In this report, I will give my opinion and some example reasons why most people can not retire early on $1000 month overseas. This is not intended to be an insult. It is merely a fact that you may be able to overcome. I get complaints in my video comments that sound something like this, “You can’t live the western lifestyle here on $1000 per month.”
So what is this western lifestyle they are talking about? Many of you already know the answer to this question. Western life includes a beautiful home, multiple vehicles in the two-plus car garage, electronic toys and games, entertainment parks and recreation, international and multiethnic restaurants, shopping malls, bike lanes, bowling alleys, Starbucks on every corner, movie theaters, and fast food, just to name a few. You get the idea.
In a moment I will explain why most people can’t afford to export the western lifestyle around the world when they move overseas. But first, I want to ask, “why would you do this?” Why leave your home country if that is what you want? If you are not interested in other cultures, why would you move there?
Saving money is not a good enough reason. Let me explain.
Living overseas is an adventure.
You are going to discover a new world. You are not a colonialist invading a world of uncivilized natives that you must bend to your will, are you? I suggest you go as a student of a new culture, not a teacher of your old culture. There is a new world out there waiting for you to learn about. With new traditions, beliefs, foods, entertainment, activities, and daily life that you need to explore and learn all about.
Your life could become a living real-time education about a world you may know little about presently. You have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new rhythm you can’t imagine until you experience it. Why do you want to drag the past with you when you could live in the present? Your new life could be an adventure.
You will learn very little about this new place, these new people, their culture, and traditions if you are successful at creating a bubble around you that mimics your old life? Your comfort bubble will rob you of the intimate experience of a new place.
The purpose of a comfort bubble is to reduce the change in your new life. Even if you could recreate your old life, wouldn’t that insulate you from the adventure of immersing yourself in a new culture? All the details of your old life have a version in the new world. Aren’t you curious about these new versions?
Why do that to yourself after moving all the way around the world? What have you accomplished if you are successful at creating a bubble around yourself?
After living in 67 different countries, I can promise you, without a moment of hesitation, you will not be satisfied in any country in the world if your happiness depends on recreating your old life in a new country?
How do I know that? Because I tried, and I failed when I was new. We all make that mistake at some level when we first arrive in a new world. But if you do not manage your resistance to change, you are limiting the adventure your life could become.
That is the biggest mistake you can make when you move overseas. I have also watched many others try and fail to recreate their old life. It is a waste of your time to try to recreate your old life in a new country. The bubble you create will just never be the same as your home country. Here is how I will prove this to you?
Go to any expats’ meetups around the world and listen to them talk about what is wrong with the new country and the people living there. Don’t be surprised if insults fly out of people’s mouths.
Why are the locals so stupid? They can’t do this right, they can’t do that right, why don’t they understand? Why can’t I find this or that in the stores here? Do they know how life is supposed to be? What idiots?
When you hear these sorts of comments, try not to judge them so much. There but for the grace of God go I. These are ex-pats trying to create a comfort bubble in their new country. Try as hard as they may, they can’t quite recreate their old life in this new country. They are frustrated.
They are unhappy with their new life because they are trying to recreate their old life, their old comfort zone, in this new country. They are not on an adventure of educational discovery. They are on a mission to recreate their old life in a new country. This is human behavior. I did my share of this too during my first 6 months living overseas. The key is how you manage it.
Some of them eventually give up and go home. But that can be a good thing for many of them. After being home for a few months or a few years, many will eventually miss the adventure of living overseas. They will wish they were on a foreign adventure again.
Once they are actually living in their home country again, they will remember how boring it was living their old life. When they get home, everything will be almost exactly the same. People will think the same, act the same, and do the same things day after day. Eventually, the song of adventure in faraway places will play in their ears again.
They will romance and recall the good things about living in a foreign land, that they could not see so clearly while they were there. The grass in your home country is not always greener. Eventually, many of them will try again later and have better luck the second time.
On their second try, many will quit wasting their time trying to recreate their old life in a new world. It just can’t be done. They will instead try to live where they are instead of where they used to be. In fact, if you hate where you ended up, go home for 6 months and you will remember how exciting and adventurous it is to live in a new country and discover everything new and exciting about it.
If you are new, just avoid this early ex-pat phase and start your overseas adventure immediately. Just immerse yourself in the new culture, from day 1. Let me explain.
Live the adventure of your new life
Leave your old life behind. Give up on the idea that you can ever recreate your comfort zone. Start living the adventure of being where you are while you are there? Okay then, it is time to examine why most new people fail to live their own personal adventure in a new country.
