This article is from Nomad Capitalist contributor Pete Sisco.
Next month will be the nine-year anniversary of when I started being a digital nomad. In that time, my wife and I have met hundreds of people all over the world. One of the most common questions we hear is, “How do you do it?”
Obviously, there is no short answer. The truth is it takes careful consideration and planning to make the shift from being a resident and financial captive of one State (usually the one we were born in) to having the freedom to live where we choose and to earn and keep our money where we choose.
So the advice we offer to our global friends is to sample the nomad lifestyle by taking an intentional vacation. And by ‘intentional’ I mean visiting one of the locations you are considering with the specific intention of investigating elements of the expat lifestyle there. Think of it as a reconnaissance mission.
From the outset this rules out a Carnival Cruise where passengers visit a port of call between the hours of 8am and 6pm, or a package vacation where tourists remain on the property of a mega resort unless escorted on a dune buggy or Segway tour of the beachfront shopping district.
Forget visiting as a tourist. Visit as a future resident.
Go where the expats are
Large countries like Mexico have dozens of great cities to visit. However, there are higher concentrations of visible expats in a handful of these places.
In an example with which I have some familiarity, Belize has about a half dozen towns where you’ll find American, Canadian and British expats. However, the town with the highest concentration is San Pedro. If you were interested in investigating Belize through the eyes of expats, San Pedro would give you the most bang for your investigative buck.
Socialize where expats socialize
For the most part you’ll find expats to be outgoing, helpful people. Expats know they live “outside the box” and usually they are eager to tell you all the reasons they think it’s the right way to go. They’re not just helpful, sometimes they’re downright evangelical about being expats.
A walk down a main street or along a busy stretch of beach will always reveal small businesses (especially bars) that are owned or operated by expats. For the price of a round of drinks you can acquire more first-hand information and detailed advice than you could get from a dozen books or websites.
Visit a bank
Drop into a bank or two and ask to speak to the manager. Banking offshore is a key tenet of being a nomad.
Tell him you are considering moving there and ask what is involved in opening an account and perhaps establishing a business. You’ll probably find that you can open an account on the spot. This is getting harder for Americans, but still possible in most places.
If you’re an American, don’t expect any real financial privacy as the US government has co-opted most countries into spying for them. But, at the very least, some money in a foreign account won’t be the low-hanging fruit the local bureaucrats back home will grab when they need some extra boondoggle money. They rely on the homebound tax slaves first.
Look for real estate rentals
If you decide to return to your chosen paradise, you’ll want to find a place to rent for your first year or so. Renting is the safe way to take the full measure of a location before you commit to owning property.
Many people are shocked to discover that they can live in paradise for a fraction of what they pay to maintain a less desirable life in the rat race.
Make some face-to-face contacts so later when you’re dealing with them over the Internet they will remember you. This can go a long way in making future arrangements go smoothly.
Rent a car or motorbike
In the case of San Pedro, Belize I could add ‘rent a golf cart,’ since that is the principle means of transportation on the island. The key is to get away from the tourist locations. Find the grocery stores and bars where the locals go and buy something from them.
Do the same things you did at the places owned by expats. Be friendly, buy a round and ask some questions. Take note of how you are received. Here’s where you might get a shock – and not for the reasons you might think.
A lot of great expat enclaves around the world are there for a very good reason. The local people are incredibly hospitable and welcoming.
On a first meeting you might even get invited to a wedding or some other family celebration. Even if you decline, several days later the same people will remember you and call you by name.
When this first happened to me I wondered if they had some hidden motive. Were they going to try to sell me something or trick me in some way? Surely, people in Belize, Mexico and Thailand aren’t this friendly to strangers? Yes, they are. And this is the reason these communities draw people from all over the world.
It’s life the way it should be. Most of us have either forgotten or never experienced life like this. It can be life-changing.
Respect is the universal currency
The locals in expat communities aren’t impressed by a Rolex watch or the 5-star hotel you’re staying in. They’ve seen it all anyway and they aren’t interested in living that way. Usually they already live in a paradise you’re just hoping you can spend a week in.
Like people anywhere else, they will judge you based on how you treat them and the people around them. In small communities, word travels at the speed of sound. Get gruff with the girl at the cash register in the morning and you’ll wonder why that afternoon the bartender is annoyed at the way you spoke to his neighbor’s niece.
But if you treat people with respect and show your humility as a newcomer who doesn’t know better than they do and appreciates their help, you might be very pleasantly shocked at how well you are received and how quickly you make new friends.
Don’t buy anything expensive
If everything goes well you might get “the fever.”
You’ll meet with expats who a year or ten ago were in the exact situation you are in now. They’ll say, “Make the jump and never look back and you’ll be very glad you did.”
You’ll see firsthand how people live in a place you consider to be paradise and that they have great friends, laugh every day and enjoy a healthy, stress-free lifestyle. They feel sorry for the folks still stuck back home.
The thrill of realizing your dream is within reach can be intoxicating. Many people get ‘the fever’ at this point and impulsively buy an overpriced condo or building lot or small business as a way to get started immediately on the dream.
My advice is not to do that.
Remember that real estate rental place you visited? Renting is a great way to get to know a place on a deeper level. Renting lets you live like a local. It lets you try before you buy.
And performing due diligence on a business purchase is best done after the fever has broken and you can look at the numbers with a cool, rational head.
There is a different reality and a better life waiting for those bold enough to discover it. Do a little reconnaissance and discover yours.