As I write this, I’m sipping a cafe con leche, it’s 32 degrees centigrade, the Spanish sun is shining and I can feel the breeze from the Mediterranean on my balcony in Valencia, Spain.
Yes, I live abroad.
Over the last two months, I’ve gone through the
painful challenging process of relocating my wife, son, dog and myself from Oakland, CA, USA to Valencia, Spain. Although the full process started last year, finally, we are just getting settled into our new home in our new country as US citizens living abroad. Life is slowly returning to normal.
We still don’t speak Spanish but learned enough to get around and found a few schools where we can start taking some classes. Overall, I’m happy and excited about our new life in a new country … although it was way more work and money than I expected (more on that later). We don’t plan to stay forever, but we’re giving it a few years to really immerse ourselves in the Spanish way of life.
Moving abroad was a big decision for me and my family. As a classic over-thinker, I didn’t just wake up and say “Spain is cool. We should live there”. Before I even started thinking about where to live, how we would support ourselves, and how to get there, it started with one fundamental question: should we live abroad?
There are many reasons to move abroad and just as many reasons not to. Here are the things I thought through before making the decision to live internationally. Hopefully, they’ll help you determine whether an international change of pace is right for you.
It’s Traveling … to the Next Level
I love to travel! I was 26 when I first traveled out of North America, and I’ve been averaging at least two passport stamps a year since then. I love learning new languages, new cultures, and new lifestyles.
Living abroad was the next step for me–taking the time to really live in another culture instead of just getting a taste of it. I still haven’t seen a lot of the world, so moving somewhere else would give me cheap and quick flights across a new continent. Moving abroad was going to be a way for me to travel even more and “travel” even when I was working.
You Can Reduce Your Cost of Living and Increase Your Quality of Life
I’m all about saving, but I still like nice things. I ended up planning a romantic trip to Bali & Thailand when I found out how much better we would vacation compared to Hawaii. I’m all about finding ways to save money, while still getting the best.
Compared to the USA, there are many countries that offer a higher quality of life at a lower cost of living. Depending on the country, you can get a bigger apartment, with more amenities, in a better part of town, for the same or less than what you pay now. Things like daycare, nannies, restaurants, and other things you enjoy may be available at 40% to 60% cheaper somewhere else.
Personally, I pay 60% less in rent now compared to Oakland. Compared to my old apartment, my new place has an extra bedroom, about 50% more square feet, and five restaurants downstairs. Daycare is half what I used to pay and office space is about 40% cheaper.
This benefit impacts people living in expensive cities more than cheaper ones. If you came here from Dallas, you might not be as impressed. If you’re in New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, or Washington DC, there are several countries and cities where your money goes further. A site like NomadList can help you compare cities and estimated costs of living.
In Spain, I am working on Wealth Noir and doing product management consulting. I’m able to earn American wages, build my company to operate remotely, and benefit from the lower cost of living. You need to consider if you will work locally, work remotely, or just live off of savings and if a cost of living adjustment is important. For me, the lower cost was a big factor in choosing a country and city.
Learn a New Language by Living Abroad
I have always envied my bilingual friends. Sometimes I feel cheated being first generational, but from the English speaking Caribbean. I love my Antiguan roots, but patwa doesn’t really count. I’ve always wanted to speak another language commonly used in the US … basically Mandarin or Spanish, but German or French would be cool.
Moving abroad for me will be an opportunity to learn Spanish. In addition to some home Rosetta Stone practice and picking up words just living here, I’m planning to take classes and participate in language exchanges. With a strong expat community here, there are plenty of people and options to learn and practice Spanish. This is a key skill I plan to keep with me forever.
If learning a new language appeals to you and may have direct job marketability, consider taking some time to go immerse yourself in it. I have friends and colleagues going to Japan, Colombia, Romania, and Buenos Aires to work abroad. You’d be surprised how beneficial it can be to know a second language.
International Experience May Make you More Marketable
I was working as a Product Manager at Facebook when I really got serious about moving abroad. As the world becomes smaller and technology products must work globally, international experience is good experience to have. I found my own time traveling helped me understand our international users and on several ocassions, I was able to quickly understand the impact on the business of operating abroad. It will also open up jobs where international experience is key to the company.
