For the moment I am stepping out of the role as a health writer to talk about relocation to a new country. This is a topic I am extremely familiar with, both from personal experience and because I have written several books on the topic. In 2008, my husband and I left our jobs in Big Pharma and moved to Puerto Rico to buy a farm. Although it is a US territory, the immigration process is the only thing that didn’t apply to us in terms of the advice I am going to offer you.
Whether you have already decided to move to another country and have picked out the country or you have this idea in the back of your mind and are still uncertain, my hope with this article is to get you that much closer to your goal. It is virtually impossible to include everything you need to know into one article. However, what I can do is give you some ideas to ponder, which should be more than enough to get you started.
Why Are You Considering Emigration?
Whether driven by reducing their so-called carbon footprint or because they want to be prepared for literally anything that comes down the pike, it isn’t clear how many Americans currently live off the grid. One might suppose that utility companies would know precisely how many customers they’ve lost in the last decade. However, if they do, they aren’t talking. The best estimate I could come up with cites an article from USA Today from 2006, which stated that there were 180,000 families living off grid. If the calculations are even close to correct, which say that number has increased 33 percent each year this decade, we can assume that there are roughly 477,000 families living off the grid in the United States.
Whether you are currently living off the grid or are preparing for this new way of life, where you do this is a huge part of this complicated equation. Maybe you have already looked at some of the many off-grid communities that are popping up all over the US. Perhaps you did and have jettisoned that idea and have thought about moving out of the country. Whatever your reasons – maybe dissatisfaction with the government, the expense involved in continuing to live here, or for other reasons—you may already be imagining yourself living outside of America the beautiful.
Off the Grid: Cliché or Way of Life?
When applying the expression “off the grid” to Americans, it has become a cliché. Its original intention was to describe a small subset of people who chose to live a simpler life, one that didn’t involve corporate America or convenience stores and usually implied people who lived in the backwoods minding their own business. Today, it seems to include anyone who no longer pays an electric bill. While the latter definition isn’t incorrect, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those of us who truly embody the former want to live with bunches of people who think of it as simply embracing alternative energy.
Conversely, it is not a cliché in developing countries, where residents in and around the capital see it as a privilege to have electricity and running water piped into their homes. By contrast, those who live in the countryside (depending upon the country) have always been off the electric grid and typically don’t have access to clean drinking water and sewage. With little choice in the matter – the result of infrastructure (including paved roads, etc.) not reaching the outlying areas—they have historically relied on generators to power their few appliances and crude means of rainwater collection for their drinking water and other necessities. While inconvenient for them, it is perfect for anyone who wants to start from day one living off the grid and is moving to a region that lacks the services we have come to take for granted living in the US.
The World is Large: The Best Prepper Places
For a number of reasons, you will want to narrow your search to a developing/third-world country to live life as a prepper. Here are just a few reasons:
Cost – you won’t see much of a difference in costs on everything from purchasing land to living day-to-day in Canada, Western Europe, the United Kingdom, or Australia.
Infrastructure – With it already in place in the developed world, it is more costly to undo. There is also more government bureaucracy to deal with to take oneself off the power grid, to opt out of water and sewage, etc.
Government – Let’s face it, with infrastructure in place, this invariably means that government is working as efficiently as it possibly can (mostly said tongue in cheek). The US may be number one, but other fully developed nations got that way by utilizing similar methods – tight government controls and regulations. And if the US’s brand of governing rubs you the wrong way, living some place where there are more social programs in place – healthcare, education, and entitlement money – may easily derail you from your original purpose.
Immigration – In terms of someone emigrating from one country to another, the costs and red tape vary significantly when going from a first world to a first world, a developing to a first world, and a first world to a developing country. Quotas into any first world country are smaller than they are for developing nations, and for obvious reasons. Although quotas from first world into first world are larger than are from developing nations into first world, there are still limitations and red tape to deal with.
The breakdown is pretty simple:
- First world to developing – easiest and least costly
- First world to first world – will cost you some money, and it won’t happen easily – may have to enter a lottery and wait
- Developing to first world – most costly, lots of red tape, and could take years
These, of course, are generalizations. Each country has its own immigration process and quota system. Canada, for example, is an extremely difficult country to immigrate to (at least it was when we looked into it more than a decade ago). Their requirements even for someone from a first world nation were not easy to meet.
