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Advantages and Disadvantages of Living Outside of the United States

Paul first visited Thailand in 1996 and has been retired in Siam since 2007. He has a beautiful and loving Thai wife and can speak Thai.

Common rural scene in Thailand

Common rural scene in Thailand

Advantages of Living Outside the United States

For much of my life, I have lived outside of the United States. When I joined the Navy in 1967, I started to see the world, beginning with a 15-month tour of both Taiwan and Japan. I also lived in Taiwan on my own for almost all of the 1970s, and for one year in the 1980s when I was employed by the U.S. federal government. From 2003 to 2007, I lived in Thailand working for the government, and since 2007, I have been living again in Thailand as an ex-pat retiree.

From being able to save more money to enjoy a higher standard of living, there are numerous advantages to living outside of the United States. I experienced these advantages first while in the Navy, and then by living overseas as a government employee. In the 1970s, there were also advantages to living on my own in Taiwan, and most recently I have been enjoying the advantages of living the retired life in Thailand.

Although there are many advantages to living outside of the United States under the umbrella of government support, there are also disadvantages when you elect to do it on your own. This article lists some of the advantages and disadvantages of living outside of the United States.

Advantages of Life Outside the United States With Military or Government Support

For 15 months during the late 1960s and into 1970, the United States sent me to Taiwan and Japan for active duty assignments. While there as a single enlisted man, I was quartered in free barracks. Married servicemen and their dependents stayed in apartments paid for by the Navy. All meals were free of charge in the mess hall, and married servicemen were given a food allowance for themselves and their dependents.

There were also other service benefits such as free air travel to and from duty stations and scheduled R&Rs outside of hardship duty stations in war zones. Medical and dental care was paid for, and dependent children were given free education in international or American schools abroad.

While living in Taiwan and Thailand as a government employee, benefits were similar and even better than what I had while in the Navy. I was given a spacious three-bedroom villa in Taiwan that included a den, living room with fireplace, dining room, kitchen, and even servant quarters. In Thailand, I stayed in a huge two-bedroom downtown apartment with a spacious kitchen, living and dining room, den, and also servant quarters.

Medical clinic services were free, and once again there were free international or American schools for children. Air transportation to and from duty stations was paid for as were yearly trips back to the United States or an R&R destination of your choice. The government even paid to ship household goods and my car from the States to Thailand and back when my tour was over.

Advantages of Living Outside the U.S. on Your Own

Even if Uncle Sam isn't paying the bill, there are many advantages to living outside the United States on your own. Some of the advantages which I have been experiencing include:

1. Lower Cost of Living

Food, housing, and transportation are at least half as expensive in Thailand as in the U.S. The situation was also similar in Taiwan during the 1970s.

2. Warmer Climate

Having spent so many years in the cold climate of Wisconsin, I appreciate the much warmer climate of Thailand where the temperature never falls below 50 degrees Fahrenheit in my locality in northeastern Thailand.

3. Less Expensive Medical and Dental Care

Medical and dental care at top-notch international hospitals in Thailand is at least one-half of what you pay in the United States.

4. Easier Getting Teaching Jobs

After retiring from my federal job in 2007, I was easily able to get employment teaching EFL and ESL in Thailand. I didn't need a Master's Degree or teacher's certification to secure a position that paid me about $2,000 monthly. While in Taiwan during the 70s, I had my own very profitable home English teaching business.

The author while teaching English in Bangkok in 2009.

The author while teaching English in Bangkok in 2009.

Disadvantages of Living Outside the U.S. on Your Own

Although there are a great number of advantages to living outside of the United States, there are some disadvantages, especially if you are older and not very flexible. I have noticed these disadvantages first in Taiwan in the 1970s, and now while living in Thailand.

1. Can't Use Medicare or VA Medical Benefits Outside of the U.S.

Just recently I learned that I may not use my Medicare or VA medical benefits anywhere outside of the United States. Fortunately, I am covered by the private medical insurance which I had when I retired from government work.

2. Loss of Freedom of Speech

It is a fact that many countries don't give you the same First Amendment rights which people have in the States. When I lived in Taiwan in the 70s, Taiwan was under martial law. In Thailand today there are three "nos" for the people: no criticism of the government; no criticism of the monarchy; and no criticism of Buddhism.

3. Always Being Treated as a Foreigner

When I lived in Taiwan in the 1970s, I was usually called a foreigner or "long-nosed person" before being called by my name. In Thailand today, I am usually called a "farang' which is here used for white Westerners. As a foreigner, I have to apply yearly for a retirement visa and report my address to immigration every 90 days.

4. Physical Separation From Family and Friends

If you don't want to be away from your relatives and friends for a long period, it wouldn't be a good idea to live outside the United States. Communication by way of Skype isn't the same as being together with loved ones.

5. Non-Celebration of Traditional U.S. Holidays

Since Thailand is not a Christian country, traditional religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter are not celebrated. If you assimilate into Thai society and are away from fellow ex-pats, there are no Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, or Fourth of July celebrations.

6. Language and Cultural Barriers

Language and cultural barriers are two of the biggest disadvantages of living in a non-English speaking country. For example, if you can not understand or speak the Thai language and don't know Thai customs, you probably would not enjoy living in Thailand.

7. Being at the Mercy of Immigration

In addition to reporting my address to Thai Immigration every 90 days, I must notify them if I change my address. As a recipient of a retirement visa, I must show evidence that I have at least $25,000 or more in a Thai bank every year. Immigration laws are often changing and perhaps I will need more money in the future. If you don't have money in a Thai bank, it is not possible to live in Thailand on a long-term basis.

There are other disadvantages like corruption in society. I have listed what most ex-pats probably consider the chief disadvantages of living outside of the United States.

Author pictured next to wife on a boating excursion with friends in Thailand.  Picture taken in February 2018.

Author pictured next to wife on a boating excursion with friends in Thailand. Picture taken in February 2018.

The best way to live outside of the United States is under the umbrella of military or government support. If you go on your own, make sure you can speak and read some of the languages and understand the customs of your new home country. There can be a lot of advantages to living in a foreign country if you are flexible and willing to take chances. Having a spouse from your new home country also can help very much.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 14, 2020:

I know what you mean. I have to file and report my pension and social security benefits. Because I have more than 10k in a foreign bank, I have to report this to the U.S. Treasury, too!

C B on August 14, 2020:

I live overseas as well. What gets me is having to file US income tax returns when I don’t even live there!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 25, 2016:

Thank you very much for your comment. I really appreciate it!

DDE on October 25, 2016:

An interesting insight on both sides of living in the USA

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 28, 2016:

Kathleen, you are correct in noting that we never appreciate what we have back home until we live in a foreign country. If you are flexible and want to learn about new people and cultures, living outside the U.S. is a good experience.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 28, 2016:

@claptona , I'm very happy you liked this hub. Thanks for the nice comment!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 28, 2016:

Thank you very much for your comment, Larry. I think people never appreciate their life in the U.S. until they live a foreign country.

John D Wilson from Earth on September 28, 2016:

Good Hub, Paul. Thanks for sharing your experience. Cheers

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 28, 2016:

Really insightful hub.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on September 28, 2016:

Great hub. We lived overseas for seven of our 20 years in the military. You are right about the holidays. We always dreaded them coming. But as it turned out, those are some of our fondest memories because everyone was in the same situation. So we'd come together with our neighbors and had some of the best times of our lives.

We Army wives used to talk about what we would give for 15 minutes in a WalMart!!! But the travel, learning about different cultures, and learning to appreciate what we had back home - those were priceless lessons for me and for our three children.