Are you thinking of living as an expat in Bolivia? Hi. I'm Charis, and I own BoliviaBella.com (more about me here.) I've lived as an expat in Bolivia, and several other places, all my life (a little over 40 years). I've never known another lifestyle. If there's one thing I've learned about the expat life it's that no two people have the same experience, not even in the same family. So I wanted to share with you some thoughts, gathered from my own experiences and those of hundreds of expats in Bolivia and other countries in which I've lived and worked. I believe in brutal honesty when it comes to decisions like this - because most of us live as expats long term. While some of us are only planning to live abroad for a while, others of us give up everything to move to a new place and start our lives anew.
The best advice for anyone considering living as an expat in Bolivia comes from expats who already have experienced relocating to Bolivia, or even neighboring countries in South America. Below you’ll find ten important questions to ask about living as an expat in Bolivia, when choosing expat retirement destinations, or if you are moving to Bolivia with kids. Don’t just ask what are the best or cheapest Bolivian cities for expats. What is right for some may not necessarily be right for you.
I would like to invite you to listen to the following two-part webcast. I was recently interviewed about life as an expatriate for a unique website called Reality Abroad. Its goal is to gather first-hand information, opinions and viewpoints from expatriates who already live abroad for people who are considering living abroad in an effort to help them make more informed decisions and choices. Each person or family will have a unique experience depending on their disposition to be resilient. So it isn't about whether or not we all have the same perceptions, opinions or experiences. It's about sharing many unique and even contrasting points of view so that others, such as yourself, can attempt to create a broad picture of a place they may soon call home. Turn up your volume and click the orange dots to begin.
Part 1: Reasons you and others may choose to be an expat in Bolivia
In Part One, I talk about some of the ways in which I've seen Bolivia change over the past 40 years and how my views as an expat in Bolivia have changed as well.
Part 2: Kids and other considerations for a future expat in Bolivia
In Part Two, I talk about what it's like to be an expat kid (otherwise known as third culture kids), and important questions every person considering being an expat in Bolivia should ask.
I love Bolivia and I want so much for you to be able to make the most informed decision possible, and have the most positive experience, that I've also established a company in Bolivia called Expat Services to help you get the right start when you arrive, a website for those choosing between several countries in South America called GoSouthExpat.com, a BoliviaBella Facebook page you can like and follow, a BoliviaBella Expat Group on Facebook where discussions take place, a BoliviaBella Twitter account, a 24/7 Bolivia TV channel on Livestream so you can watch videos and documentaries, a BoliviaBella Pinterest page, a BoliviaBella YouTube channel, and over 50 Bolivia Forums where you can post questions and messages and start your own conversations. I am always looking for new ways to assist you in making the most informed decision possible.
If living as an expat in Bolivia is something you are considering, it stands to reason that you are doing everything in your power to inform yourself as much as you can about Bolivia, the city or cities you may consider living in, possible work or self-employment options, retirement options, language barriers, culture shock, the economic and political situation and future trends, finding a home, enrolling your kids in school, learning about available medical facilities and... what will happen if you get to Bolivia and things don't go well or you change your mind about it...
Wait... you did take some time to think about what might happen if, for any reason, you need to repatriate (return to your home country), didn't you? Well, as it turns out, many people spend days, weeks and months researching and planning for the expatriate life. But some fail to ask themselves some very important questions, such as what happens when something goes wrong, or it's simply time to return home? Expats in Bolivia and other countries often face emotions they never expected to feel, and sometimes didn't prepare for, when it's time to "go home".
Many expats relocate or retire overseas for financial reasons. Simply put, they want to save money. Others truly want to experience a different culture. Still others are married to people of another culture and want to learn about it.
If living in Bolivia is what you're considering because you want to save money, you need to be sure that the country can actually offer you a lifestyle you’ll be pleased with. If you’re not adventurous and are not motivated to learn about other cultures, you are better off seeking out a country where you can afford to live in a relatively similar manner as you do now. Many expats in Bolivia do want this and even hope to afford higher living standards than they currently enjoy.
