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US vs. local lifestyle
Old 05-27-2013, 08:34 PM   #1
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US vs. local lifestyle

There have been many posts about living in foreign countries. Many of them talk about the cost of living being very affordable if you live like a local but the cost of living being much higher if you live to US standards.

My question is:

Can you list the top 3 differences that affect cost of living (local vs. US) in Asia or Latin America?

Trying to understand the most significant things you would have to give up to live like a local and benefit from the resulting cost of living decrease.
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Old 05-27-2013, 08:49 PM   #2
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1) Cost of housing. You can rent really cheap many places. Expect more primitive accommodation than the US. By the way, you can get really cheap housing in the US these days.
2) Cost of health care. Everyplace is cheaper than the US. Quality can be poor, though.
3) Electronics, washing machines, power tools, furniture, all may be much higher than the US.

Personal services may be cheaper due to low wages. Maybe not.

Beware the Gringo Tax.
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Old 05-27-2013, 09:53 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by gotRdone View Post
There have been many posts about living in foreign countries. Many of them talk about the cost of living being very affordable if you live like a local but the cost of living being much higher if you live to US standards.

My question is:

Can you list the top 3 differences that affect cost of living (local vs. US) in Asia or Latin America?

Trying to understand the most significant things you would have to give up to live like a local and benefit from the resulting cost of living decrease.
1. Housing: Americans seem to be unique in the first world in their mania for owning real estate when renting makes more sense. Buying in the developing world is rarely a good idea. Renting, if you decide you "need" 2000 square feet or more when local norms for one or two people are a quarter to half that much space, can also get expensive. Ditto TVs in every room, fancy furnishings, importing furniture from home, etc. all of which happen frequently and none of which have anything to do with living like a local.

2. Food: the biggest area to save or waste money. Local food anywhere in the developing world will be based on a staple grain (corn in Central America and Mexico, rice in Asia) with local vegetables and judicious amounts of meat. Eating imported foods frequently can easily cancel out the health benefits of eating lower on the food chain as well as replacing 40-60% savings vs. U.S. costs with a break-even situation.

3. Transportation: in most of the developing world people can't afford cars, and mass transit is abundant and cheap. If you join the locals you'll find yourself walking a few miles a day and saving tons of money. Also included in transportation is being aware that frequent trips back to the U.S. to see friends or family can easily eat up all of the cost savings you experience living as an expat.
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Old 05-28-2013, 12:05 AM   #4
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1. Housing
2. Food and other living expenses
3. Companionship - those who've been to Thailand or the Philliphines will know what I mean
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Old 05-28-2013, 01:52 AM   #5
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The biggest differences between the Manila (where I live) and the U.S. is the cost of labor/services...

Housekeepers/nannies/drivers cost about $300-500/month; a very good one hour massage in Manila runs $12-25/hour (the later in an upscale spa with hot tubs and saunas and showers),

Food is also relatively inexpensive: meals at the best restaurants run about $20/30 including wine or beer & tax and tip. You can eat out well for $5-10/person and decently for $3-5). Local groceries are much less expensive than in the US, most imports about the same.

Entertainment is much less. First run American movies in the fanciest theaters go for $4-5; DVDs (likely pirated) $.50 to 1.50; new books maybe 1/3 less (with plenty of used ones available too). The best theatre tickets (for musicals and plays) typically cost no more than $20-40. Concert tickets (e.g., for Lady Gaga; Elton John, etc) seemed about as much as in the US, though.

Appliances and electronics are as much or more here as at home and rents are probably no cheaper for expats than at home (unless you go native) ... a nice apartment or house can easily run $2,000 or more per month. Hotels, on the other hand, tend to be more reasonable, with the top 5 stars often offering room for $100 to $150/night and decent hotels available for $20-40.

But that's all in Manila. Everything is much cheaper in the provinces.
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Old 05-28-2013, 06:34 AM   #6
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I am in the Philippines in a metro but not Manila like jerryo. For me, the cost levers are rent, health care, and transport. I like living here for various reasons and low cost is just a bonus.

My rent on my apartment is just $250/month for a 2 Bed / 2 Bath in a walkable area, the complex is almost all foreigners. My total fixed costs for rent, internet, extended cable, water (piped), water jugs (potable), electric, once-a-week-maid, getting all my laundry (full-service) done on the corner, gym membership (paid by the year): $450/month.