Let’s say you have done all your homework, taken all my advice, and have decided to immigrate to a developing nation. Left alone, we really can govern ourselves and don’t need Big Brother peering down on us 24/7. Two things make it difficult for developing nations to pull themselves out of the perpetual revolving door and move from developing to first world. One is money. Without the resources to compete with the big boys, they don’t get a seat at the table and are relegated to what’s left over. The other part is that this isn’t by default; it’s by design. Being in a developing country gives you a perspective of how the big boys run things that can be nearly impossible to see from living in the richest nation on earth.
You can choose to see this as an advantage to work in your favor or complain about how slowly things run. If you are moving to a country to get away from Big Brother and his nose in everything you do, it will truly be refreshing to live in a country where Big Brother is not only unwelcome, but he’s a nuisance and doesn’t fit in with their set of values. It is a double-edged sword. What makes living in a developing country so annoying for some people is what makes it so charming and sought after for others.
Where to Move?
Much of this will depend on your personality, what you have heard about various countries, and perhaps the politics and language spoken in the country you are considering. The following are things to consider that may help you make up your mind more easily.
If you already know that you are too stubborn, don’t have a knack for languages, or are otherwise disinclined to learn a new language, you are better off moving to an English-speaking country. While some English is spoken in the capital cities of most countries, it is rarely spoken or understood in the countryside. When my husband and I moved here, between us we spoke five words of Spanish. This is highly inadvisable. Today we can communicate verbally and still need assistance with writing and legal documents. We were forced to work with a trusted friend who is bilingual for the purchase of our farm and for other legal transactions. I don’t recommend this route.
Once you have identified a country, visit it several times. Don’t stay in a hotel when you go there. Stay in a rental home in the general region you want to live in. It may take a couple of visits to determine where that area is.
Learn as much as you can about the country. This seems like an obvious statement, but I have known people to move some place only to realize after they were living there that something major didn’t resonate with them. If you have biases, and we all do, will your intended country bring those out? And if they do, will it impede your ability to fit in and be happy? You may think you’re moving some place to be left alone, but even the most hermitic person wants to have fun sometimes.
From hair to skin to your health, is the climate going to affect how you live day-to-day? If you live in a dry climate and move to the tropics, will your hair frizz and your acne clear up? Will your previously dormant asthma suddenly become an issue?
What grows there and what livestock already lives there? I live in the tropics, and many of the North American fruits I grew up with won’t grow here. Thankfully, we fell in love with tropical fruits. Can you adapt as easily to what grows naturally?
Papers Required to Visit, Become a Resident, and a Citizen
Do you pick up your visa upon arrival or get one through the country’s embassy prior to booking your flight? How easy it is to do the latter? How easy is it to become a citizen? Do you even want to be a citizen? Why or why not? What are the advantages, and can you obtain dual citizenship where you are moving?
If you have to worry about evacuation or coups, is this the stable place you thought it would be? Having lived the first few years of my life in Nigeria, let me tell how old it gets to have to evacuate on a moment’s notice or show papers and offer bribes on a daily basis. Right wing one minute, socialist uprising the next—even if you are trying to go under the radar, eventually a country’s politics and potential upheaval will affect you.
Even if you don’t agree fully with a country’s politics, can you at least live with them?
If for no other purpose than you want to make your life easier, it is really best to assimilate into your new country and its culture. Ex-pat depression is a big issue for those who never took the time to learn the language and find commonality with their new neighbors. Again, even if you reason with yourself that you are moving to live off the grid, you have to communicate with people sometimes. The quicker you assimilate, the better prices you get on things, the faster and less costly it will be to have your home built, and favors get done for those who assimilate. Things have a fascinating way of taking five times as long and costing more money for people who live life as the unnamed gringos.
This advice will also keep you safe, and when you need help from someone, people will be more likely to offer it. Maybe it’s that obligatory cup of sugar, help setting up your cistern, or asking around discreetly about the same suspicious car that keeps passing your farm—and once you do, the car magically disappears.
The answer is yes… the question is how much and to what extent? Completely foreign to most Westerners, it’s how things get done in many countries. Maybe it is as minimal as paying a custom’s officer and your custom’s broker to ensure your furniture glides through customs. In some countries, it is such a problem that you can’t even get your driver’s license without paying someone off. How does it work where you’re moving?
The Right to Bear Arms
Although we often complain that our 2nd Amendment rights are being infringed upon, many, many countries have extremely strict laws about gun ownership. Some might only allow hunting rifles to be owned. Others may only allow guns in the extremely rural areas where a police presence is non-existent. And in some countries, because of either gun violence or a history of volatile and unstable governments, gun ownership is banned. Even if guns are permissible, it is highly unlikely that you may import them to your new country. As gun ownership is an integral part of our lifestyle, whether for protection or hunting or both, vet this one carefully before deciding where you want to live.
If you are moving to a country to live off the grid, bear in mind that most of your neighbors will be poor. And when I say poor, I mean poorer than the poorest people living in the United States. I mean if you have ever done mission work in Honduras, Haiti, Mexico, etc., you know what abject poverty looks like. For this reason, while you may not be inclined to dress the same as your new neighbors (I stand out wherever I go, and simply can’t help it), don’t stand out too much, either. What do I mean? I mean leave the expensive vehicle stateside. Remove the flashy jewelry when you are out. If you see people struggling to put food on their tables, don’t be so quick to finish the renovations on your house. Don’t be so showy with your money. While you may feel you aren’t rich, if you have the money to relocate to a new country, many of which require immigrants to have X amount of dollars in the bank at all times to prove they will not sponge off their system, you are richer than they are.
By American standards, it might seem almost archaic to buy property in many countries – including in first-world nations. Transfer of land ownership not only varies from country to country, but may also be rooted in laws that may seem impractical in the present day but made sense in the 1600s. Inheritance laws are also something that might seem very odd to an American moving to nearly every other country on earth. Indeed, from interest to title transfer, things take a lot longer elsewhere. Just go with the flow. You can neither speed things up nor will being impatient serve you any good. Some things just are what they are.
Shipping Your Belongings
Is it best to ship everything, bring just your most personal possessions, or start fresh? The cost of shipping is pretty expensive. Maybe the furniture you have looks great in the wood house you constructed yourself, but will look out of place in a home made of concrete with tile flooring. The climate in your current state might differ drastically from where you are moving. These are things to think about before lugging your favorite easy chair, your bedroom set, and your antique grandfather clock only to find it was a big mistake.
Your Kids and Their Education
Whether you keep your kids in the school system or you homeschool, the country you are moving to will have curriculum that must be abided for your children to graduate from high school. Be sure that the curriculum fits in with your values and what you want your kids learning before you move.
Many countries, both developing and first world, provide health care for their citizens. Many see this as another area where Big Brother has no business sticking his nose. Apart from that, healthcare in many developing countries isn’t at the same standard as what we have become used to in the US. It is one thing to live off the grid and self treat because you are prepared for anything, but it is another to live four hours from the nearest hospital. In case of an emergency, what are your options?
Does the country you are moving to have medical tourism? Maybe this is a possibility for you and your family.
Diseases: Airborne, Tropical, and Viral
Malaria, dengue, leptospirosis, HIV, cholera, and myriad others might be an issue where you are moving. Some diseases are limited to the tropics, while others are serious issues because improper drainage can create stagnant water, thus resulting in airborne illnesses. Are shots necessary before you visit and/or move? Vet this one as carefully as you would your right to bear arms. The CIA World Factbook offers reports on all diseases for all countries.
Like bribery, the answer is yes, but to what extent will your new country’s bureaucracy frustrate you? Much as we complain about the long lines at the DMV in the US, you can usually be in and out in under two hours. Add three to four hours to that wait time, and that’s life in many developing countries. Not as automated as things are in the US, it takes time to shuffle a paper from one end of the building to another.
One of the first things people will caution you about any developing country is its crime. They may cite the number of murders, the pickpockets, knifings, etc. I know it happened to us when we told people we were planning to move to Puerto Rico. Beware, we were told over and over. Perhaps because we don’t live in the capital where crime is an issue and we live in a farming community, we sleep with our doors unlocked and our biggest threat are wayward cows that wander onto our farm at 3:00 in the morning.
While crime is an issue in every single country on earth, the exaggerated stories make it seem worse. Leaving aside countries where there are a lot of drugs being manufactured or corruption is rampant, if crime is such an issue, how come we hear more about people dying from disease and famine than we do about murders? The state department keeps tabs on every single country on earth. Get some dogs and look into the gun ownership laws. Just because there may not be as much crime as people report, there isn’t anything wrong with being prepared.
Diet and Eating
Hey, food is going to be different where you are moving. Maybe it’s starchier, there are more beans, or they eat different meats and use spices you aren’t accustomed to. Open your mind, and your taste buds will follow. You may surprise yourself. Try the food; you may love it. Westerners have the reputation for being xenophobic. Prove the world wrong.
Moving abroad has been an incredibly enriching experience for my husband and me. We couldn’t have afforded this much land in California, and we are genuinely happy. We have made more friends here than we ever imagined. Emigration isn’t for everyone, and it does require letting go of the need to continually compare “back home” with your new country and to live in the present, rather than the past. It isn’t that we didn’t love the United States; we just love where we live more.
©2012 Off the Grid News