Move abroad, boost your savings, cut your costs.
A while ago, I wrote about the power of geographic arbitrage. In a nutshell, you can save a lot of money by moving to a much cheaper place that can provide the same comforts you’re used to. I got that concept from Tim Ferriss’s excellent book, “The 4-Hour Workweek.” (Full disclaimer: that’s an affiliate link used to support this blog.) These days, there are lots of online communities for those who want to move abroad: the most important thing is to decide whether you truly want it, and then start the process.
The world we live in is a bit of a dystopia, what with fire tornados, global pandemics, countries with McDonald’s in them invading one another, etc. (That last one invalidates the famous McDonald’s Law in political science.) However, there are some positives: right now, it’s easier than it has ever been to move abroad. It’ll still require a ton of paperwork, a bit of time, and a fair deal of patience, but it’s within your grasp.
Personally, I’ve already moved twice: from Russia to the US when I was 16, then from the US to Canada when I was 32. (Now I’m really curious where the hell I’ll move when I’m 48. Heh.) That gives me a bit more hands-on experience than most folks have: in this post, I want to explore some of the most and least common ways to make the big move abroad.
Your reasons may vary: maybe you want a cheap place to retire and/or establish a secret lair. Maybe you want to move to a place without mass shootings and divisive politics. Perhaps you have concerns about healthcare costs in your old age. Maybe you want to stay a step ahead of the climate change. (If you own a house in Arizona, I am sorry. I am so, so sorry.) Or maybe you just want to experience a grand new adventure, the kind that your distant relatives may have gone through when they moved to North America. Whatever your reasons, let’s deep-dive into your options. And so, in no particular order…
Get married! Fellas, I’m sorry, but this stratagem is predominantly for women. Even though there are cases where a guy moves to another country to marry his romantic pen pal, it usually works the other way around. A few of my relatives managed to move abroad that way, and that was about 20 years ago, when the Internet was still quite primitive and there were far fewer options.
The upside here is that your partner will help you take care of all the paperwork. The downside is that you’ll be dependent on them for at least a couple of years when you move. Different countries have different laws and rules and regulations, but as far as I know, none of them will let you fly in, file for a divorce, and enjoy the good (and solo) life right away. This particular way to move abroad requires a fair bit of commitment, so don’t jump into it lightly, and definitely not with someone you have zero feelings for.
If you don’t feel like getting married – or already have a partner and don’t want to embrace the polyamorous lifestyle, the next option is to get a work transfer. That was how I arranged my move from the US to Canada in 2019. Frankly, that was also the main reason I stayed with Amazon for as long as I did (11.5 years) – they were my most viable way to move abroad. In my particular case, I had a useless degree in political science, but also years of experience as an analyst, as well as really strong Excel and VBA skills. (Some of the tools I created were just about Turing-capable.)
All that, combined with my prior warehouse experience, made me a good candidate for an internal financial analyst position near Toronto, so off I went. The company took care of all the paperwork and costs: I had to provide a lot of documentation (up to and including my high school diploma), but it took just over three months to get everything in place. That included the customary New Year’s gap where everyone takes a long vacation and goes off the grid, so you could theoretically get that done even faster.
Check to see if your company has any openings in other countries. Ask around. See what you need to do to qualify. As always, there’s a caveat: if you move abroad with your company’s blessing, you’ll need to hold on to that job for a couple of years, until your permanent residency status gets finalized. (I ended up quitting Amazon six weeks after I got mine, though there were other factors involved too.)
But let’s say you want to stay single and don’t have a hook-up with an international corporation. How do you move abroad then? It may help to look at your family tree. Go all the way to your great-grandparents – you should have eight of them, and if even one was from a European Union country, then you’re in luck! (Ditto for your grandparents, or parents.) This page has more details. The so-called “citizenship by descent” is most likely to work in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Latvia, and Lithuania. Incidentally, if any of you are fellow lean-FIRE fans, Portugal is rumored to be the cheapest country in the entire EU.
I don’t personally know anyone who moved to the EU through this great-grandparent clause, so I can’t comment on how long it would take, but apparently there are people out there who move abroad that way. Go for it, and then let me know how that worked out.
Moving on, you can always just ask Reddit for help. Social media is generally a net negative for civilization, but sometimes the combined hivemind of Reddit can be quite helpful. The r/IWantOut community is full of people who can provide practical advice and help you move abroad if you post your age, gender, location, occupation, preferences (moving to Europe? Asia? literally anywhere else?), and details. This method isn’t guaranteed to work, but if you approach it with an open mind, take the advice you get seriously, and look at other replies to folks in a similar situation, you just might be able to get out.
Some of the ways to move abroad are more exotic than others: for example, every year or so, there’s another article about a country that wants to lure in new immigrants to help repopulate a dying village or island. I’m talking about places like this Italian village or the Pitcairn Island, a subtropical paradise with just 42 inhabitants. Beware, though: due to its location in the middle of the ocean, you probably won’t get next-day Amazon deliveries. (More like next-month, eh?)
The Pitcairn Island in particular is a hilarious example of being careful what you wish for: everyone has that fantasy of living on a tropical island, but will you actually be able to handle it when the entire population can fit into one large room? Will you still enjoy your fantasy if the island has no cellphone service, no TV, and no ability to download large files? (There is wi-fi, but it’s limited.) If you’re okay with all that, then the only requirement is to show you have NZ$30,000 (about $20,200 USD). The application costs NZ$500, and the annual cost of living was NZ$9,464 in 2012 (just over $6,000 USD). If you really want to escape it all and have an absolutely remarkable life experience (far better than all those online influencers), then who knows, maybe the Pitcairn Island is the perfect place for you.
There are quite a few such places around the world: small, isolated, but beautiful in their own way. If you pounce on them and go through with the application process, you can become a resident in no time at all. Of course, there are always serious drawbacks associated with that, so beware, and do your research first.
Have skills, will travel. Last but definitely not least, you can level up your skillset and see where that takes you! The world is aging, and it’s aging unevenly. Even before the pandemic, there was a growing demand for medical workers in first-world countries. In fact, that’s more or less the only way to migrate to, say, New Zealand: they have very few in-demand occupations that would get you in, and being a medic is pretty high up on that list.
This will not happen instantaneously, or even fast, but if you make a five-year plan for yourself and act now, you should be able to celebrate that five-year anniversary in a whole new country, a whole new place to call home. Assuming you’re not squeamish, look into the nursing programs near you. They vary in length and in cost, but it is possible to get your degree from a low-cost school (perhaps a community college?) in just a couple of years.
Once you have the know-how, and the diploma to prove it, you’ll be in demand all over the world. Even an average person without special skills can always apply to immigrate directly, to almost any country, but success is rarely guaranteed. (And there’s often a mountain of paperwork involved.) If you possess this kind of in-demand skill, though, you should get fast-tracked past everyone else trying to move abroad.
And there you have it – a really wide array of options to select from. To be honest, as I write this, I keep growing more and more curious about the Pitcairn Island: who knows, maybe I’ll see you there someday, somehow?
I always like to hear back from my readers: let me know what you think, or what creative ways you (or someone you know) used to move abroad. No such thing as too much advice, eh?