Choosing Where to Live Abroad – Episode 162 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast

Where would you choose to live abroad, if you decided to leave the country where you live now? I have lots of ideas, but it’s not a realistic question while my son’s still at school, so it’s just a daydream – which is probably why making this episode was particularly interesting. I loved hearing about two couples who’ve been exploring the world trying to decide on a new home!

Show notes: Episode 162 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast

Choosing Where to Live Abroad

Have you ever thought about living abroad? I’ve done it – in Japan, Slovakia and Germany – but it all just kind of happened, and I never had the intention of moving there for the foreseeable future. That’s why Episode 162 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast is particularly interesting to me – my guests have all travelled with the intention of finding a place to live abroad permanently or for at least a fair few years.

First up I chat with Liz Green who explains how she and her husband decided to trial living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was mind-blowing enough for me to learn that lots of FIFO (fly in, fly out) workers in Australian mine sites actually fly to south-east Asia for their home base, and then I was interested to hear about how Liz and her husband scoped out whether Chiang Mai could be for them or not.

I then chat with Ann Mortimore and Ian Crabtree who left the United States with the express purpose of finding a new home. Their search is narrowing and it was fascinating to hear about the pros and cons of various countries across the globe that were part of their endeavour to find a place to live abroad.


Transcript of Episode 162

Amanda Kendle 0:26
Hello, and welcome to Episode 162 of The Thoughtful Travel {odcast. Today we have for me a fun, delightful daydreaming kind of topic. It’s about choosing where to live abroad. So I’ve got two guests, well, three guests, but in two lots who have actually travelled with the direct intention of testing out places they might like to live abroad, at least semi permanently, which is I think, a very cool way to travel. Now I have to say when I lived abroad If I think back on how I chose where to live, it was very random and not very thought through at all. I started off living in Japan simply because that’s where I found a job. I just wanted to leave Perth for a while, I didn’t really have a specific idea of my destination. I just wanted to be not here. And Japan worked out very well for that. Then after that, I did want to get to Europe to live. And I guess again, where the job was dictated where I lived, which ended up being Slovakia, although I set off for a job in Prague in the Czech Republic, but halfway there they said, they emailed to say, we’ve over hired for this school, will you work in Slovakia instead? And of course I said yes. And loved it.

Amanda Kendle 1:45
Only the final place where I lived abroad in Germany, I was a bit more intentional. And the reason was language because I had actually studied German all through school and even a bit in university. So I realized I’d have a lot better chance of speaking the language there. Yeah, other than that, not much thought went into it. But in the future, I would love to live abroad again. And I think I will take into account the lessons I’ve learned from this episode, as well as all the thoughts from members of the Thoughtful Travellers group, because I just asked in there, and you guys are amazing. I asked like an hour ago, has anyone got some thoughts about how you would decide what are your criteria for deciding where you might live abroad? And within this hour I have had, I don’t know how many people more than a dozen comment with some really thoughtful stuff, which of course, of course it’s thoughtful you’re thoughtful travelers. So I’ll just run through a few of these ideas if you are thinking of what criteria you might need to think about to live abroad, Reeva said weather, safety, opportunitiesr for children. That was the main thing and they moved, well, she’s originally from South Africa, but was living in England and chose to move to Australia for for those things. Weather, of course, although actually I’m kind of sweltering this evening, it’s finally got hot and summery and hot in Perth, and I’d forgotten that I can sit in my office and sweat when I’m recording a podcast because of course, can’t have any fan going, can’t have the window open because all of that’s noisy, so it’s a bit hot and sweaty. Aren’t you lucky that you’re not in the room with me? Liz said healthcare, availability of healthcare. And Liz is actually one of my interviewees tonight. So you will listen to more of what she said in the future. Erin, who you might remember lives in Copenhagen at the moment, originally from the US and we met up in Copenhagen earlier this year, she has a long laundry list of what’s a requirement but luckily Denmark ticks most of these, but Erin suggested things like being able to have a sustainable lifestyle, good public transport, bike lanes, pedestrian zones, that kind of thing, green spaces by the water and near mountains, safe, prioritize education, support women, be welcome to outsiders, just a few things! But I have to agree with all of them, I must say, and yet Denmark’s pretty good for a lot of those. Fiona, who’s just returned from a year in Sri Lanka, said that what she would look for is availability of fresh, healthy food, access to natural and wild spaces, and again, sustainable lifestyle options. And I think that those are really important considerations.

