Hello again my lovely readers! Today I am going to write blog post that includes my tips, tricks and a comprehensive checklist to make the BIG DECISION to become an expat (BEFORE) you retire! I mean, why wait? There is no reason to stay trapped in a rat cage when the world is now (literally) at your fingertips. Am I right? So have you been having the urge to move to a new country but your family and friends say, bad idea amigo! You are only 30, you are only 40, you are only…blah blah blah. Oh and don’t forget the naysayers that tell you, but hey, you don’t have a retirement built up yet, you don’t have a family yet, you don’t have….yet…blah blah blah.
As you can see I am NOT a fan of the naysayers and I expect, that you are not either at this point. Yes, moving abroad and becoming an expatriate can seem daunting, and it is, I won’t lie, but it’s like any other major life decision. You do your research, your find what is best for you and your lifestyle, you prepare, you take the steps one day at a time, and before you know it you are living your new life abroad! Now, about that. Abroad, wait, what? I should move? Why can’t I stay in the United States (or my home country?!) Of course you can! This is for those who want to experience a new life, a new culture, a new way of living and experiencing this thing we call life. Maybe you travelled abroad in college, or with a partner, or for work? And it peaked your interest to realize that “hey the way other people live and “do” life is much more appealing to me.” Guess what? That is okay! Who ever said you have to stay in one town, city, state, country your whole life? Like really, who told you that?
Why move? And why, did I in particular decide to move to Medellin, Colombia of all the 196 choices of countries in the world?
Well, just as I did, you are going to need to make a list as to WHAT is is important to you when considering a new place to live. Where do you live now? What do you like/dislike? If you could have EVERYTHING you wanted in the place you lived what would your list look like? For me, this was the list I started out with…I wanted:
- To live in a country/city that speaks Spanish. I was previously a Spanish teacher, so knowing that 24 countries speak Spanish, I had drastically narrowed down my choices already no? From here, the list continued to narrow my search points.
- To live in a big city, I had/have lived in Madrid, Quito and Mexico City, and those are all…yep, capitals. I didn’t have my heart set on living in a capital city, but I knew it would need to be much larger than the town of 800 people I grew up in. I need to have culture, the museums, the food, the tours, the sights and sounds of PEOPLE, so for me finding a large city was uber important.
- To live in the mountains (higher elevation has many health benefits) and I had grown up, travelled to and lived in different parts of the world all in which I loved the most, were at higher elevations (Tahoe, Madrid, Quito, and Mexico City-are ALL in the mountains!)
- To live in a place with 0 winter months. Not even one. I have a terrible dislike for the winter, I grew up 18 years in a valley outside of Tahoe, California where we had snow most years through Mother’s Day! That is in May people! I don’t think so…In Mexico I had lived in Cuernavaca, known as the City of Eternal Spring…guess what? Medellin is also known by that same name!
- The weather. So yes, I mentioned no winter above, but also, I didn’t want to live in the desert or anywhere where it rained all day everyday either. So for me, I followed the weather of a few cities I was interested in for just about 6 months. If you can give yourself a year to plan/watch the weather closely in the city you are interested in moving to you will be much more prepared. Also, to follow people on IG or FB that live there where you can see real live photos vs. “the best day of the year that I got that one good photo”…those photos draw a lot of people in, and the truth is most photos are taken to show the “best of the best” so don’t assume that that one photo is how it is really going to be year round.
- To live in a place with public transportation. Most big cities offer this, but honestly you’ve got to look into it. I wanted to leave my car behind, and NOT buy another one in my new city of residence, so finding a city that has some good public transportation options was a must for me. Medellin won the title of Most Innovative City of the Year in 2012, now THAT is saying something. They have the metro, cable cars, transvia, electric stairs (yes escalators in public places to get from one level to the next, outside, not in a mall, as a form of public transportation), taxis, and uber. They are really making strides in the sector of public transportation and making the city ACCESSIBLE to all. Which is important because this city is literally in the Andes mountains. There are many hills, so to walk everywhere is almost impossible. At some point, you need the metro, or the cable car etc. to move around easily. Yes you can walk, but in some neighborhoods it can be a very steep climb.
- To live in a place where I could stretch my dollar, and in which I could find an investment visa that I could afford. Some countries such as Costa Rica require you to invest upward of $250,000USD, whereas my investment visa in 2016 was $140,000USD. That’s a big difference so the type of visa and amount you have to spend if getting an investment visa is an important part to research.
You are going to need to do your research.
