Over our years of living abroad, we've talked to more than a few people who have a secret fear. It's a fear shared by people just beginning to think about retiring or working abroad and by folks who have already made the move.
The secret fear is this ... what if I fail?
This raises a great question. Can you fail at being an expat the same way you can fail a math or driving test, or fail at becoming a nurse or a pilot?
Our answer is "no." Here's why.
There isn't a standardized test for being a successful expat. There are as many ways to retire or retry your life abroad as there are people who do it.
Swinging in a hammock in Belize, beachcombing in Mexico, organic farming in Ecuador, running a B&B in Colombia, doing online consulting from Panama ... there really is no typical way to be an expat, just as there is no such thing as typical retirement or employment anymore. Almost anything is possible, almost anywhere.
But many folks still have a "worst case" scenario in their heads ... What if they can't manage the foreign language ... the foreign bureaucracy ... the foreign culture? What if they run out of money? What if their health fails? What if they can't get their visa for some reason?
What if they sell everything back home, move abroad lock, stock, and barrel, and a year or two later slink back to their old hometown with their failed expat tails between their legs?
They have visions of the jokes told about them behind their backs by their "more sensible" friends who never got off the block.
Here is what we tell them. You can't fail at being an expat. Even if you do go back home eventually, you will have chased your dream in the first place. And that's something to be proud of.
You will have had the adventure. You will have seen for yourself. You will have tried.
And if you did your research well, assessed yourself honestly and accurately, and planned properly beforehand ... coming back home won't be a defeat. In fact, it could actually be part of a comprehensive plan. There is no reason not to include the possibility of returning home in a well-prepared, long-range plan for moving overseas.
That being said ... can you fail at doing your research thoroughly before you move?
Can you fail at assessing yourself accurately and honestly to see if you're really prepared to deal with the inevitable challenges and changes of moving abroad in the first place?
Can you fail to plan for unforeseen expenses and startup costs once you get to you chosen destination?
Can you fail to even visit the place you think you want to move to before selling everything, saying adios to your family and friends, and going there?
Unbelievably, yes ... But we know people who have done it, and many of them are having wonderful experiences.
The point is: any one of these "failures" can cause you to return home at some point in your expat journey.
But you won't have failed at being an expat, in our opinion. The only "failure" may be improper planning and lack of preparation. And even that can work out ... or at least make for great hindsight stories.
But with all the online resources now available, with all the publications, conferences, community pages, bulletin boards, books, videos, and all the other material now at your fingertips, there is really no excuse for failing to do that kind of essential, in-depth research before your move.
The good news is that such research and preparation is incredibly easy to do nowadays, and potential expat destinations are as beautiful, affordable, and exotic as ever. So the only real failure anyone has to worry about is not following the dream and having the adventure of a lifetime in the first place.