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Sometimes the grass actually -is- greener

The other night in Auckland, the alternative rock band Gorillaz performed at Vector Arena down the street from my flat. I didn’t have to go to the concert– I had the best seat in the house right from my own balcony, sort of like the Wrigley Field Rooftops in Chicago.

It was the first summer evening of the southern hemisphere, and I sat listening to the band with a few expat friends and a nice bottle of one of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blancs… and once the music faded, we started talking about expatriation.

What makes people stay and what makes people leave?

I’ve met a lot of expats over the years and seen the psychology of people’s decision-making processes up close and personal. For many, the decision is driven by emotion: fear, anxiety, sense of adventure, etc.

Some people react to this wide range of emotions by packing up overnight and heading to a place they’ve never been before expecting it to look like Topeka, Kansas. It doesn’t usually work out for these folks– they encounter challenges that don’t meet their unrealistic expectations, and frustration sets in.

The successful expats I’ve met all made calculated, rational decisions after a few boots on the ground trips and a lot of research.  When they properly set their expecations and maintained the flexibility to deal with the unknown, they almost always ended up happy with the decision.

As many of these successful expats have found out, sometimes the grass actually -is- greener… sometimes life actually can become better, more interesting, more fulfilling when they step away from the grind, think clearly about what they want, and follow a new direction.

Earlier in the day I had a meeting with Iain MacLeod of IMMagine New Zealand, a local immigration specialist who will be speaking at our upcoming offshore workshop in Panama.  Iain’s a great guy, very knowledgeable and experienced, and we were swapping expat stories at his office.

Iain’s known quite a few expats who have made New Zealand their home– from England, South Africa, the US… meanwhile there are a lot of Kiwis heading overseas themselves.

You see, there’s a bit of a brain drain here, particularly among the talented youth. Many of them find New Zealand to be too small, too provincial, too limiting… and they run like hell to places like Los Angeles.

Ironically, I’ve met a lot of Californians who are beating down the door to get into New Zealand– they find LA to be too crowded, too dangerous, and too stifling. To them, New Zealand is paradise.

As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure… and with the expat game, it’s a bit of a global merry-go-round.

For example, I once met a young Filipino who went to Malaysia to work at a call center because he heard they were hiring English speakers. Later, I met a Malaysian entrepreneur who went to Thailand to open a successful computer hardware factory because he got better tax incentives there.

Naturally I’ve met many Thais living abroad, working hard in places like Dubai, and then of course many Emiratis from Dubai living in London. The merry-go-round comes full circle with the British expat from London who ends up living in the Philippines.

In a way, this phenomenon illustrates what I consider to be a [relatively] free market for citizenship and overseas residency; people are free to choose the locations that are most suitable for their needs based on opportunity and lifestyle.

My expectation is that as the geopolitical landscape continues to change, the barriers to entry in many countries will fall; governments will be forced to compete with each other to attract residents.

For example, I expect that countries with terrible demographics like Japan and Italy will start being very liberal in their immigration policies because they need young blood to work, pay taxes, and support elderly social programs.

The same may even happen in the US eventually, with the government offering immigration incentives to foreigners who can help mop up the housing inventory and recapitalize the banks with their savings.

The thing is, many countries are already doing this. Singapore and Chile are aggressively courting investors, professionals, and entrepreneurs. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and UAE advertise in the help wanted sections of Sri Lankan and Indian newspapers to staff their colossal infrastructure projects.

Places like Panama, Brazil, and Costa Rica have passed favorable legislation and tax incentives in order to attract foreign retirees… and as my friend Iain was telling me, they even have some investor and retiree programs here in New Zealand.

The bottom line is that for a creative, inquisitive mind, there are plenty of options available for anyone seeking lifestyle or financial opportunities overseas. The first step is the most important, though: breaking free of the serf mentality that ‘you are what your passport says you are’.

About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • M Larsen

    I don’t often exactly agree with Simon Black, or even think about some of the topics he posts — and I read his blog exactly because of that fact. I have to agree with the expat mentality though, especially this tidbit:

    ‘Properly set your expectations and maintain the flexibility to deal with the unknown.’

    Thumbs up, Simon. Always, but especially approaching the new year, it’s good to remember that are options and opportunities are even more limitless than we can imagine. Open-mindedness and careful research will always uncover new paths.

  • Veritabletruth

    Um, ‘collossal infrastructure projects’-the UAE, etc basically hires indentured servant and treats them like slaves…Sure, they use modern means such as a newspaper to advertise-but it’s no different than past groups such as the irish to the US, etc.
    Dirt poor folks who are starving, leaving their families beyind to eek out a living, usually rooming 10 at a time with other ‘expats’.
    I hardly think this is the same as chile and singapore wanting to attract professionals and investors. And I hardly think it’s indicative of some ‘winds of global change’-lol.
    This kind of ‘expatriation’ has been going on for centuries. Technology makes it seem both more common and more ‘free choice’-when it is neither. This is all still manipulated by the powers that be, in many levels.
    Just sayin’-the examples you gave vary widely, and are not supportive of the topic of your post.
    I don’t think the grass is greener, so much as it not being a complete desert, for the guy from sri lanka who eeks out his living as a second class citizen in UAE, kuwait, dubai, etc—dealing with racism, abuse, etc. Or the maid from the phillipines in singapore, dealing with the same. It’s not rosey, simon, in most of these cases.

