Big changes ahead for me. And these changes have major implications on the rest of my life.
At the end of September, I’m relocating to Chiang Mai, Thailand for the foreseeable future.
It’s exciting on one hand. Scary on the other. But I’m thinking a lot more about the former than the latter. It’s the optimist in me.
I poked around the city for a little bit almost 18 months ago. I was honestly mixed on it. However, my perspective was framed around the idea of just visiting the place and seeing what so many expats, digital nomads, and early retirees saw in the place. I was pulled to the area by others’ experiences rather than my own genuine desire to be there, which soured my own experience. Plus, I was looking at the place more in the short-term sense, as I had a life back in the US to attend to.
However, a few things have changed since last spring, most notably the ending of a truly amazing and successful relationship.
And as a situation changes, options change… one’s perspective tends to change… ideas change.
That all led me to where I’m now at, which is on the cusp of moving overseas and becoming a dividend expat.
So there are two big reasons (among some other reasons) I came to decide on this.
As I often do, I think of life and its collection of decisions that come up daily in both quantitative and qualitative terms.
I’ll go over the quantitative reason first. And then I’ll go over the more qualitative reason.
Lower Cost Of Living
This one should be fairly obvious.
As I wrote about before, becoming a dividend expat can present major financial benefits.
There’s the much lower cost of living, first. You also have the potential to lower your tax bill. And significant reductions in one’s healthcare expenses (even for those who are relatively healthy and don’t even use the healthcare system in the US) is another big consideration.
These benefits could add up to thousands of dollars per month, depending on your situation. As such, moving overseas could dramatically speed up the time line to financial independence/early retirement (assuming you’re moving to a low-cost locale).
I’ve already locked up a one-bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai. The apartment, which I’ll write a post about in a few weeks (after I’m there), is somewhere around 60% to 70% less than what the equivalent would be in a similar city here in the US.
This apartment is in one of the most walkable and dense parts of the city. It’s furnished. It includes cable and wifi. There’s a pool and a gym. It has fingerprint access.
And it’s a little over $400 per month.
I’d actually have a hard time finding a room for rent here in the US in the same price range as what this apartment in Chiang Mai costs. And that room probably wouldn’t even be in a city I’d like to live in.
While housing is likely going to be the biggest cost savings to living in Chiang Mai (and a lot of other cheap cities around the world), the overall cost of living – pretty much across one’s budgetary categories – is almost surely going to be a lot lower. How much lower depends on what one does with their money.
I’ve been spending some time looking at housing in a few different areas of the country, as I have to move. I’m in a similar spot to the one I was in back in 2009 – I’m facing down the reality that the place I’m currently in isn’t best for where I want to go moving forward.
Just as I believed Florida was more conducive than Michigan to achieving financial independence back in 2009, I’ve come to believe that other places are more conducive than Florida (or at least Sarasota) to maximizing financial independence right now.
Well, I’ve just been somewhat unimpressed with the value of housing across the board.
Some US cities are way too expensive for ordinary people. Others appear to be overvalued, especially compared to just a few years ago. While there are some solid markets in pockets (like, say, Tucson), these are areas that I’m going to pass on for right now. I considered doing the roommate thing for a while, but rooms in cities I could see myself living in are, in my view, not great deals.
Since I’m just as geographically independent as I am financially independent, I started to look at opportunities across the world, rather than just what’s available here in the United States.
See, I seek out value in everything I purchase (be it stocks or socks). Even if I were a billionaire, I wouldn’t pay more than I should for my housing (or anything else).
Once I broadened my horizons, the options became incredible rather quickly.
Living on ~$1,200 per month here in the US can be tough (but certainly doable, as I’ve proven), even for a veteran of frugality and minimalism like myself. But I can do it without even trying in many other parts of the world, including Chiang Mai. That naturally increases my flexibility and freedom, which directly relates to my happiness.
I could spend a lot more (as I make a healthy income from writing). But it wouldn’t make me any happier.
This is the other half of the equation for me, which is just as important as the lower cost of living.
America is the land of consumption. Being so, there are certain expectations that a lot of women here have. And these are expectations that I can’t meet, nor do I particularly want to.
However, Chiang Mai (and places like it) changes that dynamic rather considerably.
Chiang Mai is a city where people are more in touch with the basics. After all, this is a place where many people ride scooters and eat $2 street food. It’s just a totally different world with vastly different expectations. Plus, I sometimes wonder if the Buddhist mentality lends its hand to judging people based on the content of their character rather than the content of their wallet.
Of course, due to the geographical arbitrage involved with earning in dollars and spending in baht, ~$1,200 per month in Chiang Mai provides for a lot more local purchasing power than $1,200 per month would in the US.
One becomes relatively wealthy almost instantly. So that also impacts others’ perception of you, like it or not. It’s a lot easier for me to meet some expectations when my cost structure is so different. It’s a shame I have to put money and relationships in the same conversation, but they’re often inextricably linked.
I believe (although time and my writing/sharing will tell) that my odds of meeting a wonderful woman to build a long-term relationship with will be better elsewhere, based on who I’ve become and what I want out of life. In fact, I think Claudia and I worked so fantastically for so long largely because she’s not American.
And so the thought of spending more money than I should bothers me enough. Potentially being alone for an extended period of time on top of that is salt in the wound. Being able to possibly kill two birds with one stone seems advantageous to me.
Furthermore, it’s not just a long-term relationship I’m after.
Friendship is also really important to me. And it’s tough to find people here who think outside the box like I do. Most people my age in America are knee-deep in careers and more typical lifestyles.
The more I live this lifestyle, the more “outside the box” I think and become. I become even more committed to these concepts as I prove them out and experience the benefits firsthand.
This moves me further and further away from the old me – the one who could empathize a little more with people walking more typical life paths. It thus creates distance and isolation.
Well, there are a lot of young people doing really exciting things in places like Chiang Mai. They eschew the typical, instead living more minimalistic lifestyles that are supported via passive income and/or online income. There’s some common ground there, which is exciting in its own right. It’s a greater pool of like-minded people in a pretty small area. And I think that sets up more opportunities for serendipity.
Will this work out?
Time will tell. I’ll write about it and share as I go. So we’ll see. But I’m optimistic.
The good news is that I can always come back. My US citizenship isn’t going to be dissolved. If things don’t pan out, I can come back… or I can simply try somewhere else. Thailand has many different places to see and try, as does SE Asia in general. And there are actually some really fantastic cities in Eastern Europe that provide high quality of life at tremendous values. A lot of options out there.
But weighing those options out, I’m not sure that staying here in the US is the best choice. At least not right now. With high costs and high expectations here in America, I think my lifestyle, and financial freedom as I envision it, could be more robust elsewhere for the time being.
I’ll be updating you readers as I go. I plan to take some pictures and show the apartment soon after unpacking what little I’m bringing. And then I’ll release a full monthly dividend expat budget very soon.
So stay tuned!
What do you think? Ever thought of moving overseas and becoming a dividend expat once you’re financially independent? Interested in geographical arbitrage? Why or why not?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: akiraone at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
P.S. If you’re interested in achieving FIRE, or if you’re interested in moving abroad, check out some awesome resources I personally used on my way to becoming financially free at 33 and moving abroad to live out my early retirement dreams!