Dr Roya Habibi
Dream of Living Abroad? Here's How to Turn Dreams into Reality
Part 1 of 3: What We Did to Find Our Paradise, and How We Selected Costa Rica
“We only live once and nothing lights our souls more than traveling and exploring new cultures…living abroad would be a dream come true!”
My wife and I salsa dance around this topic every time we visit a foreign country. From Croatia to Colombia, to Vietnam to Greece, you put a glass of wine in our hands after a long day of wandering and one of us will eventually sashay into “how incredible would it be to live in…[enter country]!"
While living abroad was a far reaching pipe dream for most not long ago, globalization, tech advancements, and the paradigm shift in how the world views and accepts remote work have made “living the dream” a realistic path in life.
This past month, my wife and I said goodbye to our life in Rain City (aka: Seattle) and hello to the soft, sandy beaches of Costa Rica, and let me tell you; it was worth EVERY OUNCE of effort. Before I detail how we found paradise (Part 1 of this post series), let me make one thing clear...
We’re not special.
If you’ve dreamt of living abroad, I can say with resounding confidence it is within your grasp. If you’ve already got a remote job or work in a field that allows remote work, congratulations, you’re halfway there. If you don’t, there are plenty of alternatives at your disposal if you want it bad enough. I'll dive into the possible paths in parts
Part 1: What We Did to Find Our Paradise, and How We Arrived on Costa Rica
For the record, none of what follows is financial advice. This worked for us, but it’s only one of many paths.
STEP ONE: Visualization
Write down the prerequisites of any potential location and the benefits of living that lifestyle.
This is the most important step of all, and if you cross this chasm, you’re ahead of 80% of folks who dream of living abroad. Why is this SO important, you might ask?
If you never memorialize the benefits of this new life abroad and define the prerequisites for your new dream location, you won't be able to viasualize the process of making it a happen. The benefits of visualization are two fold; 1) it's wildly motivating and prepares you for reality, just ask any athlete, and 2) you'll quickly realize it's not only worth it, but it's not as hard as you might think to make it work.
Beyond visualization, it's important to align your compass so you can start taking steaps towards your goal. In quest for “our paradise,” we accomplished this by talking through which characteristics any potential landing spot had to have in order to be a contender (which we drafted over a few glasses of Sangiovese @ Stoneburner in Seattle, circa 2015).
Here's our list:
Safety - A no brainer here. No one want to live in fear, ever.
Property Rights - We wanted zero concerns over shaddy governments taking our property (I’m looking at your Mehico!), so wherever we landed needed to provide foreigners with full deed & title, as well as handle disputes through due process.
Healthy lifestyle - Now in our mid 30’s, diet and exercise have become important to us both. Putting ourselves in an environment to win on both fronts was a must.
Vamos a la Playa - After half a decade in the Seattle doldrums, we were ready for the beach, some sunshine, and everything that comes with it.
Central-ish timezone - Roya’s family was on the East coast while mine on the West. Something central and easily accessible to both was high on the list.
Unfortunately, no where up to this point in our lives passed all the criteria. Seeing as it's such a major with life move, we weren’t settling for anything less than the best, which meant only one thing… time to start saving and traveling!
STEP TWO: Research Locations to Scout and Start Stacking Bills
Unless money isn’t an issue for you, this part takes the longest. We were still paying off college debts and had already established a monthly savings goal for buying a house, so we knew we had to make cuts in our monthly spending.
To help set the goalposts, we put together a Financial Awareness Google sheet, with Balance Sheet and Budgeting Tabs, so we could wrap our heads around our exact financial status and visualize where we could make adjustments. You can download a copy of our Financial Awareness Google Sheet here
After filling in the worksheet, we quickly realized that by reducing how much we spent going out (we went out… A LOT) and some vanity expenses we could hit our savings goal within 8 months. Next, we strategized how to get the best flight deals.
Knowing we wouldn't abuse them and religiously pay them off every monthl, we opened up TWO new travel friendly credit cards. Between Roya and I, we accumulated over 200k ultimate rewards points between the Chase REserve and American Express Platinum cards. We not only booked multiple international flights with nothing but points, we improved our credit score by increasing our total credit limit and thus reducing our card utilization. For the best credit card offers, check out Nerd Wallet and ThePointsGuy
STEP THREE: Globe Trotters, Assemble! Let the Scouting Missions Commence!