Amanda Kendle 4:20
Now Dorothy had an interesting perspective because she’s been living in Benin for the past year. And so for her access to other countries is important because from there, it’s expensive and complicated to get to nearby countries, which I can relate to being in Perth, but it’s probably more complex even from there. At least we have a fair lot of good connections through Southeast Asia. Nuria asks for healthcare, job opportunities and safety, pretty good ideas, I think too. Sharon’s looking for what’s the cost of living Actually, I’m surprised that the first time we’ve talked about that education and health standards, livability index, politics, employment prospects, and weather and food. So you know just everything really but you know all important considerations. Misha asks for the cost of living again, and the pace of life she’d like to live more slowly and simply in another country. Kim, who is currently traveling the world for some years, so it has this kind of interesting perspective as well. She considers thatinfrastructure is really important. Things like reliable internet and electricity, good public transport. Healthcare, of course, as well, is really important. Now, Kirsten, who is currently living in Tunisia, is going to be there for about a year and so she says it depends on your life circumstances, like your phase in life, which I completely agree. So for her, choosing Tunisia was the ability to grow personally and professionally, which I guess is some of why I moved overseas when I was younger in my 20s as well. So yeah, that’s pretty, pretty important. Narelle says weather. Weather is important and that comes up in our episode today. A slow lifestyle and she would like nature nearby, preferably a wine region and the beach and the ability to earn a living as well. Now, Eva, who you will have heard on here before, who is originally from Germany and is at the moment living in Morocco, kind of unexpectedly. And so she said, she said before, I would have said all of the above, but now I’ve just landed here basically. And now she would say her heart and gut feeling decide which I think is awesome. Celeste says safety and a low crime rate, which a lot of you have mentioned, and good live music. So she lives in Athens, Georgia, which is a big music town and my goodness, she says she has seen 118 shows this year, which is a lot. So that is just some of the criteria that we think are important when we’re choosing where to live abroad. No wonder it’s a tricky choice. My first guest today is Liz Green, and she had a very interesting trip trying to find a place to live abroad recently,

Liz Green 7:03
In 2015, well, in theory, our son was moving, because he didn’t want to live at home with us anymore. He was launched into his career, what have you. And my husband was working FIFO in the Northern Territory. And I was in the last year of my professional writing and publishing degree. So we were sort of in a state of flux. We’d had, I can’t remember, I’m sure I’ve told you this. We’d had a failed business in 1202. Where you know, it really just well it was a bit like going down the ladder on the snakes and ladders board basically. So back to the start. So we’ve been both working pretty hard to try and get ourselves a bit of stability again, but then we just, I don’t know, we decided do we really want this stability that we had worked so hard for and lost in the blink of an eye, it felt like so we thought maybe an adventure was what we needed. And also, because of what had happened with the business, we just weren’t sure if our future was in Australia really, because you know, we’re not that far off the well, age anyway where people start thinking about retirement. So, at work in the Northern Territory, my husband realized that a lot of the young guys don’t actually go home to Australia during their downtime that, you know, during their rostered week off. Yeah, a lot of them go to Asia. And they live very nicely for a week or 10 days or however long they’re off for. Either, you know, whatever part of Asia works for them.

Amanda Kendle 8:52
Do they have a base there or they just go wherever they want each time?

Liz Green 8:56
Some of them had, you know, like an apartment that they were renting Some of them just followed the surf!

Amanda Kendle 9:03
How cool! It never occurred to me makes perfect sense, especially from the Northern Territory, because you’re already kind of close. So,

Liz Green 9:08
yeah, yeah, young without any ties sort of thing. I mean, like, well, we’re not young, but we don’t really have any ties anymore. And so we looked into it, and decided that – my husband luckily sleep, the second he gets on a plane, when they switch the engines on, he’s off, out like a light

Amanda Kendle 9:29
I wish I was like that

Liz Green 9:30
Yeah, me too. So he said he could fly from anywhere for FIFO it really didn’t bother him. So you know, we’d looked at Bali initially, because you know, it’s so close, but then we’re a bit older. So we sort of wanted to make sure that there would be things like good medical facilities, if we needed them and we ended up choosing Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. There seemed to be a fairly active expat community there. And yeah, we did a lot of research or I did, let’s be honest, I did all the research, into the communities. There’s something there called the Chiang Mai Expats Club that you know, they meet every Friday for breakfast and then they you know, they have other things as well. And they also serve as a sort of education point for people coming into Thailand to live. So I looked into i,t I could do my last semester online. And yes, so we sold everything that we could possibly sell. We packaged everything else up into a storage facility, like an emergency – a sofa or washing machine or dryer that kind of thing,

Amanda Kendle 10:54
yeah, right if we move back, we need this straight away kind of thing,

Liz Green 10:57
Yeah and boxes of junk, of course. Who knows what’s in those!

