Should I stay or should I go?
March 20, 2020 2:27 AM   Subscribe

I am abroad in a poor developing country and wondering if I should cross my fingers and try to ride out the COVID pandemic here, or return to the United States.

I am abroad in a poor developing country.

For the last couple of months, I have been keeping an eye on the COVID-19 news, hoping for the best but… current U.S. administration.

Now I am wondering if I should try and stay here
which, for understandable reasons, seems quite ill-prepared for any serious outbreak, as well as being neighbors with two countries with high numbers of infected…

...or head back to the west coast of the U.S.A., which I know is probably at the cusp of a exponential hockey-stick ascent in infections.

My concerns are that even if the medical infrastructure in the U.S. is currently overwhelmed and getting pummeled, the actual numbers of medical professionals and resources in the U.S. is far higher. And I think there is a much better chance of public outrage leading to actual progress. I also have an elderly parent there that I'd like to be near.

With announcements being dropped via Twitter and hastily-prepared press conferences, I'm worried that they might just say "as of this moment, no more flights from any of the following countries" and I'd suddenly be stuck here indefinitely. Or the possibility that if things got bad here that they'd just close the airport.

Flying back to the U.S. would probably involve 24–40 hours of travel, sitting in airports, and probably two to three large jets.

And I know that once back in the states, I would be in this weird pandemic limbo without a job where nobody was probably hiring for a while.

posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Come home before you are stuck overseas. It is a tough situation either way, for the reasons you outlined. But you will be better off in the USA.
posted by NotLost at 2:38 AM on March 20, 2020 [10 favorites]

It would have been much easier for people to give you a better answer if you'd just named the country you're in, but in any case, you should travel home. The risk that you could be trapped for months is real, and if COVID-19 overwhelms the country you're in, your situation could be even more dire.
posted by ryanbryan at 2:49 AM on March 20, 2020 [6 favorites]

The U.S. Department of State issued a global level 4 health advisory yesterday; saying, in part: "In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period." If I were you, I would come home. Take care.
posted by k8lin at 3:14 AM on March 20, 2020 [19 favorites]

If it weren't for the elderly parent, I'd say maybe stay where you have a job. But if you can afford it, I would suggest going to be near the parent. You don't know if you'll be able to get back if something happens to them. Or even just if they get scared and lonely under quarantine.
posted by lollusc at 3:21 AM on March 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Currently in a similar situation, here in Congo. I'm staying put, at least until June, or longer if the borders don't open by then (mentally preparing to stay until September if necessary). I'm actually now starting to pivot my work towards an actual Covid response in the country, so I feel my presence is necessary. However, I have a strong safety net here. I live in some of the most secure housing in the country (in case criminality increases), my organization is in daily contact with all major embassies and militaries to be updated on the security context. I have (fully covered) med-evac service available to me in case I fall severely ill, and I have the financial means to stock up on food for the next few months. Additionally, I work alongside medical experts who are keeping updated on the progress of the virus. So I feel super safe here.

If I didn't have most of these conditions, I'd be leaving. It's up to you to evaluate your own situation accordingly.
posted by hasna at 3:35 AM on March 20, 2020 [14 favorites]

If you're planning to live with your parent make sure there's a place for you to be quarantined for the two or more weeks after you get back.
posted by trig at 3:48 AM on March 20, 2020 [10 favorites]

Having an elderly patient you want to be near is something I can't really speak to.

But I am in China, albeit in a city not hit too hard. Honestly, I feel very safe, but my situation is about as good as it gets. The delivery infrastructure in China is very good, so I do not have to leave my house. The Chinese response, which we can debate etc, has (it seems), effectively kept the number of cases down (for now). My friends in the US (I'm an american) who are starting to hunker down now are significantly more at risk than I I think it varies.