This is when you REALLY start reaping the rewards of the work you’ve put in so far. We would intentionally hit one country per trip, aiming for 14-21 total days to a proper “vibe check” was possible. At the very beginning we were on a legitimately tight budget, but honestly, those were some of our favorite trips. We took the “glass half full” approach and fully embraced the wanderlusting vibrations only a quality hostel can provide, finding some absolutely remarkable places to stay on the cheap along the way. We also made sure to treat ourselves to a few days at the end of every scouting trip (they're tiring!) at a tropical location doing absolutely nothing but cocktail curls and cribbage by the pool/beach.
The view from the giant cliff hammock at Casa Elemento Hostel in Minca, Colombia
All toll, we visited 7 countries using this method and without fail, each trip was the highlight of our year. Not only were we making progress towards our ultimate goal, but we were traveling the world, growing together and individually, meeting a TON of cool people along the way, and having a ball doing it all.
And then it happens…you’ll find the “the spot!”
Pro Tip: If you’ve got an LLC, ask a licensed tax professional how you can hold your annual board meetings during these scouting trips and write off a portion of your expenses.
STEP FOUR: Finding Paradise
You know how there are certain people in life that when you meet them you think, “how has it taken me this long to meet you?” because you’re such kindred spirits? That’s what Costa was for us.
Truth be told, we had our hearts set on Costa Rica after only 72 hours on the ground.
This is where we now call home :)
There was a palpable frequency that had both of us boppin to its beat from the moment we arrived. But while the vibe absolutely has to be right, it still had to survive the "must have" checklist.
Here’s how Costa Rica handled the gauntlet:
Safety - Like all big cities, there are pockets of San Jose (the Capitol) you generally steer clear from, but at no point throughout the 21 days we spent all throughout the country did either of us get even the slightest bit unnerved. Aside from consistently ranking as the safest country in Latin America, the local crime data supported what we felt and witnessed first hand.
Property Rights - Unlike many other countries, foreigners have the same rights when purchasing property in Costa Rica as locals do. You can own property outright in your own name or in the name of your corporation. Check!
Healthy Lifestyle - The area we honed in on, the Nicoya Peninsula, is one of only 5 Blue Zones in the world. We literally couldn’t get any better than this if we tried.
Vamos a la Playa - This one couldn’t be any more clear; in a country no larger than the state of West Virginia, there are literally dozens upon dozens of spectacular beaches, ranging from famous (Santa Teresa), to world class surf (Naranja/Witch’s Rock) , to crystalline blue caribbean waters (Punta Uva)
Central-ish Timezone - Direct flights from San Francisco, LA, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, and Washington DC and smack in the middle of both coasts (plus no daylight savings, which we were both stoked on)
Crypto friendly - this was an addition made in late 2018 when we dipped some paint in the blockchain bucket. Not long thereafter, crypto had become a cornerstone in our investment portfolio, so finding a country that was progressive in its approach to cryptocurrency was necessary. Not to mention, crypto allows for global access to financing, a major win for foreigners with frew other viable options.
STEP FIVE: Celebrate the victory (but the work’s not done)
I’m a big believer in The Power of Habits (and rewards) and when we decide to do something, it’s not if, but when it's going to happen, so the moment we agreed on Costa Rica, we knew a proper celebration was in order. And I’ll never forget how good those (multiple) mojitos tasted!
But don't roll down your sleeves just yet.
There are a few places you can move abroad with very little effort (Puerto Rico comes to mind), but for the most part, there are numerous questions that now need answering and moves that need makin'.
What will you do for income while abroad? Are you allowed to work in the country and do they allow remote work?
What are taxes like for your planned method of income?
What type of visas does your dream country offer foreigners? What's the process for obtaining one?
Who will you need to help you along the way? (attorneys, accountants, bankers, etc.)
What to do with all your things? Are their customs/import taxes to worry about?
And those are just the big ones.
But there's ZERO reason for discouragement at the work ahead, because you're well on your way to doing what very few will... living life on your own terms.
In Part 2 of this series, I’ll detail how we found answers to the majors questions you’ll be faced with after finding YOUR paradise, and exactly what those answers were as they pertain to Costa Rica.