Living outside the United States is the norm for 400,000 American retirees who have chosen – often for financial advantages – to make their home in countries such as Canada, Japan, Mexico, Germany and the United Kingdom. While that list of global locales is not all-inclusive, the Social Security Administration identifies them as favored among retirees choosing to reside beyond the nation’s borders.
However, retirees are not the only Americans making their homes abroad. About 6.32 million Americans resided overseas in 2011 for employment, federal and military service, personal preferences or as trailing spouses or family members. That was an unofficial estimate provided by the U.S. State Department, which had not “officially” calculated those stats since 1999.
For some, the allure of living abroad is an immersion in other cultures and connecting to people in their language and gaining new perspective. The how and why of such transitions into day-to-day overseas living can be intriguing. Some find employment in their new environment in the tourism industry – bartending, leading charter boats tours or even opening businesses like restaurants.
Michael Stark is the owner of Epernay Bistro & Wine Bar on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “The place you live is no less a character in your life than your family or closest friends. The city or place you choose to live is every bit part of your life as what you do and who you do it with. It will help you define what you like, what you love. Then it will provide true grace in how you live.”
Stark has been living and working in St. Thomas for the last 15 years and has owned Epernay for the past seven. Having spent a significant portion of his childhood on nearby islands, he was on vacation and staying at his parents’ house on Tortola when he decided to chance the move. He had just sold a nightclub in New York City and was enjoying rest and relaxation. A boat trip with friends opened his eyes to USVI.
“Manhattan defines me and St. Thomas makes me whole,” he explained. “While you can do this in another place stateside, the more divergent where you go to is from where you come, the greater the pleasure in learning it. But most importantly, aspire to be a local. When you can move to another place and the locals think of you as local, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I’m still working on it.”
USVI is similar to the Quad Cities and other locational gems where people choose to live. It is a lifestyle choice. The friendliest people, mostly mild weather and the natural beauty of the Quad Cities are offset by what some people give up to live here. For non-retirees, it is often lack of career options and limited well-paying jobs. That is the cost of living in paradise.
“It is not easy and it is most certainly not for everyone, but if it seeps into your soul, there’s
nothing else like it,” Stark said of living in the USVI or other overseas venues. “Anything you truly miss, you can go visit.”
For those currently living in the Quad Cities, the Arizona High Desert offers convenient access to Mexico for seasonal commutes and second homes. This includes Chino Valley resident Liz Mason, who, with her husband, owns two condos in Rocky Point, as well as rentals in the Quad Cities. She visits when the weather is nice, while he travels back and forth, staying two to three weeks at a time.
The couple started out crossing the border with a motor home, which they have since sold. Because of family and local business obligations, as well as an aversion to humidity, Mason spends less time in Rocky Point than her husband.
“My husband used go down with another friend more often than I did,” Mason explained. “He called me one day and said, ‘We’re going to buy a condo.’ So, we bought one condo. It was for a rental. Then, he called and said we were buying this other condo. I said okay. So, now we have one that’s our own.”
They have already sold the first rental condo and purchased another, holding 99-year leases in bank trusts, Mason said. The condo complex has its own rental agency, so management of that aspect is simplified. Rocky Point has “all the amenities,” she noted, including Sam’s Club, Burger King and a Walmart called “La Bodega.”
“It’s a nice, relaxing place to go,” Mason said. “My husband never had any problems coming back and forth. It does get busy on holidays, so he allows for that. People should probably go down there and explore before they decide to buy because it’s still not like our country.”
For people thinking of moving outside of the U.S., Stark’s advice is simple: Do it. “It’s a
great big world out there and Americans tend not to go out into it nearly as much as they should. Traveling is not the same. Live somewhere for a few years. See if you like it. If you love it, stay. This is a magical place,” Stark said of St. Thomas. “For all its trials and tribulations, it’s the cost of getting to live how we live and where we live, and for many of us, it is absolutely worth it.” QCBN
By Sue Marceau, QCBN