Be back in 5 years...
February 14, 2011 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I've got $50k -- help me run away for 5 years.

This may sound ridiculous, but here goes: I'm in my twenties, have somehow managed to save up $50k, and want to move to a faraway city in another country and live for 5 years. Where should I go?

Some more details:

* I want to move to a major city, not a small town.
* Language isn't an issue; I'll pick up whatever language the locals speak.
* Unless I have to, I don't want to get a job. The $50k will have to last 5 years, so I'll have a budget of $10k a year.
* Somewhere with a lot of culture is better. And delicious food.
* If I get bored or run out of money, I will move back. I'm not worried about how to spend my time or getting a job when I come back.

Basic questions that I need answers with beyond the location are health insurance and visa issues.

posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Costa Rica? Panama? Thailand?

Just look at the cost of living / purchase power parity across the world and work from there.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:18 PM on February 14, 2011

If you're planning to stay in one city for five years, you might as well try to get a part-time job there. It's a great way to A: earn skills. B: meet people and C: not blow through all your savings AND lose several prime career-building years of your life, without anything to show for it.

Alternatively, why not take (some) of that 50 K and travel the world for a couple years? I feel like you'd get more bang for your buck in terms of life experience, which IMO is a better trade-off to being out of the workforce for a significant period of time.

Lastly, if you're dead set against working, consider giving yourself a project to do in whatever city you settle on. Even something as simple as a photo blog. It's just as easy to be bored in Barcelona as it is in Cleveland, if you don't have a project.
posted by egeanin at 4:36 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

As far as cities go: I've heard great things about Maputo, Mozambique, and it sets you up to travel all over southern and eastern Africa.

Rent can be pretty pricey in international cities, comparable to the US, especially if there is at all an expat/corporate economy (my employer-provided apartment in Cairo, Egypt would have cost about $3000 US/month on the regular rental market--and this was for a three bedroom place, nothing super fancy).

Not that you asked, I would take $10,000-$20,000 and do a phenomenal around-the-world trip. Then see if you want to keep going. Five years overseas is going to feel like a long, long time. And why confine yourself to one place? Travel around, and if you get someplace you want to stay, then stay.

I do wonder if you have any places that interest you? Or at least a kind of food or landscape that's most intriguing?
posted by bluedaisy at 4:40 PM on February 14, 2011

I'm not worried about how to spend my time or getting a job when I come back.

I'm suspecting that OP has some sort of living when they get back from wherever it is they are headed for 5 years.

Here's some things to consider: Travel insurance would be too expensive to suffice as medical insurance, you'll want some time of global medical insurance. Have insurance that will cover a medical evacuation back to the states or somewhere with decent medical care.

Visas. Many countries don't allow you to plop down for 5 years without a visa, so consider that before you head out. The last thing you want to do is be stuck in a foreign prison hoping the embassy bails you out.

Countries: You need somewhere with low purchasing power parity. To be able to live a life like you have $30k/year in the US, you need a place with 33% of that PPP of the US. $50k/year? 20% of PPP. In general: Asia (not Japan, S. Korea), Africa, South America. Some of the Soviet Bloc countries fall under this as well, but the closer to Western Europe, the higher it gets. Western Europe, most of North America, Aust./NZ, Middle East are all out as well.

Based on your details, I'd consider Thailand. It screams what you are looking for. Food is unbelievably good, culture is high. Bangkok is your large city.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:41 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

As someone who has traveled extensively, instead of saying off the bat five years, I'd stash 30K away and plan to blow 15K for a year.

I would do India, personally. You can have an amazing trip in India for a year for that if you're frugal and careful. For a year, cost breakdown about: $1500 plane ride from us, $1500 intra-India travel (flights, trains, buses, taxis, etc. to get to all the sites), $7000 housing (this very well may be more, and might be less, depending on your level of comfort needs and what part of India you stay in the longest), $2000 food (both cheap and expensive meals), $2000 for entertainment/internet cafes/mobile phone/non-necessities that make life awesome, and $1000 for unexpected emergency issues that might come up.

