Work Abroad but earn in USD

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Personal Costs of Becoming an Expatriate

I talk a lot in this blog about costs in terms of dollars and cents or pesos and centavos, but rarely do I go into the personal costs of becoming an expatriate. I'm not really a "share your feelings" kind of guy, but I'll do my best here to address the reader's question.

Reader's Comment

I was wondering how your loved ones in the U.S. felt about your expatriation. Emigration is such a huge event. What sort of changes does that have on personal relationships?

A Little Background On US Emigration

First, when discussing emigration from the United States, one has to realize that there's not a lot of it going on. In fact, type us emigration into Google and the answer you get is, "Did you mean: us immigration?" A little over a month ago, I was talking to an associate from Uruguay and I told him I had a site that was for expatriates and people from the US and Europe planning to move to Argentina. He asked me whether such people actually existed. He couldn't fathom why anyone from the US would want to move to Argentina.

In fact, the US Census estimates that the annual number of native-born US emigrants to be between 10,000 and 25,000. How many of these people are going to Argentina? According to the Argentina census of 1991 there are only 9,755 Americans residing in Argentina, a change of -12 from 1981, meaning net American emigration to Argentina is essentially zero. Of course, a lot has changed in Argentina since 1991 and my guess is that there are a lot more Americans here now.

The Personal Costs

Because of all this, when you tell someone that you're moving from the US to Argentina, most people can't fathom why. I went over my reasons for leaving in a previous post, so I won't get into that here. The reaction of my family and friends has been somewhat mixed. My father, an experienced world traveler and also the person most responsible for introducing me to the rest of the world as a child, couldn't be happier or more encouraging. Along with his wife and my brother, he will be visiting me for two weeks this November in Buenos Aires to celebrate Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, my mother is less than pleased. We were recently discussing by e-mail my problems obtaining funds for an apartment in Argentina. Her reply to me was, "Maybe this is God's way of trying to tell you that you need to live in the United States -- you could get a house here very easily!" Unlike my father, she has not planned to visit me. In fact, she hasn't travelled outside the country since my parents' divorce.

Like my mother, my girlfriend's parents have been less than enthusiastic -- going out of their way to try and convince her not to go with me. Neither of her parents own a passport and Mexican border/resort towns comprise the extent of their international travel. Based on my own first-hand observations, I've come to the conclusion that someone's attitude toward a friend or family member's decision to expatriate is proportionally related to the amount of international travel that one partakes in. The more international traveling one does, the better the attitude they'll have about someone else's decision to expatriate, perhaps even scheduling a visit.

On the other hand, if the only experience you have with other countries is from US newscasts, you're probably not going to have a very good opinion about places outside the country. The only time American news covers the outside world is when there's a war, civil unrest, or a natural disaster. Going by US newscasts, it would be easy to develop the opinion that the US is the only haven of stability in a world that's either falling apart or blowing itself to pieces.


I fully realize that moving to Argentina will mean leaving many things behind. I know that I will see my family and American friends much less often. In addition to leaving my country, I'm also leaving my culture, my language, and my sense of belonging. Since I've only spent a few months in Argentina, I haven't yet experienced life as a true immigrant, only an enthusiastic traveler.

Right now I'm traveling a road that many other people have traveled before and many others will travel after. I'm sure I'm having the same fears and hopes that others before me have experienced. Will I be able to learn the language and communicate? Will I be welcomed and accepted? Will I be able to forge new friendships and fit in socially? Will I enjoy my new life abroad? Will I succeed financially?

I'm sure that everyone contemplating emigration has asked themselves those questions. I don't arrive in Buenos Aires until May 15th, so I don't know yet what the answers to those questions will be. I'm certainly hoping it will be a resounding YES to all of them, though.

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Blogger said...

Welcome to the wonderful World of an immigrant! I wish all the best, but I am sure you will succeed. This is basically because the reasons that founded your immigration are comming from inside you, not forced from the ouside (little bit like the two types of immigrants that you described in one of your posts). Do no let yourself drag backwards by ignorant people that just don't have enough culture to apreciate world travellers. This excludes mothers. Mothers will always try to convince you not to travel, this is part of their "keep the family together" instinct (or what's left from the family). However it does include girlfriends... I've seen a lot immigrant couples fight because one of them was the "world traveller" and the other one wanted to come back home. In the end, it will your call. But be careful to make the right choice, either way you only get to make this decision once in a lifetime...

5/02/2005 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger ABA said...

El Expatriado,

Don't worry. I went through exactly the same thing as you are going through. The same worries, fears, that unknown feeling of not knowing what to expect.

