I think we all can agree the world is going bananas at the moment!
The pandemic has us all down and divided in all kinds of different ways.
Perhaps — when the dust settles — you’ve thought about just…getting away from it all so to speak; picking up and starting a new life in some tropical paradise of South America, Central America or Mexico.
After all, who hasn’t thought about that at some point!
And — since I’m the Latin America guy and all — I’m going to help you decide whether or not you should live in Latin America.
We’ll be taking a slightly different approach to this question than you may expect.
Because, here’s the thing: you already know the things that make Latin America a great choice for living: sunny weather, laidback lifestyle, lower cost of living, beautiful beaches, etc.
All those things are pretty well promoted on websites like International Living.
However, what you might not know are some of the minor and-not-so-minor frustrations that you’ll encounter after actually living down here in LATAM for a decent period of time. Or, the snafus that might come about when you’re first trying to establish yourself in a new country.
That only comes with experience of having done those things!
But, not to worry! I’m going to share exactly those things with you today.
We won’t be all negative, though. I’ll be sure to cover some of the positive aspects of life down here as well.
Some of pros and cons may be obvious to you, others won’t be.
Let’s get the ball rolling.
Table of Contents
Here’s Why You SHOULD NOT Live in Latin America
1. It’s Not Safe
Latin America is not a safe part of the world. You are much, much more likely to be a victim of random crime here than you would be in Canada, Australia, the USA or Europe.
And, before anyone assaults the comment section with “But Vance! St. Louis and Chicago have higher murder rates than many Latin American cities!” you must understand a few things.
First, reported crime statistics in Latin America are not accurate (they are much higher, since most people don’t bother to report crimes to the police because they know it’s futile).
Second, random crimes are much more common here. Wrong place at the wrong time sort of thing. Like, you’re walking down the street or out of the metro and some guys rob you.
Third, the lack of security goes beyond petty street crime.
For instance, did you know that the doormen of apartment buildings are often responsible for aiding home invasions? Since they know who lives in the building and his/her schedule, doormen can help robbers break into someone’s home and take their valuables while they’re at work or at the gym. For this reason, doormen are regularly rotated to different apartment buildings before they can get a solid idea of people’s comings and goings.
Bottom line: most locals I’ve met have either been robbed or know someone who has.
I don’t know about you, but where I’m from, I don’t know too many folks who’ve been robbed.
And while it’s true that many small and mid-sized cities in Latin America are safer than large metropolises, you still can’t expect the same safety and security that you’d get in a mid-sized American/Canadian/German/Australian city.
2. It’s Inefficient
Things just don’t work right down here!
For instance, in my former neighbourhood, the power went out once a month or so.
No one really knows why.
I still remember the times they cut the water supply to almost all of Mexico City proper for 5 days or so to upgrade the pipes.
All attempted upgrades were unsuccessful…
When I lived in Lima, floods in the country resulted in me not having water for a week. And certain types of produce couldn’t reach the capital. For example, I couldn’t get limes for two weeks (no big deal, but you get the point).
Despite having dealt with fairly heavy rainfall for, well, forever, Bogota still hasn’t figured out a decent drainage system for their roads.
I see yearly videos of Bogota residents driving the streets through about 3 feet of water!
So, there’s all that.
And there’s also the mad bureaucracy it takes to get things done. If you need to do anything that requires paperwork in Latin America, expect it to take a ridiculous amount of time to be processed, and expect to have to obtain seemingly irrelevant documents, and visit a handful of different offices.
3. It’s Corrupt As Hell
Ever think you’d have to bribe someone to get out of a difficult situation?
Personally, I’d never considered the thought.
Until I came to Latin America, that is.
In Mexico, I’ve had to pay cops to avoid ugly situations (once was my fault…but the other times were just good old fashioned robbery).
Chances are, if you choose to live in Latin America, you will have to bribe someone at some point.
Now, some countries are worse than others for this. Mexico is very bad. But while Living In Peru, I never had such problems.
It gets even worse for people trying to do legal things, like get a divorce or get their residency. If you search expat Facebook groups, you’ll encounter countless examples of lawyers cheating clients; disappearing out of thin air after being paid, or purposely delaying processes to milk their clients for more money.
And these are supposed professionals.
That, along with getting cheated by waiters, taxi drivers or even fruit vendors, well, it can grind you down.
4. It’s Difficult (Impossible?) To Assimilate
Of course, this issue isn’t limited to Latin America. If you move anywhere with a different culture and language, assimilating will be tough.
However, the ability to feel part of a culture is an underrated aspect of mental health, I find.
Even though I’ve been living or traveling in Latin America for the better part of 9 years now, I’m still very aware of the fact that I’m not integrated and will never be able to completely integrate. Although I speak the language, I’m constantly reminded of the different views, mindsets and priorities of the people here.