This is a very average.low budget, methinks, especially if you're going to frequent the cities, but within that is a lot of safety and fun and trust me - you'll change in one year away from home, so after that year you'll have more clarity about what the next four might look like!
posted by 2003girl at 4:47 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm in Dakar right now, going out every weekend, taking taxis everywhere, eating out several times a week at fancy places, and I'm averaging around $200 a week, with another $200 on top of that for rent. Take the bus and skip the fancy places and you could do $100 a week. Of course, if you want hot showers and a generator for the power cuts and to party all the time, you could spend more here than in the US. Languages are French and Wolof.
posted by Nothing at 4:59 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

That is another $200 -a month- for rent.
posted by Nothing at 5:00 PM on February 14, 2011

Mister Fabulous: "Based on your details, I'd consider Thailand. It screams what you are looking for. Food is unbelievably good, culture is high. Bangkok is your large city"

I'd probably argue against Thailand. I can't say for sure since the OP didn't post their country of origin, but Visas for extended stay in Thailand can be complicated and most likely will involve 3 or 4 border runs a year to leave Thailand and then reenter to get a new visa, which will add additional hassle and fees. For a while I believe they were only renewing certain types of visas if the tourist returned via air (not by land), although I'm not sure which types those were and if the policy is still in effect. In any case, the visa issues could cut into the OP's budget.
posted by sharkfu at 5:05 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cape Town, South Africa! It's beautiful, relatively inexpensive, has an amazing culture and is fantastic for 20-somethings! Also from there you can travel all over Southern Africa for very little money. It's also so far away from everything, it seems like a different planet.
posted by katypickle at 5:13 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Vientiane in Laos. You'll need to cross the border every 30 days to get a new visa, so there's excuses to see some of Vietnam and Thailand.

If you were to go with Thailand, be warned that the automatic visa at the border has been reduced from four to two weeks, on land borders only, to reduce exactly this kind of stay. Staying in BKK would involve pretty regular schleps to/from the border, or a budget for 12 flights a year. To me, this would make Chiang Mai a more attractive large city.
posted by pompomtom at 5:15 PM on February 14, 2011

I have done something a little bit similar to this.

Assuming you could earn $50k/year, this trip is costing you $300,000, not $50k. Probably well over $500,000 once you take into account delayed higher earnings due to lost career advancement. That half a million dollars you're spending on this trip could instead be a nice house, mortgage free, forever.
Or a Ferrari for work and a Lamborghini for play.
Regardless, it's serious money that you're spending on this.

So to be true to yourself, you want to make this trip worth more to you than half a million dollars cold hard cash. To that end, I suggest putting a higher priority on aspects other than the food and other hedonism.
Hedonism feels great at the time, but is ultimately unfulfilling. You want to come away with (non-monetary) gains that mean something and enrich you, not a squandered youth with nothing to show for it.

My hope and expectation is that you already have non-hedonism as the purpose of your trip - writing a book, for example, but if not, consider that there are projects or skills you could master, or education you can pursue in serious depth, or technology you can bring yourself to the cutting edge of development of, or your life's work masterpiece. Find things that interest you that, through use this time, allow you to make yourself awesome. A half million dollars of awesome at least.

Though, I would caution against art. When people don't have a white-hot forge of criticism and determination to bust their own ass and hammer their work into steel, they always seem to end up tootling around producing self-indulgent crap of little merit, which is fine for a hobby, but not for half a million dollars. The nature of your situation as suggested by the question places you at high enough risk for that that if I was betting money on significant artistic achievement, I'd bet against you. (That's a not a slight, it's the nature of the beast - many environment are not conducive to this kind of thing, and the environment it sounds like you seek happens to be one of them)

Visa issues may be a problem. most developed countries I know have a tourist visa, which is time limited (usually 3-9 months), work visas (which are hard to obtain, or rely on specific agreements between countries), and a few other odds and ends (eg in some places, if you purchase a residence, you get a year-long visa that can be extended each year as long as you have the residence).

I think your options will open up significant;y if you can consider countries near each other that you can bounce between, rather than one place for 5 years. Asking to stay 5-years in a country is basically asking to immigrate.

And speaking of which, i think you should look into immigration seriously. Obtaining the right to live and work in another country, should the need or desire ever arise, is a fantastic use of five years, and if you are spending 5 years in another country, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't use that to gain such valuable privileges.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:15 PM on February 14, 2011 [36 favorites]

[few comments removed - sticking to the question would be greatly appreciated, thank you]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:30 PM on February 14, 2011

Don't think India will work too well because of recent developments with tourist visas. To make a long story short -- the longest tourist visa you used to be able to get -- if you were American -- was ten years. (All other nationalities had to settle for less -- one year, I believe, for most). But on tourist visas, you can only stay for 180 days at a time.

Now, people used to just hopscotch across to Nepal when those 180 days were up, then turn around and come back into India to start the next 180 day period. But India, as of last year, cracked down on this practice and started requiring at least 2 months out of the country between 180 day stays. This measure, according to the unofficial gossip, was designed to crack down on foreigners, be they British or American or what-have-you, who were illegally buying property (a verrry tricky thing to do as a foreigner) and then setting up residence under tourist visas.

