A select bunch of FI’ers prefer to start their new life abroad after pulling the trigger. It symbolizes new beginnings, possibly a better quality of life and perhaps the opportunity to cut down on everyday living.
I wish to share my experience with moving abroad and starting a new life (style) overseas, the why and the how. A sort of mini-guide to moving abroad and starting a new life, for those looking to make such a move.
I emphasize the word ‘style’ in brackets. Because nothing needs to be set in stone these days.
My Story And Why Yours Is The One That Matters
I’ve been living this perpetual traveller lifestyle for years now and it was everything I ever dreamed of…and more (and that’s another story, another time). But it now feels the right time to phase shift.
I also feel blessed having travelled to many countries (57 at this point and worked in 11). Not that numbers matter. I’m no expert.
However, the last couple of years have been a bit unsettling. I’ve had enough of ‘living on the road’ and the FI thing is starting to wear on me. If it wasn’t wearing me down, then I’m not saving/ trying hard enough.`
I remember driving to work around 10 years ago and listening to the radio. I was in a dwam when a frantic woman on the radio caught my attention. News reporters were covering a storm that had battered America. It could have been North Carolina.
Anyway, this distraught woman lost her home in the storm. What she said next, really struck a chord with me.
“Without a home, you don’t have an identity.”
And that’s what can happen to perpetual travellers. It happened to me the last couple of years. It doesn’t matter if you own a bunch of homes for rent, you need to live in one of them.
And that’s why I need a proper home base again.
I read most FI’ers wait untiled they’ve FIRED, before they find a new base/ make any big overseas move. Which kinda makes sense. However, I prefer to do things in reverse and validate the situation fully.
In fact, I’ve been validating different countries for the past 4 years.
I thought I needed to live near a piece of coastline with perfect side shore winds (for windsurfing). Or live across from a golf course with days filled with sunshine. Sure, I’ll integrate these things into my life, but I slowly realized I don’t need them every day.
More importantly, I’ve battened down the hatches the last few years. I became super gung-ho about this whole FI thing. That’s why I want to make that move now. I don’t want to ‘put my life on hold’ any longer. When I do reach FI, I don’t want it to be an anti-climax.
What I mean is or what I don’t want, is suddenly finding out all these things I read about a place/ the vivid pictures I had in my head didn’t live up to my expectations. That would be a nightmare.
I would rather ‘test the muse’ on my journey to FIRE. Not after the event.
But that’s only my way of doing things. Everyone’s situation is completely unique.
Finding Your Perfect Country to Live In
I remember courting this young Brazilian lady in Dublin many years back. We were sitting in one of those tea gardens along the quays when she asked, “Where would you really love to live in the world?”
I was like, well…it would have to be close to X industry because I can then serve my clients.
She then retorted, “Forget work and jobs, where would you really love to live?”
I couldn’t quite grasp the concept back then and although I had travelled extensively, I really hadn’t done a deep dive on any country.
And here’s the thing. When it comes to the crunch, it’s actually very difficult to pinpoint a country to live in. I know a good friend who emigrated to Canada many years back and started a business and a family. I know my own family (grandparents) who went to live in Australia. They knew what they wanted…
Because when it comes to up sticks, there are usually 2 reasons. Love or money.
For me though, it was neither. Fortunately, I’ve made a modest chunk of my wealth already – elsewhere. And there is no woman in sight. So, to pinpoint a new country to live in was proving more difficult than I thought.
But I do need change and stability.
Also, it’s not actually important where I’ve moved at this stage, but rather why.
Hence, I wish to give you the thought process about why I moved out my home country and why the heck I’m starting over…I say starting over, but that’s maybe too strong a phrase.
Starting Over at 40
We all crave change at some point or another. Some more than others. I remember reading these articles on the web…about the girl with the great degree, high flyer career, thriving social circle and steady relationship. Then out of the blue, she gives up everything and starts over. I can actually resonate with this now.
Not that I’m some high flyer with a perfect life. Far from it. But I know where she’s coming from
For several years, there’s always been that thought at the back of my head. That one day, I’ll return to my home city and settle down there. I always travelled back from my overseas assignments and met up with friends and stayed with family.