I set aside 6 months, but most people feel more comfortable with a year, which if you have a year to prepare I would recommend it as well, especially so you can follow the weather, politics/political situation(s) and the exchange rate in the cities you are interested for a full year. So for me, part of that included subscribing to an expat magazine. Really Nicole? Aren’t magazines like out of date, can’t you just read everything online? Why, yes, you can. Will you? Do you? I don’t. When I get a magazine in the mail (with all articles specific to my needs) I actually sit down and read it, carry it around in my purse and really spend time with the articles, (usually written by expats in the city of which they are writing). The same thing can’t be said for those articles you find online. If you find a blog (such as this one) that is a VERY good option as well, and I suggest also doing that. My research included:
- Subscribing to International Living Magazine
- Following the weather, either on a weather app or online or via a friend that you maybe follow on social media that you can ask about the weather once a week or so.
- Following current events in the city/country. For me, the si/no was a big deal and it involved whether or not the government would sign the peace treaty, and eventually it won. For better or worse in different people’s opinions, but the president did receive the Nobel Peace Prize for signing as the unrest has been going on since the 60s!
- Following the exchange rate to see if over time/certain months are better/worse for a higher exchange rate. I use the app XE Currency Converter which has proved to be very helpful and has graphs that show over time the exchange rate you search for.
- The country’s profile/city’s profile, either on Google or another search engine. LEARN about the place before you go! This is a must. The more you learn about its history and plans for the future and state of things at present the more prepared you will be when you arrive, and the more knowledgeable you will be when talking to others whether they be expats or locals. Knowing a place well before you go is key. Do not forget this point. Don’t JUST move somewhere for the weather, while it is very important it is not the only factor to consider!
- Research which visa you will want/need to get to live in the city! It’s not as easy as one might think. Mostly your options are student, work, investment, or retirement. At the time, I only qualified for the investment visa as I was not planning to attend school, had no job lined up that would give me a work visa, nor did I have a retirement to work with. KNOW what visa you want and CAN get. There is a difference.
Get your ducks in line. For me that was one of many things. Here is a basic list of the things I had to do to transition from living in the U.S. to moving to Colombia.
- I had to sell my California house! So, of course, get that set up in time to make the sale and get the money you are hoping to.
- Have a yard sale! I had one and got rid of A LOT of things I knew I wouldn’t need. It’s pretty much only worth keeping 3 bags worth of clothes and shoes when moving abroad at this age as I assume you don’t have costly furniture or pieces that have been handed down to you yet to keep (if you are in your 30s as am I). I sold everything from kitchen supplies, appliances, clothes, shoes, purses, old furniture I had bought on Craigslist etc. I say, have a yard sale, because people still do love going to these on the weekends and you can get rid of all the small things that people usually are not looking for on Craigslist.
- Sell the larger items for top dollar on Craigslist. This could be larger pieces of furniture, your tv, even a car if you own yours! I didn’t own mine at the time so next on my list when I was ready to leave was to…
- Let go of the lease on your car. Plan it so that your flight leaves when the lease expires, or do what I did and “break” the lease. I broke mine 4 months early, but the insurance I didn’t have to pay pretty much allowed me to break even, and I was then able to let the car go. Leaving one less loose end untied. Plus, it felt so good to get rid of a car and live in a walkable city!
- Okay, maybe this is obvious but either get a passport or get yours renewed. I already had mine renewed as I travel in general, but if you are not a big traveller make sure to give yourself 3-6 months to get a new passport or 1-3 months to get yours renewed. If you are thinking of living in another country, I’m honestly assuming you already have a passport, but heck, maybe you don’t so I can’t leave this one out!
- Research what visa you will look into. A student visa? Looking to do a masters program perhaps? These usually last for 1-2 years of study depending where you are going. However, for me, I chose the investment visa in Colombia. At the time I purchased my apartment I had to invest $140,000+ to get an investments visa. I believe in less than the year I have been here it has increased to $150,000USD. That is a STEAL though, because many other popular retirement destinations such as Costa Rica require you to invest upwards of $250,000USD! That is quite a lot of money that I’m not sure us millennials have yet acquired.
- Once you have your funds (NO there are very very few, I will just say basically no options to get a “mortgage” here in Colombia nor many other countries for that matter so look into it!) I had cash from the sale of my house in California. So, once you have your cash look into a place where you will be able to transfer your money from the U.S. (or another country) to the country you plan to move to. I found Alianza to use to do my money transfers/wires. Carlos, at Alianza in Medellin is a great guy to work with and has been nothing but professional and kind to me, plus he does speak English if you need him to!
- Start communication with an agent BEFORE you get to the country. However, KNOW that all the properties will most likely not be listed on their website. When working with FAR here in Medellin I learned why once I finally got here. The really good properties got snatched up within 1-2 weeks which is faster than they could get them uploaded to their website, so don’t think that what is available is only what is available online. That is not true. Once you get into the country many more options will be available to you.
