My Top Tips for Living Abroad

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

I’ve met many foreigners living in Nicaragua with ‘escapism mentalities’. I’ve found that it is impossible to escape from one’s troubles by moving abroad. They are bound to catch up with you, no matter where you are living. Carefully consider your motivations when relocating for the long haul. Pedophiles, cults, and those on the run from the law are NOT welcomed in Nicaragua or anywhere in the world.

Sure, we all want to move to a tropical island, but before you jump, do the research. If you’ve never traveled abroad, how do you know where you want to live? Ron and I traveled the world for 15 summers searching for our ideal retirement spot. We narrowed our search to two countries: Brazil and Portugal, and Central America. We joined chat groups, visited expats, talked to locals, and explored the culture of each area. Make a list of your  needs, ask specific questions, and be ready to scratch the countries from your list if they don’t meet your needs.

Once you’ve chosen a place abroad…jump temporarily. The first time we moved to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, we quit our secure jobs, sold our cars, gave away all our winter clothes, and left our house and our aging pets with our son. In an adrenalin rush, we jumped into a new life for a year. I call it our grand experiment with ‘pretirement’. We knew two Spanish words, ‘si’ and ‘no’. Yet, if we would have spent the time planning for our retirement and learning Spanish, I doubt that we would have ever had the nerve to jump. Living abroad could have been a distant dream, instead of a mysterious reality. Throughout our year of ‘pretirement’, we learned everything we needed to know to return to the states and set goals for our real retirement on Ometepe Island. A few words of caution: Don’t burn any bridges. Life is unpredictable. It can change in a minute. Leave your options open.

In our experiment with ‘pretirement’, we lived like Nicas. We rented a little beach shack that contained four plastic chairs and one plastic table, two beds, and a two-burner cook-top. The only difference between us and our neighbors was that we had a refrigerator and a flush toilet. Spartan living was fine for a year, but when we returned and bought our little beach shack, I wanted a comfortable, yet simple nest. We remodeled our shack to blend in with our surrounding environment…nothing fancy because crimes of opportunity are abundant between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. We have a huge year-round garden that supplies us with all of our vegetables, 14 varieties of mature fruit trees, and all the comforts of home. Comfort and practicality are my mantras.

You ain’t in Kansas anymore! Your way isn’t the only way! You are a guest in a foreign country. Be respectful. Lose the negativity. Learn the language. Integrate and immerse yourself in your new surroundings. Volunteer in your area of ability without being overbearing and arrogant. Get to know your local neighbors. Life is so much more enjoyable once you lose the tude.

Life is not ‘us’ against ‘them’. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard expats say, ” You can’t trust any of ’em. Keep everything locked up, buy a gun, and never let a local come into your house.”  I’m not naïve. I understand that bad things happen everywhere in the world. Yet, I refuse to live in paranoia and fear and lock myself away from the culture in some gated gringo community. As I’m writing this, our 2-year-old neighbor is napping on my couch, while his uncle is sitting at our kitchen table practicing his English with Ron. I want to live humanely and compassionately in Nicaragua. I would trust my life with our closest neighbors and I know they feel the same way. Sometimes I just don’t understand why so much energy is expended fighting our cultural differences, instead of cherishing our human similarities.

Be forgiving and loving with yourself. In learning to speak Spanish, I have made many embarrassing mistakes. For example, once I bought bread stuffed with pineapple for our construction workers. Instead of asking them if they wanted bread with pineapple, I asked them if they wanted bread stuffed with penis. I’ve wished people a happy new anus, instead of a happy new year. We all had a good laugh, and they helped me correct my Spanish. Practice patience. Life moves at a different pace. If someone says they are going to come to your house at 2 o’clock, they may arrive at 4 o’clock, or maybe not until the next day. It’s best to learn to live in the moment and avoid expectations of the future. Easier said, than done. 🙂

Ron and I are on our way back to the states for two weeks. We are in the process of applying for our residency in Nicaragua. I’ll try to post about our experiences throughout the application process. It’s bound to be another adventure! Stay tuned and please be patient with me.

9 thoughts on “My Top Tips for Living Abroad

  1. Very good common sense stuff here. I completely agree with you about putting in the time and research to find the best place for you. “Pretirement” is a must, I think! I write a lot about the ins and outs of living overseas also.

  2. I like your posts. I wish you well in your efforts, and don’t be discouraged! If I could drive over with all the things you need there, I would! Instead, I would send you money by paypal, if that would help.
    When I retire, your island is at the top of my list.

  3. Good advice!!! I teach ESL in the states. DO you know of a group that would be good to volunteer with for about 2 months this summer??

      • For Tamara…..if your Spanish is good….I strongly recommend Empowerment International in Granada. It is a small non-profit with a model sustainable education project. Peer tutoring is a cornerstone and the staff is WONDERFUL! From my experience, the smaller groups are much more effective and culturally sensitive in what they offer than the larger educational projects….in larger projects there are so many untrained volunteers and often the work seems to be more for the volunteer’s need to be needed than for the students. This is not just my opinion, but the feedback that I received from the larger organization when I was working for
        them.. Good luck with your decision.

  4. I have to make a comment on my own blog. Ron said, “Debbie, it sounds so preachy.” “Well, maybe it is,” I said, but it’s MY blog.” Seriously, my reasons for writing this blog go much deeper than the mere words. If you read between the lines, my anger is rearing its ugly head. Maybe I need to take a serious look at the problems we are beginning to encounter with the escapees moving to Nicaragua. Pedophilia and crimes against children are more frequent. I’m sickened and I’m frightened because I see my Oasis of Peace defiled and invaded. And…I’m not sure what to do about it.

I'd love to read your ideas and thoughts below....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.