Published on December 21st, 201010
Narrowing Down the Expat Options…
Scooting off to explore some distant land for a few weeks is one thing. But when contemplating settling down in one place for a year or more, that’s quite another. Suddenly a host of factors need be considered for the long-term, like climate, health care, visa requirements, and of course my own druthers of places and cultures I’d like to get to know better.
Further, if I plan to teach EFL, pay and perks come into play as these can vary greatly from one country to the next.
Yup, a mighty big world of options, but I easily eliminated whole countries – indeed, entire continents right off the bat such as…
Africa. Not that the massive continent doesn’t tempt me, and I’ve lots of corners of Africa yet to explore. But suffice I’ve recently made 3 trips there – backpacking solo across South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho and Mozambique for 6 weeks, plus 3 weeks in Morocco (one of my best trips/favorite countries ever), and just a couple of months ago Egypt with a dash into Israel. So presently I’m somewhat satiated with Africa.
Likewise South America – yep, the whole of it, out of the running for an expat escape. No doubt many wondrous corners and the people warm and friendly. But for some strange reason South America has never called my name. Likely because I’ve spent so much time working in neighboring Central America (guiding small group trips to Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica).
Indeed, the latter (Costa Rica) along with its neighbor Panama (with those luscious San Blas Islands) is one of my favorite regions of the globe, and both swiftly placed high on my short list of places to retire. Especially so because of the trio of foreign languages that I once spoke fluently (French, Italian and Spanish) only the latter Espanol can I still hold my own in. So too, Mexico is somewhat tempting as an expat destination, if only because it’s so conveniently close to my native terra firma should I suddenly decide the expat life isn’t for me.
Looking west across the Pacific, a myriad of interesting expat possibilities loom. Japan of course, but the cost of living there is a bit high for this retiree, even supplemented by some EFL teaching income.
Then there’s South Korea, already noted for sweet EFL salaries – made even sweeter by free housing, round trip air reimbursement and other such perks. Ah but the word on the street (including a personal report from one of my couch surfers who taught there for a year) is that the culture is a bit oppressive and most only teach there to pay off their school loans and/or other debts.
And finally, there’s the whole of China, all of Indonesia (especially Bali where I once threatened to remain forever), along with the many other flavors of Southeast Asia: Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Thus sifting down among the remaining viable options we have: Costa Rica or Mexico; someplace in Indonesia, China, or one of the Southeast Asia countries. And it is here that we need to look more closely at health care, visa requirements, and EFL pay/perks.
Costa Rica has excellent health care, and is likewise (as Mexico) but a quick plane ride back to the States if need be. Its climate is sweetly diverse – hot along the beaches, yet 70 degrees year round in San Jose and the surrounds. A beautiful country and the people – among the most friendly and gracious.
Ah but unfortunately it turns out that Latin America pays the lowest EFL teaching rates (but a mere $8/hr. compared to Vietnam that offers near $20+ to start w/ my degrees and a CELTA certificate). And while finances aren’t a primary concern for me (my pension, while not a fortune, will nonetheless provide for a modest life most anywhere on the Planet), nonetheless such a wide gap in pay between the two countries surely gives one pause when choosing between the two locales. Additionally, a big part of my druthers in seeking an expat life at this point, is the ADVENTURE of settling down in a part of the world I’ve never been and immersing myself in a wholly new culture. As I’ve made dozens of trips to Costa Rica, along with most all the other Central American countries, the thought of settling there just doesn’t make my adventuresome heart go pitty-pat.
Thus though still tempting, both Costa Rica and Mexico don’t quite make the cut when it comes to EFL pay and adventure.
Then there’s Indonesia. Heck, if I could settle and teach in Bali, I’d be verily in HEAVEN! But… sadly, it appears that it’s difficult for we dodderin’ seniors to get a work permit there as apparently the government won’t issue one for those of us > 55 yrs. ;(
Still… I don’t HAVE to work/teach to live there (and apparently it’s not too difficult to renew a tourist visa every few months). Plus I gather that many teach w/o an official work permit.
Then again, the competition for EFL teaching positions in Bali itself is understandably tight, plus I’m not at all sure I want to chance being deported for working without a permit.
Which brings us to China… which would no doubt be an interesting place to settle for a year or so. But I understand here too, the EFL teaching pay is pretty basic. Likewise Taiwan. I’ve visited both (albeit briefly) so neither country tickles my toes adventure-wise.
And finally we come to the myriad of tropical corners of Southeast Asia. I’ve been to Thailand (and loved it), but again, ideally would like to initially settle someplace I’ve never been. Lots of interesting neighbors though, in that part of the world (Cambodia, Burma, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam) and…
Suffice, it turns out that it is the latter, Vietnam that’s won my personal expat lottery. Indeed, after months of research lurking in EFL and expat forums, Vietnam seems to offer the most adventure, the cost of living is breathtakingly low (e.g. a 1 bedroom air-conditioned, furnished apartment – with utilities and often maid service – can apparently be had for around $300 per month), and there are tons of EFL teaching jobs paying up to $22/hr.
Visa requirements for U.S. citizens in Vietnam are a little murky, but it seems one can get a 6 months visa prior to arrival, and then 3 month extensions can be easily gleaned ad infinitum (either in country else by making quick “border runs”). Health care appears to be both adequate and cheap (albeit for a major health crises one would likely hop on a swift plane to Bangkok).
And climate-wise – yes, Vietnam is decidedly hot and humid most everywhere in the lowlands which is just peachy for a vacation, but not my cup of tea for year-round living. But there IS one small corner of Vietnam that I have my eye on (Da Lat) – it’s up in the mountains about 6 hours northeast of Saigon and is generally regarded as “The City of Eternal Spring”.
And the best part is that Vietnam makes a wonderful base for exploring a part of the globe that I’ve previously only dabbled in. There’s neighboring Cambodia and Laos for starters, all of Malaysia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea to the south (not to mention Australia should I care to venture that far). China to the north, and even Japan not too very far to the east. And all of India, Nepal, Burma, Bhutan, Bangladesh to the west.
Shoot, if all works as planned, I could teach EFL in Vietnam for a year, then travel the region for 6 months, and settle down again to teach in the Philippines, China or Thailand for awhile.
But of course, all may well not “work as planned”. For despite all the research from afar, there’s lots of details that can only be learned when one’s toes touch the ground in some foreign land. So much of it is unknowable til one is on the ground. That’s why I’ve dubbed this (not so) little expat venture my one giant “Leap Of Faith”.
g-knows I may well come screaming back to my comfy (albeit unchallenging/humdrum) life here in the U.S. of A. But at least I’m gonna take that Leap, and see where it leads…
How ’bout you – what would be/were your expat priorities/druthers were you to permanently fly the coop of your native land?