Are You Cut Out for the Expat Life?

Copied from today’s edition of the International Living Postcard, a free daily email about living abroad. Her discussion was encouraging to me and might be to you if you are considering living overseas. Click the postcard title above to go sign up for the free emailed postcard and a free report. Be forewarned that they are also selling something in each email, but you are strong enough to resist aren’t you?

Well . . . she almost described me below, so if based on this alone, I’ll be headed overseas soon – but still vetting everything first – working on her point 7 below. And this part is fun to me! (You can read it on the IL website if you prefer.)

Are You Cut Out for the Expat Life?
By Suzan Haskins
What makes for a happy expat? This is something I think about often, because honestly…not everyone is cut out for the expat life. The rewards are tremendous and it’s a wonderful, life-changing experience, but there are challenges—and most are easy to get beyond.
From my experience (and I’ve been an expat for 13 years now), those who thrive living overseas are those who are well prepared ahead of time. They’ve done lots of research and they know what they’re getting into. Overall, they have positive, optimistic perspectives about most everything…
And they all seem to share these 7 attributes:
  1. Love of adventure. This pretty much goes without saying. If you love exploring new places and seeing things you’ve never seen before, then you’re on the right path, because that’s what expat life is all about.
  2. Appetite for novelty. Your neighbor brings you a bag of some strange kind of spiky fruit you’ve never seen before and tells you it’s good for your love life…the entire village is going to “cleanse” themselves in an ice-cold waterfall at midnight and has invited you along…at the last minute, the entire country has taken the day off to watch an important World Cup match… If you can embrace and immerse yourself in the spirit of it all, you’ll be just fine.
  3. Tolerance for cultural differences. Does it drive you crazy when things don’t happen at the appointed hour? Get used to it if you’re thinking of moving overseas. We joke that in Latin America, “mañana” doesn’t mean “tomorrow” but “some time in the future.” The thing is, priorities are just different outside the States (where my husband Dan and I are from). Instead of chasing the almighty dollar and punching the time clock, most of the rest of the world runs at its own pace. Family obligations come first and are always more important than work or money, and that’s as it should be.
  4. A large dose of self-confidence. If you believe in yourself and your ability to deal with just about every situation you might possibly find yourself in, then you’re good to go. And here I might add that you need to believe in the concept of “personal responsibility.” Trip on a crack in the sidewalk and twist your ankle… Have a reaction to the detergent used by hotel housekeeping… Forget your phone in the back of a taxi… The menu is only in Spanish… Back home, if you get hurt or, even sometimes, just find yourself in a bad mood, you can sue someone. The rest of the world is not like that. (And, of course, the good news is that it’s doubtful you’ll ever be sued yourself.)
  5. An aptitude for self-reliance. I have to laugh when new expats complain that certain products aren’t available in Ecuador, where I live. No, we don’t get some of those old favorite (and usually unhealthy) comfort foods here. We do, however, get enough of them, believe me. You do know what Half & Half is, right? It’s half milk and half cream. Pretty easy to make yourself. The Internet is full of do-it-yourself recipes and substitution suggestions. And, of course, there are overseas destinations where you can get just about every American product there is…so if that’s important to you, see point #7 and do your research about where those places are.
  6. A go-with-the-flow attitude. Everything I’ve mentioned so far has been leading to this. If you’re the type of person who can embrace the challenges and, even, find the fun and adventure in them, then you’ll be just fine in a foreign country. Laugh it off… You discover so much about yourself and then have great stories to share.
  7. They’ve done their homework. You cannot move overseas without learning as much as you can about where you are going. It just won’t work otherwise. You need to know about the culture, the weather, the residence laws, the health systems, insurance options, and much more. And to collect in one place all the documents that will be required along the way. You’ll want an idea of what your moving and upfront costs will be. You need a plan for communication with friends and family back home, and an idea of how you’ll do your banking and manage your financial life, and more. Getting all this organized before you move will vastly enhance your expat experience.
    In fact, that’s my single biggest piece of advice: do as much advance research as you can. Read, watch videos, talk to the experts, establish a lifeline to some of the on-the-ground resources you’ll need (like attorneys, visa facilitators, health care professionals, etc.), and definitely talk to other expats about their experiences.