Not all careers and industries value this international experience. Specifically, industries relying on heavy regulation don’t value the experience. Lawyers often have trouble practicing in a different country. Doctors may not be allowed to practice in some countries. Government and political jobs, if not focused on international development, may not appreciate you living outside of the US.
But, I think the majority of professional roles will value international experience. As an MBA and former techie, those are the industries I know best. Consulting, marketing, management, strategy, operations, manufacturing, and other areas can significantly value the international experience. And in some cases, it’s neither a benefit or negative, just experience.
Whether or not you plan to return to your original role or job, you should always stay competitive in the job market. Maximizing your salary is an important part of building wealth.
Discover a New Way of Life
The world is a wide and varied place. It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I really understood how different life can be in other countries. It is eye opening to literally adapt your lifestyle to a new way of living.
Just since moving to Spain, I have to plan my day around siestas where 90% of businesses close. Dinner starts around 9 pm and you can find families with little children out until midnight. Tapas are literally everywhere. There are parks everywhere and there are almost no homeless people. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
There is a fundamental difference in how the Spanish approach things compared to Americans. Not everything is different, but there’s enough for you to appreciate it. This is something I wouldn’t have fully understood without living here.
Transition into Working for Yourself
Entrepreneurship is sexy, I get it. But as I tell the startups I work with, building a business is work, sweat, and pain. Starting a company is an expensive endeavor, if not in money, then in time, the more precious resource. Yet, with the new gig economy, the increasing popularity and efficiency of remote working, and new business models for small businesses, spending some time living abroad may give you the clarity and time to start or grow your company. I know one friend personally looking to take some time in South America to grow her solopreneur business.
The much lower cost of living abroad can give you the flexibility to stop working and focus on your business. Many expat communities are filled with entrepreneurs, remote startup workers, and freelancers looking for work. It won’t work for all companies, but moving abroad may be what helps you take your side hustle full-time.
Taking on a New Challenge and Adventure
I like adventure and moving abroad is a big one. I like the challenge of solving problems, doing dope things, and having new experiences. I’m in a new environment, with a new language, getting adjusted to a new culture. Finding salad dressing ended up being a mini adventure in itself.
Successfully living abroad will be a long-term adventure. At some point, we’ll get settled and learn the language. Day to day will stop being such an adventure, but then we have the rest of Europe to discover. Add in raising a toddler and I’ve got all the adventure I need for a long time.
Time to Focus on Your Investments
If you move abroad and decide to take a break from working, that opens a lot of your time. While you should spend some traveling, touring, eating, and learning the language, putting in the work to grow your net worth is one of the best places to invest these newfound hours.
Even with all of the work involved in moving and being several hours away from the US, I was able to purchase another rental property. I’m also looking into the local Spanish market for investing and continuing to invest in my growing business.
I’ve spent a lot of time reading, studying, and researching deals. I’ve increased my learning significantly and have been able to delve further into the investments open to me as an accredited investor. I’ve started spending a lot of time looking specifically into real estate crowdfunding and how I can take advantage of the 1%-2% APR mortgages they have here in Spain.
Time is our most precious asset. Moving to a lower cost country can lead to more free time long-term, as your need to work is significantly reduced.
Living abroad is a big decision that shouldn’t be based on someone else’s IG feed. But, for many it’s just the right thing for them. I’m happy I made the decision and look forward to making the most of my time abroad. If you think it’s right for you, I promise I’ll cover more of the nuts and bolts in future posts.
Have you thought about living abroad? Are you living abroad now and learned something you wish you had known before? Got a question? Leave a comment for the community and lets discuss.
Damien is a Personal Finance Nerd and former Facebook Product Manager who started Wealth Noir to help others find wealth. He actively invests in stocks, robo advisors, and cryptocurrency … but loves real estate investing. He holds an MBA from MIT and a Comp Sci & Econ degrees from Unv. of MD. He’s a proud dad, which is his biggest accomplishment.