I find the private health system very accessible and it is great for routine health care -- not as good for complex health care. I accidentally gashed open my forehead just last night (!) around 11 PM and my head was profusely bleeding. I stopped the bleeding and simply drove straight to the best private hospital in my area. There were a bevy of nurses and a great doc waiting there to instantly serve me and they did a great job. I was home an hour and a half after my injury, all stitched up (literally). I have lots of good health care stories here for routine care like that, but when it comes to something complex, it can be a different story. For something real serious, I would go to the best hospitals in Manila, if possible. I am happy with my dentist. I have not yet a medical professional who is not fluent in English. I lived in Colombia before and always had to speak Spanish. I no longer have any health insurance.

Transport is very cheap, I use my own motor scooter. My long term transport costs including depreciation, licensing, maintenance, gas, insurance are only about $80 per month, an incredibly low figure when you include everything. I absolutely love to drive my moto.

I find eating at home somewhat more expensive here than in the USA but eating out is comparatively a lot cheaper. My favorite upscale restaurant here which serves awesome Filipino food is about $15 total cost for 2 (that would be beer only, no fancy drinks).

The things that cost more are trips back to the USA, electronic items, cars, imported stuff like contact lenses, specialty foods, any specialty items that you would have to order online in the USA. I simply get electronics and glass/contact-lenses and specialty items (like specialized travel gear) when I am in the USA.

Now that I have lived here for awhile, I plan to do more travel in Asia. This is a good home-base for travel. The problem is I don't want to travel by myself or I would travel more. Plus, I am enjoying regular life here. I plan to start playing tennis here, also.

Because my basic costs are so low, I can go out and spend on whatever almost without thinking about it (although I always do think about it!). It is a nice feeling. I just live on a low SWR and am prepared to shell out big bucks for medical costs some day. For something where quality of care could really make a difference, I would consider flying to Bumrungrad in Bangkok, if possible.

Only choose a place where you a good fit on multiple levels. For instance, many expats here don't like the weather and this restricts their activities. I really love it, even more than the Filipinos. Others can't stand some of the typical Filipino character traits and complain about them all the time. I try to understand and work around these issues.
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Old 05-28-2013, 07:22 AM   #7
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If you are willing/able to live in a second or third tier city in China you can have quite a nice lifestyle for a relatively low price. When we lived in Chengdu we found housing, food (both groceries and restaurants), transportation , childcare, and household help were all measurably cheaper than in the US. We were living very nicely on 30-40k/year for several years, including 1-2 trips back to the US for a family of four every year. Our living costs basically doubled when we moved to Beijing, and quality of life went down in many ways as well. It is still possible to live a relatively low-cost lifestyle in Beijing if you have control/autonomy over certain major decisions, but it is basically not a whole lot cheaper than life in a major coastal city in the US.

Healthcare is a huge issue here. You can get worldclass medical care in local hospitals for a good price if you are lucky, but it is pretty much a crapshoot and you have to be willing to put up with a lot of nonsense that goes on in the Chinese medical system (including regular expectations of cash bribes to get access to the best doctors). Sometimes you can get lucky -- we helped someone find a major brain tumor specialist who treated her well and ethically and even managed to get some of the fees waived. But that was a rare and special unicorn-like situation, from what I have seen/heard. Expat oriented medical facilities can be good, but they are more expensive than US hospitals. If I were going to be having elective surgery, I would probably also fly out to Bumrungrad.
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Old 05-28-2013, 08:17 AM   #8
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There have been many posts about living in foreign countries. Many of them talk about the cost of living being very affordable if you live like a local but the cost of living being much higher if you live to US standards.

My question is:

Can you list the top 3 differences that affect cost of living (local vs. US) in Asia or Latin America?

Trying to understand the most significant things you would have to give up to live like a local and benefit from the resulting cost of living decrease.
็Here in Thailand, labor-intensive services are cheap and that includes doctors, taxicabs, haircutters, maids, and a driver for your car. Healthcare is as good or better than in the US and laughably cheap.

Forget about food as a significant expense, unless you move to Japan. Here in Thailand we eat mostly imported food, no alcohol, and we only spend 5% of our budget on food. Restaurants with western-style service are more expensive than in New York.

Automobiles and gas are more expensive than in the US, although we don't use either because we live in a big city. US quality clothing is expensive, but not a large part of our budget. We rent an apartment that is twice the size of our last apartment in Manhattan at 30% less. The quality of the building services is better than we had in NYC. If we were willing to live outside Bangkok the rent would be much less, but we are not willing to.

