If I had $5 for every time someone asked me, “what made you pick Turkey,” I’d be a millionaire… or I’d at least have enough money to cover my Air BnB for a month in Bodrum, haha. I’m super excited to share this blog with you, not only because now I have a documented answer to that question and hopefully I won’t have to repeat myself 100 more times to well-meaning inquirers, but also because YOU NEED THIS INFORMATION. We are living in a time where the digital nomad lifestyle is becoming more and more popular, people are taking adult gap years more frequently, and in general people are interested in exploring the ways in which moving abroad and becoming expats can improve their quality of life overall. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very process-oriented and methodical planner (shout out to my MBA , my PMP, and my Lean Six Sigma Green Belt – gentle flex). My decision to move to Turkey was very much so spirit-led, but it was certainly undergirded by a criteria-based decision making process… and it worked out for me. In this blog I share that process with you, and even more crucial, I share with you the importance of following your own path when it comes to picking a country, and not solely relying on the musings of others… even me! Check it out!!
It started around November 2019… that feeling of being bored and stuck. After spending a couple of months in prayer, I made the decision that I would do something about it. I was going to leave Michigan and try something different. I didn’t immediately know what I would do, but I began to research other places in the USA that seemed cool, starting with the places I’d traveled to and loved. Then I strategized how and when I would talk to my boss about becoming a full-time remote employee. I mean after all, at that time I was pretty much already working from home 50% of the time, and most of my project teams were all over the country. Effectively, I’d been doing my job remotely for years in a sense. I told myself that I’d get through the first quarter of 2020 and then start discussing things with my boss and lining things up to move forward. Welp, COVID happened in February/March of 2020, and shook up everything. On a positive note, it gave me plenty of time to think about my life and research what I wanted to do next; and it shifted our entire company to work-from-home status. After a couple of months I came up with the idea that I would bounce around the USA for a year, spending ninety days in four cities: Boston, MA, Charlotte, NC, Washington, D.C., and somewhere out west, ideally in California. I was about three months into that plan when I received an email from the popular travel forum TravelNoire with the subject, “Inside The Virtual Summit Showing Black Women How To Travel And Move Abroad.” I was immediately drawn in and opened the email. The article was an interview with Roshida Dowe, co-founder of The ExodUS Summit (her co-founder is Stephanie Perry). I learned that this week-long virtual summit, specifically designed for Black women, would include talks, panels, and workshops with Black women, coaches, and experts from all around the world, to tell us how to get our lives abroad – and it was FREE! I signed up for the summit and to say I was absolutely blown away would be an understatement. See, I’ve had the privilege of being raised by and around Black folks who are pretty upwardly mobile, from educated corporate executives, to multi-passionate entrepreneurs, to impactful community leaders and change agents – I’ve witnessed Black people thriving in all facets of the marketplace all across the USA; and I’ve heard stories of their international travels. But hearing the stories of Black people, specifically single Black women living and thriving in virtually every corner of the globe just hit DIFFERENT! These women were living life and living it on their own terms. Seemingly unbound by the opinions and expectations of American society and culture; and most of all they had JOY. Joy was just oozing across the screen as they spoke about their lives abroad, sharing their tips and wisdom freely. I wanted that! I deserved that! And after a week of attending that summit, I knew I could HAVE THAT… and not only could I have that – I wanted to tell other women that they could have that too. That summit was held September 21-27, 2020, and by the time I moved out of my Michigan-based home in October, I knew I was moving abroad; ninety days in four countries. But where would I go first? [Sidebar: If you are interested in attending Exodus Homecoming 2021, being held virtually September 24-26, 2021, click on THIS LINK for more info.]
What’s the best country for American Expats & Digital Nomads?
This question of “what country should I move to?” is a question I see asked repeatedly by aspiring expats, digital nomads, and those simply wanting to explore living abroad for a while. Generally speaking the responses fall on a spectrum of two extremes: 1) Just buy the ticket and go, and 2) people listing the countries they’ve visited and had a memorable experience, lived in and enjoyed, and/or currently reside in and love. Now right out of the gate, let me say this as Rule #1: Don’t pick a country based on what everyone else is doing, or what someone else says is perfect for them. If I had followed the trends and suggestions of most people I spoke with, Mexico would’ve been my first country. I’m not saying that would’ve been a poor choice, I just don’t know if it would’ve been the right first choice FOR ME. Getting feedback from others is great, but use it only as a data point, not a deciding factor. Here’s why… There are a variety of factors that affect people’s experiences abroad, and you should consider these for yourself as well. Without going into great detail about each one, these are the most important factors that may impact the type and the quality of experience you will have abroad:
- Your Tastes & Preferences
- Environmental factors
- Your Demographics
- Country of origin & ethnicity
- Marital status
- Socio economic strata and your budget
- Employment status, type of employment, and working hours
- Your Temperament
- Introvert vs. extrovert, anxious vs. carefree, pessimist vs. optimist, etc.
