Five Reasons to Live Abroad

Melnik, Bulgaria

For many people, the glamour of travel is that it is the chance to explore new destinations and experience new cultures and places that allow them the opportunity to step out of the 9-to-5 routine work grind and enjoy a little downtime for a couple of weeks. Some prefer hiking mountains and volcanoes, while others enjoy lounging on the beach, kayaking down a river somewhere or enjoying a 5-star stay in a world-class destination like Paris or Rome.

For these folks, vacation is as close as they think they will ever come to experiencing “the good life”. But if you are one of those who, like me, want to enjoy “the good life” on a regular basis, there are numerous reasons why you choose to live in a foreign country and city for prolonged periods of time. It’s actually quite difficult to narrow the list down to just a few, but for the sake of space (and your eyes!) I have chosen what I think are the top five reasons people should choose to live abroad.

The Cost of Living

This is quite possibly the number one reason for most people to choose to live in a foreign country. In the simplest of terms, if you had the opportunity to live on $600 – $800 a month with access to the exact same amenities and services you normally pay $2,000 – $3,000 a month for, what sane person wouldn’t choose the $600 to $800 option? Simple math dictates that the $1500 a month you can put back into your pocket is a dream come true.

Imagine taking your average, everyday Joe salary of 40k a year and actually being able to use 30,000 of that income in whatever way you want, rather than on an obscene cost of living. It’s not myth. The lowered cost of living is the primary reason I (and others like me) choose to visit exotic places around the world and set up long-term, permanent or semi-permanent residencies.

As a general rule I spend $800 dollars a month on total expenses. That is rent + food + bills + entertainment. If I cut out the entertainment I can usually drop down to $600 a month in total expenses. And yet I’m not living a minimalistic existence. I have an alcohol and good food habit, I’m at the beach or hiking the mountains every week week depending on where I live, at least two to three hours a day  walking around and exploring the city and cultural events, and immersing myself in the culture.

In short, I have the opportunity to spend my money on enjoying life and exploring exotic destinations at the same time because I’m not burdened by an excessively high cost of living like what most people think is a requirement. 

Your Money Goes Farther

Simple fact. Your money goes farther in countries like Greece, Mexico, Bulgaria, Colombia and so on and so forth. Which means if you are getting paid in the USD or the Euro you can exponentially see your money worth upwards of three to four times the value it is back home. When you combine that with the lowered cost of living, you are suddenly in a position where $10 can very literally get you enough food at the grocery store to last you a week, rather than only buying you enough food to last for a day or two.

Transportation costs suddenly go from  several dollars (or more) a day to literal pennies (the bus in Cancun, for example, only costs 7 pesos, which is 45-50 cents USD; in Bulgaria a tram, subway or bus ticket is 1 leva, which is the equivalent of 70 cents USD. This is in comparison to the New York City Subway, which costs $2 per ticket, or the London Tube, where a single fare is 4 pounds, as of this writing) depending on where you happen to be living in the world.

When I was living in Bulgaria between 2008 and 2010 I could walk into the grocery store and buy a kilo of potatoes, a kilo of onions, a kilo of tomatoes and a kilo of cucumbers for around anywhere from 6-8 USD. I briefly visited the United States for a couple of months in 2010, and I was in absolute shock and disgust as I watched my mother pay two dollars per cucumber and four dollars for an onion at her local Safeway supermarket (they live in Colorado).

In Cancun, for example, I can go to any of the local supermarkets and buy several pounds of produce for a few dollars. In comparison, a Roma tomato generally costs about 66 cents per at Safeway (according to GoodFoodWorld), so two pounds (a kilogram) would cost roughly 5-6 dollars assuming 4 medium-sized tomatoes to a pound. Here, I can buy the same thing for around $1.40 if I shop on a normal day, or I can wait for the market day and go get a kilo (two pounds) of tomatoes for a whopping 4 pesos (25 cents USD). In January of 2012, for example, I wanted to make some spaghetti sauce from scratch, and I picked up 10 pounds of tomatoes for 20 pesos. That’s $1.50 in USD. The same quantity of tomatoes in the U.S. would cost, on average, a minimum of $20. 

Market 23

Imagine buying a brand new home for $35-50k , rather than 200k+. Imagine finding 2 bedroom apartments for 20-25k USD. Imagine renting fully furnished apartments for 300 USD a month with all services included. On the beach. Or in the mountains.

Now change that from imagination into reality. Picture a fancy, romantic evening out with your significant other where the entire five-course meal and bottle of champagne only cost you 50 USD, rather than 200+ at the equivalent restaurants back home? Imagine finding all-you-can-eat buffets where you can take the whole family and eat for 3-4 USD per person in the group. Imagine being able to find a jaw-dropping cup of coffee at a local cafe that only costs you 50 cents instead of 2 dollars (or more, depending on what chain you buy from). Picture yourself sitting down to a full-sized breakfast at a beach-side cafe for only 3-4 dollars.

