Expats: Free Birds or Jail Birds


When asked why foreigners immigrate to Nicaragua, often they say,  I just want to feel free, like never before. My response is usually, Free from what? Does Nicaragua offer more freedom than we can obtain in our home countries? If so, what are those freedoms and are there restrictions to our freedom while living in Nicaragua?

I’m reminded of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song, Free Bird. It is a metaphor for life.  “Things just couldn’t be the same. ‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now,” the group sings. Life happens whether we want it to or not. Since life passes so quickly, I figured that I might as well jump right into the thick of it…take calculated risks…live my dreams…change and grow. I couldn’t handle staying where things were always the same day after day. Life seemed to be passing me by, and I needed a change where I could spread my wings and fly. Nicaragua gave me that change.



What freedoms do we have in Nicaragua?

Some expat business owners say that they have more freedom to conduct business in Nicaragua. I assume that means there isn’t as much bureaucracy. Others interpret freedom to mean less financial stress and less work.  For me, now that we are retired, freedom = lifetime pensions. We can live comfortably on a fixed income in Nicaragua.

As expats, we express our freedom in many creative ways. We are artists, builders, writers, chefs, teachers, and photographers. We cherish our freedom and our rights to free speech. We defend our home countries, and pack our traditions, values, cultures, and symbols of freedom to display in our adopted country.

This photo, posted with William’s permission, piqued my curiosity.  Below it, in all caps, was the word “FREEDOM”. It was posted on July 4th in Granada, Nicaragua. I found it amusing that although the Confederate flag flew proudly over an expat bar, not one Nicaraguan understood the symbolism or even cared. When I asked a local friend if he knew what the Confederate flag represented he said, “No, and we really don’t care.”

“Well, what if a rainbow flag flew over the expat bar?” I asked.

“We do understand what that flag means, but you North Americans are too sensitive,” he laughed.

confederate flagHowever, freedom comes with restrictions for an expat in living in Nicaragua. We may be free to express our political viewpoints about our home countries, to fly our symbolic flags, to discuss and argue issues from our home countries on social media forums, but we do not have the freedom to become involved with or discuss political issues that affect Nicaragua.

Expats with residency may not become involved in political organizations nor promote any acts against the cultural, ethnic, religious, or tourism image of Nicaragua. And if you are wondering… Yes, people have been asked to leave the country for these reasons.

Read about Casey’s experience in an immigration detention center in Managua. In his book on NCX Guide to Residency in Nicaragua (which launches on August 1st), he writes:

You can still get deported
So don’t run for political office, take part in protests against the government or do anything that might possibly be considered a threat to the state. Trust me! Immigration jail is no fun.

“If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?” The opening line to Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd poses the question we all ask at one time or another. Living in Nicaragua, I have learned that with freedom comes compromise. Yes. I can soar like a free bird here. Yes. I live a simpler, more carefree lifestyle.

Free Bird or Jail Bird?

People often interpret the Free Bird song to mean leaving something behind. Leaving things behind is a part of life for an expat. There are points in our lives where things change, and we can’t go back to the way things were. Although we are free birds in many ways, our lives always involve compromise, especially in freedom.

Expats: Expectations and Reality

What does freedom mean to you?

9 thoughts on “Expats: Free Birds or Jail Birds

  1. I’m not sure my life here gives me freedom as much like you Deb I’ve taken on a whole set of new responsibilities. I actually lived cheaper and easier in the US but I’ve never been happier since moving here. After my last trip north I realize I am free of so much of the hatred I heard there, the racism directed at members of my family, crazy police and gun nuts. Although I always try to keep in mind the good people there far outnumber the bad it seems a large part of the media thrives on getting people upset who then feel obligated to let me know exactly how they feel. I couldn’t wait to get back to my smiling and kindhearted neighbors, the Sunday deliveries of nacatamales and my elderly neighbors complaints of back pain, kids these days and the noisy bar down the road.

    While we are not free to get involved politically here, which I think is a good thing, we are still free (I consider it an obligation) to vote for what we believe to be the best for our home countries. Although I strongly doubt I could ever live in the US again my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will and I want it to be a better place for them.

    Sandra, congratulations on your new-found freedom! Have fun!

    • Excellent thoughts, Brian. Yet, the responsibilities you have taken on are of your own choosing, right? My responsibilities have changed drastically since moving to Nicaragua. I no longer feel the stressful responsibilities that always accompanied working for a living. Now, my responsibilities are stress free and I can do so much for so little in my lovely little community. I found teaching rewarding, but I always had to follow the bureaucratic tangle of rules and regulations. It’s very freeing for me to be able to live my passions, while helping others without any restrictions.
      I think it is a good thing that we cannot get politically involved in our guest country. But, any kind of involvement, is subjective to the interpretation of government officials. Look what happened to Casey…and he was only recording history in Nicaragua. So, I am extra cautious now, what I say on my blog about Nicaragua. I don’t want my thoughts to be misconstrued.
      Thanks for responding in such detail to my question, Brian.

  2. My freedom is the gift of growth and the courage it takes to walk the talk of my own truth.

    To take my path of what is an adventure ,,,to me…to respect everyones own path and not judge.

    Faith and hope push me forward,and the love of God strengthens every step I choose.

    And I fly forward, free to be me.

  3. After 52 years in the workforce, today is my last day. So for a little while at least, the idea of not being beholden to ‘the man’ will be my freedom!

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