Before you decide where you want to settle as an expat, it's a good idea to examine your needs to find the best possible match.
Some expats know exactly what city they want to move to. Either they already have friends beckoning to join them in Cuenca, Ecuador or they’ve fallen in love with Medellin, Colombia (“The City of Eternal Spring”), sight unseen, based on articles, photos, and Internet research. But for the rest of us, choosing where to move can be a journey unto itself.
Hey, it’s a big world out there! After visiting over 20 countries in the last 15 months, we consistently get the question, “What is your favorite city?” I always reply, “Whichever one we are in at the time.” That’s great for traveling, but little help when it comes to deciding where to settle.
It’s a tough one because it all comes down to what makes you happy and only you can decide what that means. We seem to be drawn to cities that are “small enough but also big enough.” Lima, Peru is a great city (I love Miraflores!), but traffic is insane and the metro is fairly limited. I was eyeing Boquete, Panamá until we met some people who said there was not much available culturally.
And even though we do a lot of activities together, I want to feel safe wandering about alone in a place I call “home.” I’m always checking crime statistics. One of the best websites is Numbeo which not only gives you statistics about specific crimes in any given city but allows you to compare those statistics with another city. Call me crazy, but I prefer to avoid places where there is a high homicide rate.
For the record, I do as well! Being happily carless these days, I look for walkability and effective transit (bus, train, subway). I’m just not ready to use a moto as primary transportation—yet.
You know what it’s like when we first arrive in a new city and start exploring? First, we check out the interesting local restaurants (and the prices). Then we assess the level of activity, and whether it seems to be a happy, thriving place that would welcome foreigners--and not just for the money we bring in. Pretty soon we are exchanging that look that says “add it to the list.”
Of course, food is a major focus. I want easy access to local markets and restaurants (non-tourist spots).
We’ve loved the markets in Santiago, Chile, and the ceviche in many Peruvian coastal cities. Being a tech “geek", it’s also really important for me to have solid Internet. I feel helpless without it.
Yes, especially when we have to teach our English classes, having good internet is an absolute must. And it's important to check, if you can before you settle somewhere so there are no unwanted surprises.
Then there’s the expat question. Do you go to a place because it’s expat-friendly or do we avoid it like the plague?
At least right now, I want a bridge from the old to the new. So expat-friendly is great until we know enough Spanish to keep ourselves out of trouble!
And as we continue to find, expats are not only our best sources of information, but many of those initial encounters have turned into life-long friendships.
What things are you looking for in your ideal city? Let's compare lists.
by: Mike & Eileen Brill-Wagner