Amanda Kendle 11:01
Precious sentimental junk!

Liz Green 11:05
yes, so we headed to Chiang Mai with the with the perspective of having a bit of a Hotel Marigold experience. Yeah, having a look at whether it was somewhere that we could see ourselves moving to in the future. Yeah, so a couple of things didn’t quite go to plan that four days before we were supposed to leave the mine my husband worked on was closed.

Amanda Kendle 11:33
Oh, wow!

Liz Green 11:34
They went under. So suddenly, you know, one key part of the plan was not quite going to go ahead, but we you know what, we had the tickets. We had our first month’s accommodation booked. So we went and yeah, so then we we touched base with the ex pats club. We found ourselves accommodation in a hotel that was more like, it was in a more traditional style of hotel, but it was apartments. And so we had the sort of backup of the people who would ran the hotel of work there who were absolutely delightful. And I’m still friends with one of them on Facebook!

Amanda Kendle 12:19
Oh, lovely.

Liz Green 12:21
And so they could help if ever we, you know, if ever we encountered something that we weren’t sure about. And we set about I think we did about five months of living in different parts of the city. So that we could get a feel for what it was like because I don’t know if you’ve been to Chiang Mai, but there’s a moat all the way around the city. So it’s definitely a place where you’re either north, south, east or west because everything is gauged in terms of its, you know, location to the moat. So yeah, I finished my studies there, so Wi Fi is, free Wi Fi is in every cafe. It doesn’t matter how remote we were right up the top of the, you know, well, I want to call it a mountain because it was so high but it wasn’t, you know, wasn’t a snow covered mountain! And yes, we still had Wi Fi in the little cafe. We so we did a mixture of tourism, and then looking at the practicalities of everyday life: renting cars, all that sort of thing. And, yeah, at the end of six months, we came back to Australia, but we concluded that Chiang Mai wasn’t going to be our future, mainly because they have a big issue with, from about February through to, well it seems to get longer. Every We have a really big issue with air quality. Yeah, the farmers use to only grow, you know, traditional crops which didn’t cause a problem if they did any burn off at the end of the season or the beginning of the season, whichever way around it is. But in recent years, they’ve been encouraged to grow corn because of the biofuel.

Amanda Kendle 14:26

Liz Green 14:26
Popularity, and when you burn off a cornfield, it creates these huge clouds of smoke. And literally within a – you know, you can start to feel it becoming a bit hazy and yeah, just not as sort of bright blue when you look up at the sky and what have you. But once it really sets in, I mean, you you can’t see the mountains that surround Chiang Mai, it’s so thick with smoke. So yeah, that was a big consideration. And the other one was driving. I just don’t think I could ever get up the courage to drive in Chiang Mai, or really Thailand at all

Amanda Kendle 15:12
In Thailand at all. I agree. I don’t think I could drive anywhere in Thailand. I feel the same.

Liz Green 15:17
Well, I mean, apart from the traffic, so one day, it took me 10 minutes to cross the moat from one side. And I was nearly beside myself. I thought, I’m nearly 50 and I can’t cross the road. Yeah, there was that aspect of volume of traffic and the fact that the traffic just comes any way it feels like it

Amanda Kendle 15:42
Yes it’s not very orderly. Yeah.

Liz Green 15:44
Yeah. Every time we sort of got to the point where we thought, right, we need to do this driving thing, we met someone who’s been in a horrible car, scooter accident, or we saw one right in front of us because you know, they happen sort of every day … I don’t know how you feel. But when you’re, when you want to explore a country, it’s kind of crucial that you can actually get on the road a bit somehow. And go and look at the places that aren’t where everyone else is. And I just didn’t feel like I was ever going to really feel comfortable doing that. So yeah, so the experiment did not turn out. Well, I suppose it didn’t turn out.

Amanda Kendle 16:31
Well, you got a result, and I’m sure you still enjoyed the time there so

Liz Green 16:35
oh, my God, I loved the time there, and I definitely would go back, you know, for a long chunk of time. I just can’t imagine us

Amanda Kendle 16:44
more permanently moving there.

Liz Green 16:46
No, no, you know what, the hospitals are absolutely amazing. I mean, I had to go and have an X ray while I was there, and I was in and out in half an hour. Everybody you know, took care of me it cost me $12 or some, I felt like going would you like to just MRI me while I’m here? Just in case you know?

Amanda Kendle 17:07
Yes. Then I won’t need to spend hundreds of dollars ever. Yeah, yeah.

