Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Will the Recession Be the Mother of a Thousand Ex-Pats?

Here's a hypothetical: pretend you just lost your job. All you have is your home and about $30,000-$100,000 in savings. What should you do in current economic conditions?

Most of us would choose to try and find a new job. But suppose no matter how hard you try, no new jobs are to be found. You send hundreds of resumes, network til your blue in the face and even land a few interviews. And still...nothing. Suddenly, unemployment runs out, and with your COBRA premiums, you are burning through $3,000 in cash just to stay alive.

Would an attractive alternative be to pick up what cash you still have left and move to Honduras, Costa Rica or Ecuador and try to wait the recession out?

I think it might be a great alternative for many of us. In many developing countries, one can live for an entire year with the same cash that is burned in one month in the U.S. If you bring your computer, you can still search for freelance online work and perhaps even apply for jobs. Or you can decide to open up a business and make the move permanent.

One thing is for sure: watching life savings disappear is NOT an option.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rest in Peace, Dear Mama

I have not written much on this blog in the past months. Part of the delay has to do with the death of my mother at the age of 72.

God rest your soul Mother: you were the greatest and always will be close to my heart. Here is a piece I read at your funeral service:

I love you Mom
And even though you've passed to the next stage of your soul's journey
I feel your presence with me everyday
Though I cannot call you anymore in the mornings on my way to work
To discuss the latest news or the cute things your grandchildren have done
I feel your are with us
Even as I know you are with your Father in Heaven

Instead of phone calls, each morning I will rejoice in my memories of you
I will remember the good times and the love you brought

Like the time you dove in the swimming pool to rescue me as a young boy

As well as the time I brought a bucket of live salamanders to a barbecue
You were holding with my father and family friends
(You weren't too happy about that one
But you forgave me soon after)

I remember you as a single mother raising two children
How you struggled with multiple jobs
I recall you writing a book for grade school kids
And your dedication to making the world a better place for all children

In later years, I remember traveling with you to Belize
Boy, we had a great time!
The sun, the surf and the Mayan ruins
A time that can only be had with good 'ol reliable Mom

I remember your many visits to me when I lived in San Francisco.
And I remember our vacation to London
And the many movies we saw together
Or the quiet nights and dinners at home or the time just walking the dogs

I remember marching with you in political protests
And watching Bears and Sox games live and on T.V.
But most of all I remember what I felt inside
The comfort of spending time with my very own Ma.

Recall that when my daughter Tanya was born
You flew down to Atlanta from Chicago that same day
And please reflect fondly of the Christmases you spent with all your children and grandchildren
Now the holidays for us will never be the same

You were the greatest Mom that ever lived
Your love shone through to all your family and friends
You were so smart, so wise
And so full of life
We laughed so many times together
It is hard to say goodbye
But I know your love will continue to shine down on us
Like a sunbeam straight from Heaven

Thank you for the memories Mom
I love you so
And I will carry you with me
All the rest of my life
I pledge to fulfill your legacy
By holding dear the lessons you taught to me

Though I am very sad today
I know your passing is not the end
Rather it is a new beginning for you and me
And all the family

For God Loves You, Mom
Just like we do
God Loves You, Mom, for all of eternity
You were the greatest Mom and Grandma in the world
And we will never, ever forget you
You will be with us always
And then we'll meet again someday
In the meantime, Mom, please rest peacefully

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

View from Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Taken from a recent cruise I took with the family. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Financial Meltdown and Island Living

For many of us, the decision as to whether or not to 'expat' ourselves may very well depend on the next few months.

The world financial system a ppears on the verge of collapse, egged on by a housing bubble and an excess of borrowing. Already in the United States, major investment banks Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers have collapsed, and the large insurer AIG and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have effectively been nationalized by the federal government. It appears many more bank failures are yet to come, and the turmoil threatens to cut off credit and send the U.S. into a major recession.

As they say, if America sneezes, the rest of the world catches the flu. If the United States economy falters further, it will have global repercussions. Many countries depend on exports to the U.S.- a major economic slowdown could be triggered in those nations. Countries like Venezuela and Russia, which have counted on high oil prices, could be hard hit as demand for energy products drop precipitously.

And small islands, which depend on tourists with disposable income, could be hurt very badly.

Why am I mentioning all this? I think a cataclysmic economic event like the one we face could cut both ways. On the one hand, escaping to a small country might be a great idea. Instead of losing one's job and watching one's assets being drained, dollar by dollar, maybe this is an ideal time to cash out now and wait the crisis out. Live on coconuts and fish until the world crisis plays itself out.

On the other hand, if you, like me, own a house, it may be difficult to escape from America or Europe. It is very difficult to sell a house quickly at a profitable price. Furthermore, if your money is tied up in equities, you may want to wait until prices rise again before liquidating your assets.

Further compounding problems is guaging the effect the world economic crisis could have on the country of escape you have chosen. No one wants to live in a part of the world where people are suddenly starving. It is sad to watch and is conducive to an unsafe environment for foreigners.

For right now, I counsel keeping eyes open, and being ready to pick and move on a moment's notice. The coming weeks will give us all more insight on what our next steps ought to be.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tragedy in Las Bocas del Toro

A confession: I sometimes act dismissive toward my wife when she tells me some of the beaches are not safe in her home country of Mauritius. My pledge is to not act this way again, after reading this article:

A fisherman off the northeast coast of Panama found the body of a Santa Monica High School English teacher Sunday, three days after he was swept off a beach and drowned, his friends said Sunday…

The article goes on to explain how this particular beach did not have any warning signs posted: Apparently, the local government in Bocas del Toro thinks giving people fair warning might hurt tourism.