So. I do think you could probably live for 5 years in India, on $50,000, so long as you stayed out of Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore. But, believe me, you don't want to overstay your visa -- particularly now, when they're cracking down. They've jailed some overstays recently, and Indian prison is not fun.
posted by artemisia at 5:31 PM on February 14, 2011

Prague. The czech republic. A teeny island in Scotland.... Islay.
posted by saragoodman3 at 6:32 PM on February 14, 2011

If you are going to go the India route, some cities that can sustain your budget include:

Cochin, Trivandrum, Chennai, Hyderabad, Calcutta, Pune (slightly expensive), Mysore are good choices. Except for Calcutta and Pune, all the others are in the south.

Cochin and Trivandrum are in Kerala, where you can easily spend 1 year of your life roaming the coastal areas and natural forests.

Chennai and Hyderabad have a large number of expats and ultra modern facilities should you want to experience some of them. Calcutta is in the east and the gateway to the northeast, which is simply beautiful (Leh, I am thinking of you).

Pune is on the west and provides a good entry to Rajasthan, Gujarat and Goa.

I included Mysore, since it is close yet slightly away from Bangalore and is the starting point for many forays into nature.

While Central India is beautiful, there are no cities meeting your needs. I am also keeping your safety in perspective when talking about these things.
posted by theobserver at 7:39 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, If I were you, I would consider doing a Photography project with some well-respected photographer and travel to different places. Easy visas, great places to go and you can earn some money, if possible. But that's just me.
posted by theobserver at 7:40 PM on February 14, 2011

Living in a smaller city or town for $10k would be much easier than a city. Even though Bangkok is relatively cheap to living in the U.S. or Europe it's easy to spend money on luxuries (air conditioning, going to the movies, beer) which will push you past your $10k limit. I agree with the idea of either traveling for a year, then seeing if you want to continue at the end or picking a few cities to live in for 3-4 months at a time. This will eliminate some of the visa issues and keep you from getting too bored.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:51 PM on February 14, 2011

as someone who's lived overseas (mostly southeast asia but also brazil for a while) for 10 years, on varying budgets, i think you could totally do this. southeast asia is MADE for this kind of lifestyle - costs can be very low, and compared to south america or africa, crime rates are also low, to the point of almost being a non issue.

when i lived in thailand, you could pay someone to carry your passport to and from the border for regular stamping for much less than the cost of doing it yourself. dodgy? sure, but lots of people did it, and i never had any trouble over the course of the year i spent there. however, i know you can get extended, non-working visa's in indonesia for very cheap (less than $500/year) and costs of living are mostly very cheap here (i've been living in bali for 8 years now) $50k could get you through 5 years if you were careful with your money.


1. do a round the world trip for the first 6 months to 1 year. travel as cheaply as you possibly can - taking public transport, eating local food, staying in bottom of the heap backpacker places. this is the only way you can get any traveling done without blowing your budget, and will give you an idea of which places are not only nice to live in, but nice to live in *on the cheap* i love southeast asia, but india, central and south america, or eastern europe may appeal to you more - only you can decide, and if you've actually been to some of these places, you can make a more informed decision. (also - you're retiring for 5 years! travel around the world!)

2. wherever you travel, ask up about angles for long term visas. could you sign up for some really slack classes and get a 6 month/1 year tourist visa for cheap? taking indonesian classes in bali was extremely inexpensive, easy (4 hours of classes a day, and frankly showing up was completely optional as far as the school was concerned) and extremely useful as well - learning the local language wherever you wind up will be unbelievably helpful.

2. if you decide on staying in one place, you might consider a long term lease - in indonesia you can save significant amounts of money renting a place for, say, 3-10 years at a time. not only do you get a big discount (as much as 50% from what you'd pay month to month) but you lock in the price - rents in my area have tripled since i moved here, but i payed off my rent 7 years ago so it doesn't matter to me at all. this is a much safer option than trying to buy a place - in some areas that may be a reasonable option, but in most 3rd world economies you're opening up a huge can of worms trying to buy instead of rent.

4. thailand is great but the philippines, indonesia, cambodia, and laos all also have cheap prices, lovely people, great food, and fantastic beaches.

5. in general, if you can get away from the tourist/expat areas (bangkok, koh samui, bali, manilla, boracay, goa etc) your costs will drop *dramatically*. the flip side is that there may be less of an infrastructure for western stuff (western food, clubs that play western top 40 all night, bookstores with english books etc) but the savings could be worth it with the kind of budget you're looking at.
posted by messiahwannabe at 8:52 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take all the info above and make a list, in order, of the countries you might want to live in and then do checks on visa requirements.

I'm assuming you're traveling on a US passport, in which case almost all tourist visas will be, at most, 90 days before which you need to exit and reenter the country. Some countries get a little twitchy if you do this many times in a row (he says as he remembers sweating bullets in immigration trying to get back into the country that had all of his possession in it.)

