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If you are considering a move abroad, or a jump into the digital nomad lifestyle, you might be asking yourself: So what are pros and cons of living abroad?
The first time I moved abroad, I was 20 years old; I went to Seville, Spain for a semester abroad while doing my degree in Spanish literature. That was just the beginning. Since then, I’ve spent the majority of the past 20 years outside of the US, so I definitely have strong opinions about the pros and cons of living abroad. I’ve been living abroad since before social media was born, since before the term ‘digital nomad’ was in our common vernacular.
In my time abroad, I’ve done everything from teaching English to studying film, design, and even yoga in an ashram. I’ve worked on sheep farms, organic farms, pubs and art shops. I’ve stayed for as short as a few days in one place to several years.
Before you dig in to this article, I want to be clear that these are my experiences and my perspectives of being a white woman from the United States. I do not claim to speak for anyone other than myself, and while I do compare places to the US (only because it is where I grew up), I do not in any way think the US is the best country in the world.
Without further ado:
The PROS of a Digital Nomad Life
PRO: Live the Life I Want
Living abroad allows me to reimagine my life. If I decide I want to be closer to the mountains, I can move to the mountains. If I want to be closer to the beach, I can move to the beach. I can live in a big city, in a small town. I never feel confined to one place. I can stay for a while until I feel it’s not what I want anymore; then I get to rethink it all, all over again. I have so many chances to reimagine the life I want when I want, and reframe my needs as I change. While things are not always stars and rainbows every day, the digital nomad benefits largely outweigh a life spent inside the walls of my home country.
PRO: Gain Confidence in Yourself
Living in a new country and a new culture is overwhelming at first. But after time passes, I get to look back at my experiences, and say- hey I did that! All by myself! And now it’s easy! If I can learn Portuguese in Brazil, then of course I’m capable of learning Italian in Italy. If I can walk 25 days on the Camino de Santiago, then of course I can walk 5 days on the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu. If I have the courage to make friends in a second language, then of course I can approach this person in my first language. Having hundreds of unique and interesting experiences develops me more fully as a person. In turn, that gives me more confidence in my every day life.
GeoArbitrage is the act of living in a place where your money goes further and lasts longer. Average rent in California is $3000/mo. I can live off of that for 3 months in Argentina. If I am making US dollars, then living in the country of Georgia allows me to live without financial insecurity. I can get drinks, go to dinner, order take-out, etc. without a large stress on my bank account.
I lived in Miami for two years. For two years, I worried about paying rent, buying gas, paying medical bills, etc. Money was constantly a trigger for anxiety. Living abroad removes a lot of that worry.
Of course there are both pros and cons of living abroad, but having my money last longer and do more is one of the absolute most important.
PRO: Learn New Languages
Studying Spanish in high school is completely different than living in a Spanish speaking country, and using the language every day, out of necessity. Two hours a week vs every time you walk out the front door. A full language immersion helps you to learn the language faster, better, and think quick on your feet. Eventually you’ll even have friends in a totally different language. Those new friends are a link to the local culture, and help you to become a part of your adopted home in a more meaningful way. Learning new languages opens your mind to new ways of thinking.
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PRO: Gain a Better Understanding of Culture & Geography
When I was in university, one of my roommates told me he grew up in Saudi Arabia, and I asked where that was. Now I can tell you the capital of Saudi Arabia (as well as the capital of every other country), the neighboring countries, the leader’s name, and several facts about it. Sure, you can know those things without having traveled. But the more you travel, the more you become genuinely interested in the world around you. You become more curious. You’ll find yourself staring at maps planning out trips, or wondering where your next destination might be.
When you travel abroad, you learn the history of a place. Suddenly history and geography begin to make more sense when placed in context of each place you visit. Of course, living in a place, rather than just traveling, connects you to a place. You begin to understand small cultural taboos, beliefs, and ways of existing. Eventually, you might even pick up local traits without even realizing. I can no longer drink a cappuccino after noon, thanks to Italy. My chopstick skills are on point thanks to four years in Korea. Living abroad has made me a solid trivia competitor when it comes to the geography portion.
PRO: Make International Friendships
No matter where you go, it’s the people who make the experience. I absolutely love having friends all over the world. I love that when I’m considering traveling or moving to a new country, I have several people I can contact for advice, tips, or even a place to stay. I’ve visited friends in Canada that I met in Korea. Friends in Sweden I met in the Philippines. One of my best friends in Italy was a Russian girl I met while living in the Philippines. I’ve done spontaneous road trips in Argentina with a German and an American. I drove across western China with a Chinese American, a Slovenian, and a Norwegian. Every person from every country brings a unique experience and a new way of looking at things.
