Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Plan, Plan, Plan

For those of us fortunate (and hard working) enough to have millions in the bank, deciding whether or not to live as an ex-patriate in our favorite country of choice is rather simple. There is little need for debate, just a decision to take action. And should things not work out in Bocas del Toro or Palau, there is always a nice cushion of funds to ease the way back home. It also goes without saying that for ex-pat millionaires, there is not necessarily a need to find a job in the country of one’s choice: the interest from the bank will do quite nicely, thank you.

However, for most of us, the decision to pick up everything and move abroad is quite a painful one. It can require a leap of faith that feels much too dangerous. Most of us will go wobbly, and ultimately, keep putting the decision off.

The reasons are obvious. Pulling up stakes and going to another country can risk our careers and our health. The prospective ex-pat may consider going to Mauritius to open a motor scooter rental shop, but what happens if the business fails and he quickly runs out of money. Then what? How easy will it be easy to find another job back at home?

For American ex-pats, the dilemma is even worse than for Brits, Aussies or citizens of continental Europe. The United States is one of the few countries without universal health coverage. For people who have health insurance but have a chronic, pre-existing condition, the risk of losing coverage is a huge impediment. A failed American ex-pat faces the prospect, if her or his relocation, does not work out, of coming back to the States without a job, or health care coverage, or any kind of social safety net.

As a youth, I made a crazy leap of faith once that taught me a lesson. Even leaps of faith must be backed by proper planning. I quit my government job at the age of 23, believing I was going to write the great American novel. A year later I was serving coffee and muffins and trying to find my way back to an office job. And no, I did not publish a thing.

Following your bliss is essential: but so is planning for contingencies. What if things don’t work out? What if you get sick of the island pace of life after a year? What if you run out of funds? What if you or a family member gets sick and feels the need to return. These are all contingencies that must be thought out.

The danger is that, in planning for contingencies, you can talk yourself out of the move all together. While I don’t advocate pulling up stakes and moving without a plan, neither do I think one needs to get oneself in a tizzy over ‘what ifs…’. The happy medium is to have a plan, and plenty of money, to get back home, if need be. Don’t be foolish, but don’t be a coward either. I have a friend who has quit his job at least three times in his life to go backpacking around America. Each time, he has landed on his feet, with no problem at all.

The first piece of advice is: don’t burn any bridges. Give your boss plenty of notice, and leave on good terms. If you can’t work out a remote work arrangement before leaving, at least make sure there is the possibility of returning to your old job. My second caution is to have enough money in the bank- and this is money you cannot spend in your new country of choice- to live for six months without a job. Finally, there is health care. If you can at all afford, it try to keep your health insurance while you’re trying your new country out. Of course, you’ll have to have a physical address on record (that is where friends and family come in handy).

Draw your plan out. Figure out how much money you will need to live a year in your new country, how much it would cost to move there and back, and how much money is needed to maintain health care. If you don’t have pre-existing conditions in the family, you might be able to skip the last part. If, after all that planning, you don’t have at least six months worth of money to live off of, seriously consider waiting and saving.

These are not hard and fast rules. Each person must build his or her own plan. But please, please, don’t just leap out there without any idea of contingency. Every leap of faith needs a safety net below.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Some Useful Links

This has been a busy week for me, which means little time for writing, so I will use today to provide useful links for telecommuting and ex-pat living.

As far as I am concerned, the best web site for learning the expat leap is Escape from America. It has tons of articles on issues ranging from dealing with tax issues to advice on running your own motor scooter business, and has good country specific information on many of the most popular ex-pat hideaways

Another very good site is from the author of the 4 Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss. One of these days I plan to do a review of the audio book, which I listened to on my mp3 player. Ferriss has lived in destinations from Taiwan to Argentina, and he definitely talks the talks when it comes to demonstrating how one can live and work remotely from just about anywhere in the world.

In terms of telecommuting/teleworking, the best blog I have discovered is Telecommuting Journal, run by someone known only as Lisa. Lisa scours the web for the latest articles related to telecommuting trends, and has several good articles on the challenges and opportunities brought about by the information age. Best as I can tell, Lisa works from a fairly remote, somewhere in Rural U.S.A.

If anyone knows of any good ex-pat blogs, please send me the links. I have been unable to find any other good telework blogs besides Lisa’s.

A decent public interest groups that advocates expanded telework is The Telework Coalition. If you want some good original research on telecommuting, go to Undress4success.com.

I will post more links as I think of or come across them.


How could I forget Transitions Abroad?

And I have found a couple of good expat blogs: one in Caye Caulker and one in Seychelles. I will keep looking for more.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Death of Coral Reefs?

Anyone interested in living in, or traveling to, a tropical paradise, should be depressed by this news.

A third of the world’s coral species are threatened with extinction, according to an international study that revealed rapid and alarming deterioration in the state of coral reefs over the past 10 years.

Many will have disappeared by the end of the century unless global warming, pollution and over-fishing are curbed, warned scientists in the most damning and definitive assessment on tropical corals yet delivered.

This is a very alarming development. My gut reaction is to blame global warming as the primary cause. However, it appears there may be another culprit that could cause even more death among coral species:

But they warn that all of these may be eclipsed by the threat of rising ocean acidity caused by increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, which could eventually dissolve the calcium carbonate skeletons of reef-building corals.

Of course, reducing CO2 emissions is also a solution to the global warming crisis. I will have more to post on this disconcerting issue in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Technology Services in Paradise

Although my personal tropical getaway will not likely be the country of Belize, sometimes I wish it were.

I visited the former "British Honduras" in 1994 and 1995 and had a fabulous time. On my first visit, a buddy of mine, Scott, and I flew into Cancun, and then took a bus up to the border. From there we went to the interior of the country, a place called San Ignacio, where we had a fabulous time traipsing through the jungle and taking a small skiff down the river.

The following year, I met my mother and some of her friends for a trip to Caye Caulker and San Pedro. This was also quite relaxing: the signs read ‘No Shirts, No Shoes…No Problem”. I especially remember “the Split” in Caye Caulker, and I recall a local resident telling me about a research biologist who had developed “chronic fatigue syndrome” and decided to do all the writing up of her studies from the safety of her hammock in Caye Caulker.

The beauty of Belize as an Expat destination is easy to see. You get the best of many worlds…the island life for beachcombers and scuba divers and plenty of jungle hikers and campers. Furthermore, the native language is English (even though the local version may be challenging to understand at times) and the country is sparsely populated, meaning very little traffic and few crowds Finally, Belize is blessed with a stable political democracy, unlike the surrounding countries in Central America, and is friendly to ex-pats and foreign investment.

The only negative about this wonderful country, at least at the time I visited, is that the capital, Belize City, is regarded as crime ridden and dangerous compared to the rest of the country. For what it’s worth, I wandered the streets of the City for a day or two and never felt threatened, though I did get a couple of surly looks. But fortunately, the rest of the country is nothing like the capital, so you can avoid most of the problems of this country simply by staying away from Belize City completely.

Even though I probably won’t expat myself in Belize, the place I am planning to live in shares many similarities. Therefore, I am interested to find out how American expats are doing in Belize. My first discovery was the aforementioned Pat Stiley. Now a Google search has uncovered another American that has made a successful transition to Belize.

Alex and his wife decided that life was too short to be stuck in big city traffic. After visiting Belize for several years, they moved to Caye Caulker in 2005.

Way to go Alex and wife! Although they are not technically telecommuting, it’s probably the next best thing. Hopefully, one day I will be able to have a short interview with Alex and see if he has any tips for those of us who wish to follow in his footsteps.