Everything is cheaper and your money goes further abroad when you know what to look for.

More Time for Hobbies

Everyone wants time out for their hobbies. Some people enjoy reading books, others watch television shows, some choose to spend their time star-gazing, building model planes, gardening and much, much more. But the problem most people in the “real” world run into is that they never have enough time to enjoy their hobbies.

The “real” world dictates that they work that 9-to-5 job to cover the cost of living, that they spend 5 days a week minimum in the work place, that they are only “allowed” to have two weeks of paid vacation a year, and that the only days you can take off work are Saturdays and Sundays, and only if your boss doesn’t ask you to come in and work the weekend shift, because you need the overtime so badly that you can’t say no, or you can’t say no because you will lose your job, and you need it to pay the bills.

Tim at Tacos Rigo in Cancun

The simple fact is, most people living the traditional lifestyle only have time for their hobbies on the weekend. Unless you are like the thousands of location independent digital nomads who have chosen to shun the “real” world in favor of their own reality; then you have all the time in the world to do whatever it is that you want, because you have managed to shed the high cost of living that keeps most people buckled in at their 9-to-5 slave occupations.

A lowered cost of living means you don’t have to work as many hours. The exchange rate which doubles or triples (and beyond, depending on where you choose to live) your money means that everything goes further, which means you spend less time working and more time actually enjoying the benefits of that work. More hobbies mean more time to enjoy life, which leads to the fourth reason you should choose to live in a foreign country.

More Time for Your Spouse and/or Children

Who ever came up with the rule that you are only allowed to spend time with your kids after 5 p.m. when your work shift is over, or on the weekends when you aren’t working? When you still need to find time to shower, take care of things around the house, shop and somehow manage to set aside a few precious minutes of “me” time to enjoy the things in life you want.

Who was the one who came up with the rule that you are only allowed to have Friday night be Date Night because you finally have some spare time to go out with your spouse and enjoy a night on the town because you don’t have to get up the next morning for your 9-t0-5 shift? Wouldn’t you rather every night have the option to be Date Night, because you don’t have a 9-t0-5 job that you need to worry about the following day, because you are living somewhere where the cost of living is so far reduced you can afford to only work a couple hours a day and spend the rest of your time enjoying life?

Cris and myself at Playa Marlyn, Cancun, Mexico

Wouldn’t you rather have 8 hours a day to spend with your significant other or children, rather than punched in on someone else’s clock? Imagine being able to be there for every important moment in your children’s lives, instead of only when you can find time around your work schedule. Imagine being able to have romantic dinners with your significant other every night of the week because you can afford to go out to nice places or stay up late cuddled on the couch watching movies or go out walking the beach at two in the morning on a regular basis, because you don’t have a clock to punch, a 9-t0-5 to worry about, a ridiculously high cost of living driving you to work to live.

A Better Quality of Life

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Almost too good to be true, you are thinking. Or impossible. The reality is that it absolutely is that simple. Less hours worked means more time spent relaxing, enjoying life, and as we have all been told by doctors the world over, less stress and a higher quality of life leads to a longer, more productive life where you have less health issues and more time to simply live.

If you aren’t willing to make the transition for budget’s sake alone, consider your health and well-being. Most people I know want to live as long as possible, and get the most out of life along the way, but that is only possible when you are in control of your life, dictating when and how you will spend your time, rather than only being “allowed” to have the weekend or any other time between 9 and 5 when you have to be punched in, slave to someone else’s clock.

Imagine being able to explore exciting destinations around the world for months at a time, rather than for only a couple of weeks. Imagine being able to wake up every day to the lapping of the waves on the beaches of Cancun just outside of your window, or being able to head out in the morning hours to explore the ruins of Peru over the next six months. See yourself in the heart of the South Korean jungle or living the nightlife in one of the many cities of Thailand. Imagine immersing yourself in a foreign culture and learning a new language, tasting exotic new flavors and wetting your throat with local concoctions.

Woman making fresh tortillas in San Juan Chamula

Meet new people, learn new traditions, experience foreign celebrations and festivals year-round. Scuba dive on a daily basis, read a book, watch your shows, go snorkeling or hiking when the urge strikes you…do whatever it is that you enjoy doing on a daily basis because you have all the time in the world since you have chosen to get away from the burdening costs of Western countries.

This is my reality. A reality where I control every aspect of my life, where I get to spend my money in ways that I see fit, where I get to put the vast majority of my income back into the savings or spend it on exploring the world around us, rather than on a fancy car, the latest gadgets, a house in the burbs and the illusion of freedom that most people have allowed to dull them into complacency.

Are you ready to join in?

This post has been updated for relevancy and with new content. It originally appeared on the blog on March 18th, 2011.

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About T.W. Anderson

T.W. Anderson is the founder of the Marginal Boundaries brand. He is the writer, editor, videographer, photographer, and social media guru alongside Cristina Barrios, the other half of the brand. In his spare time, he is the creative director of the Saga of Lucimia, a forthcoming MMORPG from Stormhaven Studios, LLC.