- Get your plane ticket! I bought mine just shy of 3 months in advance and only paid $400USD for a roundtrip ticket! If you wait the prices do go up, so definitely set a date in the future to get the best deal for your trip. Why buy a roundtrip ticket?
- Because really, you should go to see if you really like it. I suggest living their as a “tourist” for about 1-2 months before deciding. You can do this before you sell your house if you have a summer vacation even? Just make sure to “live” in the city before you decide to stay there forever. My extensive research and knowledge of the Spanish language and culture made the transition easier, but I still gave myself a little over a month before settling down and actually transferring my money to make an offer on my apartment. I stayed at a couple different Airbnbs in the city to get a feel for the different neighborhoods, which is what I recommend as it’s more “local” than staying at hotels, and of course, more cost effective. Stay at a place for a month and switch to a second place maybe for the second month. Make sure you get a feel for the neighborhood in the city you want to live in. Here in Medellin there are DISTINCT neighborhoods and you would prefer to live in one or the other after having spent some time in them.
- Visit friends and family before leaving. Who knows, if you make the move you may not be coming back frequently, and our relationships back home are just as important as the new ones we plan to develop in our new homeland. So, make sure to spend time with those you love before you leave. I was fortunate enough to plan a month long vacation back east to visit a number of friends, and was also able to spend a couple months in/around my hometown spending time with family and friends that I knew I would miss (and yes, not gonna lie, who would miss me too!)
Take your time. Take your time to be a tourist, to see all the neighborhoods, to see a number of different apartments, and to just relax into your new (possible) home town. Don’t rush. The excitement can make you want to rush and some might say I did (I bought within less than 2 months), but when the time is right you will know in your gut. Just know, from the get go, that it is important to take your time.
- Be a tourist the first month. Make sure to get your tourist time in. See all the tourist spots, and attractions in and around the city. Make sure to try all the new foods and fruits and explore the ways you can shop for food, local markets, larger chains, farmers markets etc. Being a tourist is fun and you definitely want to make sure you leave time for this!
- See as many apartments as you can. In a large city there are more available and coming on the market than your agent may lead you to believe. The one I found was the 7th apartment I had looked at but it fit the EXACT bill for what I was looking for, including being next to a body of water! What?! Yep, I had said I wanted to be near the water, and considering it’s in the mountains, there was one chance, a river or stream. It’s on a dead end street alongside a stream that runs through Poblado. I also wanted to be higher than the 5th floor (I am on the 10th) and I wanted a lot of light and cross-ventilation, which I magically got when finding a rare building in which there is only one apartment per floor. I also wanted space. Most apartments here (and in bigger cities) can be small, but in U.S. my house was over 1600 square feet. I found one here, on it’s own floor at 142m2 which is just shy of 1600 square feet! Amazing! Most people I meet (expats and Colombians alike) are amazed at the amount of space this apartment has. So point is, don’t settle. The exact apartment you want is out there so don’t let ANY agent “scare” you that this is the only one, or you’ll never find one like this, etc. KNOW what you want and don’t settle until you find it.
- Transfer your money and make an offer! Once you find you dream home and you’ve been a tourist and you’ve spent time in different neighborhoods getting to know where you want to live and have (DECIDED) to stay, transfer your money! Make sure to pay attention to the exchange rate. Different political climates etc. can have a big impact on the exchange rate, so if it’s low one day, you might want to wait it out. If it’s good, I say go for it. So, you lose money here. Don’t forget this! These companies are exchanging your money for you and you are paying them a fee to do so, so make sure to account for that when you are exchanging. Roughly it is 1-2%.
- Consider a remodel. If you need to do one, do not live in the house until it is finished and you will save yourself much frustration. So, book another Airbnb while the remodel is being done, and (as my other blog post on remodels mentions) always extend the deadline provided (in your head) by 2 weeks as there are many unknown delays here! I speak from experience both with living away from and in the house during remodels. For the kitchen I waited for it to be done and besides stopping by 1-2 times a week, I rarely thought about what was going wrong or right. When I did the bathroom remodels, I was already living here, I witnessed and heard every little thing that was going wrong and right and it was frustrating. The noise, the workers in your space, the dust, the extended lunch hours, the missing pieces, the schedules going arry. I definitely do not recommend living in the house when it is being remodeled if you can afford not to.
- Apply for your visa. If you spent enough money for an investment visa, make sure to get the visa process started once you have all the final house paperwork returned to you. I worked with Sara, at FAR here in Medellin who is a lawyer that works with this real estate company. She is amazing, and also speaks English and will help you from start to finish applying for your visa and your “cedula extranjera” which is an ID card for Colombia you will be provided with after your initial visa is given to you as a sticker in your passport. This cedula number will allow you to open accounts in your name, for your phone, bank etc. It is VERY hard to open these accounts without a cedula so either make friends with some Colombians to help with this, or be prepared to pay your agency to open temporary accounts for you. Yes, they will do this but it costs money. I had friends help me get my internet account for my apartment running before I had my own cedula number.
