I still remember how it felt.
It was 2017. Late summer.
I had made the decision to indefinitely relocate to Thailand in order to live out my early retirement dreams and fulfill a lot of the potential that I believed FIRE could have.
A sense of relief had washed over me.
It was peace. Contentment. And even a little bit of excitement.
No fear. Not an ounce of concern over “failing”.
Coming to this conclusion now seems inevitable. I look back on it and kind of wonder what took me so long. I should have done it much sooner. But hindsight is always 20/20.
Just as well, we’re always stumbling forward, into the unknown future. We learn, grow, and change. It’s wonderful and beautiful.
Well, thinking back on what led me to this decision, I’ve come around to realizing that my mindset has definitely shifted over the last couple years of living abroad as an expat.
What led me to moving to Thailand is not quite the same as that which keeps me staying in Thailand.
I thought it’d be fun to share this realization with you readers today.
Let’s dig in…
Lower Cost Of Living
As I recall, it basically came down to a 50/50 split between two major themes.
The first theme was a lower cost of living.
This is the main benefit that people tend to think about when the idea of geographic arbitrage pops up.
It’s quite simple, really.
You continue to earn a healthy income (or spend down savings/investments) in a strong currency from wherever you came from. Then you spend that money in another place/currency where that money goes much further in local terms. It comes down to purchasing power.
If you can live in a place where the “big three” – housing, food, and transportation – are significantly cheaper, you’ve probably shaved many years off of your working life.
Because of this, geographic arbitrage could be the answer to your early retirement dreams.
Geo arb is a massive advantage that shouldn’t be underestimated. Indeed, I discussed it in detail in my most recent best-selling book: 5 Steps To Retire In 5 Years.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that Thailand was a very cheap country.
But the lower COL was only half the puzzle for me.
More And Better Relationships
The other half of the puzzle was the idea of more and better relationships.
I wanted to meet interesting people. Like-minded connections appeal to me, as they appeal to everyone.
To be honest, I’ve grown weary of the rat race mentality of the US. It’s a very grind-it-out place to live. Work hard, play hard. I find it exhausting to even exist there.
If money and the rat race are what you want, it’s a great place. Arguably the best place in the world.
But I’m not interested in grinding.
I’m interested in living.
In the US, one’s perceived societal value is often based on their job title, the amount of their paycheck, the size of their house, the brand of car they drive, etc.
Who works longer? Who’s got more money? Who’s got the bigger house?
Even when you move beyond money, it then becomes all about political, religious, or other views.
Think, act, and live just like me…
The longer I lived in the US, and the more solidified/individualistic my worldviews became, the lonelier I felt.
The US is, in my experience, a very divisive place to live. This is especially the case when your thoughts differ from the groupthink. It’s an echo chamber where a different voice can be jarring.
And it’s only getting worse, in my view.
Social norms are breaking down, and large groups seem to have splintered off into adversarial competitors of other groups.
To each their own, though. The US is a great fit for millions of people. I’m happy about that. I wish for everyone to find their place in this world. But the US is just not a healthy place for my psyche.
Since I knew the Thai culture promoted the idea of having fun and working to live (rather than living to work), I felt like living in Thailand would naturally lead to a higher quality of life. This aspect of Thai culture is, in my opinion, epitomized by the concept of sanuk.
To put it plainly, living in Thailand is fun. Almost everything here is based around having a good time.
Thai culture is also tolerant. It’s a very free place to live. You do you. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, nobody really cares.
Plus, I also knew that Chiang Mai specifically attracted a global entrepreneur scene, which I thought would be neat.
Although I’ve come to see that there are mostly just wantrepreneurs here, there are still a few awesome people that come through the city. My Aussie mate, who I’ve shared some brutal workouts with, is a good example.
At the very least, many of the Western people who come here are thinking outside the box and willing to roll the dice on something exciting. Maybe the dice roll doesn’t work out, but they still give it a shot. I admire that. It’s obviously different than the job/mortgage/car/debt bubble.
In addition, I meet a few readers every month. There are clearly a lot of people traveling through the area. In comparison, I met less than five readers during my entire lifetime in the States!
Highest QOL, Lowest COL
So when I first conceptualized my life abroad, I aimed to move to the place where I could get the highest quality of life at the lowest cost of living.
I wanted to live at that intersection between high QOL and low COL, which is something I talk about at length in my podcast interview with Brett Dev.
Sure, there are cheaper places in the world. There are even cheaper cities than Chiang Mai right here in Thailand.
But I’m not after only living cheaply. The idea of competing on cheapness is just as gross to me as competing for paychecks.
I love a good value. I’m frugal. But I want the happiest life, not the cheapest life.
Researching just about every place in the world kept me coming back to Thailand as the best across-the-board choice for everything I personally wanted in my life.
After living here in Thailand for almost two years, I feel better than ever about my choice. I have absolutely no regrets, nor do I plan on going anywhere else anytime soon.
But I will say that living here for a couple years now has given me a new perspective on the 50/50 reasoning that led me here.
Moreover, what keeps me here is different from what led me here.
It’s no longer a 50/50 split.
It’s now an 80/20 split, favoring the relationships aspect of the equation.
Look, the low cost of living here is great. There is no way I could replicate my Chiang Mai lifestyle anywhere in the US for the same cost.
Living my same lifestyle, on an apples-to-apples basis, accounting for two people, would easily cost three times as much in a comparable US city. That’s why the plane ticket to Thailand is easily the best financial investment I’ve ever made. I’m a millionaire in local terms, which is neat.