Metaphors of Modification

Hibiscus, Luna Lodge, Corcovado N.P., Costa Rica by Charlie Doggett

Metaphors of Modification

Change blows across my life’s beach,
In hopes that it will my mind teach.
Shadowed as a lacy palm-like dream,
In my eyes, wildlife and nature gleam.
Pure life soars o’er a high canopy,
Toucans, Parrots, Macaws will be.
On colorful wings of living abroad,
In tropical places where I’ll be awed.
As many birds scan for food below,
My decision processes if I should go.
Is there “Pura Vida” where I love to travel?
Or better the old ways, thick as gravel?
A lack of money for more adventures,
Creates natural need for quenchers.
Attractive promises of cheap living,
If culture and language aren’t unforgiving.
A Jaguar stealthily finds the concealed,
Telling me an answer will be revealed.
My hunt, my choice is now Costa Rica,
Though not yet ready to shout eureka!
Tropical breeze o’er life does blow,
Whipping up wild aspirations to go.
Stirring cheaper leaves of housing and meals,
But also higher costs of tech and wheels!
A “Live in Costa Rica” Tour is secured,
So that my decision will be assured.
While arranging the leaves of pro and con,
The decision process grows like a fawn.
A monkey’s howling, my process I blog,
Until a decision, lifts the fog.
Seeking God’s will, desiring His Spirit,

“This is the way, walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

Charlie Doggett, July 8, 2014

NOTE:  I started this as a learning exercise or “Try This” activity in Janet Burroway’s book Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. Thanks to her for the inspiration and the more I’m sure I’ll get as I continue reading her book. My tropical metaphors may not clearly speak to my decision-making process, but as a writer I’m still a beginner and enjoy trying.

Links to Other Retirees in Costa Rica

The original post here referred you to my website and a page there I was doing on moving to Costa Rica – well, the new website doesn’t have that, but the bulk of the post was the following links which I hope are still good to help you in your research on retirement in Costa Rica.

Broad-billed Motmot near Arenal, Costa Rica on 2010 Tour
I’m reading about other people’s experiences of moving to or retiring in Costa Rica. I will try to start sharing some of them. The problem with the International Living links is that they may not let you in if you aren’t a subscriber, not sure. But there are blogs and other info about living in Costa Rica I will share along the way. Here’s s few:
  • Facebook Page of a woman who retired in Costa Rica
  • A Working Retirement in Ojochal on southern Pacific Coast which I would love if I could find an affordable rental there – It would be close to multiple rainforests and a cloud forest where I got my photo of a Quetzal + beach!
  • Living Better than a Billionaire YouTube video – Great! Younger people! (Update) Hate to admit I was caught up in the impossible illusion that I too can live like they are in their video on my SS check. Not! Well, here’s a funny and honest Rebuttal to Living Better than a Billionaire.   International Living Magazine folks also give this false impression that you can live rich on your social security check. Well, I’m learning that a reality check is needed first! Having lived in a 3rd world country before, I know the reality that money speaks there too, just like in the states. I’m learning that I will not be able to afford those beautiful views that the rich already own. So I’m lowering the expectations. (updated 7/21/2014)
  • Expat organization called Association of Residents of Costa Rica which I could use later to help me with the move, IF I move!
  • No Finality in a Move Abroad, article in Huffington Post – just one reason I will rent – I can change my mind at any time and go back to states
  • Why Are Americans Still Flocking to Costa Rica? an article on International Living site
  • AARP “Best Places” Article on Costa Rica Retirement which focuses only on the Central Valley, but it is the most popular area!


And Someone Asks . . .