PRO: Medical Tourism
Everyone knows by now that the American Healthcare system is one of the worst in the world. Without insurance, you’re guaranteed to go into debt for a simple procedure. Even with insurance, you can often expect to pay thousands of dollars after a short trip to the hospital. Outside of the US, healthcare doesn’t give me financial anxiety. Having a digital nomad lifestyle allows me to take care of medical necessities when I’m outside of the country. Just today I got a dental cleaning in Mexico for $40. I got Lasik in South Korea for $900. I got 4 veneers in Georgia for $460. Laser hair removal in Argentina for less than $20. If I had done any of these things in the United States, I could expect to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars more.
PRO: Travel Insurance: SafetyWing
Medical tourism is very real and allows me to take care of my medical needs at a much more affordable cost; however, having a form of travel medical insurance is absolutely necessary. I always use SafetyWing. SafetyWing is a travel medical insurance that was created by nomads for nomads. You can purchase a policy even if your trip has already started, and pause and resume coverage with flexibility. You’re covered in 185 countries and you don’t need to let them know about your itinerary in advance. It is truly the perfect type of travel medical insurance for people like me who are constantly on the move. If you’re considering a move or a trip abroad, get yourself some SafetyWing Travel Medical Insurance.
The CONS of a Digital Nomad Life
CON: You Miss Your Family & Friends
This is the most obvious, right? Leaving a place always means saying goodbye to the people that made it special. Luckily now there are so many easy ways to keep in touch via Zoom, FaceTime, social media etc. but nothing will ever change the way it feels to sit across from someone you love and have an intimate conversation. With time you’ll get more used to leaving and this becomes less hard. But if you really need be with them again, they’re just a plane ride away. Of course you will always meet new people wherever you go, and the longer you stay, the stronger the bonds become.
CON: Loneliness is Too Real
This is one of the most difficult aspects of the digital nomad lifestyle for me. I actually love being alone. I love spending time by myself, working on my projects, writing, cooking, watching a show. I’m used to it. But every once in a while, it hits me- I’m totally alone. I don’t know anyone in this city to talk to, or to turn to if I need. It can feel incredibly isolating, and I have spent many nights crying. Luckily, the feeling is only temporary. But when it hits, it hits hard.
CON: Live Without Certain Material Comforts
Sometimes I find myself strolling through a market with beautiful hand crafted dishes, beautiful paintings, or hand crafted rugs. A feeling washes over me- I want that. I want that in my home. But then I realize I don’t have a home, and a rug won’t fit in my carry-on sized suitcase. I don’t want to carry around a heavy dish set with me.
I also find myself wanting new clothes, or a wider variety in my “closet.” More options. But I can only take so much with me, so I live with very little. I forego a more fashionable sense of style, for more convenient travel apparel.’
I would like to have plants. I would like to have an air frier. I would like to have my sewing machine around. But no.
CON: Live Without Mental & Emotional Comforts
There is so much comfort in taking care of tasks in your native language. You know you’ll understand everything, you’ll be understood. Everything makes sense in a country you grew up in. You just understand things intuitively. You take for granted the small things. In other countries, other cultures, and other languages- you’re not just worried about the words you need to use. You must also think about the cultural do’s and don’t’s. The faux pas’. Doing all these extra mental exercises is tiring, and you find yourself more exhausted by the end of the day than usual.
CON: Lack of Community
This one is also hard. When you stay in one place for just a few months, you can meet people, sure. But in such a short period of time, it’s hard to transition a few friendships into real community. Friendships take time to foster. When you’re constantly moving around, you often find yourself craving community. The places I’ve stayed for a few years- Korea, Italy- those are the places I felt community the most, and are also some of the places I find I miss the most.
CON: Logistical Exhaustion
Moving around takes work, and it’s tiring. Finding accommodation. Again. Figuring out transportation. Again. Once you arrive to a new place, it’s exciting, but you also need to figure everything out all over again. Where is the supermarket. Where is the park. Where is a cute cafe. A good restaurant. A good bar. When you’re moving around a lot, your brain never takes a break.
CON: Cultural Frustrations
No matter where you’re from, or where you go, you will go through the stages of culture shock: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance. Everything is exciting when you arrive, but you will inevitably start to feel that frustration creeping in. Comparing is unavoidable. Why do they do things this way? It doesn’t make sense! These drivers are awful. Nobody pays attention to where they’re walking. Why are they so noisy when they eat? They work so slowly. So much red tape. Nothing gets done! It goes on and on! There will always be something frustrating about where you go. No matter where it is. Every country has a different measurement for ‘common sense,’ and when it doesn’t’ align with your own, you will definitely find yourself in a bad mood.
There are several pros and cons of living abroad, but for me I find that the pros tend to outweigh the cons. Otherwise I wouldn’t have spent so many years abroad. I love the way travel has enriched my cultural understanding of the world. Knowing that I probably already know someone in a place I’m considering going is without a price. The international friendships I have made over the last two decades are invaluable and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
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