The perfect opportunity even arose a few years back, when I worked from home (2 weeks from home and 2 weeks on site overseas). It was the longest amount of time I had spent in the UK/ home city for years (since my Uni days). It was a great litmus test.
Just maybe I’ll enjoy working and living here?…then I can buy a house and build a new life?
It became very clear though, that this world had left me behind at some stage; I just wasn’t aware of it.
What I thought was distance created by living hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away, was actually distance created by living a totally different lifestyle and having a totally different mindset from everyone else.
It simply didn’t work anymore.
When you’ve travelled extensively, you start to develop a taste for different lifestyles…an alternative lifestyle. And experiencing random things.
What’s more, I was tired of folk asking me…why. That expels energy from you. Don’t get me wrong, a why used in the correct context is perfectly understandable, but these were all the wrong whys.
My life wasn’t up for debate. I got tired of explaining.
Since I’ve been living and working overseas, folk now ask me…how. I gain energy from that and wouldn’t have it any other way.Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect Click To Tweet
The crazy thing was, I was living in this void. In between a world overseas and my home city. Or put another way, two lives. It didn’t feel real, I was almost too comfortable. The only way to remove this void was to choose the life I really wanted. And that was an easy choice.
There is a caveat to being a contractor who works away a lot. You can go through an identity crisis. The longer you stay away from home and the less frequent the visits, the less you associate yourself with home.
Then there’s reverse culture shock. Anyway, I digress.
The decision was more or less cemented after visiting the accountant after my 40th Birthday. I was always planning to leave the UK ‘one day’, I just needed a push. I certainly wasn’t planning to pay taxes in two countries i.e. in my home country and new country. Very soon, I was about to break the UK residency rules. I needed to leave fast and start my new life.
And on the note of taxes, I needed to find a place to protect my wealth. Somewhere that’s fair with a lower cost of living. But, finding somewhere where I can connect with was more important than anything.
Pre-Requisites for Starting a New Life
- Declutter your life:
It makes life difficult, knowing you have this pile of stuff to shift from A to B. This constant weight, playing on your mind. Sell what you don’t need online and profit from it, or give it away to charity.
- Shortlist some places you would like to start over and validate them.
- Get professional advice about non-residency, tax, visas and citizenship. Your accountant is a good place to start.
- Plan the lifestyle you desire
Best Places to Start a New Life?
Over the last few years, I’ve been putting a little checklist together. Collating mental notes along the way, gathering wisdom obtained from the living/ working abroad and jotting down experiences from visits to ad-hoc countries.
My mindset 3 years ago is vastly different from my current mindset. It’s lightyears away from 5 years ago, let alone 10 years. Travel has contributed to that immensely. I do feel I have my shit together now, I better had.
If you’re pondering over the best place to start over, you may have to perform a lot of trial and error. And travel to different countries, until one feels like a great fit.
In some ways, it’s like choosing a good partner. We all have different tastes, but ultimately attraction isn’t a choice.
According to the Global Liveability Index 2018, Vienna is the most livable country in the world to live in 2018. Here are the rest of the top 10 liveable cities in the world to live in 2018:
- Vienna, Austria
- Melbourne, Australia
- Osaka, Japan
- Calgary, Canada
- Sydney, Australia
- Vancouver, Canada
- Toronto, Canada
- Tokyo, Japan
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Adelaide, Australia
Therefore, when you’re thinking of moving abroad, your best bet is to shortlist a bunch of your favourite countries and then try them out. Remember, what looks good on paper/ in the latest guidebook or Global Liveability Index isn’t necessarily a good fit.
Sometimes you have to think of what you don’t want, in order to pinpoint that very thing you want. Start whittling down continents and countries.
I learned to lead with my heart, rather than my head.
To be more precise. Shortlist them with your head and validate them (trial them) with your heart.
And what works for a single person, may not necessarily work for a couple or a family.
Checklist for Moving Abroad And Starting A New Life
1. Weather and Seasons:
We’re all different. Some sun worshippers can’t do without sun 24/7.
And at the other end of the spectrum, I know folk who adapt better to a cold climate.
