Getting Out (FSN Follow-up)
The purpose of this thread is to have an open discussion about leaving the United States and moving abroad. I am creating it here for two reasons:
- From several other discussion threads and also from e-mails and PMs I’ve received from other PeakProsperity.com users, I know that several site regulars are entertaining the possibility of leaving the USA.
- I recently left an e-mail alias on the Financial Sense question line, intending to contact one guy in Argentina to ask him some questions about life there. Within 48 hours my inbox was overflowing with almost two dozen e-mails from other FSN listeners who were interested in the topic and wanted in on the conversation! Since I don’t have the resources to facilitate a 20-way e-mail conversation, I thought that directing them here instead would be a good way to address the need and also make more people aware of this website.
If you are new to PeakProsperity.com and came here from FSN: Before participating in this conversation, please have a look around this site, and particularly, please consider watching the Crash Course, a free 3.5-hr video seminar that does an outstanding job of explaining the economy and how it interacts with Energy and the Environment. This site is just as great a find as FinancialSense, and I think you’ll find it worth your while to check out everything the site has to offer. Also, please know that the discussion forums here are probably the most grown-up, respectful online discussion community on the net. Please read the posting guidelines when you sign up for your free account, and please help us uphold the higher standards of conduct that we enjoy in contrast to other online discussion forums. Name calling, ad hominum attacks, and disrespectful attitude towards others simply aren’t tolerated here the way they are on many other Internet discussion forums.
Some background on my own experience with Getting Out
As graduates of the Crash Course know, Dr. Martenson and his family made the decision to leave behind the “yuppie life” of an oceanfront home and an extravagant lifestyle in favor of a simpler life in a rural town where everyone knows their neighbors and a strong sense of community exists. The Martensons made that change in large part because of what they saw coming: The inevitable crash of a debt-laden economy that is dependent on exponential growth to stay viable butting up against the finite resources of a finite planet, the reality of peak oil, and the inescapability of major economic changes coming in the next 20 years.
For a family man like Dr. Martenson with a strong network of extended family in New England, those choices made perfect sense. And I suspect that for most people on this site, Dr. Martenson’s choices serve as a good role model. But as I evaluated my own situation, I came to very different conclusions about what was best for me. I continued to live in the inner city, not because I “didn’t get” the message of the Crash Course, but because I am a city person at heart. Rather than worrying about sustainability in my own primary residence, I focused on agility and backup plans – being ready to move fast if TSHTF. I rented my city homes rather than owning them specifically because I wanted to be able to walk away if things really took a turn for the worse. At the same time, I made preparations to use my summer home on the coast of Maine as a safe haven if city life ever became unsafe or impractical.
When I considred the very worst possible scenarios, like the possibility of a complete collapse of the U.S. economy or even a Soviet-style sovereign collapse, I didn’t find the “survivalist argument” compelling. I know some very smart people who are equipping their homes with months of food and potable water, and preparing to live off the grid if necessary. I’m sure that makes sense for them. But for myself, as a single guy with no real constraints on where I live, it made more sense to me to have multiple backup plans to move myself out of harm’s way rather than gear up to live through whatever might come. When you look at the history of events like the collapse of the Soviet Union, being Jewish in Nazi Germany, or living through the Argentina hyperinflation, you don’t hear much about how some person was fine because he was prepared with a garden and supplies to live off the grid. To the contrary, the stories you hear tend to be about the people who got out in time.
I want to be clear: I do not think the sky is falling on the United States, I do not think there is any iminent crisis, and I do not think it makes sense to flee the United States in fear of something terrible happening next week or next month or even next year. My own decision to leave evolved from what was originally a contingency plan. I intended to stay in the USA, keeping my summer home in Maine as a place to go if serious civil unrest developed in the next wave of the economic crisis. But I also thought about those stories about people getting out in time before something really bad happened in their country. I did not (and still don’t) think there is imminent risk of mass calamity in the United States, but I wanted to have as many backup plans as possible. So almost exactly one year ago I went on a reconaissance mission to answer the question If it suddenly became undesirable to stay in the United States, where would I go? My goal was just to have a contingency plan ready, just in case.
Following Jim Rogers to Asia
As I thought about where I might want to go if I ever needed to leave the United States, I was reminded of Jim Rogers oft-repeated observation that (in his opinion) moving to Asia in 2007 (when he moved to Singapore) was like moving to London in 1807 or to New York in 1907. