THE BLOG
03/03/2013 06:50 am ET Updated May 03, 2013

Why 'Country vs. Country' Doesn't Work

We've been living abroad for so long and in so many places now that we've almost stopped talking about the merits or disadvantages of entire countries.

Years ago we'd talk confidently about the benefits of Mexico versus Argentina... or Ecuador versus Costa Rica. We're finding that we don't do that as much these days.

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It's not because there aren't differences between entire countries... there are obvious ones and, sometimes, major administrative issues. The visa choices and requirements of Belize may be a better match for you than those of Uruguay. The tax laws in Panama may meet your needs better than those of Costa Rica right now.

But when it comes to quality of life -- which is, after all, the thing that most people are looking for when they investigate retiring or living abroad -- we find that comparing countries is far too blunt an instrument.

Here's an example. After we spent several years on the road, we decided we wanted to settle and have a place to really call home... at least for a while. We talked about what countries we liked, but we were much more dialed in on specific locations within countries.

When we decided (for now) on Ecuador as a home base, it was only partly because it was in Ecuador, one of our favorite countries. It was more because of what the small village where we live offers as a home base... affordability, great infrastructure, interesting culture, safety and security, and the world's best weather... rather than what Ecuador offered as a country.

When you approach the idea of living abroad, you naturally start from a country level, but if you want to do your research well, you inevitably sharpen your focus on specific locations.

Take Costa Rica... it's easy to say that it would be a wonderful place to live and retire. But then you need to decide if you'd prefer the gorgeous lake country at Arenal... or the urban convenience of the Central Valley... or the tropical splendor of the newly opened southern coast around Uvita... or even the adventure of the Caribbean coast.

Same with Ecuador... is it the size and excitement of Quito you want... or a small-town village feel... or the surf mecca of the Pacific coast? And if it's the Pacific Coast, which part is best for you -- the established locations around Salinas and Manta... or the newly opened stretch north of Bahia de Caraquez?

Like many of our expat friends, we've been lucky enough to live in or near many of these locations long enough to have made the jump from being tourists to being locals. That's why you'll often find us writing about specific locations within countries rather than the countries themselves.

The quality of life can vary enormously from the west side of Mexico to the east, from the north of Argentina to the south, even from one neighborhood of Quito, Montevideo or Panama City to the other.

Assessing exactly what you're looking for as a potential expat, then getting past the "France versus Uruguay" stage and finding a specific town, city or region that matches those requirements, will not only save you time and effort -- it can focus your thinking on what's most important to you.

Taking advantage of the experience of people who have actually lived in specific locations is a great way to get the kind of boots-on-the-ground intelligence you need to make those decisions.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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