May Mr. Lutz’s soul rest in eternal peace and I wish to send my personal condolences to his family. There is nothing more devastating than the loss of a child, and one can only hope the Lutz family will have their pain healed through time and whatever spiritual resources available to them.

But this should be a stark warning to all of us who travel to or wish to live on an island. Read as much as you can about the country you are visiting, and get to know what the dangers are. If you find an isolated beach that looks appealing, perhaps it’s better to ask the locals about it first. And never ignore a posted warning no matter how calm the ocean may look calm at the moment. All it takes is one wave to sweep a person out to sea.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Offshore Drilling Insanity

Normally, I plan to steer this blog away from politics. This journal is specifically intended for discussion of individual lifestyle and worklife planning and, as such, is meant to appeal to an audience of broad political and social views. However, occasionally policy collides with the world of offshore telecommuting, and where it does so, I will not shy from expressing my opinions.

The recent crisis related to rising gas prices has once again ignited the debate about so-called “offshore drilling. The practice was banned for certain protected areas in American waters by the U.S. Congress in the 1980s, which was later supplemented by an Executive Order from President George H.W. Bush. The oil companies, with the help of the Republican Party, the Bush Administration and Presidential candidate John McCain, have turned the public in favor of revisiting the issue. In an election year, even Democratic candidate for President Barack Obama is starting to waffle. The debate has begun anew: with skyrocketing gas prices, should currently protected areas be re-open to drilling for oil and natural gas?

The crazy thing about this 'debate' is that it seems to be completely disconnected from the real world. The U.S. government believes that there are about 18 billion barrels of oil in the areas in question, which amounts to about an extra two million barrels of oil for 25 years, and even that amount would not be forthcoming for another five to ten years.

With current global oil production approximating 85 million barrels per day, the extra two million barrels would increase supply by a paltry 2.4%. In other words, all this new drilling near some of the most scenic coastline in America, at best, will lower prices by a few pennies.

Oil companies and politicians that support offshore drilling claim that there is only a minimal danger to the environment. Perhaps they are right. If so, the debate really ought to be about the potential damage to the environment and economy of the states affected, versus the very small decrease in gas prices which might be realized a decade or more from now.

But that’s not what the discussion is about. It is about a fantasy in which supporters of offshore drilling imply,, that gasoline prices will drop by large amounts immediately. Take this recent quote from John McCain: "“We’re not going to pay $4 dollars a gallon for gas (when I am president) because we are going to drill offshore and we are going to drill now. "

So why, as an expat wannabe, am I so greatly concerned about the potential damage to American oceans and beaches? Two reasons: One, I am still an American and will always patronize beaches in the States. Secondly, the offshore drilling madness will surely not be isolated to the United States. Watch out as some of our most pristine island getaways feel the pressure to allow drilling near there shores.

My hope is that rationality will finally enter this discussion. If the public wants to support the policy being proposed by Bush, McCain, and Obama, it should only do so knowing the potential gas price decreases are minimal. Unfortunately, the U.S. media coverage I have seen so far does not give me much hope that the people will be given the facts.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mental Preparation for the Offshore Life

Getting your financial and health safety net in order is only part of getting ready for the big leap into the unknown. Just as important is mental preparation: Pulling up stakes and moving abroad is not an easy step for anyone. Having realistic expectations and bracing oneself for the inevitable culture shock, loneliness and sometime physical hardship is essential to making the experience pay off. As an ex-colleague of mine, whom I referred to in my first post, stated:

Island life is often terrific, but it is not 100% paradise that we all experience when on holiday.

Though I often throw around the word ‘paradise’ loosely, the truth is that moving from the bustling big city to a tranquil, tropical location is often about trading one set of problems for another. In New York sources of stress may include the hyper-paced lifestyle and the constant traffic jams. On the other hand, stress from an island paradise may be induced by not speaking the local language, not understanding the customs or, even worse, a hurricane or other natural disaster.

I am not trying to discourage anyone from getting motivated to making an ex-pat move; on the contrary, I am working hard to make such a move for myself. But I have already had a small taste of this life- I spent six months in Honduras in 1995. And the one lesson I learned, above all, is that if one is going to make a move like this, it is better to dive in with eyes wide open. That way, when tough times come, as they inevitably will, you will be prepared to minimize the chances that you’ll be discouraged enough to prematurely end your international living experiment.

To prepare one, I suggest the following:

Read reports and testimonies from those who have gone before you. Understand the types of ordeals that can happen and how others have dealt with them. Ingrain in your own mind to expect these problems, so you won’t be unduly shocked when they come along

Concurrently, enjoy your life to its fullest as it is now. If the ex-pat life will not be perfect, do not spend too much time discounting the everyday joy of living where you are now.

The biggest mistake is to waste excessive hours dreaming about how your life will be perfect when you are lying on the beach with a drink in hand. There are things to enjoy here and now that you will miss once you leave the U.S.

If your ex-pat move is done right, it will endow upon you very great benefits. But there will be inevitable moments when you wonder, “Have I done the right thing?” Realistic expectations and preparation can minimize those moments and make your move a transformative experience.