Okay, here’s a question for you. Can you tell me what it’s like to live in the United States/Canada (Fill in your home country)? That’s a very broad question, isn’t it? Tough to answer as you don’t know the specific information I’m looking for.
From time to time I will receive an email from someone I don’t know who has stumbled across my blog or, as in the case last week, discovered a piece I wrote for International Living. The writers most often have a few questions which I gladly answer if I can. Other times, as in the most recent case, the writer wants me to tell them everything about what it is like to live overseas.
With the exception of the occasional “tell me everything” question, most questions over the years have covered specific topics to include immigration issues, cost of living, importing pets, earning money, the integration with locals and expats and banking and financial management.
A small handful of folks have also suggested that I possess some secret knowledge that will counter the positive outlook of a life overseas provided by International Living publications and a few others. In my most recent email, the writer proclaimed, “It can’t be as good as International Living says! Tell me what it’s really like.” This person is already looking for problems and I suspect he will find them!
The fact is that while International Living publications do, indeed, paint a positive picture of an expat lifestyle, they do so because living overseas is, by and large, a very positive experience; at least it has been for us. In full disclosure, I am pleased that International Living sometimes chooses to publish some of what I write and they pay me for my articles. As a writer, I am always pleased whenever anyone offers to pay me for my work.
We have an acquaintance who we knew for a couple of years in Ecuador. This person seemed to have nothing but problems with most of what he tried to do. He had numerous issues with business transactions and his relations with people. He eventually sold what he owned in Ecuador and returned to the states. I have recently learned that he is now, once again, disgusted with his life in the states and is looking around for somewhere else he can be happy. To be candid, this person will not be happy regardless of which patch of the planet he decides to inhabit. He brings his misery with him.
There are those who bring their happy with them (that would be Diane and me) and those who cart their misery on their back wherever they go.
Regardless of how happy and stress free you may be….most of the time, not every moment of life, regardless of where you live, will be joyous and stress free. Adults living in the real world will face challenges. That will not change just because you packed all your crap into some suitcases and jumped on a jet. Changing the view from your kitchen window will most likely not change the person you are inside.
Diane and I do love our lives as expats. We appreciate the experiences that this life affords us that cannot be had in any other way. But it’s not perfect.
I’ve talked about my greatest challenges before. The first is still my limited ability to speak Spanish. I am MUCH better speaking and understanding Spanish than I was but…I am not close to being fluent. The second is banking. The overzealous security department at my large, stateside bank seems to cancel my debit card at least once a month, sometimes more… for “suspected fraud”. I then have to spend too much time on the phone assuring them that my purchases were authorized and the card is in my possession. This really bugs me!!!
The final challenge is trying to deal with official documents and transactions often required by the VA or the Social Security Administration or any other large entity in the states. Owning a scanner/copier/printer combination is essential!!! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve needed to provide copies of certain documents for whatever I was doing. I have scanned all our important documents into a file on my computer and have additional copies stored on the Internet (Dropbox) for access from anywhere.
Recently, while in the States for my usual Medical overhaul through the VA system, I also needed to accomplish some important processing at an Air Force Base in Florida. I had ensured that I had all the required documents with me BUT…they asked for something I didn’t have with me. Using my laptop, I was able to access the required document from Dropbox, have it printed at a local UPS Packaging store and complete my business the following day.
Diane still claims she has no issues at all (Sure…let her handle the banking and see how she does!) and her language skills easily surpass mine.
Finally, to complete this random ramble, there is the issue of cultural integration. I have known for a long time that one must pay to go to school. That is particularly true when you move to a new country and learn to live within a completely new culture. You must expect to pay more for many things as you learn your way through a new purchasing system where haggling and bargaining are often part of the process. Locals certainly know where to go to find good values. This is something that new expats must learn for themselves and knowing the language is a great help.
Soon after our arrival in Cancun, we took a drive to Puerto Morelos, a scenic and wonderful seaside village just south of Cancun. Colorful small boats bob in the crystal clear waters as local children dive from short piers, squealing and laughing as they swim with colorful local fish. The restaurants represent the perfect combination of seafood and traditional Mexican fare. In a small tienda on a back street, Diane and I were just wandering and goofing off. Inside, we discovered this particular vendor had set up a tasting station for several tequilas complete with shot glasses. He was very helpful in offering his opinion on several great tequilas as we tasted several. There was one very special tequila that was an Almond infused/Tequila blend. It was spectacular! We bought a bottle to take home for a price that I am too embarrassed to quote here. I knew we paid too much, even after haggling but that stuff was good!
We shared that bottle with some friends visiting from the states and there were no regrets. I took a picture of the empty bottle and recently went to a very large, local liquor store where I found a much larger bottle of this great stuff available for about one tenth of what I paid at the small store in Puerto Morelos. I bought it. Rather than becoming angry that I was totally screwed, I chuckled to myself as I remembered that I had to pay to go to school.
Now that we have been here in Cancun for about 6 months, we have learned where deals can be found for most things. I’m still shopping for a kayak and just a couple of days ago, learned where to go to get what I want for a fair price.
There are many opportunities to live the life that you really want. Don’t let fear be the thief that steals the life that you could have! Yeah…I’ve said that before but it’s worth repeating.