So you want to move overseas, but you're not in possession of a winning lottery ticket. You don't have a career that will allow you to move just anywhere. And you don't know anyone in Costa Rica, Spain, or Malaysia. It's a nice thought, but moving abroad just isn't in the cards for you ... right?
The truth is, moving to another country isn't as complicated or expensive as most folks make it out to be. I did it. And you can too.
Earlier this month, I wrote an article titled "I moved my kids out of America. It was the best parenting decision I've ever made." Many readers asked me the same question: How'd you do it?
Allow me to explain.
When my I moved with my husband and our two sons to Ecuador in 2011, we had little beyond a collective dream of living internationally along with the knowledge that it was going to take some work on our part to get there.
Our first step was get our finances in order. Debt, we knew, was a stress feeder and a dream killer, so we made a plan to eliminate it.
The easiest step was getting rid of most of our credit cards. We did hold on to a couple (the ones that gave us rewards like airline miles or cash back), but we only used them for necessities like gas and groceries. We paid off the balance each month, and we made a concerted effort to live within our means. If we wanted to splurge, we only allowed ourselves to do so if we had cash in the bank to cover it.
Next we eliminated our vehicle debt. My husband's Chevy pickup was already paid off and though it was older, we made do instead of trading it in for a new model. But we still owed a few thousand dollars on my Dodge minivan, so we sold off our meager investments and closed out the loan.
But the biggest step in our debt eradication plan was getting rid of our mortgage. We didn't win the lottery. We weren't independently wealthy. And we had no rich relatives to leave us their rare art collection when they passed on. In short, we weren't going to hand over a wad of cash to Wells Fargo and magically own our house in full.
So we downsized. We sold our 2,200-square-foot house and moved into one about two-thirds the size — with half the mortgage. Thanks to those much smaller house payments, we were able to double up and pay extra as often as possible.
Two years later, we sold that house and with the equity built our own 1,000-square-foot cabin. To save money, my husband and I did most of the work ourselves, only hiring people to lay the foundation and put up the roof.
I'm not going to lie, I lost a little blood, and a lot of sweat and tears on that house. In an effort to save money on rent, we lived in a tent next to the house while it was under construction. For an entire summer, our food was cooked on the grill and camp stove. Showers were taken in the woods (along with a thousand ravenous mosquitos) under a water-filled bag that we hoped had been sufficiently heated by the sun. And of course there were the bruises, cuts, smashed thumbs, and sore muscles that come with any major construction project.
But one summer of hard work and rustic living meant that we could have a house (built just the way we wanted) without a mortgage. While the house wasn't complete in three months, it was livable. And over the course of the following four years, we finished one part of the house at a time — as we could afford it.
It didn't happen overnight — in fact it took six years — but by early 2011 we reached the point where we felt we were in a financial position to make our dream of moving our family overseas a reality. We sold our house, our vehicles, and nearly all of our possessions — and booked one-way tickets to Ecuador.
We had enough cash in reserve to feel comfortable about making the move. If things didn't work out as we anticipated, we'd have enough money to return to the U.S. and start over. But how were we going to fund our lives once in Ecuador?
We had a plan. It just wasn't a very specific one: We'd wait until we got to Ecuador and then figure it out.
In other words, we were winging it.
But we weren't worried, since we knew that expats all over the world were making money in a thousand different ways. Many were teaching English as a second language, some were selling photos to stock agencies, others ran bed & breakfasts, opened microbreweries, or taught yoga. We were confident we could pool our collective skills and eventually find some way to earn a buck or two.
And so we did. Once in Ecuador we realized that our small town lacked a variety of international dining options, which led to the opening of our small restaurant. The work was fun and rewarding, yet exhausting, so after one year we sold our business and started over. (Pro tip: The ability to be flexible is absolutely imperative if you move overseas.)
Years ago, my husband was a Spanish linguist in the U.S. Navy. So he now decided to monetize his language skills by teaching Spanish to other expats. I got serious about my writing. And that's pretty much where we've been ever since.
But here's a great benefit of living in Ecuador (and many other countries around the world): Our cost of living is much lower than back home. There are a variety of reasons why, including the moderate weather which makes for no heating or air conditioning costs. A year-round growing season means most produce is abundant and produced locally, equating to dirt-cheap fruits and vegetables. Not everything is less expensive here, but average costs are low enough that we live just fine on half of our U.S. budget. All of this takes the pressure to earn copious amounts of money down a notch.
There are a million paths to relocating overseas. This was mine. You'll find yours. And if my story frightens you, relax. Camping out for a summer and endless trips to Home Depot for building supplies are not prerequisites. Figure out what you're willing to do and what you're willing to do without and then get started on your own path.
For most folks (and I do understand there are legitimate reasons some can't make this move), living overseas can be a reality if you truly want it to be. Make a plan, do your research, and follow your dreams — after all, the journey is half the fun.