You’ll also find that locals have subtle ways of reminding you that you’re not from their country.
This whole not-fitting-in thing is abstract, and it may not bother you too much, but you’ll definitely notice, and at times you will feel like a complete outsider.
But! Here’s Why You SHOULD Live In Latin America
1. Lower Cost Of Living
This is one of the main reasons people choose to pack up their life and head down south.
It’s so damn cheap!
You can have more or less the same living comforts here in Latin America as you could in the United States for around 60% of the cost. In some cases, even less (in some cases only 20-30%, if you move to Uruguay or Chile).
The benefit of such a lower cost of living really can’t be overstated. A bit of extra money in your pocket can also help reduce some of the aforementioned cons about living in Latin America (the money to live in a safer neighbourhood, hiring people for daily tasks, thereby freeing up your time, etc).
The ability to enjoy a much lower cost of living and still maintain a high quality of life is why many retirees find themselves happier and healthier living down south.
2. A Stronger Focus On Community
People in Latin America deeply care about friends and family. Frequent family get togethers, meals and fiestas. The bond between extended family is much stronger here in general than it is in my home country of Canada.
There’s just a neighbourly vibe here in Latin America. If you live here, you’ll find yourself chatting with the local bodega owner, bakery attendant and butcher.
Now, whether you want to tap into this community vibe is up to you. Many foreigners in Latin America tend to restrict their community to fellow foreigners. That’s OK, too. Expats do indeed form their own strong communities and social bonds. That said, I’d argue that you’ll have a much richer experience if you try to bond with some locals as well.
Remember how I said how it’s difficult to assimilate here?
Well, making an attempt to plug yourself into a warm and welcoming community will make it so you don’t feel as much as a stranger in a strange land.
Here in Latin America, you have plenty of climates to choose from.
Blistering heat, “eternal spring”, brisk, high-altitude climates (even snow! If you want…), rain, although I’m not sure why you’d want rain…humid, temperate…the list goes on.
Depending on where you’re from, this may not seem like too much of a draw. But for me, coming from Canada, it’s wonderful. Whatever climate suits you, you’ll be able to find it here.
You may think this is a somewhat “throwaway” pro of living in Latin America, but it’s not. I was shocked by how much my well-being and mental health improved simply by living in a climate that I preferred.
4. A “Healthier” Lifestyle
I put “healthier” in quotations here, because the choice is yours.
There’s no doubt that the average person in Latin America doesn’t eat particularly “healthy”. Fried foods, sugar and vegetable oil are staples in most Latin American countries. I’d venture to say most folks are protein-deficient down here.
Be that as it may, it is still easy and cheap to eat well in Latin America. GMO foods are much less of a thing than they are in Canada or the USA (you’ll be shocked how quickly meat goes bad here compared to the USA, simply because less preservatives are used). The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables is much more plentiful south of the border as well.
There are even plenty of “gluten free” and “certified organic” choices down here, if that’s your thing. But for that, expect to pay the same price or more as you would in your country.
While I’d suggest staying away from most street food if you’re health conscious, with its bounty of fruits and vegetables and locally sourced eggs and meat, it is very easy to eat clean down here.
Not to mention the fact that if you’re in a smaller Latin American city, life mores slower. Things are less stressful. Relaxing here isn’t a sin. If you were caught up in the rat-race back home, you’ll find a much slower pace of life down here.
5 Things To Consider Before Moving To Latin America
Your Source Of Income
Before moving to Latin America, ideally you’ll want to have a source of regular income coming in (from location-independent work, social security etc) or a safety net (e.g savings or investment income). Although I admire folks who relocate with nothing and get a job or start a business in a Latin American country, I can’t in good conscience recommend it — it’s too risky. If you’re not in a situation where you have access to a regular source of income, your first step is establishing that. Where this income comes from of course is your choice! Personally, I recommend you have an absolute minimum of $2000 USD/month, per person coming in. This will be enough to cover living expenses in most Latin American cities, while allowing for a little bit of saving in the case of an emergency or any other unforeseen event.
Another thing to consider before relocating to a Latin American country is your family. Do you have a partner? Kids? How do they feel about the whole thing? Based on general observations, young kids of expats seem to adapt to live well down here in terms of learning the language, making friends and just being generally content. If you’re single, consider your parents and/or siblings. Assuming you have a good relationship with them, will you be OK with going long stretches without seeing them? How will they feel about it? If your parents are elderly, do they need you to be nearby to help look after them? These aren’t easy questions, but they are questions you should think deeply about before relocating.