Although healthcare was not a motivation for us to relocate in Thailand, now that we have experience with the Thai healthcare system I would never want to fall back into the clutches of the odious US healthcare system again.
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Old 05-30-2013, 02:38 PM   #9
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Trying to understand the most significant things you would have to give up to live like a local and benefit from the resulting cost of living decrease.
Most have been mentioned, so these are additions or elaborations to the above.

Thailand has import duty on most manufactured goods that are also made in Thailand. It also has duty on items not made here. Companies have plants here to avoid duty, mostly cars and motorcycles. For many product types the options are: 1) stuff that's too shoddy to be sold at Walmart, 2) walmart quality with fake branding, 3) reasonably well made stuff with fake high end branding and eye-popping price tags, 4) the real deal with prices to match. I usually go with #2 and replace as needed. If you must have it from home, you can ship it here but. it. will. cost. you: shipping, duty and tea money (informal fees to corrupt officials).

Food from home is a monkey on many expat's backs. There is a chain of markets in Thailand that imports and sells the genuine items at multiples of the prices back home which made this expat sit down and have a long heart-to-heart talk with that monkey.
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Old 05-30-2013, 02:48 PM   #10
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The UK obviously isn't Asian or Latin America, but the cost drivers are similar.

UK has less expensive health care (zero cost to me), housing and real estate taxes and food.

UK has more expensive car costs, sales tax (VAT is 20%), insurance.

I've done some calculations and for me the UK would be less expensive, mostly due to the minimum of $5k to $6k each year I'd save on health care costs.
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Old 05-30-2013, 03:21 PM   #11
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Interesting thing for us is that a lot of the food we buy is imported from Thailand or elsewhere in Asia. Rice (~$1/lb), noodles (~$1.70/lb), sauces ($2-2.20 for ~9 oz typically), curries, seasoning, canned veggies (mushrooms, bamboo), coconut milk, etc. I would have to imagine these items would be much cheaper locally in Thailand vs buying imported from one of the local asian groceries.
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Old 05-30-2013, 03:45 PM   #12
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1) Cost of housing. You can rent really cheap many places. Expect more primitive accommodation than the US. By the way, you can get really cheap housing in the US these days.
It seems to me that he US is slowly or rapidly differentiating into several zones, with respect to job opportunities and also housing costs.

I think some of these people who leave the US for lifestyle or philosophical/political reasons are likely not looking for the tract house near a Wal-Mart in Indiana experience. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it is just not everyone's cup of tea. Because I am single and because I have nailed down (as best I could) some of my costs in reasonable territory, I think would have considerable latitude in choosing where to live in America or abroad, though in Western Europe I clearly could only stay in modest rentals in moderate cost cities in Western Europe.

I could even afford to rent my condo out, and move to a rental in Manhattan Beach or Redondo Beach or Venice Beach if I wanted to. Or an apartment in Sevilla or Barcelona or Costa Del Sol or Madrid- also only doable since I could scram back here if rents got crazy.

Ha
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Old 05-31-2013, 12:56 PM   #13
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It seems to me that he US is slowly or rapidly differentiating into several zones, with respect to job opportunities and also housing costs.

I think some of these people who leave the US for lifestyle or philosophical/political reasons are likely not looking for the tract house near a Wal-Mart in Indiana experience. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it is just not everyone's cup of tea. Because I am single and because I have nailed down (as best I could) some of my costs in reasonable territory, I think would have considerable latitude in choosing where to live in America or abroad, though in Western Europe I clearly could only stay in modest rentals in moderate cost cities in Western Europe.

I could even afford to rent my condo out, and move to a rental in Manhattan Beach or Redondo Beach or Venice Beach if I wanted to. Or an apartment in Sevilla or Barcelona or Costa Del Sol or Madrid- also only doable since I could scram back here if rents got crazy.

Ha
Ha, I could buy a manufactured home in Whatcom County, about 2 hours north of you, for two paychecks these days. I do not need to expatriate for my Plan B right now (now that we are on Medicare), unless something bizarre happens. (I would prefer to live in the Emerald City, of course, but close enough.)
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Old 05-31-2013, 01:24 PM   #14
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Ha, I could buy a manufactured home in Whatcom County, about 2 hours north of you, for two paychecks these days. I do not need to expatriate for my Plan B right now (now that we are on Medicare), unless something bizarre happens. (I would prefer to live in the Emerald City, of course, but close enough.)
Wow, did not know about this. Would this be out Meridian north of Bellis Fair?

I always figured that if my kids went to Western and stayed around Bellingham I would move up there. It is very nice and very likeable people. I always liked that road running just above the Bay from downtown to Fairhaven-maybe it was S State.