  • Cheers, Tyler :) I think for kids it’s the most important way to experience things they can possible have.

  • This is a very inspiring and encouraging post for living abroad. I grew up abroad and would never trade that experience for anything in the world. Coming back to the states as a young teen was jarring, I couldn’t replace that international atmosphere I got when away. I never knew how my mom did it (with 5 kids), but reading this totally opened my eyes. Thanks!

  • Hell. Yes. Frank :) That’s what I’m talking about! Go mom!!!!

  • Frank says:

    Good and very accurate post Tim. 10 years ago my mom went overseas at the age of 55 and splits her time between Thailand and Mexico. She pays $350/mo rent in both places, food costs are minimal. She’s met lots of like-minded people from all over and has more social interaction than she ever had at home. She shudders at the idea of coming here; winters, the cost of living, and the idea that she would be just another elderly person living a solitary lifestyle. She could also never have afforded the life she has now – besides Thailand/Mexico, she spends time all over Europe visiting some of the friends she’s made along the way. Moving abroad was the best thing she ever did.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  • Hmm…while I can admit that not everyone will choose a cheaper location, Laura, I don’t think there is a limit on who can do this. The Internet has allowed anyone, anywhere, access to the same opportunities in terms of building a blog and earning an income online, which can then provide for the life of travel/moving to a different, more suitable place. I’ve seen some pretty amazing transformations of people from third-world countries making it big online and going on to bigger and better things :)

  • Not everybody is able to do this, to live abroad… and even so, not everybody choses a cheaper location than home. Still, it is very inspiring and it shows that we can indeed live differently.

  • Cheers, Franca :) Here’s to you and Dale kicking ass and taking names on your continued journey!

  • Franca says:

    I fully agree with you Tim and with the points you made here. I’m quite new of the lifestyle you talked about and I’m still learning a lot about it, this post will definitely come handy, thanks!

  • Indeed, Jennifer. And that’s awesome to know that you went on to do the social media for your uni :)

  • Jennifer says:

    I agree with all of these. Though I do think people forget that in these digital times, there are opportunities to work remotely. We’ve been living in Italy for more than 4 years now and I’ve kept my job at a university as the social media strategist and communication manager. We all joke that I’ve now worked twice as long from Italy as I did when I lived in the US. Anyway , there’s opportunity to have the best of both worlds.

  • You paint a beautiful picture! I believing in working to live and there is no question that for those who can work abroad and most specifically digital nomads who are able to live and work in less expensive parts of the world, it can be idyllic for all of the reason you listed – more free time, more disposable income, and exciting culture(s) to explore!

  • alison says:

    Is that picture in the Lake District? Thanks for the good ideas.

  • @Cole

    I’ve been pretty happy with Mexico (have a visa here). My visa for Bulgaria ran out this May, so I need to get back and renew it :) Also working on a couple of secondary passport options!

    With that being said, I’m on the lookout for the next destination for 2013. I’ve been very happy here in Cancun, and I’ll keep roots here, but there’s a lot of other things I still want to see/do.

  • Great reasons and they are all why we are constantly travelling :) Just need to find somewhere to settle down now my visa is running out for the UK.

  • Awesome, Dyanne.

    I’m working towards that point later in 2012, yes :) (working with other expats who are experts in their region).

    I’m also going to be expanding this list later on this summer to include the top 10 reasons. I’m sure I could come up with an endless supply of them buuuuut!

    Great to hear about taking the plunge. I still haven’t been to that part of the world yet, but it’s on my list for 2017/18 after I finish up with South America :)

    Thanks for following along and I hope to see more of you!

  • Just catching up here on your “follow” Tim, (and deftly dropped you into my beloved RSS feed). What can I say? Needless to say, I agree whole-heartedly with your “Five Reasons” – though I dare say, I only needed one.

    Have traveled extensively all my life (incl. 20+ years running my own int’l tour company specializing in travel to Belize and Costa Rica.) But only 8 months ago… I finally took the plunge – sold every blessed thing I owned and bought a ONE WAY ticket here to Vietnam. In short:

    Only wish I’d done it sooner. 😉

    P.S. Metheenks you need some input/a “guide” from we expats here in Asia, no?

  • @Mike:

    There’s tons of families doing this for a living. You can check out the “Other Resources” section for links to other blogs and websites, including some (like Barefoot Nomad) who are living this lifestyle with their kids, and thus giving their children far, far more opportunities than ones who stay back in the U.S. and only ever learn English.

    Hope to see you around for sure, and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask.

  • Mike says:

    Your page is added to my bookmarks and RSS reader. I’m seriously considering doing something like this when I transition from the military to whatever is next. My biggest concern has always been my kids and living overseas, however, so I’ll be back here to read all of your articles. Thanks for the Twitter follow!

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