After working and living in Asia for 18 months, I kind of realized life isn’t necessarily all about sunshine and coconuts (although not all Asian countries have endless sunshine). But that’s just me…
For the first time ever, I realized I really love the ebb and flow of the four seasons.
What climate/ seasons work for you?
2. People and Population:
Meeting people and making friends is at the very core of my move overseas. Thankfully, there are online communities such as Internations and Meet Up that organize such events to help people connect.
I never thought the population was a significant factor. However, the more populated a place, the more chance of networking, meeting quality mindsets and new friends. Having travelled to many cities throughout the world, I feel one Million + is a nice figure to work with.
3. Island or Mainland Country:
This ties in with number 2. As a single guy, I feel I have a better chance of meeting folk living in a mainland country than living on an Island (from past experience). Sure, there are unique places like Chang Mai in Thailand that are set up for expats and digital nomads.
Also, from a travel perspective, I want to be able to jump on a train (or a plane) and have access to an array of different countries. A central base if you like.
It’s important the airfare (or train fare) is cost effective and frequent, from a practicality point of view. Otherwise, it’ll prove more difficult to visit family, friends and serve clients.
4. A Sense of Belonging/ Duration:
What you thought was your ‘dream’ destination, may not be sustainable on a long-term basis. I personally have a small handful of ‘special’ places in my heart, countries that have the wow factor.
However, having lived and worked in one of them, I realized it wouldn’t be a good fit long term. Sometimes, there’s a certain ‘heaviness’ or aura to a place and you feel compelled to leave after a certain amount of time. It’s kind of hard to explain unless you experience it.
It could be the language, the culture…who knows. It’s just a strong feeling that makes living there long-term, difficult.
This is why it’s best to validate your special place, before committing to living there. You want that sense of belonging and to feel integrated with your new country…
5. Cost of Living/ Value for Money:
I have experienced living (and holidaying) in plenty of cities/ countries. You have to weigh up the cost of living against your FIRE fund. If your goal is to FIRE early and live a good lifestyle for less, then this is a critical step in your endeavours.
I look at a place from a long-term perspective:
- How much will it cost to rent? ‘Insider’ provides a nice insight, on how much it costs to rent a one bedroom apartment, in 30 leading financial centres, throughout the world. Remember, these are average rental prices (I’m not even sure if this includes utilities). Anyhoo, it makes a nice baseline guide on global rent costs.
- What is the price of groceries? A website like Numbeo can help you compare the cost of living across different cities, in different countries.
- Will you eventually buy a property? Hence, has there been long-term, steady growth, or is the property market a falling knife?
- If you decide to buy, what are the interest rates?
- What currency will you be dealing in and how will you mitigate transaction fees and interbank exchange rates?
- How frequent and reliable is the transport system?
- Transport links to the airport
- Affordable healthcare and dentistry
- International schools
6. Depth and Character:
I never thought of this as anything significant. However, it feels like a key attribute. I much prefer places that are steeped in history, as opposed to relatively new cities. Depends what you’re into. I want a place to tell a story. I want to feel it’s presence.
I’ve always been taken in by architecture, grandiose buildings with wide sweeping staircases, majestic archways to welcome you with cobblestones and courtyards.
Flat panel buildings don’t do it for me. But that’s just me.
Old or new?
7. Sun Holiday Destinations:
The honeymoon phase may last 2 or 3 weeks, then reality kicks in. Sun break destinations can be deceiving (I own such a property abroad, and have validated this situation by taking a mini-retirement there). They’re a wonderful option short term, but could potentially be a bit soulless and transient in the long term. Especially when the winter kicks in.
If you’re not in a holiday resort, you may well get away with this. Again, this is only my opinion. It will most probably be different for couples or families.
8. Location Independent Friendly:
Is your proposed new location FIRE-proof? i.e. location independent-friendly.
- Is there a relatively simple and cost-effective visa/ registration service?
- Will you get away with speaking English? If not, is the local language handy to grasp?
- Are there expat/ digital nomad networks in place
- Quality of WiFi
- Decent dating pool
- Enough points of interest, to support any hobbies etc
- Are there any other foreigner disadvantages that would prevent you from living there long term?
