El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana

El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana
The Conquistador who put the Amazaon baisn "on the map"....Francisco Orellana

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Is it Time to Go Back to the U.S.?

By Dan Prescher

My wife, Suzan Haskins, and I have lived abroad for nearly 12 years now, in seven different locations in four different countries.

And at some point during each of those years, in each of those locations, we’ve asked ourselves, "Is it time to go back to the States?"

We’ve said "no" every time...but not for the reasons you might think. We didn’t leave the States because we hated it. We love the U.S. and all the family and friends we have there. We can go back any time we want, and often do for visits.

No, Suzan and I moved abroad in large part to cater to our sense of adventure. We need a certain amount of novelty in our lives to be as happy and engaged as we can possibly be...and we’ve gotten that in spades since we moved abroad.

Not that we couldn’t have found novelty in the U.S. But another large part of our decision to move abroad was for the economic challenge...to see if we could prove the International Living value proposition.

Could we really live lives that were just as happy and healthy as those we enjoyed in the U.S., for less money? Lots less money? Turns out we could. We are debt-free, our cost of living is a quarter of what it was in the U.S., and we’ve given up nothing fundamental in quality of life.

True, we don’t have 48 varieties of breakfast cereal to choose from at the store, and sometimes we can’t find real Greek olives or Italian roasted red peppers. But for us, that isn’t much of a sacrifice. Living abroad has given us the chance to relearn the difference between the material things we really need to be happy and the things we merely want.

So 12 years ago, we asked ourselves the question: "If we had the chance to live quality lives, without sacrificing the essentials, in an exotic location with perfect weather and good health care...for a quarter of what we’re paying now...would we do it?"

Our answer back then was "yes." And we’ve been doing it ever since. But of course, because we also love the U.S., each year we ask ourselves the other side of that question: "If we could have the same quality of life in the States that we have right now, for what we’re paying now, and be closer to all the family and friends we have back home to boot, would we do it?"

Again, our answer would be "yes." Which is why we keep running the numbers.

Trouble is, the numbers tell us every time that the U.S. still can’t match the deal we have abroad. Could we find a place in the States with scenery as beautiful as we have up here in the Andes mountains? Certainly...the U.S. is blessed with some incredibly beautiful spots. Could we find a place with near-perfect weather all year round? Yes, there are places like that in the U.S., as well.

Could we find a place with utility costs as low as we’re paying? I doubt it...it’s hard to beat $5 per month for cooking gas and $20 per month for electricity...but for the sake of argument, let’s say we could find that in the States.

Could we then find a place in the U.S. where our property taxes would total less than $40 per year? Again, I doubt it. But let’s say yes for the sake of argument.

Now, could we find all of that...majestic scenery, perfect year-round weather, miniscule utility costs, and ridiculously low property taxes...all in one location in the U.S.?

If so, we haven’t found it yet. And we haven’t even added in the cost of health care. Suzan and I aren’t members of Congress or government employees with lifetime, publicly-funded healthcare plans...we have to take care of our own medical care and insurance. And the difference in what we’re paying for high-quality health care and comprehensive private insurance in Ecuador compared to what we’d pay in the U.S. for the same level of care and coverage...that alone would put any move back to the States off the charts financially.

So as far as I can tell, the overhead of life in any single spot in the U.S. just can’t compete with what we have where we’re living in Ecuador.

Rest assured, if we do the math next year and find that we can suddenly live in the States for $2,000 a month and have everything we currently enjoy, we’d seriously consider moving back, at least part-time.

There are so many things we love about living abroad that I don’t believe we could give it up altogether. But the U.S. is near and dear to our hearts, too, and we’d certainly plant at least one foot back on the old home turf if the numbers came out right.

So we’ll keep doing the math, and someday we may get the bottom line we need.

However, in the meantime we’re happy with the way the numbers are coming out right where we are.

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