If you are flexible, adaptable and able to accept uncertainty; if you receive a steady income from the Social Security Administration, investments or other sources that don’t require you to reside in the United States or your home country, then moving overseas can provide you with a way to stretch your dollars and afford life when Lyme disease has snatched away your ability to work and support yourself financially.
Yes, it is scary to live abroad when you are sick, and I wouldn’t advise it unless your condition is relatively stable. But if you most often sit in that hazy space between health and dysfunction, not well enough to bear the burden of a forty-plus hour work week but not ill enough to be housebound, then living someplace else to save a few bucks just might be for you. Especially if you have a willing spouse or partner to accompany you and who can support you in times of crisis.
I’m speaking from experience here. Three months ago, I left my home in Denver, Colorado, for financial reasons. My cost of living expenses in Denver exceeded my income, and so I hopped a plane to Costa Rica, where I knew I could live more cheaply. I’m healed enough from Lyme disease to be able to travel but I haven’t yet been able to transition into the working world.
So here I am.
Honestly, I’d rather not be here. I love Latin America and have adapted well to Costa Rica because of previous experiences of having lived abroad, but it isn’t my home and I am not sure I want for it to be. I could do without the insecurity on the streets, the belching buses, cockroaches, humidity and catcalls from audacious Latino men, but as far as temporary homes go, it’s not so bad. People here are extraordinarily kind and friendly, the pace of life is sane and the cost of living is about two-thirds of that of Denver.
I’ve rented a duplex in a suburb of San Jose, fully furnished, for $450 a month, but even if this sounds expensive to you, homes for half this price can be found here (albeit in a dodgier neighborhood and without furniture). Out in the countryside and in smaller towns, rent is even cheaper (unless you live in a property in an expatriate community along the ocean).
Utilities are a bargain at less than $25 a month, and in San Jose, neither heat nor air conditioning are necessary, because the weather is spring-like year-round. High-speed internet can approximate costs in the United States but if you are willing to settle for a slower connection, you can get internet for as little as $15 per month.
Food is slightly cheaper than in the United States, especially vegetables and fruits. Nuts are the exception to this rule, however, with almonds nearly twice the price of what I pay back home! Also, many health foods that are available in the United States cannot be found here, but I surmise that the non-organic stuff is yet more unadulterated than back home, which partially compensates for the lack of variety of organic food. I’ve actually seen the cows eating grass here. It’s reassuring.
Transportation costs, if you are willing to take the bus instead of owning a car, are a fraction of what you’d pay in the United States. Entertainment is also cheaper. At a restaurant which caters to locals, you can share an hors d’ouvres dish and have a drink for three dollars.
Finally, I’ve noticed that my impulse expenditures tend to run lower here. My urge to buy is tempered by the lack of variety and lower quality of goods than those found back home, leaving me less tempted to purchase things that I might otherwise be able to do without.
Indeed, if medical costs didn’t factor into the equation, you could survive in Costa Rica, under very humble circumstances, on $1,000 per month. At least for now (as prices have skyrocketed in recent years due to the large influx of expatriates, increasing fuel costs and other factors). But that’s tomorrow, and today, there yet exist nations such as Costa Rica, whose lower cost of living can provide a viable alternative to living in the United States, Canada, or Europe with Lyme disease.
Other countries in Latin America, such as Chile and Argentina, are also more affordable than the United States, Western Europe or Canada, yet offer a high standard of emergency healthcare, as does Costa Rica. As well, they are fairly stable, politically and economically. (Despite Argentina’s crisis in 2001).
If you are really up for a bargain and don’t mind a little heat, you might also consider living in a politically-stable country in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, where emergency healthcare and other social services are thought to be good.
Now, it wouldn’t be fair to extol the virtues of living overseas without mentioning its drawbacks. Being away from family and friends, in an unfamiliar culture where Lyme disease remedies may not be as readily available, can be burdensome. Indeed, the emotional stress of beginning a new life in a foreign nation may be greater than the financial stress of remaining in your home country. For most, it is probably not worth the sacrifice.
However, if you are adventuresome and the walls (or the budget) are closing in, then consider hopping on an airplane and spending a few months in a country that intrigues you, to find out for yourself whether living someplace else might be more beneficial for you financially and consequently, emotionally.