What opportunities do these countries present? Some questions to mull over:
- Is there still value/ good yield in the real estate?
- How simple is it to set up a small business, and it’s associated costs and taxes?
- Is it a developed, emerging or frontier market?
- What is the startup scene like?
10. Visa and Residency:
No matter what your background is, you will have to register in your new country and obtain a tax ID. Assuming you’re going to stay there for more than 183 days per annum i.e. you’re not a perpetual traveller.
Research the relationship between your home country and your new proposed country by:
- Government websites
- Expat forums
- Relocation service agents
Probably the most important factor of all. Initially, when I went about choosing a place to live, I looked at; Malta, Andorra, Malaysia, Monaco (one must try)… the thing is, I was looking at tax rates. That’s great if you’re looking for a home for your Ltd company. I was so obsessed with territorial tax systems. There’s nothing wrong with trying to protect your wealth.
However, this is you we’re talking about. There’s nothing wrong with those places at all. In fact, they are all beautiful, amazing places in the world. However, at the end of the day, it’s where you truly connect that matters.
Try and look beyond the tax rates and take a deep dive into the place itself. Lead with the heart…then the head.
Types of Tax System
There are three scenarios here to consider:
1. A flat tax on your worldwide income:
A true flat rate tax is a system of taxation where one tax rate is applied to all personal income with no deductions.
Typical countries – Estonia, Hungary, Romania, Russia.
For a full list of flat tax countries, go here
2. Tax on a scaled basis/ progressive tax (dependent on earnings):
A progressive tax is a tax in which the tax rate increases as the taxable amount increases. The term “progressive” refers to the way the tax rate progresses from low to high, with the result that a taxpayer’s average tax rate is less than the person’s marginal tax rate. The term can be applied to individual taxes or to a tax system as a whole; a year, multi-year, or lifetime.
Typical countries – UK, US, New Zeland, Australia
For a full list of progressive tax countries, go here
3. Or a territorial tax system.
Countries that tax income, generally use one of two systems: territorial or residence-based. In the territorial system, only local income – income from a source inside the country – is taxed. In the residence-based system, residents of the country are taxed on their worldwide (local and foreign) income, while nonresidents are taxed only on their local income. The USA is the exception to the rule.
Typical countries – Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore
For a full list of territorial tax system countries, go here
Will, you live in one country all year round, or adopt a different style of living?
I’m not really into the ‘forever home’ concept. Again, that’s just me. It scares the bejesus out of me thinking I might commit to one place forever. And that’s why I may adopt the hybrid lifestyle.
I’ve ventured into many continents and regions around the world. But, I now realize Europe is where my heart lies.
My original plans were to live in Asia during for the best part of a year (I got a taste after living and working there) and live in Europe for the remainder. However, after much deliberation and soul-searching, I’ve decided to do this in reverse, as stated above.
One thing I’ve learned throughout the years is the harsh winters. I lived through full winters in Korea and Russia, even sampling the winter in Ulaanbaatartor in Mongolia (the coldest capital on earth).
Don’t get me wrong, I do like the season of winter. I think it can be a magical time. But not a prolonged and harsh one.
Personally, January to March can be depressing months with the severest weather and temperature drops in Europe. Hence, I propose to bugger off to Asia/ South America during those months.
I say propose. I have to think about potential partners also. It’s the ‘ideal life’ or dream scenario. But sometimes dreams come at a cost as I found out on one of my overseas assignments.
That’s where I’m at and these are my thoughts in starting over again, lifestyle design and some prerequisites for best places to start over.
As the years roll by, a home becomes more of a feeling than a place.
This life isn’t for everyone. There are, of course, pros and cons to moving abroad. You need to weigh up your priorities before making any big commitment.
We all have our own version of what an ideal life should look like, whether that’s at home or away.
Once you realize you don’t need a place called “home” to give you comfort, you will be able to find a home just about anywhere in the world.
Now I would like to hear from you in the comments:
Do you have a ‘dream’ destination you would like to live, or maybe you’re a home bird?
What would your ideal life look like?