Before You Escape From America...
For the past 14 years I've been living in Thailand. The purpose of this article is to start your thinking about real-life problems which you are likely to encounter, rather than paint a picture of sunny beaches and warm, tropical nights. Here are 10 of the "cultural shocks" that nobody warned me about before I left the USA.
by Larry Cameron
Bangkok--If you're thinking about escaping from America -- to go live in a foreign country -- here are some things to know before you go.
I've lived outside of the USA in four different countries on three different continents.
1- The Internet lies -- well, it exaggerates a lot. Don't believe what expats write about where they are living. They mostly brag about the best aspects: the women, the food, the weather, the cheap prices, but they don't write about what they complain about to each other over a beer at the local expat bar (the women, the food, the weather, and the cheap quality of products).
It's a common bias: "Where I am is the best; better than anywhere else." Well, no. Everywhere has problems. It's just a choice of which problems you want to endure. On the plus side, how might you get helpful information before you go? Best is to talk privately with or correspond with individual expats in your chosen destination. Not public forums or Facebook posts, but private conversations. Ask about the problems they face in their daily lives. You're likely to get a more accurate picture than by reading public posts.
2- Locals want big-spending tourists, not Cheap-Charlie expats like you and me. They really don't want us coming into their country, but not spending like tourists who stay at expensive resorts, eat in tourist restaurants, and pay for sightseeing or scuba diving tours.
Instead, as an expat, you'll be looking for an ordinary apartment and shopping at local supermarkets. You'll need everyday clothes, not tourist T-shirts. You'll certainly need some bits and pieces for your computer like cables or a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). Tourists don't buy those things. On the plus side, most things like that for daily life are cheaper if you buy in local stores compared to tourist area stores. Just don't expect good quality on anything.
3- If you need special medicines, good luck. Most foreign countries stock cheap, low quality medicines from India and China. And what they do sell is low potency. On the plus side, quality medicines can be ordered from back home. There are pharmacies in the US and Canada that specialize in overseas shipments. You'll need a doctor's prescription, and you'll pay customs duties, excise tax and import fees, too. So importing special medicines won't be cheap, but it may be possible.
4- If you need medical insurance, you'll need lots more good luck. Local insurance companies hesitate to insure foreigners. And if you're over age 70 you may be totally out of luck for medical insurance. Soon after my 70th birthday, I got a letter from my insurance company here saying they don't insure anyone over 70. I looked around for other options: very few and very, very, costly. Monthly premiums for a decent, policy, age 71-75, were nearly as much as my total monthly pension. On the plus side, I decided to forgo insurance and, instead, start taking a lot of vitamins, especially Vitamin C, to maintain my health. So far I'm healthy. But what happens if a serious accident or illness? I've put away a substantial amount to self-insure for a situation like that. Will it be enough? I don't know.
5- Do want "Chinese quality" medical care? In this part of the world (Southeast Asia) most doctors and dentists are local people of Chinese ethnicity, with Chinese attitudes toward quality, the kind of quality we see at Wal-Mart. Can you imagine quality of medical services at that level? Plus, there's the corruption. Corruption in everything. With enough money, even an M.D. degree can be bought. In my time here in Southeast Asia, I've encountered many doctors in white coats, with stethoscopes around their neck, but who provided sloppy, really sloppy care. On the plus side ... well ... I can't think of anything. I just do everything I can to avoid doctors and hospitals.
6- If you can't speak the language, how will you find what you need and want? Learning to speak any foreign language to a reasonable level for day-to-day life takes 3-10 years and a lot of time and some money for lessons. And the problem is not just speaking, but listening and understanding.
7- You'll be cheated in every possible way. Cheating is a routine part of life in most foreign countries. Local people here even brag about the cheating they've been able to get away with. In the West, a braggart might exaggerate his wealth, or his work accomplishments, or even his "score" with women. Here, there's plenty of that too, but also plenty of boasting about cheating skills. And some of the people who will try to cheat you will be other expats from your home country, who speak your language. For Thailand, there are entire web sites devoted to exposing scams worked by Western expats on other expats.
8- Your embassy (actually, the consulate) doesn't give a hoot about you. They are government bureaucrats with diversity and equal employment opportunity and political correctness and all that. The only contact with them I've had is to renew my passport once in 10 years. On the plus side, if I understand correctly, now passports can be renewed by mail. Other than that, I certainly won't count on help for any problems from the US consulate.
9- Do you enjoy going to the DMV? Imagine the DMV experience but 10 times worse in every way. That's a start, just a start, to having any dealings with government agencies out here. It was easy to see this problem early on, so I try to avoid the government here in every way possible. Example: Many expats own some real estate here, usually a condo. That means government regulations and registrations. There are many reasons I've avoided buying a condo here, and avoiding government contact is one of those reasons. Same for buying a car or starting a small business. One reason for not doing anything like that is to avoid getting entangled in government bureaucracy.
10- Be very cautious how much money you bring in with you or transfer to your new home country. In many countries, once you bring money in, you can't take it out without lot of government permissions. Read "permissions", but think, "corruption". And that's characteristic of many countries: once they have their hands on some of your money they won't let it go.
Makes no difference if you have the receipts to prove you brought it with you, there's always some rule or regulation why you can't take it out or convert to some other currency. On a positive note, the ATM's out here work just fine -- so far. Easy to go to the ATM once or twice a month and take out just what you need. Sure, the ATM costs more in fees than a wire transfer just once or twice a year, but, in my opinion, less risky.
Having lived outside the "homeland" for many years now, I couldn't go back; simply could not endure the "diversity," the "feminism," the "security state," and the growing "war on white men". So I stay out here, and live comfortably, and learn a little more every day how to make life even more comfortable.