My 30ish nephew writes to express his excitement over the possibility of my move and then asks the kind of questions maybe others are also asking. He asks:

I am curious what all might be involved with the process of moving to another country. I’ve moved from one state to another within the mainland US a few times but that’s not the same. Just off the top of my head, I imagine moving to another country would require closing doors in one and opening doors in the other, like with getting rid of belongings, consolidating what will be kept, figuring out how to move things that cannot go on the same trip, closing accounts, opening new accounts, finding a new place to live, form of transportation, income, etc. It seems like the potentially scariest thing would be finding a source of income. I realized that, despite at the time (a few years ago) having enough money in savings to make such a move could have worked, I didn’t have any solid leads on job options at the places where I was looking into. I imagine some people move, then find work, although it would seem better to find work, then move, but that might prove to be pretty difficult.

 Well, those are exactly the kinds of questions I am asking Sean and here is what I know now and where I’m getting my answers. Since I have already lived overseas before part of my answer is from experience!

  1. Absolutely! It is closing and opening doors, literally starting over again in many ways, somewhat like a move in the states but much more than a change of address, new driver license, and new friends!
  2. “Belongings” or most material things thing you must be willing to give up or store if you can afford storage. Shipping furniture or a car is expensive. I’m currently debating about my Zero Gravity Recliner and some of my grandmother’s furniture I would like to take, and may get shipping prices. But the truth is I will probably be able to buy anything brand new there cheaper than shipping from here. Maybe! And I know I won’t ship anything until I have rented for about a year to make sure it is right for me. Younger people sometimes find it easier to let go of “things.” 
  3. For me the car will definitely go and I’ll start with an affordable used car in Costa Rica, maybe hope
    Wildlife watching tour on Tortuguero River by Charlie

    for a new one later. Cars cost about 30% more there. Though insurance may be cheaper and even some maintenance. 

  4. Closing old accounts and opening new ones depends on many factors. When in The Gambia I kept my existing Credit Union accounts, debit card and two credit cards (not store cards). The world is small now and most banking and credit purchases are already managed online, meaning you can do it from anywhere in the world. In Gambia I did open a bank account locally and transferred money from my stateside account when needed. That gives more of a local presence that can be helpful.
  5. Finding a place to live is turning out to be fairly easy at lower prices than in the States. The August tour and my extra 4 days there will help firm up what I’m finding online. Right now, I’m thinking of getting a 6 month to 1 year apartment lease in the Central Valley, equal distances from all the rain-forests, mountains and beaches I love. Then I can better check out places to live in the other areas, before I settle down in one house, probably rental, but might consider a bargain purchase, though I’m thinking I will not be able to afford a purchase. I’ve been using my savings for trips. I had already decided to live the rest of my life here in the states in the rent house I’m currently in – so no big deal, just cheaper over there, if I decide to do it.
  6. Source of income is possibly the most important factor, a requirement to stay legally, and for you that means you must have a job or business and prove you can support yourself. My source of income is retirement income, not much, but will go much further there than in the states. I told you wrong earlier that you could not hold a job in Costa Rica because it would take jobs from Ticos (the endearing name for those born in Costa Rica). That applies only to retirees like me who will benefit from their Pensionado program that makes me one of their retirees, getting discounts on everything from medical care to movie tickets. You can work for someone, start a local business, invest in property, or have an online business as some I’m reading about do. You will have to become a legal resident after 3 or 6 months and keep the Visa up-to-date, which should be no problem with thousands doing it.
  7. Legal documents start with your U.S. Passport and a 3-month Visa which can be extended until you get the equivalent of their “Green Card” for working or apply for dual citizenship. 
  8. Learning Spanish is not absolutely required, but needed to relate to locals which you will want to do. Unlike the United States, most people around the world know multiple languages and English is common in Costa Rica, especially the city, plus the 50,000 plus expat community mostly speak English. (Teach them music?)
Hope that sort of answered your questions Sean. Though most are retirees from the U.S., there are a lot of young adults making a living in Costa Rica. It can be done. Music there will be different in some ways, but they do love their music! All kinds!
Now I’ve already referred to the Live In Costa Rica Tour and his many books. The main one is The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica by Christopher Howard which is available on That is where you would want to start if considering this.You’ll also find many other expats writing books about moving to Costa Rica if you desire more. 

