For many years we’ve talked about living abroad as we both enjoy exploring the world and enjoy experiencing other cultures. About 10 years ago we started researching various places throughout the world that we felt would be desirable for us to relocate to and call it home.
We began with Cuenca, Ecuador followed by Istanbul, Turkey, Malaga, Spain, Porto, Portugal, and Antalya, Turkey. For each city and country, we looked at the following areas that are essential for a good Quality of Life: Safety and Security, Government’s Stability, Healthcare system, Economy, Transportation, Ease of Travel within the country as well as Travel To and Out of the Country, Cleanliness, Culture, The Locals attitude towards foreigners, Financial Institutions, The Cost of Living and the Requirements to become a Resident.
One of the things we’ve realized every time we returned to our home city in the United States, is that the cost of living in the United States is high and would continue to rise to the point that we would need to continue to work for much longer into our lives than we anticipated or planned. The cost of health and casualty insurance, medical services, housing, food, and other basic needs of living would continue to rise at a much higher rate than the average pay raise each year.
Here are our findings for each of the cities we seriously considered:
Cuenca is a beautiful city in Ecuador. Ecuador’s economy and commerce are conducted in US dollars hence making financial transactions is simple. The cost of living is about 57% less than the United States (same standard of living comparison). Health care is excellent, and the economy is stable. The government and the political system is somewhat unstable. However, the biggest difficulty we have encountered was traveling in and out of Cuenca. This can be a bit challenging as it does not have direct international flights and consequently, you would have to overnight it at either Quito or Guayaquil and either fly the next morning or take a shuttle for the 3-hour drive to Cuenca. The city of Cuenca is gorgeous and there many great places to visit and explore nearby, but beyond the city, things become very primitive. If you love the outdoors, you will find many hiking adventures and cascading waterfalls.
Malaga was my favorite place out of all the places we have visited. The city has an extraordinarily rich history and culture. The city is great for walking around. It offers lots and lots of tapas bars, restaurants, cafes, and other spots to meet new people and make friends. Additionally, Malaga has magnificent sites to see, a beautiful coastline, an international airport, a train/rail system, and therefore traveling in and out of the city/country is easy. We found the people to be very friendly and welcoming and the food is richly delicious. However, in recent years many Scandinavians and Europeans have gobbled up the residential real estate market, either to relocate to or for investment in the rentals market (long-term or vacation), and this caused the real estate prices to skyrocket to unreasonable rates. We have also found out that the cost of living is a little higher than we expected and read about.
Porto is a rich city with amazing history and beautiful coastlines. Again, another great city with many sites to visit, particularly good for walking around, friendly people, great food, delicious desserts and offers easy access to travel to other parts of Europe. The cost of living is slightly cheaper than Malaga, which made it attractive to us. Although it was a great place to visit, we just didn’t feel that it was a place I wanted to call home.
With this being our third trip to Istanbul, I knew this city had a rich history as well as being multicultural, diverse, and the gateway to much of Asia. Istanbul is the 9th most visited city in the world and 3rd most visited city in Europe. This city has everything to offer but we felt it was too big, too busy and very crowded. We didn’t want to deal with all the hustle and bustle of the big city.
After visiting Istanbul, we decided to take a trip to Antalya, which is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The beaches are unbelievably breathtaking. The city had a historical perspective and its own airport which made it quite easy to travel to other parts of the world.
The city is very clean and attractive. The people are super friendly and hospitable and while here, we visited hospitals, grocery stores, farmers’ markets, malls, rode the bus system, and we were able to determine that the cost of living in Antalya is 60% less than the U.S.
We made arrangements to meet with several expats; Americans and Europeans, and after extensive conversations and questions and answers with them, we felt Antalya was the right place for us.
If you are considering becoming an expat, here are the areas to look into:
In each of the cities, we considered, we examined the banking institutions. Things to consider are the current interest rates, the process of transferring funds from your home county to your new country. The requirements and ease of opening a bank account. The insurance is available to protect your funds in the events of bank failure.
We toured medical facilities at each destination. Reviewed health insurance options and inquired about the cost of various procedures so that we can determine the financial needs for medical care. We visited with people in the medical field (physicians and non-physicians) to better understand patient care, inpatient, and outpatient.
This is the largest part of our research when visiting the above-mentioned destinations. We visited grocery stores and took notes on prices for items that we would buy, checked out the cost of rental properties, the cost of eating out, as well as the costs of other “comfort items” we are accustomed to in our life in the United States. We also examined the cost of traveling to and from such destinations to other parts of the world to see if it is cost-effective for our budget.
When visiting with other expats living in the country you are considering, ask questions such as the cost of electricity, internet, water, use of public transportation, prescription drugs, etc. They should be able to give you a good idea about their average monthly expenses.
We knew that we wanted to continue to travel the world, enjoy the outdoors, explore museums and other interesting places. Talking with other expats that lived at these locations helped us understand how they filled their day and what activities if any are available with the city and region. We also wanted to live in a city with access to fresh markets, great walking paths, dependable and safe public transportation system, availability of social gathering spots, restaurants, cafes, parks, museums, etc. Be sure to explore this area extensively to make sure you’re relocating to a city that is going to be enjoyable, fulfilling, and enriching.
We both love the warm weather and so we knew that the city we would choose would have to have warm weather most of the year. We also wanted our chosen city to have easy access to a coastline. We both enjoy fishing, swimming, and being on the water.
Although my husband speaks four languages (not Turkish), we wanted to be able to learn the language and communicate with the natives. Depending on the destination, not all languages are easy to learn. We also wanted a place where the natives knew some English. In Antalya, we found that many of the natives spoke some English and that a Turkish Language course is offered in several centers and by the local municipality. We plan to attend the Turkish Language course offered by the municipality starting in September.
If you plan to stay for a while, it is important to know the rules of being a foreign resident in that country. Make sure you understand the process of obtaining your Residency Permit/Card and the length of time you’re granted until you need to renew your Residency Permit.
Review the tax laws of living as an expat in the country you’re considering. You will also need to review these with the person that prepares your income taxes each year. Even though you do not live in the United States you still have to file a Tax Return.
Examine the stability of the government and be sure to inquire with other expats about the political climate and ask questions about what is acceptable and not acceptable regarding politics.
No matter the destination you choose, there are always some trade-offs and we are certain that you’ll encounter some obstacles and keep in mind that no one location is Perfect. You must decide what are some of the things you are willing to deal with and concede. You must also keep an open mind and spirit as you relocate to your chosen city… it’s not going to be the same as “back home”. One of the nice changes for us is that our daily life has slowed down considerably and can really enjoy life. We’ve been able to make new friends and everyone we’ve met has been incredibly friendly, generous, and hospitable.
If becoming an expat is a consideration of yours and would like to further discuss our experience or have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me on my website: Traveling Lens Photography or through social media (Facebook or Instagram).page.