The Expat Dream

Arlo Hennings

Ready to Pack Your Bags?

Compared to 2020. The amount of American retirees has doubled in 2021. It's the Great Retirement Boom. Some think the uncertainty of the pandemic is putting the pedal to the metal. Live it up now while you can? Mr. and Mrs. Smith made bank on the housing market and bought a live-in trailer. Others wonder what a new life abroad could mean.

The first major experience I had as an expat was finding a murdered tourist on the floor of my rented villa.

Things could only improve?

I’m a member of an expat Asian Facebook Community page. Sooner or later the wanna-be expat post. “I’m turning 65 next year. I want to move to the country (X).”

The X is the country where I’ve lived for the past 10 years.

What should I say? A Quora answer is too short.

My heart goes out to them. I was once in their shoe. I became a reluctant expat by circumstance. It was not a long-term goal backed by a lot of thought.

According to Greenback Expat Tax Services, about 9 million U.S. citizens are living abroad. The U.S. Department of State estimates. 1 in 4 American expats is “seriously considering” or “planning” to renounce their U.S. citizenship.

Not for all the tea in China, I am not one of those who are considering giving up their Passport. I return to the States as much as possible. If not for the family for medical reasons.

Most expats I met knew little about the country or culture where they wanted to retire. Except they thought it’s cheaper. The photos are enticing.

A common question I get asked by locals in my host country is why. Why would I want to live in their country? I’m from rich first-world America. They are from a poor, developing nation. What could be the attraction? It is a good question.

Making mistakes goes without saying. We all make them. Try and learn and move on. Reversing a course is not always so easy in a foreign country. Having said that it’s hard to impossible to imagine what life is like in a country halfway around the world.

Not all visits or expatriation end in mistakes in of course. My mistakes some I can write off as happenstance but others I own. What happened to me is in no way to suggest that it will happen to you.

Pandemic restrictions have slowed the expatriation process. Others are bailing out of their expat home for a slew of reasons. This video about why expats are leaving Thailand offers a good example.

My friends think I’ve hit the big time living in Bali!

Every year a new wave of expat dreamers splash ashore. As many float away on a life raft. The turnover is dizzying and makes it hard to care who anyone is.

Today, you can Google search for everything. Take into account all the positives and negatives you can find about your dream destination. Make an assessment. But, there is nothing better than the reconnaissance mission.

I relied more on what I was being told by expats who had lived there for a long time. I had never met the expats in person and our connection was virtual.

Beyond a musician’s sketchy details, my research needed a serious fact check. I hadn’t a clue about what the country was like. I read a guide published by an expat that turned out to be full of bad information. Tourists brochures are for tourists.

Life in a country that was, in essence, a different universe. A decision based on photos and words from strangers.

I was going there to live, not a nomad Blog travel backpack trip.

The short of it

I was crazy in a sick society. America is at a social and political breaking point. Back your bags. Get out?

Since the dawn of time, people have dreamed of paradise on Earth. Those places include Atlantis, Xanadu, Shangri-La, and recently, Bali.

Once I settled in. The toilets lack soap and toilet paper. Packs of wild, rabid dogs abound. Restaurants lack inspection. Dengue and typhus are prevalent. If those things don’t get you a python in your kitchen cupboard or a drunken tourist on a motorbike will.

Once you get out of the city you might find a spot where you feel the only person on the planet. Many of the locals are wonderful — if you open your mind to it. Chill out and take in a local jazz band. But can’t I do that where I come from?

The Top Five Expat Considerations

Familial and friend dislocation

Accepting the fact that not everyone where you came from is going to approve or care how you live. Names like “runaway” and subjected to attitudes. Including what I am doing is irresponsible, somehow bad, or selfish. Much of this response is jealousy and ignorance-based. Ignore it. So many have had dreams that will never come to fruition. When they do see the few who have they look for negativity? To each their own.

Consider your new home has the largest Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu population on Earth. If you have an issue with that better have a round trip ticket?

Most developing countries have ever-evolving laws and rules. The bureaucracy that changes without notice. There is a lot of misinformation online and non-updated Government websites. Tourist photos can be deceiving. Opinions vary. When you’re on the outside looking in it’s hard to figure out. When you’re on the inside looking out it’s still hard to convey.


Poverty is agonizing and even with the thickest skin, the pain will sink into your heart. If you are insensitive to the lives of have-nots you should choose a different home.

Readjustment disorder

Adjusting to an alien culture takes time. Go with the flow or end up talking to The Castaway “Wilbur” the painted soccer ball.

I ain’t got nobody that I can depend on

Self-reliance is a big part of living abroad. It is also a cultural trait of many developing countries. Even if supported by many we are all alone in the world. This can become magnified in a foreign country. Where language and cultural differences are to the extreme.

The Practical

Will your heath care needs be met?

The test

No matter where you try and live the grass may always appear to be greener. Your new life abroad will come down to what you can tolerate. Letting go of modern conveniences. Ease of access. Adaptability. The trial and tribulations of a new set of cultural mores and language. Entitlements, and the fact you are now the stranger.

Living abroad will test you to the breaking point. If you survive you’ll remain if not you’ll pull your hair and scream. It’s not easy to live in a place where English is not well known and laws are Draconian. The reality you are familiar with turned upside down.

To survive and find happiness abroad, you must give up some of your beliefs, mores, way of life. A part of you must let go as you deal with things you do not agree with but must tolerate. This is not easy to do. It takes a strong will to change. A part of you will be gone. Few can deal with that.

The takeaway is to prepare for the unexpected. Be flexible, adaptable, patient, and learn the ropes. Without knowing the local language your chances of long-term survival are not good. You will need help.

The expat experience has rewards but it’s not for everyone.

For more information on living in Bali.

Good luck

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I am an of Author two non-fiction books on SE Asia, and an expat living in Indonesia. Music publisher. Ph.D. (Cultural Anthropology). MFA (Creative Writing). My narrative style has been described as a cross between Herman Hesse and Groucho Marx. My beat is the world. From the first Woodstock Music Fest. Nelson Mandela's election, and tied to who plotted J.F.K. assassination. I deep dive into life's absurdities. Pain, warmth, humor, and a bold statement on how being crazy in a sick society is healthy. I explore the uncovered abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world. World-weary wisdom infuses such sunburned narratives as rock n' roll. Shamanism, skateboarding on volcano rims, global settings, and underrepresented voices. I am set in reality but let loose the fantastical. Adept stories with a surreal or subversive bent. Taken together, I try to draw an intelligent mosaic of what it means to be alive as a whole person.

Minneapolis, MN

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