But the longer I live here, as my passive income grows exponentially, and the more I experience Thai culture, the more I realize how important healthy and like-minded relationships are in one’s life.
The West has conditioned me to place an unnecessarily large priority on money, so it’s taken me some time to retrain my brain on this.
The thing about the US is, for me, I had a very difficult time finding anyone who found the value in what I espouse. Even just meeting people who find value in value itself is hard. Spending more money just to prove you can spend more is a very common form of incorrect signalling in the States.
I want to have fun. I want to have fun every day. And I want to have fun with other fun people who see intrinsic value in fun for fun’s sake.
I don’t want to wait until Saturday night so that I can get invited to some overpriced bar to get smashed with people who have enough energy for one night to live up their YOLO/play hard dreams. In the US, “fun” is a place you go to. It’s a place you save up money and time in order to visit before you go back to working hard. No wonder everyone seems overworked, overstressed, and overweight.
I guess I just don’t fit in over in the States. It’s a thing where I started to feel alienated. Even though there are people everywhere, I felt alone. It was crowded isolation.
A good example of this is in the way I prefer living without a car. It’s not even a financial choice. Even if I had unlimited money, I wouldn’t want/buy a car. I genuinely enjoy walking to places. To me, driving oneself around sucks. It’s a waste of money, time, and energy.
Well, I can live without a car in the States. Did it for many years.
But how many other like-minded people get it? Does it alienate me? Am I one of the only people around doing it?
Almost none. Yes. And yes.
Surviving is not thriving.
Outside of NYC (and perhaps a small handful of other uber-expensive enclaves), the US is suburban highway hell. It’s a low-density country where most people proudly own and drive cars.
This isn’t necessarily how it is in many other parts of the world. Vibrant urbanity is actually quite prevalent throughout Europe, Asia, and even South America. And it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to access it. If you want to live in a relatively large city, there are simply better choices outside of the US.
Another example of all of this is finding a partner.
Having a loved one that supports and appreciates you is invaluable.
I can still remember the last date I had before I left the States. When I vaguely responded to the initial line of questioning regarding what I did for a living, the condescending response was this: “Soooooo no job??”
Conversely, I remember Oh’s response to the same conversation. Her eyes lit up with interest and enthusiasm when she found out how free I was.
It’s not just about living a particular lifestyle, folks.
It’s about living a particular lifestyle around fun, non-judgmental, like-minded people who have a somewhat similar value system.
I want to thrive, not just survive.
Arbitraging My Entire Life
Being unconventional in the land of conventional is, frankly, no fun.
I’ll soon have more than enough money to live an amazing lifestyle almost anywhere in the world. In fact, counting my active income, I can already do that.
But it doesn’t matter. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. Now that I see what life is like away from the US, I could never go back.
This mindset has become less and less about the money for me.
Simultaneously, it has become more about living true to who I am as a human being. I want to unabashedly live authentically while simultaneously being embraced (or at least not be rejected).
It grew tiresome to stand out due to ideas, values, and lifestyle choices. I enjoy being unique and thinking outside the box, but being alienated because of that isn’t fun. Uniqueness, in my experience, is not celebrated in the States.
Now, I’m not at all saying that the average Thai person (or average person of any culture) is going to fully understand FIRE.
What I am saying is that I don’t receive the judgment, crab mentality, and condescension over here.
There’s no longer this overwhelming pressure in my life to conform to a herd mentality. I’m free to be me.
Even though I don’t place value on other people’s opinions, having opposing opinions aggressively and haughtily thrown in my face by others who confuse opinions with facts is bothersome and lowers my quality of life.
Speaking of quality of life, there are so many other aspects of living here that amplify my quality of life relative to the States.
For example, I’ve never felt unsafe here. I can walk around any area of Thailand at 1 a.m. and feel perfectly safe. I’ll even often leave my laptop unattended for long stretches of time at cafes and co-working spaces.
I would not feel safe doing any of that in plenty of large American cities. You don’t have areas like Brightmoor, Detroit (a neighborhood in my hometown) over here. The dangerous and decaying urban areas that are all too common in the US do not exist in Thailand.
It’s simple: geo arb is about arbitraging a lot more than just price differences. It’s about arbitraging your entire life.
It’s been a fun journey, living abroad for almost two years now.
And it’s allowed me to grow so much. I’m immensely grateful for the process and everything that’s unfolded in my life since I moved away from the States.
I can say, without a doubt, I’m far, far happier living in Thailand than I ever was in the USA. It’s not even close.
At first, the ability to kind of do whatever I want without regard for costs was super neat. Not thinking about money any longer was a big relief. I thought that was awesome.
But after living here for as long as I have, and as the passive income continues to grow like clockwork, it’s become less and less about the low cost of living for me. I’ve acclimatized to that.
Instead, it’s now an 80/20 split, where my quality of life has become more significantly impacted by like-minded and supportive relationships.
It comes down to a way of life. And that way of life comes down to the people you find yourself surrounded by.
The US has one way of life. Thailand has a totally different way of life.
I’m not at all saying one culture is better or worse than the other (neither is “right” or “wrong”), but I can say for sure that I personally prefer the way of life in Thailand, which is a way of life that I think could be approximated in a handful of other SE Asian countries.
I earn enough income and have enough wealth to live a very comfortable life almost anywhere in the world. But I still choose to base my life here due to personal lifestyle and cultural preferences. And I hope I can remain here in Southeast Asia for a very long time.
The rat racers can chase cheese. I’d rather chase feels.
What do you think? Ever feel isolated in the US due to lifestyle choices? Do you think living abroad would help alleviate that?
Thanks for reading.
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