Even if you do find that Bolivia provides what you want and is affordable, you must ask yourself if you are willing to give up some of the things you enjoy (being near your family, speaking your own language, going to a church of your religion, etc.). Don't expect two countries to ever be exactly the same, no matter how similar they may be. The only place you can live a US lifestyle, for example, is in the US. The only place like Australia is Australia.
If you really do want to learn about other cultures you’ll likely love that Bolivia is very different from your own country. But is this truly the best decision for you? Are there things, people, ways of living, conveniences, standards, or anything else that you might end up missing so much you feel miserable? Some people think they can adjust to a very different culture only to find themselves trying to maintain the lifestyle they were accustomed to – and when unable to do so they regret their decisions. Ask yourself if you are SURE relocating is your best choice. Or should you consider touring Bolivia each year instead?
If you’ve married someone from Bolivia, fitting into their culture may be easier for you because you’ll have help. But does that mean you can get used to living in Bolivia for an extended length of time? Visiting Bolivia and living in it can offer two completely different scenarios. Sometimes love is not enough to get you through the changes. Your first commitment is, of course, to your spouse and you must be willing in any marriage to compromise and make some sacrifices. After all, your spouse is likely doing the same for you.
But there are other very real considerations you must both take into account such as the skills, language, and other abilities necessary to earn a living in that country. Unless your spouse will be the primary breadwinner and already has an employment contract, this is a necessary step to take. The technical term for you is “trailing spouse” and as the “follower” you must take this into consideration before you make a final decision (or agree with your spouse to a trial period). Whether you are moving to please your spouse or because you truly are interested in being an expat in Bolivia, you must be able to find a job or otherwise afford to live there. If you can’t, you’ll both end up miserable. If you have children take their needs into account as well.
If you’re looking to live exactly as you live now, you won’t find that anywhere other than where you live now. Research employment options, housing availability, schools and the costs of educating your children, language skills needed, costs of living, living standards, hygiene standards, health care costs, medical facilities and technology, the availability of any medications or treatments you need, the local cuisine and the cost and availability of your choice of foods, the costs and availability of phone and internet options, vehicles and transportation, documentation requirements, money transfer and banking options, work or driving permits and licenses, tax issues, and anything else you use in your daily life. (By the way, you'll find all of this information about Bolivia under the Live in Bolivia section).
10 questions a future expat in Bolivia should ask him or herself
Make a list of what you, your spouse, and your children do each day. Then make a list of what you use when you do those things. Research costs and availability. For the things you won’t have available in your host country, ask yourself seriously: “Are we really able or willing to live without them? Really? Again, really???” Another way to approach this question would be: “If we change our minds once we’re in Bolivia, will we be able to return home and resume our lives?” Start with these 10 questions, and add any others that occur to you as you begin to think about your decision:
1. Why do I really want to move overseas? (What is my primary motivation?)
2. What lifestyle do I want overseas? (And can I afford it?) (And is it possible or available in my host country of choice?)
3. Will I be able to make a living in my new host country? (Or is my retirement portfolio sufficient for this?)
4. If things don’t work out or we change our minds, will we be able to return home and resume our lives? (Will we be able to afford to move back?) (Once back will we be able to find employment again?)
5. How does each member of the family feel about the move? The decision must be mutual between partners. Children won’t ultimately decide, but should be made to feel their opinions were taken into account, regardless of the final decision taken. Will I (will our family) truly benefit from relocating abroad?
6. Did I fully research housing, schooling, employment, transportation, healthcare, and everything else I’ll need overseas?
7. Could I (or could my family) benefit from some additional preparation before relocating overseas (language courses, culture transition coaching, career coaching, etc.)
8. Do I (does our family) have a plan for repatriation in case of emergencies? (And should this happen could we afford it, and where would we return to?)
9. Are there any options we should leave OPEN prior to moving? (Would my employer take me back if I return, should I keep my business partially open until I’m certain, etc.)
10. Am I (are we) truly willing to blend into local life, accept the things we are not accustomed to, and thrive despite the changes?
Lastly, remember: there is a big difference between living and thriving in your new home! Ask yourself: