07/02/2013 05:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Would Happen If EVERYBODY Were an Expat?

Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher

The question sounds simple at first: If you could move somewhere else and live a happier, healthier, more affordable life than you're living where you are right now, would you?

All things being equal, most people would say, "Of course." And since there are hundreds of places around the world that fit the bill... especially when it comes to startling affordability and incredible weather compared to the continental United States... why is anyone left in the U.S.?

Because all things are not equal. In our experience over the years talking to thousands of potential expats, we've found two common factors that drive a decision NOT to move abroad, no matter how good the weather or relaxed the lifestyle or huge the savings.


The first is love of home. Humans are like that... it doesn't matter if it's the freezing, wind-swept plains of North Dakota, the searing deserts of New Mexico, the fetid swamps of Florida, or the bleak, featureless expanses of Kansas. If you were born there and your family and friends are there, the chances are pretty good that you'll die there simply because... it's home and you love it. It may not be rational, especially in the dead of winter or the height of summer, and it doesn't matter how often we toy with the idea of escape... For many of us, home calls us just as strongly as salmon are called back each year to the streams and estuaries of their birth.

The second factor is what we call the "devil you know" factor. Even people who have no special attachment to the place they've been living for years prefer to stay put simply because they're familiar with it. They may not even be particularly happy where they are... They may hate the weather, chafe at the cost of living, despise the politics, fear they'll go broke if they get sick there. But at least they know the ropes, and they have no interest in learning new ones somewhere else. Indeed, they may think they CAN'T learn a new set of ropes and so decide to make themselves as happy as possible with the ones they have.

Both these reasons for not moving abroad are perfectly valid. The main idea behind living somewhere else is to improve your quality of life, after all. If you're not intrigued and excited by the idea of a new home or a change in your basic, everyday routine, moving abroad won't improve your life. It won't make any difference if you cut your cost of living in half, or if you never need to run a furnace or air conditioner again, or if you get full coverage in a national health plan for $60 per month... If you pine for home and the old familiar places and faces, you won't be happy.

That's why we constantly remind people to assess themselves, ruthlessly and honestly, before making any decision to move abroad. Deciding what you can and can't live without is an intensely personal decision, and there are no right or wrong answers. There are only answers that have meaning for you.

Of course, sometimes you're not aware of what you can't live without until you're actually without it. That's why we're such believers in spending as much time on the ground as possible in a place you think you might want to relocate before selling the farm and buying the beach house (if purchasing property is in your plans).

There is a radical difference between spending a relaxing week or two in the spot of your dreams and being there long enough to miss the Wednesday night league at the Royal Lanes or Friday evening happy hour at Sarge's Lounge or the Sunday afternoon floating bridge game. When that happens, you'll find out exactly how much those things you've done for so long that you've almost taken them for granted really mean to you.

And to some people, having family and old friends close by means a lot, as does having a comfortable, dependable routine based on the places and people you've been familiar with all your life.

Which is why there is no danger of the U.S. being depopulated by people moving abroad. There will always be friends and family back home, no matter the weather or the economy or the politics. Which is a good thing for expats... it means there will always be someone to go back and visit for the holidays!