Living abroad

Living abroad

Chris has some really great videos adventuring around and living abroad in Japan – something I’ve considered and even had the opportunity to pursue. While I loved Japan the times I’ve visited, he does make some really solid points about the downsides in this video – a number of which I think are really good points about living abroad in general. Living/retiring abroad is something more and more retirees are trying out and professional streamers are doing as well. But it’s best to go into it with your eyes wide open and with a healthy understanding of the pros/cons before you make that life changing move.

So which points did I find most interesting?

Reason #4 – Starting with limited independence

When you first start out, and until you’re reasonably fluent in the language of where you are moving, you are going to need a LOT of help to get even basic things done. All the devices/appliances interfaces, interacting with services/medical/cell phone contracts/insurance/store clerks will also be in foreign language. I remember the first time I wanted to mail a package home, navigating the post office required I meet up with a local friend who knew how to fill out the page of overseas shipping forms. Figuring out the air conditioner took multiple attempts and using a translate app to help. Some countries are at least partly bilingual (like Japan), but expect to run into brick walls in which you absolutely need to have local help to navigate doing certain things. Using web translation and translation apps can really help (I remember the days when everyone carried a phrase book!), but are still bad enough to rarely provide everything you need. After doing things at least once, you can usually do things on your own; but the first time you do something may require help. If you have a good local friend, that’s a great start to help you navigate.

It’s also a very good idea to do your research and figure out how much it will cost to live there – especially the startup costs and navigating getting a place to rent. Renting in some countries can be very difficult for foreign residents, and buying dangers.

Reason #8 – Health care – especially mental health

Even when medical care is socialized, it doesn’t mean you should expect the same kind of care. Diagnosis of issues is hard enough – and a language barrier might make it harder. What might be a simple stomach issue might cause you to get a wrong treatment – even up to an unnecessary invasive procedure. Standards of treatment and expected treatment options, even for common problems, may also be very different than you expect. If you have chronic or highly likely conditions (family history/etc), the way that a country treats them will be essential for you to check out.

Nowhere is this more evident than with mental health. Many countries lag in mental health coverage and care – to the point it may well be even a taboo subject. Chris notes the experiences of many people he’s known: if you have mental health issues, it may be ok, but it also can be exacerbated by the experiences of living abroad. You are losing your family/friend circles that often provided stability and support as well as adding the daily stress of cultural and language barriers. Again, treatment options may be very limited if mental health issues are not taken seriously in that country.

Reason #7 – Dating/marriage

If you plan to date/marry a local, it is best to be at least minimally informed of the societal norms for a relationship in your new country – and how they differ from yours. While each person is an individual with their own tastes/desires from a partner, ALL of us carry unspoken expectations into relationships – many of which come from our cultural backgrounds. The role of romance, what constitutes fidelity/cheating (yes, there are VERY different ideas of what counts as cheating in different countries), expectations in involvement of family and parents, expectations around money and earning, age expectations to get married + having children, if there are expected gender roles they might expect you to fill. It’s an excellent idea to know which areas are usually aligned, and which are very mis-aligned, so you can have open and honest discussions about your expectations.

Which really is just another way to say #11…

Reason #11 – Cultural Norms

Hopefully, one of the reasons you are going to live in another place is because you want to experience another culture. This inherently means that they do things differently. Part of that is a result of where one lives geographically (It’s ridiculous to have hawaiian shirts, flip-flops, and board shorts if you’re living in Siberia) and the historical culture of the area. That’s both an adventure, and a sticking point. Despite our western proclivities for rugged individualism and forging through adversity to get what you want, you’re going to have to adapt or you’ll find yourself constantly fighting the society as a whole. This goes from simple points of daily etiquette to such things as your very lifestyle.

Examples? Apartments in Japan are not sound proofed enough to have big, blaring music systems, loud TV sets, and apartment parties – which is why everyone goes out with friends. The latest 90″ HDTV with streaming internet movies/sports is pointless in a country where power goes off regularly or broadband internet is non-existent. Having big, overstuffed cloth furniture is great in New York, it mildews and rots in hot tropical climates. Your favorite shampoos and care products may not be available. If you take medications/need treatment, you may need to take the version of that medication that’s available in the country you’re living. Governments, legal systems, or their officials may have drastically different laws about property, rights, and other legal matters.

Going further, not all countries have the same…senses of equality we have here. Some countries openly promote or suppress some religions. Treatment and even legal rights between genders may be quite different to outright medieval.

In short, stubbornly holding on to foods, lifestyle, and products from your home country are going to range from expensive/inconvenient to impossible. The reality I have heard from others is that if you’re not willing to live as the citizens of that country live – then you are almost certainly headed for unhappiness, frustration, or even spending more living there than back home.

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