It’s important to have an idea of what your expectations are from your new country, and if they’re reasonable. Some folks ask for nothing more than sunshine and cheap cervezas. And guess what? That’s fine! Indeed, some of the happiest expats I’ve ever met are retirees who spend six or more months at a time in Mexico. They worked hard their entire lives and they want to enjoy the beach, the sun, the pool and good food at half the price of what they’d be paying in the USA or Canada. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. Where things get tricky is if you’re expecting a lot more from your chosen destination. I’m not advocating for ‘low standards’ but if you’re a man who had trouble dating at home and are expecting a supermodel to throw themselves at you down here, well, it’s probably not going to happen. Or, if you’re planning on social climbing or starting a massive successful business down here, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Yes, by moving to Latin America you will reap benefits (as I mentioned in the previous section of the article), but there is a ceiling to how much you can reasonably expect to improve your station in life across all facets simply by changing locations…that’s all I’m trying to say!
The big, scary but often exciting thing known as ‘the future.’ You’ll need to think about it before moving to Latin America. According to some scientists, We Go Through Seven Year Cycles where our bodies and minds change. I.e you goals and desires may remain relatively static from ages 21-28, but from 28-35, you’re on some other sh*t. I’ve been guilty of scoffing at such ideas, but I’ve found this seven-year thing to be more or less true. What does this mean for you? Well, simply consider the option that how you feel about your Latin American paradise today may not be how you feel about it forever. Keep this in mind before buying a three story building to start a nightclub or a restaurant, or anything else that might be an un-welcomed anchor, is all I’m saying. Some people are the types of folks that need to go “all-in” and I get that, but I’m of the mind that you should always have an ‘escape plan’ in mind. After all, Latin America isn’t exactly known for stable governments or handling, errr, global pandemics particularly well. Think long and hard before doing anything that’s really going to tie you to a particular country down here before you’re ready to commit (take your time!)
Before taking the leap of moving to South America, Mexico or where ever it may be, take some time to think about why you’re truly considering this. But first! Keep this in mind. THERE. IS. NO. WRONG. ANSWER! Everybody is different and no reason is “more legitimate” than another. Even if this wasn’t the case, I certainly wouldn’t be one to comment. I moved to Latin America simply because I’d been interested in the region since I was a kid. So, I went, and found that I liked it. I learned Spanish. That’s about it. Followed a passion. I didn’t overthink things. Nevertheless, as simple as your why may be, it’s important to know it because it can help you sort out if moving countries is really the step you want/need to take or, if you’ve taken the leap, remembering why will get you through some of the tougher days when you’re doubting your choice.
My Personal Advice?
In my opinion, folks who meet the following criteria may be well suited for life in Latin America.
You earn a consistent income from abroad (i.e freelancing/investments/social security
You’re willing to learn Spanish (or, Portuguese, in the case of Brazil)
You have at least a cursory interest in the country/city you plan to relocate to
You’re patient in day-to-day life, and low in neuroticism
As for money, again, you should have at least $2,000.00 USD a month coming in to live anywhere in Latin America.
Although many folks do, I personally wouldn’t suggest trying to manage on less.
As I mentioned, the good thing about Latin America is that — if you have money — some of the pros of living here allow you to more or less negate the cons. Things like taking Ubers everywhere, getting your groceries delivered, having a cleaning person, etc.
Most people would suggest trying not to “live in a bubble” in Latin America.
But I disagree with that somewhat.
I’ve kind of been on both sides of this equation and I’d say you’re going to want to position yourself in a bit of a bubble.
That is to say, don’t skimp on safety measures, don’t live in squalor and if you can afford to free up time by hiring people to do various tasks, do it!
And if you want to start a business in Latin America, make sure you have enough other income and/or savings to safely keep your head above water.
It’s foolhardy to forgo basic comforts in the spirit of “living like a local”.
Don’t buy into this romantic notion.
The point of relocating to Latin America is to create less stress for yourself, not more.
Like anything in life, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons.
Should you live in Latin America?
Only you can answer that question.
There are certain personality traits that simply don’t do well here.
If you need things done fast and efficiently, you’ll find life down here maddening.
If you’re not open to learning a different language, you’ll find things frustrating.
Likewise, if you want to move somewhere to improve your economic prospects, Latin America may not be the best place to do so.
However, if you’re looking for a change of pace, vibrant cultures and (mostly) beautiful weather, Latin America is a good choice.
Remember, there is no right or wrong reason to move to a different part of the world. We all have different things that drive us.
But it’s not a flippant choice. Uprooting your life is a big deal. Not something to be taken lightly.
I hope this post has helped illuminate some of the good, the bad and the ugly of living in Latin America.
If you plan to travel or live in Latin America, you’ll need to know what you’re doing! Skip the guesswork and develop your ideal Latin Life Plan with our consultation services:
Cheers! I hope to see you down here soon.
Until next time,