How to immerse yourself in a new world
I am going to give you examples of how to immerse yourself in a new culture using Groceries, Accommodations, Restaurants, and Transportation. I will do that by comparing what I would do now after living in 67 countries versus what I did as a new ex-pat living in my first overseas country 14+ years ago.
In my opinion, you need to give up on the idea of recreating your old life in a new country. I recommend that you see your new life as more of an adventure in cultural discovery. You are not trying to recreate the comforts of home, you are trying to discover how people live in other countries. What do they eat, how do they get around? What do they do for fun?
If you have a larger budget than $1000 per month, that is not a problem. That will allow you to make choices about what part of your new life will be an adventure and what part of your new life will look like your old life.
Just don’t let that limit your adventure. Learn what the locals do in all aspects of living so you will know which parts of your life are in a bubble. You can better make choices once you know both ways of living.
If the average local is living on $600 per month, you will know what part of their life you are not interested in living because you tried it. You will have the knowledge of how to do it in case inflation whittles away your spending power or you need to save up for a few months to travel to other parts of the world from time to time. Okay, time for some examples.
Dan as New Expat: When I first started living overseas, I would go to what I called ex-pat grocery stores. I would look for all the brand names I learned growing up in the USA: Skippy Peanut Butter, Lauras Scudders Potato Chips, Heinz Catsup, Prego Pasta Sauce, etc., etc., etc.
Psychologically, I was thinking, I am in this weird place. But if I buy all of these products that are just like home, at least I will have my comfort food from home. The landscape may be different, the people may be different, the language may be different, the sights, sounds, and smells are all different … but damn it, I deserve at least some things to be the same. So I was paying two to three times as much for Skippy Peanut butter when I was outside my home country.
You see, Skippy Peanut Butter is fancy foreign food when you are outside your home country. They have to pay for overseas shipping, import taxes, and transportation to ship your Skippy Peanut Butter around the world. That is why it costs 2 to 3 times as much around much of the world.
This sort of behavior could easily double or triple your grocery store bill. Now, I am not telling you not to give yourself a treat from time to time. That is the spice of life. I am just saying that an old favorite should not remain a steady part of your diet when you live overseas if budget is an issue for you.
Your adventure should start with your diet.
Dan as an Experienced Expat: Grocery store shopping is one of the greatest adventures you can have as an experienced ex-pat. There is also a lesson about living close to the land in this. No matter where in the world you live, if you find out what is locally grown, locally produced, or locally prepared near you, the food will not only be fresher and healthier, but it will also be much, much, much cheaper.
Let me give you an example. Qiang and I just got back from hiking to some hot springs near Boquete Panama. We were waiting for the local bus (collectivo) to take us on the 45-minute ride home for $1.50 when we saw a small convenience store across the street.
We decided to get a snack. The American nacho corn chips were $5 per bag. But on the shelf next to them were spicey plantain chips for $0.75 cents. The foreign beer was $2 per can but the local beer was $0.60 cents.
Adventure is nothing but natural curiosity. What are the local snacks? What are the snack choices in this country? Do they taste good? Do the local snacks taste fresher and better because they have not been shipped on a boat, then a train, and then a truck for the last 3 months?
The answer is yes. The plantain is a locally grown banana and the spices were delicious. We went back for seconds and I fell in love with the local food. Plus, the local choice was 70 to 80% cheaper and I felt like I learned something in the process about my host country, Panama.
My adventure was enriching in almost every way possible. What would I have learned if I grabbed the $5 bag of chips and the $2 foreign beer that I have already had one hundred times before? I will let you be the judge of that once you try a local snack versus an old favorite. Are you adventurous?
When you first walk into a local grocery store in a foreign country, you won’t even know what to do with any of the products you see on the shelf. You won’t even know what they are. If you walk past all of them and look for foods from home, you are grabbing the $5 bag of chips and the $2 foreign beer.
What if you instead did a little research on Google? What are the top 10 favorite foods in this country? What are the ingredients and how do you prepare the dishes? Are there YouTube videos online that teach how to make local food?
Make a list of ingredients and then go to the grocery store. That is how you turn your new life into an adventure when you go to a new country. Let’s talk about restaurants next.
Dan as New Expat: When I first moved overseas, I didn’t know what the local food was. I looked at a few menus, but it all looked foreign to me. It literally was foreign. So, whenever we decided to go out to eat, I would Google to find out the best restaurants in that city for my favorite foods from home.