- Phones..lets see I have been here 9 months and still have my U.S. phone and phone number. I really am not sure when I will change that. I do have a SIM card, which you can get as soon as you arrive (and I recommend you do so) onto which you can load “data”, and it also acts as a Colombian number. However, with social media and Whatsapp most of my communication is online, so at home with WiFi or, at cafes where free WiFi is provided, I’ve found little need to “need” a Colombian phone etc. I load about 30mil (or $10USD) per month which allows me to make calls, use the Uber app as needed and stream music on Spotify for those times I am out and about without WiFi.
Live and enjoy your new life! This is the most important. Just because you have moved to another country and are an expat does NOT have to mean you are retired! I am 32 at the time of writing this is 2017. I am obviously not retired, nor do I really ever plan to be. So wtf am I actually doing now? How does this fifth step apply in my case?
- I decided to start volunteering. I am volunteering at Fundacion Cultivando Sonrisas in the “downtown” area. It’s a home for 20 girls and I help with homework, and mostly I just play and spend time with them. As time goes on I plan to help cook and perhaps teach some English classes, but for now it’s just my time. Most of my money went to investing in my home and the furniture, but there is one thing that is valuable beyond money and that is TIME. These girls are amazing and just need people to spend time with them! I am hosting a fundraising night with a group at my home for the girls in late August as we are trying to raise 16k to help them move into the “finca” of their dream in Santa Elena, just a short distance from the city. Please get in touch with me, or visit their website (link above) if you are interested in donating. While the 16k is for the finca, we will continue to ask for donations to pay for their basic needs and the house bills, food etc. You are also more than welcome to sponsor a girl in the house at any amount. 200mil a month would be amazing (that is $67USD)! Please consider it!
- Open a business or look for a job! I am doing both. I am currently starting my business in which I lead 2-day retreats to the surrounding fincas of Medellin to complete the 2-day Heal Your Life workshop as I am a licensed Heal Your Life® teacher. I take groups of 6-10 women (or men) to a finca outside the city and we do some deep, emotional healing work, in a safe, beautiful space, and return ready to face the challenges life presents us, with a new mindset based on finding the positive and being grateful. It’s an amazing life transforming workshop and currently I am the only licensed teacher residing in Colombia offering it! If you are interested please contact me to set up a date. Please check out my website here to learn more, I’d love to have you join me!
- Host an Airbnb OR BETTER YET, rent out to locals and get to know more Colombians. I am in the process of doing both. I am currently renting as an Airbnb and in the future I plan to have full-time roommates. I prefer my guests to be 30-90 days so as I have time to get to know them, but if you are interested in a week or two, definitely contact me and perhaps we can make an arrangement. If you are considering staying here to see if this is the place for you I’d love for you to stay with me you can check out one of my two listing as I have two room I rent out here:
- Spend time outside of your house with new friends. Don’t be afraid to get out and grab a drink or a bite to eat with a new friend! Something that Colombia is know for is being HAPPY. Literally, it was voted as one of the happiest countries in the world. And from what I’ve seen it is because of their ability to develop relationships with people not things or jobs. While they do work hard, and have nice things, they do not develop relationships with them. Even with working 50+ hours a week (most on Saturdays as well!) they still find time to go out with friends and family. Most of their “extra” money is spent either on clothes, or food and drinks. They all dress well, and spend time and money on their appearance from what I’ve seen, and they spend time and money on friends and family, whether it be a beer, a dinner, a soccer game, a trip to a family or friend’s finca, it is TIME WITH PEOPLE that has made this one of the happiest countries. So why not join the fun? Be happy, let the stress of life go, and go out!
- Enjoy and be grateful. Did you have the opportunity to move abroad? Be thankful. I have learned that the most important thing in life is to be grateful for what we have, when we have it, as we never know how long we will or won’t have it. Whether it be running water, electricity, a roof over our heads, a new shirt to wear to work, our favorite perfume, a job we love, etc. Simply take some time and be grateful for what you have. If you haven’t yet I recommend reading Pam Grout’s book, Thank and Grown Rich, it has a miracle life changing challenge in it’s pages and you won’t regret reading it.
Okay, well that about sums it up! After 3 million words right?! Well, I am not so much a checklist girl, as a thorough explanation of a checklist via lists as you’ve just witnessed in reading this blog post today. Thank you so much for reading, and I appreciate each and every one of you. Please feel free to follow me and to message me with any topics you’d like to know more about! I hope this has helped you out and best of luck in your search to move abroad and become an expat in your 30s!
*Please check out my ABOUT page to learn even more about me! Thank you for reading!