Liz Green 17:11
But the issue is if you have an accident somewhere you may not get to the hospital because nobody makes way for an ambulance, for example. Yeah, yeah. So it’s interesting when I was younger, I would never have thought of any of those things. I would have just thought Yay, adventure. But now I’m a bit more tuned into, well, you know, we need to know we can get these kind of essential things. Yeah. And are you ready to trade them?

Amanda Kendle 17:40
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that’s exactly right. Yeah. Um, do I want to have good quality air versus, you know, that kind of thing. It’s interesting in in principle or in theory, would you still like to move abroad somewhere in Asia?

Liz Green 17:57
Yes, I love, so far I have not found in a country that I didn’t love.

Amanda Kendle 18:01
It is interesting to see and to consider how your perspective is quite different when you’re traveling somewhere with the view of “Is this the place I could choose to live abroad”. It makes you see everything in a different light because of course as Liz said she’d very happily return to Chiang Mai for even for an extended time to stay. But they made the decision it’s not somewhere they could stay permanently or semi permanently, because it is just a completely different experience, isn’t it? So, that’s interesting to me. Now, my next guests today are Ann Mortimore and Ian Crabtree, and they set off a year or two, must be two years ago, I think now from the US deciding that they would live abroad and they have gone about the the practice of choosing where they would live abroad, and had some successes and some not so successes so far.

Ian Crabtree 18:55
So we started off where were we decided that we wanted to Try living abroad. And so we set off researching all these places that we’d read on various sources that were good for the expats, in places that were less expensive than where we were living. And so we did that for the first year. And the problem was that we realized that I was a little bit of a weather diva. And

Ann Mortimore 19:26
we already knew that!

Ian Crabtree 19:29
It really it really, it really started getting home. And so, we hadn’t really found any place that we wanted to live full time because of weather, there’s good seasons and bad seasons, so our our kind of our thrust has changed. Now we’re looking for someplace that we can spend the summer and someplace else we can spend the winter and we pretty much I think we figured out or we got a pretty good handle on our summer place, which is where we are now in Brasov, Romania. We really like it here. It’s a town of about 200,000 So it’s not too big, not too small. And people are friendly. We’ve met, we’ve met some Americans, we’ve met some other people here and it’s green and there’s hiking available and and for some reason I can’t figure it out. The weather in the summertime is like, perfect. It’s in the 70s maybe low 80s and it’s not that high, it’s only at 1900 feet. But for some reason, the weather’s great.

Amanda Kendle 20:26
Isn’t that perfect? Can I just ask about your weather diva-ness, so you prefer it, like summer, summer but not not hot summer and no, you don’t like winter? Is that, am I guessing right?

Ian Crabtree 20:38
yeah, I like it like 70s low 80s.

Ann Mortimore 20:42
Okay, I don’t know if you know much about the climate in San Diego, California, but it’s very temperate.

Amanda Kendle 20:49
I think it’s very similar to Perth’s climate actually. My mum used to live near San Diego. So from what I know, I think it’s pretty similar to Perth and pretty nice all year around really

Ann Mortimore 21:00
Yes, right. But San Diego for two months in winter was too cold for Ian.

Amanda Kendle 21:05
Right. Okay. Yes. I understand because I feel that way about Perth but for the average person, they would be not complaining about the cold but yeah, maybe I’m the same as you Ian!

Ian Crabtree 21:17

Amanda Kendle 21:19
Okay, so you’ve, you’ve traveled around and decided or you know, found that you’re happy in, in Romania for summer. What about for winter?

Ian Crabtree 21:28
so for winter, so when we get the second the second year, we went back and visited some other places. The two places we liked the best which were, Brasov, and then the first one was Medellin, Colombia. And so we went back this year, and we loved it the first time we went, and this past year, we didn’t like it as much. I don’t. I don’t think Medellin’s changed that much. I think maybe we’ve just got seen more things and decided that that it’s too big a city for us. It’s about 2 million people and the traffic is horrendous. And there’s a lot of air pollution. And even, not even if you’re driving, just crossing the street it’s really hard. There’s though they don’t, they ignore crosswalks. So there’s none of that your cars will stop. You gotta you have to run across the street. And three times in this last trip, we were there three months, and three times cars actually came out of the lanes into the lanes we were in to get closer to us. And I don’t know if they were joking around. Or they just didn’t see us at all. Yeah, or what the real but we’re like,

Amanda Kendle 22:33
You didn’t feel safe.

Ann Mortimore 22:34
No, we would plan our outings, depending on the day of the week, the time of day and what streets we had to cross.

Amanda Kendle 22:42
Oh, wow. Yeah. You don’t want to live like that permanently?

