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The best places in the world to meet like-minded expats

March 3, 2010
Pattaya, Thailand

One of reasons that a lot of people are hesitant about making a move overseas is because they’re concerned about being isolated. The world can be a cruel place, especially to newbies.

Sure there are the nomads out there who want to be left alone with their little slice of paradise in the middle of nowhere… but most people crave some human interaction from time to time, especially from like-minded souls.

I’m one of those people. I enjoy the company of interesting, like-minded, and well-rounded individuals.  This is the chief reason that I’ve encouraged kindred readers to join us in the private Atlas 400 group, whose next gathering is coming up next month in Panama. I’ll be there.

On the subject of social interaction, I think Panama is one of the easier places in the world to meet people, both foreign and local. Despite Panama being a Spanish speaking country, the English language is absolutely pervasive, particularly in Panama City and Boquete.

It’s easy to meet anyone, and with the exception of a handful of elitist gringos who think too highly of themselves for having lived in the country for so long, most people are actually quite friendly and welcoming.

As a rule of thumb, the more ‘international’ a city is on a per-capita basis, the easier it will be to meet like-minded, English-speaking expats who are at your level.  Panama City has about 50,000 expats and roughly 1 million locals.  Boquete has a population of about 20,000 with at least 5,000 expats.

By contrast, as city like Shanghai has 300,000 expats and 17 million Chinese people, most of whom do not speak English.  You get the idea.

I’ve honestly found both Phuket and Pattaya, Thailand, which are fairly small cities of about 100,000 each, to be among the most international cities in the world on a per-capita basis.

Here in Pattaya, for example, I have gotten to know people from 6-continents– a Russian movie producer, a French investment banker, a Norwegian surgeon, Canadian entrepreneurs, a retired Australian footballer, an Indonesian factory owner, Yemeni medical tourists, Sudanese vagabonds, and a lovely topless sunbather from Peru.

In fact, Pattaya is the only place in the world that I have been to where on a single block you can see a dry cleaner’s sign in Arabic, a restaurant shingle in German, a real estate billboard in Russian, a newspaper kiosk in Thai, a travel agency in Mandarin Chinese, and a Go-Go bar promotion in English. It’s really amazing.

Just recently I was having lunch in an Arabic restaurant owned and operated by former Iraqi soldiers of the elite Republican Guard. When I looked around and saw Russians, Europeans, Africans, Arabs, and a handful of Jewish tourists eating large meze plates, I thought that I must have stumbled upon the center of the universe… or some strange version of MLK’s dream.

In these sorts of ultra-international locales, breaking the ice is as simple as asking the question, “where are you from?” Be prepared for long answers.

Other places that you may want to consider are Singapore, Hong Kong, Qatar, Capetown, Dubai (though it’s a bit pretentious), Georgetown (Malaysia), Punta del Este (Uruguay), Hanoi (Vietnam), Colima (Mexico), Medellin (Colombia), Cuenca (Ecuador), and just about any mid-sized city in Brazil (Natal, Florianópolis).

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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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Stephen

    Simon – I moved from Sora Panama to Cuenca Ecuador last November and can attest to being able to find like minded ex-pats in either locale. I personally prefer Cuenca as far as a more diverse mix of people and overall a younger average age. My wife is 20 years younger than me and was somewhat frustrated by the lack of people closer to her age and interests in Panama – but we were living in the country. Cuenca has turned out to be a jewel. We have been welcomed by the locals and have found a number of new friends within the ex-pat population.

    • Kristin Neibert

      My husband and I are looking at moving abroad and have been targeting Panama but now you have peaked my interest in Cuenca. Do you mind if I ask your ages? We are in our 40’s and want to mix with the locals/culture but would want to be with people our age. Thanks!

  • Trevor Reznik

    What about The Philippines? Isn’t it a good choice? I’ve heard expats are moving from Thailand to Philippines.

  • Me

    And Bali

  • Diane

    Simon, thanks for this article and your daily newsletter. I am wondering if you’ve been to Bariloche, Argentina, and if so, what do you think?

  • http://www.newsfromlatinamerica.blogspot.com Arlean

    Hey Simon, you left our Uruguay! It is hard for me to believe that Panama has a better group of English-speakers than our group in Montevideo. In fact, Montevideo has more than one group. Atlantida, about an hour away, has a great group as well. I have not actually attended their get-togethers but I do know some of the members and they are super, friendly people. Ditto for Piriapolis and, I think Punta del Este.

  • Larry

    “Just recently I was having lunch in an Arabic restaurant owned and operated by former Iraqi soldiers of the elite Republican Guard. When I looked around and saw Russians, Europeans, Africans, Arabs, and a handful of Jewish tourists eating large meze plates”

    What an amazing story Simon! And a good lesson for the procrastinators like me! Those Iraqi soldiers made it out in time…

  • barry

    The Mexican Yucatan south eastern coastline south of Cancun is great if you want a young, energetic and positive mix of Latin American, European and North Americans. Lots of beautiful people!

    • lrm

      i agree-the whole tulum area and even towards chichen itza-is such a gem of an area! beautiful,beautiful people-cool place!

  • Stan

    Simon, Assuming one is a US citizen, has a European passport already, has live abroad for 30+ years, has cash and desire to finance a new passport, where does one go? Which are the countries that offer the most legitmate route to passport? Say $50,000 and under? Having 2 passports is fine but US and UK are both high tax, needy, countries that want to tax funds outside their jurisdiction. Where should one look?

  • Charlie Warner

    I would like to share with you a proposal for an investment in Panama in electrical energy generation. I would like to present this to your group at your Panama meeting, if, after you review the proposal, you think it might be of interest to some of your investors. How would one go about getting this considered for the agenda?

  • Lance

    Yes, it doesn’t really matter if you’re a sophisticated offshore millionaire or a working class guy on a disability pension, it will all end up one day sitting down in Pattaya with a beer, a girl and a burger anyways.. :) Your budget doesn’t make a big difference in Pattaya. The young will often still have that “international travel” fever for a few years, keeping looking for greener pastures in other places but will eventually find their way back to Thailand.

    The very concept of PT has actually been invented over there (see Grandpa’s books) and after discussing or visiting all the other supposed “residency havens” it usually end up there. Maybe the original meaning of PT was “Pattaya Tourist” after all :)).

    Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore are worth the trip as well. The Philippines too, for some. Places like Panama or South America are a disappointment, IMO. You won’t find anything there that you couldn’t find in Asia. Europe is a disappointment as well but it’s an expensive one on top of that. Most places will just not be worth the trouble relocating from your home country, you will usually lose in terms of either cost or convenience. Only Thailand beats them all. All this is just my opinion of course.

    A nice article about Pattaya; “Disneyland on LSD” lol:

  • Howard Thompson

    I have one question for you. I have been of the opinion that I need to move my IRA off shore. Can you provide any guidance?

  • sara

    I live in Ecuador and it is a wonderful country. Its people are so nice and kind, they will give you the most warming welcome. I have put together a helpful fact sheet, and also an article on Ecuadorian manners and customs

  • Kevin

    Sara: I’d like to see your fact sheet and article on Ecuador. I also understand they use the USD as their currency?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TK2O6O3T7USB47OOIR76L5RXYU Prateek Panchal

    Well what can i say….i loved ya post!!!

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