  • readytogo

    Excellent commentary! As I read, I was reminded how grateful I am that I was brought up by two parents who “suffered” (broad wink and a grin) from intense curiosity and a bit of wanderlust. They were both born in 1920 when most people the world over seldom ever traveled more than a few hundred miles from home, if that. My father enlisted in the army after the outbreak of WWII, partly for patriotic reasons, and partly to see more of the world than the small town in Illinois where he grew up. My mother, at age 19, left the small farm in southern Oklahoma where she had grown up, and walked and rode buses to get to another state to attend a secretarial course so she could see the world. She soon found a job as an executive secretary for a judge advocate general in the U.S. Army. She traveled as a civilian employee of the Army until she met my father. They were both in their late 20′s when they married. When children came along they finally settled down, but never with the intent of staying in one place forever. We moved a lot when I was growing up because my parents were always looking for and finding better opportunities. Without their pioneering spirit, my siblings and I may never have had the courage to travel to other countries, mostly out of enormous curiosity to see how other people lived and worked. I fully intend to retire to some place outside of the U.S. and am doing my due diligence to narrow down several options. Hopefully, 2011 will be the year when I start taking some extensive vacations to my top picks. I can’t wait to get packed!

  • Macky0824

    “Places like Panama, Brazil, and Costa Rica have passed favorable legislation and tax incentives in order to attract foreign retirees… .”

    Would the same be true for Colombia? I’m retired, I’ve been there, It’s really beautiful.

  • flipspiceland

    Not to dispute the entire premise of emigration, but the only way for that to work for any nation is for a thriving market for employment to exist or at least have the potential to exist.

    I don’t foresee any nation thriving on the importation of people who essentially live more and more on the welfare programs of competing states.

    Unless and until the jobs being developed match or exceed the numbers of people, net, to a nation, that country is doomed.

    The countries you mention are a mishmash of different needs. Any country desperately needs entrepeneurs who can create products that are able to be built and sold to millions of people. They are the only primary job creators. Those who need retirees are essentially saying that they have no job creation and need retirees funds to support their dwindling economies, a bad rationale for luring expatriates to come on down, but great for the retiree.

  • thita

    Simon, I think you hit the nail on the head in this article. The point is that there is good and bad everywhere, there are opportunities everywhere, and an enthusiastic spirit can make it anywhere.

    I have been reading your post for over a year now, and have seen your mood change quite a bit. You used to be a positive person in general, talking about interesting opportunities in interesting places.

    In the past 6 months or so you have really switched over to “any place is better the the US”, and have nothing good to say about this country. I found this quite a turn-off and kind of a hypocricy. In fact, I no longer read every issue of your newsletter any more.

    It seems like that with every other country you play down the negatives and play up the positives, whereas with the US you do the exact opposite; play up the negatives and dismiss the positives.

    I would like to ad to this that I’m an expact myself (from Eastern Europe to the US when I was 18) and I can pack my bags at any day to move on. But I see no reason to.

    I know the signs of danger. I know when it is time to get out. Right now all I see is opportunities in this country.

    Yes, doors are closing, things are changing, but that also means that new doors are opening and opportunities arising.

    This country is full of beautiful, spirited, youthful people and it is really that what shapes the future of a country, no matter what politicians decide. I got out of Europe because I found people so pessimistic. I saw no future there for myself. I believe that as long as people’s spirits are up they can go through anything and bring about a positive change, even from difficult circumstances.

    Please keep your posts on topic of sharing opportunities, news, and other useful information for people who want to check out other countries for whatever reason. You yourself said that people who act out of fear usually do not do well anywhere else.

    If you have bad news to share, something we should know about, then share it, but keep it factual and balanced. As far as I know we don’t have tanks rolling down the streets. Something I grew up with – and I actually had a happy childhood, so even that is not the end of the world. And less food available? – if it would come to that – I think Americans would actually benefit tremendously!…(c;

  • Jai

    Vacation hither & yon before you decide where to live? You never really know how the living is until you live there – brief trips & vacations tell you too little. Being more a fly by the seat of my pants person, I expected to move to one country with my now-ex to accept a job offer, wound up somewhere else entirely, and despite culture shock, difficulties, and life in a “hardship post,” it was the best thing that ever happened to me (so was the bust up with that ex). Try life in the back of beyond.

  • Alan

    “Dirt poor folks who are starving, leaving their families beyind to eek out a living, usually rooming 10 at a time with other ‘expats’.”

    What’s wrong with that? Should they stay home and starve?

  • banh

    Great article.. It’s about the free market, right? That includes the businesses we call “governments” learning to compete rather than managing and manhandling their populations. Welcome to free enterprise and serving the customer!! Uh…that would be the CITIZEN, in case a bureaucrat may ask…

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