Maybe Not

This AM walking & hearing McKendree improvements from Jane made me think I’m better off staying here. This process will take awhile. August Trip will tell a lot I hope! Written on new cell phone and boy is typing hard on this tiny keyboard!

Why Am I Doing This?

As I biked this morning, the thought came to me that friends when they first hear about this, will think I am crazy and wonder WHY I’m doing this? I’ll give today’s answer to three whys and those answers could change in the future. This whole idea is very fluid, but making it public because I like input.

Why are you doing this decision process in a public blog?

Most of my research is online and there are a lot of blogs about retiring or moving to Central America, most not too good. So I think my process could be helpful to someone else doing the same thing now or in the future, even if I decide not to move. 
Why would you want to leave the U.S, and move to a third-world country?
  1. Less than two years ago I made the big decision to move from a downtown Nashville condo to a retirement village with emphasis on the “independent living” part and especially since McKendree Village has 40 “cottages” which are two and three bedroom house, some very nice. I now live in a very nice two bedroom house with utilities, maintenance, twice-a-month maid service, and a meal ticket good for one big meal per day. There’s an indoor salt-water pool which don’t use, more activities than anyone could participate in, etc. Many think “Charlie has it made.” And in some ways I do if I wasn’t so healthy, active, and adventurous. One night it hit when stumbling over walkers and wheel chairs in the dining room, that I am almost living in a nursing home. That could get depressing! No one here shares an interest in the kind of adventures I like to do, other than to hear my reports. Now get this straight! I love everyone here and have no problem with the residents! Management is not targeting Baby Boomers who are more like me and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. I don’t want to become old and invalid like so many here. I’m determined to stay active to death. 
  2. I have been continuing my adventure trips like the January tour and bird watching in Panama. The problem is I really can’t afford such trips now. The retirement village gets half my income. I tithe to my church, I eat out, go to movies, the symphony, musicals, etc. and have the expenses of a car. I have no money left for trips and have been doing them from savings – bad choice
  3. If I move to the middle of the region I love best for adventure, nature photography, and a place that brings me happiness, I won’t have to take from savings for my trips
  4. Now I will make some of my friends angry, but I don’t like the directions our American culture and government is going and I’ve been very displeased with my denomination (SBC) for many years and now think my own local church (which I dearly love) is also headed the wrong way as it continues to be a suburban church located downtown while ignoring the downtown residents which I used to be one of. And I know that it is up to me to try and make a difference and I think I have tried and failed. 
  5. I’m a pacifist and Costa Rica is a pacifist country with no army and better general education than many get in the U.S, with one of the highest literacy rates in the world. They are also ranked as one of the happiest people in the world! Pura Vida!
  6. Though property value is increasing because of the thousands moving in, one can still live cheaper in Costa Rica and get as good a medical service at a fraction of the U.S. cost. The rich run the U.S. and only they get the good life, good medical service, good retirement, etc.  (There’s more, but I’m stopping for now.)
Why did you choose Costa Rica over Panama or other country? 
Well, I could make the above list longer and make an equally long list here. For now I will just summarize that in my own mind after research, Costa Rica offers more nature, more rain-forests, more beaches, more stable government, and less-expensive living than Panama. Panama is trying to be the retirement haven that Costa Rica already is. They are not there yet and I’m not sure I want to be one of their pioneers, though I have not totally ruled it out! Some say Ecuador is a little cheaper and beautiful, but I don’t see it as a stable government. Nicaragua is new for retirees and is a lot cheaper, but I would feel trapped in an expat community there and not as free to roam the country. So for now, Costa Rica is my focus.  

Seeking God’s Leadership is First Priority

One of my four blogs is titled HIS SPIRIT and is my spiritual blog. I just posted one there related to this big decision I am considering concerning Costa Rica titled:

This Is the Way; Walk In It. 

