People often ask me what motivated me to leave the U.S. for Colombia. Most of the time, the askers are Colombians themselves, many of whom would do pretty much anything to get a visa to the U.S. or Canada and can’t understand why someone would willingly choose to move to the “disaster” (their words not mine) that is Latin America. And I do sometimes ask myself, what kind of person abandons the comforts and stability of the developed world for the relative chaos of the third world? Many of the Colombians and Latin Americans I’ve met along the way even look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I actually like living here. But Latin America does have its perks, otherwise, why would hundreds of thousands of foreigners leave their old lives behind to come live down here? Below are some of the most common reasons expats have given me for deciding to move to Latin America.
A lower cost of living. The cost of living in Latin America is often a fraction of what it is in the United States, Canada and Europe. I hesitate to call this a positive because the price of this lower cost of living is often an exploited, underappreciated workforce, but it’s hard to deny that this is one of the top reasons foreigners decide to move south. Basically, you can have a higher quality of life here for less. You can live comfortably in most Latin American cities with $1,500-$3,000 a month. In Bogota, you can get your nails done for $3.50-$5, you can have a daily maid who cooks and cleans for the equivalent of $300 a month and a good meal at a high-end restaurant will rarely cost you more than $15 . Plus, you can rent yourself a decent two-bedroom apartment for $400 a month.
Nature. In one word, nature in Latin America is spectacular. Unlike the U.S. where you have to drive at least a few hundred miles to notice any significant temperature or geographical changes, climate and vegetation changes by altitude rather than latitude here. In two hours, you can go from freezing snowcapped mountains to sweltering, tropical lowlands. Whether you want beaches, jungles, plains or mountains, it’s usually just a short drive away.
A happening party scene. I don’t think I’m being subjective when I say Latin Americans know how to party. In fact, I’ve talked to a lot of expats who decided to move down here exclusively for the party life. Whether you’re into salsa, rock, techno, heavy metal or hip-hop, most mid-sized cities have something for everyone. And unlike the U.S. where 30 seems to be the cut-off age for all night partying and debauchery, grandma and grandpa like to get down just as much as the twenty-something crowd and they’re not opposed indulging – or overindulging – in a little rum or aguardiente. Many Latin Americans I’ve met strongly believe that partying is as essential to a happy, fulfilled life as say, a job and friends.
A more laidback pace of life. It seems like every other weekend in Colombia is a holiday weekend, and this goes for most of Latin America. Unlike the U.S. where workaholics are a common occurrence, relaxation is accepted and expected here. Somehow, the days just seem to last longer and there’s time for more. Some bigger cities are taking a more U.S.-based approach to work, but small town shops still sometimes close down for lunch.
People are nice. They often go out of their way to help you. Sure, there are some bad apples just like anywhere else, but for the most part, people do their best to make you feel welcome and at home. They worry about and fuss over you and do what they can to give you a good impression of their country.
Business opportunities. I’m no business woman, but Latin America definitely offers incentives the entrepreneurial among us. Foreign investors often benefit from low corporate tax rates, a cheaper workforce and a growing middle class with increasing purchasing power.
But none of these is the reason I decided to move here. My reasons are more intangible. I can’t even really articulate them to myself: Almost my entire family lives 3,000 miles away, I’d be making more money in the U.S., I’d have a familiar social network and 24-hour convenience stores for when I get a late night junk food craving. So what made me leave all of this behind to move to Bogota, where I had no job lined up and a social network consisting of my 78 year-old grandmother and her equally elderly friends? For sure, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies: There are times I seriously consider going back home. Sometimes it’s lonely, frustrating or seem like it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I miss my family and my friends and wonder what kind of life I’d have back home. So I don’t really have an answer for why I moved here, expect that somehow, I’m happier here than I was in the U.S. Maybe it’s just a phase, maybe I’m looking for my roots (my parents are from here, after all) or maybe it’s just a better fit for now– After all, I do get by working just three or four hours a day doing what I love . All I know is that right now, it feels right.