The friend I’ve written about before — the one who advocates going expat — is Sandy Sandfort.
Sandy is a writer, businessman and soi disant recovering lawyer. Currently, he’s getting ready to relocate from Panama to Chile to work on the Galt’s Gulch Chile community project. You’ll find contact information for him at the bottom of this post.
But first, Sandy offered to answer some questions about going offshore. I asked him a few — Q&A below. Please feel free to ask your own questions in the comments. Sandy says he’ll check in to answer, but won’t get into debates — both because he is, after all, a recovering lawyer and because going expat is yet another question people are going to make up their own minds about, no matter what anybody says.
Q. The arm of the U.S. government is long. It reaches clear around the world. Why do you think anybody might be more safe outside the U.S. than in it?
A. Good question, but it is based on the false assumption that just because the USG can do ANYTHING,* that it therefore can do EVERYTHING. Well, it can’t. It lives under the sames laws that underly all economic calculations — cost benefit analysis. With limited resources (and all resources are limited) you have to pick your battles carefully. Yes, any given target can be smashed, but that just mean other targets get off Scott free. So for all practical purposes, out of sight, out of mind.
Q. There’s a lot of truth to what people say about expats being welcomed because they have money (or because the locals think they have money). So this is a two parter: How vulnerable to do you think Americans abroad are likely to be in local hard times? And what happens to American expats if the USD turns to toilet paper while they’re living in another country?
A. First the assumption about why Americans and other expats are welcome. Sure some locals want to suck off the gringo teat. However, they can be easily avoided by living away from tourist and expat enclaves. I will soon be moving to live in my fifth country. I have acquired many genuine friends around the world. People everywhere like friendly, interesting people and expats are some of the most interesting people in the world … even Canadians.
As to hard times and the dollar’s decline, I would have to ask the questions why are you contemplating moving to countries that are headed toward hard times and why are you still holding your wealth in US dollars? There are countries with exploding economies, budgetary surpluses, low cost of living and (relatively) hard currencies, not to mention the availability of land, gold, etc.
Q. A lot of people mention age or health as reasons not to uproot and go to another country. What do you have to say to that?
A. Much of Latin America, Asia and Oceania have better and cheaper health care than the US. Google medical tourism. With regard to age, I am just a few months away from the 2/3 of a century mark. The reality is that old folks think old. What that means in practice is that they are unwilling (not unable!) to accept change. Well if that is you, brother, do I have bad news. Change is coming to you and I believe it will be far greater and far more devastating than moving to Uruguay or the like.
Q. Most people just don’t want to be foreigners, which is understandable. They are genuinely content where they are. They have a stake in their lands, homes, families, etc. Why are you so adamant that everybody needs to get out of the U.S.?
Q. First, who says you have to be a “foreigner”? I have found it surprisingly easy to become a part of every local community I’ve lived in. People are people wherever you go and you already know about people.
I am not adamant that everyone leave the US. However, if YOU personally feel it is to your benefit to do so, you should. Family and friends? What I advocate is that rather than everyone going down the tubes together, that you get yourself out, show the way and provided a soft landing for others to come later if they feel the need.
With regard to property, well a lot of Jews felt they should stay in Germany to protect their assets. Most ended up with neither their property nor their lives. If that seems a big overly dramatic or unlikely in your “free” country, okay, how about just the property. What guarantee do you have you will be allowed to keep it? The answer is none. In the US everything you own can be taken by the USG via eminent domain or executive order. Ditto for most other advanced western countries.
Consider the monkey trap. You bore a whole in a gourd, basket or whatever, that is just big enough to admit a monkey’s paw. You tie the gourd to a tree. Then you put a banana, sweets or whatever the monkey likes to eat, inside. When the monkey grabs the banana and tries to pull his hand out, he cannot, because his fist is now too large. When you approach the trapped monkey, you can simply throw a net over him. Right up until the net drops, he could easily escape simply by releasing the banana. Don’t trade your freedom for the illusion that you can hang onto your things.
Q. You’ve commented that a lot of reasons for not wanting to leave the U.S. aren’t real reasons at all. People are either just afraid of change or they’ve gotten a wildly distorted idea of what some other country is like via the media (e.g. Mexico is nothing but violent drug lords from border to border). What would you like to say to these people?
A. You have to be true to yourself. If you are simply afraid of the unknown, drop the rationalizations and admit the truth. Then if you still want to get out, make the unknown known and base your decision on facts, not dark fantasies.
To get the facts, turn your TV OFF. Do not read newspapers nor Department of State warnings. Instead, there are two things you should do.
First, go on line and look for expat blogs and mailing lists in the countries you are considering. There you will get the day-to-day reality from people who are living it. Sign up for the lists. ASK QUESTIONS.
Second, if at all possible, visit one or more of your target countries. The longer the visit, the better, but anything is better than nothing. Talk to expats, but be sure to talk to locals as well. Don’t know the language? You will probably find English-speaking locals who will fall all over themselves to talk to you in English (yes, really). You should also learn polite and inquiry phrases such as “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good evening,” “how do you say?” (accompanied with a pointed finger), “do you speak English?” and of course the all important, “where is the bathroom?”
Q. Some people say, “Yeah, I’ll bet millions of people in Europe talked just like that when others were starting to up and leave. They were just making excuses for not wanting to take a risk.” Others say, “Sure, but back then there was someplace to go for genuine freedom. Now there isn’t.” Your comment?
A. The biggest lie in the world is “My country, (fill in the blank) is the freest country in the world. It says so right here in the government Cliff Notes.” Understand this, there are two “freedoms” in the world — theoretical and practical. Constitutions are theoretical, but as you already know, they are honored more in the breach than in the observance. Practice is what really happens in the street. Given a choice, I always choose freedom in practice rather than theory.
* In practice even the assumption that the US can do anything it wants is false. The Vietnamese kicked the US’ ass and the ragtag people’s army of Afghanistan is doing the same, just as it did to the Macedonians, British and Soviets before them.
For further information, you may contact Sandy at: ssandfort at galtsgulchchile dot com.