Click title to see that discussion. Worship today was helpful in seeing the spiritual side of the decision and even though I feel I’m “following my heart,” I also need to know that it is God’s will. And I have added a new life verse to my long-time Proverbs 3:5-6, which is Isaiah 30:21 as state in the NIV: 

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

So I will be listening for the voice of God behind me to turn right or left, to Costa Rica or not.

Going on the Tour

I’m now signed up for the “Live In Costa Rica” Tour later this summer. It doesn’t mean I’m moving, but that I am really serious about considering it. I’ll get to see my beloved country again and experience from a totally new angle. We will see some sights of course, but the focus is on living there this time, visiting in some expat homes, see what living is like in the city, valley, mountains, and coast. Then I am staying over 4 extra days to personally check out some rental houses, apartments and condos. The tour is not a real estate tour, but I want to see first hand what I can live in for about a third of what I’m paying now. I’m having some doubts and questioning a few things that hopefully the tour will help me answer and make my big decision.

Click here to see the itinerary of the “Combination Tour” which just means both the valley and the coast, since some select just one or the other. In between the two tours we have a two-day seminar which is really where I will get my questions answered and be more ready to make the decision. This tour will be the best part of my decision process. I will try to post nightly while on the tour, assuming I will have internet connections in all the areas, which is another qualifier for me. Of course they have satellite TV which I don’t even care about, but the promise of high-speed internet is essential for me.

Yes, I’m a little scared that I may be wasting money, though I always love being in Costa Rica. I’m reading a lot and even have two books ordered from Nashville Public Library, but this “boots on the ground” tour will be the real test and I will love it even if I decide to not move. At least I will have given it a whirl!

Why I’m Considering a Move to Costa Rica

My photo of s Baird’s Trogon
Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

I pretty quickly narrowed it down to Costa Rica as my first choice IF I live internationally. Reasons are many and here are just a few including some reasons for moving at all:

  1. Of all my nature travels, Costa Rica is still my favorite destination. I’ve been there three times thus far. There have been great experiences and photo-ops in Panama, Guatemala, and Mexico which I could more easily get to if I lived in Costa Rica and at a whole lot lower cost than from Tennessee. 
  2. I can no longer afford to do the nature adventure travel I love while living in expensive USA, while it would be local and nearby trips from almost anywhere in Costa Rica. 
  3. Any addition to travel being more affordable from there, it will cost me less to live and thus more money for travel. 
  4. My retirement village in a suburb of Nashville is the most affordable one now but still takes most of my money while outside entertainment is more expensive here than anywhere in the world.
  5. I walk into my “independent living” dining room and feel like I’m in a nursing home, stumbling over walkers and wheelchairs. 
  6. Costa Rica has the most peaceful and stable government in the Americas with no army and every single person well-educated. I’m a pacifist and would love to live in a pacifist country. 
  7. The happiness index is challenged only by another favorite country, Canada. (But I don’t like cold! And they are expensive like the U.S.) The “Pura Vida” slogan for Costa Rica is so appropriate as the place where I have experienced the most happy and friendly people anywhere in the world. 
  8. It has the tropics, nature and loving people like The Gambia I loved living in so much, but also stable government and good healthcare which Gambia does not have and caused me to not retire there.
  9. My most and best bird photos are from Costa Rica – with so many more yet to photograph! 
  10. The landscape photography is also unlimited in this “Switzerland of America” it is called, not only for its political neutrality and peacefulness but for beautiful mountains, volcanoes, rainforests and beaches.
  11. The climate is perfect with temps between 70 & 80 all year and only a little warmer on the beaches or cooler in the mountains. I’ve lived in tropical climes multiple times and it is my favorite. No more snow and ice ever! 
  12. The cost of living is lower. 
  13. There are more discounts and helps for retirees.
  14. There are some money-making opportunities I may take advantage of.
  15. There are large communities of expats from the U.S. and Canada as well as from around the world. 
  16. One of the best healthcare systems in the world with world-class hospitals for a fraction of the cost in the U.S. I can have healthcare insurance for a little over $50 a month where I spend hundreds per month here and still have high out-of-pocket costs when I need care. 
The above list is from me and my heart and not a promotional list I copied from someone. I’m sure there are many other reasons. And I’m aware of some of the challenges, like I will need to slow down and be more patient with a slower moving culture (like Gambia) and slower government bureaucracies (like Gambia). I have just started reading Chris Howard’s detailed book The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica. Some have called Costa Rica a “Post Hippie Paradise,” but mostly it’s an exotic tropical paradise that is perfect for someone like me who is always seeking adventure in nature. So read along or join me in my decision-making process to see if this really is the thing for me to do. Your advice is sought and welcome.