I would Google, “Best Italian Near Me,” “Best Thai Food Near Me,” “Best Lebanese Food Near Me,” “Best American Breakfast Near Me,” “Best Sunday Brunch Near Me,” “Best Greek Food Near Me.” But those were all fancy foreign foods where I was living.
So, they often had foreign chefs that were brought in from their respective countries. Many of the ingredients were flown in from their respective countries.
So, the meals were promoted locally as gourmet-level dishes. Only ex-pats and rich local people from that country could afford to eat in these restaurants. So meals cost me three to four times as much as the food in local restaurants.
But the truth is, most of the meals we ate in these fancy restaurants were not really gourmet-level foods. In fact, they were merely average or below average meals compared to what we could have got in a family-owned restaurant in Italy, Greece, Thailand, etc.
How could that be, you may ask? Because the ingredients in Italy, Greece, Thailand used to make the meals would be fresher in the country of origin. Plus, the local people in Italy, Greece, and Thailand know what they are eating. They know how it is supposed to taste.
But the local people in some foreign countries don’t know what the food is supposed to taste like. So the restaurants are able to sell lower quality food as gourmet food. Very few people know the difference.
But we kept going back to these restaurants just because we knew what to order. We were not on an adventure in the first six months. We were looking for something familiar, even though the quality was often not what it should be for the prices they were charging.
Dan as Experienced Expat: I think you already know what I am going to say. I learn about the local foods when I go to a new country. I talk to locals and I Google, “What are the famous meals from this country?” Or, “What food is this town famous for?”
Once I know the name of a dish, I Google for the best restaurants in a town known for that particular dish. So I learn what to eat and I go eat it. Then, as you may suspect, I try cooking it at home myself.
I learn the ingredients from recipes and or YouTube videos online. I go to the grocery store and I try to make the dish. Suddenly all those ingredients I didn’t even recognize in the grocery store, start to have meaning in my life.
The more I learn, the more the grocery store comes to life. I move up the ladder from merely trying to exist, to living an adventure.
Learning about the food of a culture you are in is one of the most important things you can do to turn living overseas into an adventure. You can even take cooking classes with locals and learn their family secrets.
The amazing thing about discovering culture in this way is that the food is fresher and healthier because it is locally sourced. And as an added bonus, the food in local restaurants and in the grocery store is often 60 to 80% cheaper than the fancy foreign foods and ingredients.
So you immerse yourself in a new culture by thinking, acting, and buying local. You learn more, you have more fun, and you save money. That is how you immerse yourself in the culture.
Dan as a New Expat: When I first moved overseas, I was moving to take a job in the new country. The company set me up with an agent. They must have told him that I needed to live according to western standards because I was American, so he first showed me homes in the $2000 per month price range. I explained that there is no way I am paying that much for an apartment.
These were flats that would have been impressive in New York City at $8000 per month with high ceilings, recessed lighting, city views, gated and guarded communities, and room for a servant. I explained that I only had a two-year contract to start and I was not interested in paying $2000 per month for a luxury apartment in the best area of town.
I asked him to show me something for less than $1000 per month maximum. I also asked to see what I could get for $600 per month. But he refused to show me anything that cheap. He told me that no respectable foreigner would live in a $600 per month apartment and he didn’t even know where to find one like that. His specialty was luxury for ex-pats that were arriving on work assignments.
After showing me apartments for $1500, $1600, and $1700 per month, he finally showed me an Apartment for $1300 hundred per month. I decided to take it since it was the lowest price he ever showed me.
It was a super nice place, with 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, servants’ quarters and a fully equipped kitchen with refrigerator, microwave, range-oven. I bought a couch, a chair, a coffee table, and two beds in case I had guests. The place was way too big for what I needed. But it was beautiful and everyone that saw it was very impressed.
But the truth is, it turned out to be junk. It had a sunken bathtub that fit two people, but a water heater that only held 10 gallons. So there was not enough water to take a hot bath. I asked the owner why he would install such a beautiful bathtub but not include a water heater large enough to take a bath. He said he didn’t know the water heater was not big enough because he had never owned a bathtub himself. He had only ever showered in his life, and mostly with cold water.
Luckily we only signed a 6-month contract to start. Because 6 months into the lease, there was fungus growing on the inside of the walls of the living room. We asked the landlord to fix it, but he said that the interior walls were our responsibility according to local custom.
So we started to look for another place. We found a beautiful one-bedroom apartment for $600 per month with everything we needed in a beautiful nearby local neighborhood. The new apartment had a private entrance and was on the second floor of a home owned by a local retired medical doctor.