- Adventure-seeker vs. history-lover (or both)
- Slow traveler vs. on-the-go traveler
- Cultural Immersion vs. “I just want cute IG pics”
- Your Traveler Status
- Solo traveler, traveling with bae, traveling with coworkers, or traveling with a group
- Novice traveler vs. experienced world traveler
- Length of stay
- Official Language of the Country – Do you know it? Do you need to?
Unless you’re receiving a recommendation from someone who knows you very well and vice versa, take their experience as merely information, not a doctrine. With that said, suggestions from others are great starting points for further exploration.
I’m also not a big fan of the “just buy the ticket and go” recommendation, unless you are SURE this fits your personality, budget, and level of travel experience. It sounds very exciting, and if you’re just taking a short-term trip to a nearby country for vacation, this may work out well. However, you can be setting yourself up to have a less than desirable experience if you’re planning to live and work abroad for an extended period of time. I’m not saying you have to research every single detail about a country, but at minimum, I recommend you start by asking yourself these two questions:
- What countries have sparked my interest?
- What must the country have?
Initially for me this was a no-brainer- it’s the Mediterranean lifestyle for me! I love Mediterranean food, the weather seems mild and agreeable for most of the year, and the vibe is very chill and laissez-faire. Barcelona, Spain IT IS! Or… it was… until I realized Spain’s borders were closed due to COVID-19. So back to the drawing board I went, and this time I started with the list of countries whose borders were open to US Citizens, and then asked myself the two questions above.
What countries sparked my interest and why?
- Turkey – Food, culture, history
- Croatia – Beauty
- Jamaica – Food & the vibe
- Mexico – Food & adventure
- Aruba – The 90-day “One Happy Workation” program launched in September 2020 to attract remote workers.
What are my must-haves for a country?
- Great internet/wi-fi
- Awesome cuisine
- Moderate climate w/ all seasons
- Rich culture
- Beautiful aesthetics
24 Things You Must Consider Before Going Abroad
Once you’ve answered those two important questions above, you’ll want to see how well each country meets the requirements in your list of must-haves. You could end your evaluation at this point and decide on a country. But again, if you are planning to LIVE somewhere for thirty days or more, I’d suggest going a bit further. The extent to which you continue your due diligence is all about “know thyself.” In other words, be very honest with yourself about who you are, what you like, and most importantly how well you handle unexpected discomfort. If you’re like me- kinda high maintenance with a very low tolerance for unanticipated occurrences… Keep reading :-)!
I proceeded to do what any good, slightly type A, planner would do when faced with the task of deciding between multiple options. I created a decision matrix to compare and contrast the countries that sparked my interest. The matrix includes 24 decision criteria across four categories. Ok, I know this is extra, but hey… Y’ALL ASKED, LOL. I know you wanted some magical story about how one night the Angel of the Lord visited me and told me to “go to a land where I will send you,” but sorry to disappoint. It was far less magical, and much more a practical decision. I planned to be gone for ninety days. I needed to be able to work efficiently and maintain USA-based working hours. This was my first trip abroad as a solo traveler, and the first time I would spend longer than 10 days in a foreign country. And it’s worth repeating that… I’m high maintenance with a very low tolerance for unanticipated occurrences. I needed to do ALL THE RESEARCH. And let’s be honest, it’s not like it’s 1988 when we had to order hard copies of maps and travel guides through the postal service. Wait, am I aging myself? Some of you are too young to remember when you used to have to order a packet from AAA just to plan a trip a few states over, HAHAHA! God bless AAA, those were the days. But in 2021, we literally have all of this information at our fingertips, and readily accessible in seconds. You don’t need to know every single detail about a place, after all part of the adventure of traveling abroad is experiencing the new and unknown. However, there are many things to consider when making such a big decision, and the goal of this tool is to highlight anything that may be a serious deal-breaker for you.
The “Country Comparison” Decision Matrix
How to Use This Tool
[Here is the link to the Decision Matrix for those of you who may be in this process] In this handy tool I’m providing you with a template to use for doing your own country comparison. You can also use this tool as a guide for gathering important information about a single country if you’ve already decided where you intend to live.
