In my experience as an expatriate of 15 years, there are three general reasons people move to another country.
- Political Discontent
- Financial Freedom
- A Calling
In my case, it was a combination of the three.
One reason isn’t better than the other, though I do think it’s helpful to understand why you’re immigrating. More than once, I’ve talked with an ex-pat who, in retrospect, realized they didn’t understand their motives, which made it harder to integrate into their new culture.
Let’s explore the reasons.
This was a fundamental reason I left the United States. I’d been concerned for years over the growing fear-based culture. My concern turned to Hell No! after 911, when the Chicago public transportation system started broadcasting the “if you see something, say something” announcement. It was more Orwellian a climate than I could weather.
I was married to a Mexican national, an undocumented worker, and had fallen in love with both him and his culture. We decided to move to his country. He told me what he missed the most about Mexico was the freedom. Freedom was what he saw my country was short on.
In Mexico, I had a greater sense of freedom than in the US. There were fewer regulations or at least a relaxed attitude toward following the rules. You can play your music as loud as you want, and children can get dirty and hurt themselves doing it. They get to be kids. I could drive without a driver’s license.
Though, I think the violence of Mexico’s cartels stems, in part, from the Mexican extreme take on personal freedom.
“The Mexican…is familiar with death. [He] jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.”
– Octavio Paz.
I witnessed traumatic events in Mexico that others barely batted an eye at. I think it was, in part, because of their belief that people should be able to do what they wanted to, regardless of how it affected others.
As hard as they have been, I appreciate the lessons I’ve learned in Central America about what personal freedom means. It means I’m not responsible to others in the way I was taught. I’m not responsible for how others think, feel, or act. I am only responsible for how I feel about my actions. Ideally, this builds personal integrity.
If I’m not happy with another’s actions, maybe I feel bad, but it’s not their responsibility. I accept responsibility for my feelings. I can talk with them, ignore them, or remove myself. They have the same choice. I can be the person I want to be following this code, and I feel freer, not trying to meet others’ expectations. The challenges of living in another culture helped me become my better self.
The biggest glitch I encountered because I left for political reasons was the guilt and shame of not staying to help my culture go in the direction I felt was healthy and supportive for its citizens. Eventually, I decided this: I don’t think guilt and shame help anyone or the world. So, I let go of that. I realized we all have different ways to help, some from our original place, others elsewhere, and some globally.
Also, I now know there is no government or political system that is likely better than where you are from. You may prefer your new home, possibly even because it allows you more distance from political involvement. You’ll encounter the good and the bad in your new paradise, and you’ll see your homeland from a new perspective.
I also left for financial reasons. I wasn’t wealthy. I had no savings for retirement at 40 years of age. I lived in a culture where a health issue could destroy you financially for years to come.
My husband’s culture had multi-generational households, and my mother would be coming to live with us eventually. Her social security check alone could not sustain her in Chicago. My husband and I did not want to work sixty hours a week for another thirty years with little hope of owning our own home without going into debt for forty years, ever feeling we could “get ahead” or at least keep our heads above water. So we left. It didn’t work out as we planned. But I have no regrets.
Many people want to retire in another country because their money will go further. This is where I hope that personal integrity plays a role. It can manifest as exploitation without careful attention. This is not judgment; I can do things I couldn’t do in my home country because my dollar is worth more than the local currency.
I do, however, consider how I use that and to whose advantage. For example, I can employ people, and no, I don’t pay them what I would have to pay in the US. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to give them a job. Though I do pay minimum wage, sick, holiday, and vacation pay.
Living in an economy that increases the value of your resources is an occasion to bring prosperity where abundance may not be flowing to the people. Sure, investing in a business is a good way to infuse an economy with opportunity. But does the nature of the business add value to your neighbors? I feel it’s important to consider the needs of the community and provide a service that prospers both the place and its people.
From my perspective, this is the best reason. Hopefully, all ex-pats end up with this as their reason for staying. Having fallen in love with a place, its people, and its culture.
Perhaps you’re a nomad. You pull into town one day, and it feels like home, or you’re on vacation and see a need you are compelled to fill.
Or you meet a person you don’t want to leave behind.
Though I love and have a deep respect for Mexico. When I came to Nicaragua, I felt like I could breathe out after holding my breath for a long time. People smiled at me. When I moved to a little town here, I wasn’t gawked at. It’s been easy to find ways to help. I feel motivated to generate abundance, not for the sake of having more but for more opportunities to give.
I know there is a need in my home country, but who is to say, but our own heart, where on this earth our destiny lies?