The apartment was surrounded by a beautiful terrace that had a bunch of natural light and beautiful trees and was in a beautiful safe neighborhood of local professionals. No guard or gate was needed. People watched out for each other in this neighborhood. We found it ourselves and loved it more than the fancy apartment in the fancy neighborhood that cost more than twice as much.
Dan as an Experienced Expat: Don’t listen to anybody that tells you that you need to live in a certain neighborhood with other ex-pats. Or you need to spend a bunch of money because no self-respecting ex-pat would live in and around the locals. Take your time and come to your own conclusions. See the neighborhood day and night, and talk to the locals in the area about safety, not just your agent.
Some neighborhoods are safe and some are not safe. But they are not automatically safe because ex-pats live there and they are not automatically dangerous because locals live there. You have to do your own research and take your time finding the right place to call home.
When I move to a new city, I rent a temporary place for a week and then I do my footwork. I explain how to do this in another report called, “How I find perfect apartments around the world.”
Dan as a New Expat: When I first left my home country in 2007, I took a job in the new country. The company told me that I should not drive a car because drivers are too crazy there. They offered to provide a driver to drive me to and from work each day.
But a friend that had worked in that country before told me I should get my own private driver and ask the company to pay me the costs for my private driver. My employer agreed. Since I paid my driver directly, he would be under my direction and control and would not be told what to do by my employer. He would only need to keep me happy.
That made sense to me and it worked beautifully, but I wouldn’t do that now.
I work for myself now, just doing my hobby, no matter where I am in the world. I don’t need to go places every day now. I just work from my apartment whenever I am in the world now. So I don’t have a driver anymore. But I still don’t own or drive a car as I travel the world.
Dan as an Experienced Expat: Transportation in almost every country is different. Let me explain. I am no longer stuck in one country, or even one city now. I am a slow traveler now. I travel around the world finding the best places for people to retire cheap in paradise overseas.
I have over 80+ retire cheap reports on VagabondBuddha.com.
Some places I stay for a week or two. In other places, I stay for a month or two. But I never buy a car anymore and I almost never drive a car anymore. I try to pick places to live where I don’t need a car, where I don’t even need to drive usually.
As an experienced ex-pat, I look for an apartment in a beautiful walkable area of town. I do this by following the method I mentioned above, “How I find perfect apartments around the world.” The trick is to live in an area that has everything you need within walking distance.
Then you only need to hire an Uber or Grab taxi once a week to go on tours or excursions. You can also use local transportation to get around. So instead of buying a car that I may only use once or twice a week because everything is walkable near me, I either walk everywhere or I learn how to use local transportation like the locals.
Of course, some parts of the world are too spread out to use local transportation on a daily basis. In that case, I try to rent a scooter by the month to keep expenses low. That is what we did in the Philippines when we were there. Our scooter costs us about $90 per month plus $5 or $6 dollars in fuel per month.
In 14+ years living overseas, I almost always find a way to get around as needed without buying a car. That has easily saved me around $300 to $400 per month in payments, gas, insurance, registration, and repairs. Plus, you never have to worry about police asking for a bribe or arresting you for driving while intoxicated.
If you arrive in a new place and you can’t figure out how to get to places you need to go, just watch or ask the locals. What are the locals doing to get around? They are usually getting where they need to go for about $0.50 cents or less each way.
The same rule applies when dealing with transportation. Live like a local.
So the reason why most people can not retire early on $1000 a month overseas is that they are not paying attention to how the locals live. They are too busy learning from other ex-pats that often have an ax to grind with the locals.
You see, in most of the retire cheap in paradise locations around the world, the locals are living on less than $1000 per month, often less than $600 per month. So when people say that it is impossible to live on less than $1500 or $2000 per month, what they really mean is, they can not live on less per month.
The truth is, you need to listen to both the locals and the ex-pats. There are problems only the ex-pats know how to solve and other problems only the locals know how to solve. So keep an open mind and be willing to have friends in both communities to have the best experience overall.
My name is Dan. I left the USA in 2007 and have been to 67 countries so far. I write reports that teach people how to retire cheap in paradise. I already have over 80 retire cheap reports all over the world.
Subscribe to see where we go next. Make sure to grab a copy of my free eBook, “How I Fired My Boss and Traveled the World for 14 Years.”
Thank you for checking out our report, why most people can not retire early on $1000 a month overseas. This is Dan of Vagabond Awake, the Youtube channel for VagabondBuddha.com. The world is your home. What time will you be home for dinner?