However some countries can make things easier on you. Last time I looked at France they would essentially let you stay there as long as you want as long as you proved you had the money to live there. In Japan you can get a cultural study visa that will let you stay for several years as long as you're willing to spend a little (Often very little) time studying a traditional craft.

Five years is a ridiculously long time. Two years is plenty and vastly opens up your options.
posted by Ookseer at 9:58 PM on February 14, 2011

As someone who has done a good amount of travel and working abroad, I can say without a doubt that knowing at least one of the local languages of the country in which you are staying heightens the experience in unquantifiable ways. You said your plan is to pick whatever language up, but since you intend to try something out for 5 years, I would focus on learning a language that gives you access to multiple places (French, Spanish, Arabic, etc.), as opposed to a place that speaks a language unique to that country. I definitely understand the motivation in wanting to settle down in one place for the long-term, and even though I don't necessarily agree the best thing is to backpack, the issues of getting visas and renting out apartments will be very difficult and costly endeavors. No matter how you budget, there is no way to gauge how much that will cost if you plan on doing this without the help of a local person or company.

Having said all of that, what I would do is start with the maximum allowable time on a tourist visa in a country where you can easily learn one of those great access languages (like France for French or the UAE for Arabic), and then go to other countries that also largely use that language. I guarantee the time will be more meaningful if you are able to communicate to locals in one of their native languages. And if you pick one of the major languages, you can hit a huge range of climates, cost of living, economic development, culture, etc. If you do that for a few years, you could spend the last few years of your time as an immigrant somewhere else, as harlequin suggested, but not be overwhelmed in all the bureaucracy that it entails.
posted by msk1985 at 10:09 PM on February 14, 2011

Argentina? Buenos Aires is a charmer of a large city, and the prices aren't too high; I hope you like beef. Spanish, even the twisted version PorteƱos use, is a useful international language. Travel back home, assuming home is the US and not, say, Montevideo, is a little expensive, but it will be from anywhere except maybe Central America. I think there's a temporary resident visa, but that probably requires proof of financial resources, and a meagre $50K isn't likely to cut it.

In this map of purchasing power parity, you're probably looking at places in the 30% or less range.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:24 AM on February 15, 2011

I kind of did this, but it costs a bit more than you think.

$10K is probably a bit low, $12-13K/year is more reasonable. The primary reason for this is that being a foreigner you don't get/don't know about good deals. You'll end up paying more than you should for housing, transportation, etc. You'll be limited by your language skills, so you'll end up renting from people targeting english-speakers, who, they'll assume, have more money.

You won't be able to live in one country the whole time, unless you don't care about coming back to that country later (due to flouting visa rules). This means you'll usually be limited to 3-6 months in each country. This is fine, but you'll incur moving costs, finding short-term housing on a short schedule.

A method for adhering to visa rules while still being able to live abroad for a time is to find a series of countries with exclusive visa agreements. E.g. (hypothetical) if you can be in thailand for 3 months of every 6 months and in vietnam for 3 months of every 6 months, you could bounce back and forth between them, spending 3 months in each without violating the visa rules. Of course, this is also up to the border inspectors, who in most countries can reject your entry for pretty much any reason. A longer series of countries (3-4 in 3-month chunks) is more likely to be successful.

If you get sick of this, your next step is to look into some kind of official status. For this you usually need to (a) get married (b) go to school (c) get a job (d) be really really rich. Getting a job is clearly the winner here, but your possibilities depend on what kind of skillset you have...
posted by beerbajay at 2:05 AM on February 15, 2011

There are often ways around the short term visa problems, for example in thailand, if you train at a boxing gym they can sponsor you for a long term student visa.
posted by compound eye at 2:27 AM on February 15, 2011

I rented out a room from a German student for $600 for a month. It's possible you could travel around doing that.
posted by xammerboy at 11:28 AM on February 15, 2011

A "lot of culture"? May want to do some thinking about what you mean by this, exactly, before setting foot in another country.
posted by squasher at 7:13 PM on February 15, 2011

Yeah, I think the Visa laws are going to put a damper in this idea, unless you're a skilled worker. I believe generally, countries strongly frown on extended stays from foreigners, unless they bring something huge to the economy. Otherwise, you're going to have to bounce back and forth from your origin country.

A friend of mine has been working / living in eastern Europe for like the last 12 years, and he still has to fly back to the US quite frequently to refresh his work/visitor Visa.

If you're a skilled worker, you may be able to get away with longer or even permanent stay, if your skills are in need. You just have to check with the Government's web site.

Luckily, there are a TON of expat related web sites out there. Search the "expat" keyword. Check some of them out, and ask some questions. However, I'd bet that if there are any hidden gems in the world, I'm sure that they're being closely held by those that live there.
posted by TheOtherSide at 5:34 AM on February 16, 2011

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