At the age of 16, I went to Europe for the first time with two friends, a Eurail pass and a back-pack. No parents, no itinerary, and two months to explore Europe. The adventure Living abroadwas amazing, and I embraced my wanderlust. Since then I have lived in France and West Africa and was lucky to travel throughout the world in my previous career. Although I have had an itch to live abroad for over a decade, getting married, buying a home and starting a family trumped that desire.
My youngest is now four years old and the itch is returning. It’s crazy though, right? Life in Marin is fantastic; I love my house and friends, and what would I do without Soul Cycle? Still, one of my favorite jobs as a financial planner is to help clients figure out how to make their dreams a reality. Living abroad is a goal for a few of them, so here is a framework for making living abroad a reality:
Conduct a comprehensive self-analysis. Are you up for anything? Is your family? What is your reason for living abroad? Most successful experiences are when expats have a passion for doing something new, not just an interest. If you don’t have a passion even the smallest inconveniences will seem like big obstacles. Make a “must-have” list. What is on this list?
Location (city, rural)
Cost of living
Quality of health care
Level of development
Distance from US
Culture and religion
My husband loves being home. I never thought he would be up for living abroad, but I discovered at our last date night he is game! I asked him where he would consider living and my jaw dropped at his answer… Santiago, Chile. Neither of us speaks Spanish nor have we been to South America.
Find the right place for you and your family. There are ample online resources for this research, including: liveandinvestoverseas.com, justlanded.com, and expatinfodesk.com. Depending on the country, education and healthcare are likely very different from the U.S. In Chile, both are almost completely privatized and will cost a fair amount. Tuition at a very nice private school costs approximately $16,000 USD per child. From my research, Chile looks promising and offers a completely new experience for my family.
Determine the costs of living abroad. Moving to Chile to save money on our lifestyle is not the goal, although it would be nice. You can find out the difference in cost of living on expatistan.com. In Santiago, the overall cost of living is 54% less than the Bay Area (housing 69% less, food 53% less, other categorizes 28-38% less). However, we will need to pay for private health care and education. I estimate it would cost about $8,400 per month total to live in Santiago. We also need to be able to rent our house out state-side and cover the costs. Given current rental prices, this should not be a problem.
Scout the location during the off season. If you have narrowed your search and can afford the cost of living abroad, visit during the off season to make sure it is the spot for you. Live like a local, do some grocery shopping and see what life might feel like.
Start to plan the administrative side of your expat experience. Residency visas can be a nightmare depending on the country, and you may need to hire a local lawyer to help with the process. Is the country you are moving to cash-based or do locals use credit cards? Most relocation experts recommend keeping most of your cash in the U.S. and managing your investments electronically. Don’t forget to file your tax return while abroad. The U.S. tax system is based on citizenship, not residency. You will be taxed while living abroad on anything over $100,800 (2015), but you will receive a credit for any foreign tax paid so you will not be double taxed.
Moving to a foreign country for a year or more is a much bigger deal for a family, and while the timing may never be perfect, it is important to set yourself up for the best experience possible. I love the idea of us all learning Spanish and exploring a different world. However, I love my life and it scares me to think about potentially making a huge mistake and uprooting my kids. My gut tells me now is not that time for this adventure, but when it is (maybe 4-5 years from now) I have a framework to plan for this goal and make it a reality.