You're in a developing country (I agree you should just say which), but we don't know your economic situation. If you have ok savings abroad, access to delivery, and your cost of living is cheap (this is my situation), then the odds of you getting it are very low. Furthermore, a lot of developing countries have private hospitals that are very very you can weigh the cost of a private hospital if you get infected there (which is low, if the above is true), vs being in the US where, at least in my opinion, there is going to be absolute pandemonium over the next month as the number of cases continues to explode. Look at Italy. It'll probably be worse than that.

The elderly parent thing though is rough. If I did go to the US, I would probably self-quarantine for 2 weeks then live with the parent as quarantine buddies. That's the safest way. (trig beat me to it as I was writing this!)

Also, re the travel advisory...I dunno, I never take the travel advisories to heart. The department of state, especially under this administration, has its own agenda. They treat every other country like they are filled with murderous barbarians, then they treat the US -- which actually IS filled with murderous barbarians -- as if it is the safest place in the world with *beats chest* the beast healthcare in the world!!! Again, look at the situation in italy, then add guns, trump, and a highly individualistic population to the mix.
posted by wooh at 3:50 AM on March 20, 2020 [7 favorites]

Without knowing the exact country, it's hard to give you useful advice. If you're in Asia for example, my advice would vary according to the country you are in.

As a data point, some Chinese nationals have actually decided they are better off going home than staying in the West.

Coronavirus: home beckons for some Chinese working overseas
posted by whitelotus at 4:29 AM on March 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
I'm in Kathmandu, Nepal.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 4:48 AM on March 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Do you have siblings or other family members who live near your elderly parent? And what does your parent think you should do? Are they pressuring you to come home? And how old is elderly?
posted by mareli at 5:01 AM on March 20, 2020

Kathmandu has a population density of 20,288 people per square kilometer
New York city has a population density of 10,194 people per square kilometer

So all other things being equal, I think pretty much anywhere in the USA is going to be safer.
posted by Lanark at 5:47 AM on March 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

An important consideration for evacuating embassies (a decent proxy for the safety/security of most expats) is the state of the local health care system. If the Nepalese healthcare system gets overwhelmed by coronavirus, that means you are not going to have access to care for any other medical issues that come up--big or small. Countries may also refuse to accept you for medical evacuation based on the coronavirus situation in Nepal.

This is the reason most embassies evacuated out of West Africa during the Ebola outbreak--they weren't afraid of diplomats getting Ebola, but the hospitals were so overwhelmed with Ebola patients that there was no safe medical care available if you broke your leg, got in a car accident, developed appendicitis, etc. You also couldn't evacuate to nearby countries free from Ebola because they were keeping out all patients from Ebola-affected countries.

Contrary to what wooh wrote, Department of State Travel Advisories are some of the least politicized information coming out of the federal government. (Not pulling your leg. I know the people that write them.) Yesterday's announcement made such a big splash because it's a huge statement that was not made lightly. Many other countries have already issued a similar message (do not travel abroad; if you are abroad, come home or be prepared to ride this out overseas), so I would say that is a consensus opinion right now.
posted by whitewall at 5:54 AM on March 20, 2020 [8 favorites]

Re flying out, what would be your itinerary? With so many flights cancelled and so many countries "closed" to non-citizens, you might be stranded in transit.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:57 AM on March 20, 2020

I would fly back. I have adult kids in Cambodia and Costa Rica and have been pushing them to return to Singapore for medical access. The one in Cambodia has good health insurance and I'm less worried about Cambodia than Costa Rica because she can hunker down in place reasonably well and it's a short return trip if vital. Costa Rica is a horrible multi-leg flight back home, and the kid there has no insurance.

Unless you have SOS International type insurance, Kathmandu is not a place to get seriously ill in. The flight back will be long and if you need to stopover in India, they have travel restrictions coming in too. It's going to get a lot harder to return. If you have no insurance in either country, your status as a citizen is a push for the US.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:34 AM on March 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm currently in Mexico in a small fishing village and we're flying out to the U.S. Monday. Primarily because, like whitewall mentioned, the state of the local healthcare system and the real possibility that hospitals will be overwhelmed.
posted by vivzan at 12:43 PM on March 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

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