Ian Crabtree 22:45
No, no. And it’s gotten a lot more popular. So it’s gotten, at least the accommodation short term has gotten more expensive. So we really don’t have a winter place yet. And that’s where I this winter, we’re going to Southeast Asia.

Amanda Kendle 23:00
Fabulous. Oh, you`’ll be close to Australia. Excellent. And where abouts are you going to research and test out in Southeast Asia.

Ian Crabtree 23:10
I think we want to go to Thailand and we want to go to Vietnam, we want to go to Cambodia and we want to go to Malaysia.

Amanda Kendle 23:16
Brilliant! Oh you’ll love all of those.

Unknown Speaker 23:18
we actually are flying into Singapore because that’s where we were able to get a flight deal. And we’ll only spend a few days in Singapore but it’ll probably be a good introduction since to Asia since it’s very you know, first world

Amanda Kendle 23:37
Yes, yes. It’s a very good transitional stop you get kind of you know, start to have all the Asian foods around you and everything but it’s much more first world I suppose then then the rest of it. So yeah, I’ll cool. Um, what are you looking for in your winter place when you’re when you’re testing it out? What are your kind of requirements these days.

Ann Mortimore 23:58
We also are partial to Europe so far in our travels, so there may be a winter destination that we haven’t found yet in Europe, but being US citizens, we have to be aware of the rules of the Schengen zone. We can’t be spend more than 90 days out of any 180 in the Schengen zone.

Amanda Kendle 24:21
Yes. Yeah so that rules out a bit, yeah, same for us. Same for Australians.

Ann Mortimore 24:25
So that’s why that’s another reason why Brasov, Romania is is good for us because even though it’s in the EU, it’s not in the Schengen.

Amanda Kendle 24:37
Yes, yes. It’s such a weird setup isn’t it, and and frustrating when you do want to spend more time in the Schengen zone but but yeah, so. So when you’re in Southeast Asia, yeah. Go on.

Ian Crabtree 24:52
So so the one place that was probably on the top of our list for Europe in the wintertime is Los Palmas, Grand Canaria. The weather is very similar San Diego’s and so and it’s quite a bit less expensive than San Diego.

Ann Mortimore 25:07
Yeah, except the city, at least the parts we’ve seen is really ugly. The beach is awesome. And we’re very much beach people.

Amanda Kendle 25:16
Right? Yes. It’s interesting, isn’t it? Yeah, it’s hard to decide. I mean, it’s such a like, what a wonderful, not even a problem but a wonderful thing to have to be able to kind of contemplate, oh, you know, we like this, this and this, where in the world is going to satisfy the, you know, the most of these paths. I was chatting with another guest Liz Green the other day about the same thing and they’ve been testing out. They were in Chiang Mai in Thailand for a while and decided then that it was what was the main problem? Oh, yes, the air quality was a bit of a problem and something else that I escapes me now. Maybe traffic I think not sure. Yeah, but it’s great you know, great to try them out, I think some people just try and move abroad and they’ve researched only, you know without going there yet, but testing them out by traveling around is so smart.

Ann Mortimore 26:09
And so many things we’ve read about other people that go to be expats, you know that that famous line Well, well, we knew the minute we saw it, it was our place. That just that just hasn’t happened to us.

Amanda Kendle 26:24
No. I doubt that it can happen to anyone really, you can’t really know what a place is like, I think until you’ve lived through like a full sort of year there and to see the seasons and how things are different from time to time.

Ian Crabtree 26:37
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We agree.

Amanda Kendle 26:41
Interesting. Well, I look forward to hearing how you go in Southeast Asia and which, if you make a winter decision there.

Amanda Kendle 26:47
I think the idea of having two places one for each season would work for me pretty well. I would be more than happy to basically never have winter again. It is not my favorite season, even though I live in one of the places with the mildest winter ever, just not my thing, occasionally to holiday in winter, that’s okay, but I could really live without it. Otherwise, I know there’s plenty of you who disagree. But anyway, it was interesting to hear about Anne and Ian’s process so far, in looking for some places to settle down more permanently, a very interesting and what a fortuitous situation to be in. But it makes a lot of sense to because for many of us, especially living in places like the US, Australia, for sure, UK, even where the cost of living can be really high and lots of parts of Europe as well. There are other parts of the world where we could live much more cheaply. In fact, I often contemplate that idea when I see my mortgage repayments here in Perth, where they’re quite high. But at the moment, my son’s going to school here and that’s just the way it is and I do love living in Perth, but down the track, who knows I will be revisiting this episode in a few years’ time and thinking about where I might head for a bit more, a bit more of a semi permanent stay, or at least for a fairly long stint.

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