Glad to hear you can stay put once you return from work.

Ha
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Old 05-31-2013, 03:51 PM   #15
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My aunt owns a manufactured home in Iowa, and it was very cheap. She has a small lot rental, but I can't think of a better lifestyle at the price-point she lives at.

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Ha, I could buy a manufactured home in Whatcom County, about 2 hours north of you, for two paychecks these days. I do not need to expatriate for my Plan B right now (now that we are on Medicare), unless something bizarre happens. (I would prefer to live in the Emerald City, of course, but close enough.)
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Manila!
Old 05-31-2013, 06:43 PM   #16
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Manila!

I've consider spending a few months a year in Manila. I'm formerly from there but left for the USA about 38 yrs ago. Even though I look native and can
adopt to culture, the country have changed and I may be fixated with nostalgia that's no longer there. Folks there(cities) tend to adopt to the western trends sometimes faster than us.

I may consider renting a condo in the better part of the city like Makati. It's the business, financial and shopping center and it will be like any major American city.

For Medical needs, Makati Medical center is the foremost western Style hospital. St Luke's Medical Center is another.

My main concern is safety and crime once I venture away from the Makati area. I will not have a car and will possibly take the public transport. Although I still speak the language fluently, I'm not used to the hassle and rush of a big metro.

Food is least of concern. Everything is there.

I would say $2000 a month is plenty. Other places can be cheaper!
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Old 06-09-2013, 10:26 AM   #17
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Wow, did not know about this. Would this be out Meridian north of Bellis Fair?

I always figured that if my kids went to Western and stayed around Bellingham I would move up there. It is very nice and very likeable people. I always liked that road running just above the Bay from downtown to Fairhaven-maybe it was S State.

Glad to hear you can stay put once you return from work.

Ha
Hi, Ha,

I have to clarify a little. I am speaking for myself; I have an expat situation at the moment that is golden. Even so, there are very inexpensive places in the county--and even near town! Typically they are older manufactured homes, but there are condos as well (most look like old motels). The county is my current Plan B, wintering in warmer places.

Check out Zillow for Whatcom County and B'ham. I like Zillow because it shows the properties on a map. In quiet moments at work (in my 'study' ), I cruise Zillow for ideas on my smartphone. There have been a few condos in Blaine on the water with most excellent views of the Pacific for about 30% less than my house may be worth, and much less expensive than similar sites in Bellingham. On my next R&R I intend to check out one or two.

The Emerald City would be nice if we could afford it, but that won't happen.

It is a great relief to have found a good situation for what should be my last job (inshallah). We won't have to live under a bridge when I stop working. With luck, we won't have to live in a trailer in the county, either, but it is all better than our prospects a couple of years ago. Now if we could only get the kids off the payroll.

Bellingham is a mellow place and we like it. "The city of subdued enthusiasm." The home of only two serial killers. Kind of like Abbottsford, BC, but with a water view. But I digress.
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Old 06-09-2013, 10:36 AM   #18
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Bellingham is a mellow place and we like it. "The city of subdued enthusiasm." The home of only two serial killers. Kind of like Abbottsford, BC, but with a water view. But I digress.
I completely agree. Downtown Bellingham feels like a small Seattle without the edge. Or at least very much edge.

Thanks for describing what you are talking about up there.

The NW does do serial killers well, no? Must be the Tumwater.

And congrats on getting things in much better shape over the past few years. Good work.

Ha
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Old 06-09-2013, 11:28 AM   #19
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Ha, we must have a java on Elliot Bay one day.
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Old 06-09-2013, 01:52 PM   #20
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UK has less expensive health care (zero cost to me), housing and real estate taxes and food.

UK has more expensive car costs, sales tax (VAT is 20%), insurance.

I've done some calculations and for me the UK would be less expensive, mostly due to the minimum of $5k to $6k each year I'd save on health care costs.
nun-where do you live now/planning on living in the UK that it would be cheaper? If we go back we are looking in the Otley (N Yorks) area near my wife's relatives(Harrogate)....not cheap compared to the Spokane area. Property taxes are higher as well. If we did go back I would consider dropping my health insurance, but considering I am only paying little over $300 a month for both of us now, not sure. One of my wife's son's has a big cyst on the back of his head. Nat Health won't take it off since it is "only" 3 cm....they will take it off when it gets to 5cm. Some of the things just don't make sense.....Nat Health did good things for me most of the time I was there....but if you needed something done (like a calf op I needed to let me ride my bike/walk)....you had to go private.
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