No one can fully understand or appreciate all the worries and concerns of moving to a foreign country unless you have done it yourself. I’ve just spent some time reading your site and I’m amazed at how much we have in common and what experiences and feelings you are having because I went through exactly the same thing. Not only that but I moved to the exact same city that you are moving to. Small world!

What I hope to do with my posts is to tell you that it is possible to move away from the USA and be happier and a better person. Not one single person told me what I was doing was a good idea. Family, friends, co-workers. I heard the same thing from them all. “You are in the prime time of your career. You are making a lot of money. Work a few more years..then do it”.

Moving from the USA to a foreign country (especially in South America) where they don’t speak your language is a life changing experience. I made 3 life changing decisions all at the same time. (1) I moved to a foreign country; (2) I quit my job where I worked almost a decade; and (3) I sold my house and all my worldly possessions. Each in itself is a life changing major decision and I did all of them at the same time. It wasn’t easy and I have to admit stressful.

After I moved to Argentina, people would hear my story and look at me like I was crazy. What???! You moved from the USA to Argentina to start a business and live! Are you crazy?! Then I would explain how I love their country. How I’ve traveled all over the world. How I had a wonderful life in the USA and I wasn’t moving to escape life but to enhance it. Then you should see the looks on their faces. From taxi drivers to executive bankers and business owners. I could see a sense of pride in their faces.

Just shy of 9 months after first moving here I started an Argentina corporation. Moved from my smaller office that I first rented downtown to a luxurious 2,000 sq. feet office in one of the best areas of the entire continent of South America. I started it myself doing everything alone and now I have 9 full-time employees and growing every week.

I have to admit it’s NOT easy doing business here and I’m very frustrated with the business practices here. What is the most frustrating is that the locals think that the way they do business is “normal”. You have to understand that they have always operated like this so being unethical or cheating or lying all seems normal to them. My employees are all educated worldly travelers and they tell me they are ashamed of the way business is done in their country.

Just take a look at respected organizations like Transparency International.
Argentina is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Before I moved here, and I only came here as a tourist I thought there was no way that could be true. After moving here and doing business here I think maybe it should be further down the list. Look at the list. Only worse are countries like Ethiopia, Niger, Libya, Sudan, the Congo, Haiti and the like.

I have found that Argentines are a very proud people but they refuse to face realities about their country. I am American and I’m proud of it. However, I accept that the USA has MANY problems. I posted a few days ago on a travel board and told how most of the people I came in contact with were really shady in the business community. A local got all mad and told me that “surely I must be joking”. That she “didn’t accept what I posted”. Many on many message boards know me and they know I’m a straight shooter.

As I posted to the local poster. The locals refuse to face reality or they simply think that the way things are done are normal. I’m certainly not trying to scare you. As I mentioned, just be prepared. Moving here was the best decision of my life. I am proof that an American that left a great life in the USA, that is not totally fluent in Spanish (I spoke very little when I moved here), that doesn’t really know anyone in town can make friends and be successful.

I hope you will love living here as much as I do. Look me up when you move down here and I’ll help however I can. Best of luck to you.


5/13/2005 12:48:00 AM  
Blogger Thatcher said...

Hi Mike-
I really enjoyed your take on things. I am 22 and share similar feelings of happiness but wanting to enhance my life. I live in San Fran and am working for a start-up- I am heading down to BA on May 25-June 15 to check it out and decide if I want to move down there in August. Could we meet up for a lunch perhaps so I can pick your brain for some advice?


5/13/2005 08:48:00 PM  
Blogger ABA said...

Hi there. My days are super super busy but I'll help out however I can. I do a lot of consulting for individuals and now companies that want to open an office or create a business here.

I work 12-14 hour days and most days I'm out and about looking at properties to purchase. The best thing is to email me at I'll try to help however I can. I truly believe the more Americans/Europeans that are here with a good business sense here creating business...the better Argentina will be.

Some things in Argentina have stayed the same forever. I truly believe it is not the Portenos that will bring globalization and proper business practices to Argentina. It will be Americans/Europeans/Asians that create companies here that force local companies to become better.

In business, it's always survival of the fittest. Best of luck to you.


PS I do so much consulting and don't have time for all the emails I'm getting for free advice so I'll post a blog to answer and prepare many questions people might have about doing business and what to expect here. It will be located at:

5/15/2005 02:37:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hey. For the past couple days I've been reading your Expat blog from the beginning. You've done a really a good job. I know I'm late since it's now 2009.. and this post is from 2005.. However! I'm 21 and in 2005- I was in high school, not even thinking about expatriate type things. I'm currently finishing up 4.5 months in India and coming back to the U.S. in about a week.

I've been thinking more and more about great countries to visit and live in and possibly to gain dual citizenship from. Anyway, thanks for all of the help you've given with this blog. It's really great!

4/26/2009 11:48:00 AM  

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