As Tony Robbins said: 

“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.”

Or maybe I like Mia Hamm’s even better:

“Follow your heart and make it your decision.”

And of course my life verse since teen years has been Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways,and He will guide you on the right paths.

Feel free to pray for me to make the right decision, comment with your advice, feelings, or hard facts. I’m truly open right now and thus making my decision-making a public activity.    -Charlie

See this Market Watch Report on living in Costa Rica

In summary I quote from an ad for an International Living product: 
Why Costa Rica? 
The most stable democracy in Latin America. Top-quality health care. Excellent weather. Low, low taxes. The world’s happiest people. And that’s not all…in Costa Rica you’ll find sun-kissed beaches, lush rainforests, mountain vistas, pristine lakes, and sweet small-town plazas. No wonder it’s one of the hottest retirement destinations on the planet. See it to believe it.

Background for Moving Overseas

Dancing in The Gambia on a 2009 return trip, photo by Jill

I’m a person of adventure since childhood, always wanting to live in a jungle or rainforest, as a teen to be a medical missionary in Africa, not making the medical part and a marriage that didn’t do missions, I continued to dream. After divorce and early retirement, God gifted me with a 3-year job in The Gambia, West Africa. My favorite job and place to live ever! But mission board politics and philosophy was such that I wouldn’t re-up for another 2 or 3 years and retirement there was not practical because of horrible medical services and the unstable and corrupt government.



My Condo Downtown near State Capitol, Farmers’ Mkt.

Living 10 years in downtown Nashville in a condo and loving it! I traveled as much as my meager income would allow, including three trips to Costa Rica along with trips to Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, Brazil, Tanzania and this year to Panama. The problem was I could not afford these trips I loved so much and was spending my very small savings. Plus I saw “the handwriting on the wall” in my condo of mostly mobile young adults in an aging complex that was going to start costing more for big repairs like roof and parking lot and I needed to “really retire” and not parent young adults. 

My Cottage at McKendree Village, Hermitage-Nashville

Two years ago I picked the only one I could afford in an old suburb of Nashville, put my condo on the market, sold it in one week, and made the big move to an independent living cottage (2 bedroom house) in a beautifully forested neighborhood of senior adults, where I took up local birding, and making photo books of my experiences. I really like McKendree Village where I now live and if Costa Rica doesn’t work out, I will stay here. But I soon discovered that there are other expenses and my active lifestyle and love of eating out left me almost no money for travel. I was using my equity money for one or two exotic trips a year and that was not wise. Plus the management here was targeting or getting too many elderly in poor health, even in independent living, making me feel like I’m living in a Nursing Home as I trip over walkers and wheel chairs in the dining room. I still ride my bike 50 miles a week, walk a lot and do my adventures, but the money will run dry and the community is not one for my active lifestyle. Sooooo . . .

My photo, Resplendent Quetzal,
While on 2010 Bird Safari, Costa Rica
I started researching online about retiring in places like Panama, which I thoroughly enjoyed visiting last January and could live in. One thing led to another and I’m now big into checking it out now and refocused on Costa Rica. I know, I’m like a kid just out of college starting all over again and somehow that invigorates me!
One of the things I’m reading online are blogs from people who live in another country and they are sometimes helpful. So today I decided to start this diary of the steps I’m going through that might help someone else and give me an interesting record of what I went through, whether I move or not. This is in addition to 3 other blogs I write. But this will either have an ending or maybe be turned into a Costa Rica Blog. We’ll see!