Category 1: The Basics
This category lists thirteen (13) general criteria that pretty much anybody planning to spend one month or more in a foreign country would want to gather information on. It includes the obvious things that most people would think about such as the time zone, cost of living, and is the water safe to drink. But what about things like plumbing and flushing standards? Yeah, that’s a thing. Did you know there are countries where you can’t flush anything down the toilet? Did you know there are countries with poor plumbing throughout, so you can expect your house to smell like sewage almost all of the time (Mexico)?
There are three “Basic” criteria that can significantly impact the overall cost of your trip so I want to touch on these real quick:
Currency Exchange Rate & Cost of Living
Many people will look at a currency exchange rate only and assume that a favorable exchange rate means a country is affordable. However, it’s important to look at the exchange rate and the cost of living together. A country can have a favorable exchange rate, but a very high cost of living, so be clear on how the 2 factors work together. For example Iceland appears to have a very favorable exchange rate: 1 USD = 122.5 Krona. But factor in the fact that Iceland is the fourth most EXPENSIVE country in the world to live in, and then determine whether or not living there is affordable for you.
When considering cost of living, it’s important to note the difference between housing costs as a long term renter (i.e. a local who has a rental contract for twelve months or more) versus a foreign resident who may initially be living in a hotel, Air BnB, or similar accommodations. These initial housing costs may be significantly higher than the housing prices shown in a cost of living index for a country. For example, housing rental costs in Turkey can be as low as 1000 TL/Month, but an Air BnB could easily run you 8000 to 16000 TL/Month, depending on location, your preferences, time of year, etc. When you are budgeting for your stay abroad, be sure to account for this difference.
I don’t even know where to start on this topic, because it’s so complicated, and I still haven’t figured out the best solution for my situation. I need to keep my USA-based phone number as it’s the number tied into access retrieval systems and multi-factor authentication tools for many of my personal and work applications and websites. I eventually broke down and bought a phone in Turkey, with a local phone plan and phone number; and I’ve kept my US phone/phone number as well. Ultimately, here’s what you should be aware of:
- Roaming charges
- Allowed time-frames for international travel on your global cell phone plan
- Details surrounding using a local SIM card in your destination country
- Applicable taxes
- Duration of service
- Cost of cellular devices in your destination country (in case something has to be replaced)
- Whether or not cellular devices can be shipped from your home country into your destination country, and applicable taxes
The other categories in the matrix are pretty self explanatory.
Other Things to Consider
So everything I listed above is about the practical approach to making this decision, but there is definitely a spiritual factor involved in this type of decision. It’s so important to be spirit-led and follow the path that is unfolding for YOU! I won’t make this into a post about prayer and meditation, but here’s three (3) questions to consider when you are trying to figure out if you’re moving along the right trajectory for your life: 1) Is This the Path of Least Resistance? 2) Does it serve you/does it align with what you want for your life? 3) Are you experiencing favor?
When you are flowing in alignment with what is meant for you, there is a certain degree of “things just fell into place” and “It just felt right.” Now this doesn’t mean that there are no challenges and snags, but it means you can observe coincidences and events that all seem to be flowing in the same direction. When I decided to move abroad to Turkey, resources of every kind seemed to effortlessly flow into my life. Suddenly I was meeting people who had connections there and readily linked me with people that would make my transition seamless. I met people who were already living there that worked to get necessary provisions in place for me such as a HES Code and an IstanbulKart. I found groups of people that helped me to establish community and relationships before I arrived. But I also had challenges, like not understanding the COVID Test requirements for entry, and the country of Amsterdam changing its requirements for international travelers transiting their airport. But in the end it all worked out! Most importantly, every time I planned for and envisioned my journey, it brought me joy! I knew I was doing something purposeful that was meaningful for my personal growth and development.
Don’t allow analysis paralysis to set in. You know, where you spend so much time investigating and combing over details that you end up doing nothing. No matter what you decide, know that there are no wrong answers and no irreversible decisions. Start your new journey by releasing the need for perfection. Release the thoughts about what could go wrong and open yourself up to the idea of everything going better than you could have ever imagined. I read somewhere recently that there’s no such thing as good experiences or bad experiences, there’s just experiences and how you perceive them. So shift your perspective to accept that all things are working for your good…. And GO!
Also, don’t feel like the first country you try out has to be your forever home. You may have to try more than one, or you may need to try various locations within a country. I’ve tried out six (6) locations here in Turkey so far, and while it’s challenging to bounce around without a true “home”, it’s been an eye-opening and informative experience to discover what each place has to offer!