want (and I’m going to as soon as the dry season returns). Play the music I like. Dance alone on my patio and no one will think I’m crazy.

Living in Nicaragua has given me the opportunity to live the kind of lifestyle I could never have afforded if I’d retired in the U.S. My townhouse in San Diego was modest, built on its footprint with no grass at all, only a cement patio. In Nicaragua, $132,000 got me a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home on half-an-acre with a beautiful ocean view. Each morning, I open my French doors, greet my two big dogs and two cats outside, and have the greatest cup of Nicaraguan coffee. Even though San Diego is a beautiful city, my quality of life is much more amazing here.

Living in Nicaragua also means never having financial worries again. Most of us think we need a couple of million dollars to retire well. Not so in Nicaragua. A couple on a budget can live on about $1,500 a month and that includes a furnished apartment near the beach or in the mountains including utilities, WiFi, cable TV, and food.

This lower cost of living has also meant I’ve been able to travel more. By renting out my house in Nicaragua for six months, I was able to travel around South America. I saw Machu Picchu in Peru; the Andes mountains of Ecuador; Iguazu Falls, lake country, wine country, and Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina; the salt flats of Bolivia, and much more on that trip of a lifetime. Had I retired in the U.S., I would never have had that experience.

I live healthier in Nicaragua than if I’d stayed in the U.S. Shopping at the local markets means I’m eating fresh and healthy food, something that can be difficult to find in the U.S. Fresh fish, grass-fed cows, and chickens strutting in the meadow are the norm here. I walk more here, get more vitamin D from the sunny days, and don’t have the same kind of negative stressors (rush-hour traffic, daily negative news, financial troubles, etc.) that filled my life in the U.S.

Have I given you enough reasons why life is so much better as an expat? If not, here are a few more: It’s easy to make new friends here from all around the world. You can buy a whole red snapper for $2.50 and have it cleaned and scaled for an extra 50 cents…go deep-sea fishing with five of your friends for $45 an hour (for all of you)…enjoy water aerobics, yoga, Zumba, and dance lessons. Or learn how to play the marimba or take painting classes. Actually, anything you’ve ever wanted to do, you can do in Nicaragua…easier and cheaper.

So what are you waiting for? Become an expat and enjoy the good life…a better life than you’ve ever had before.

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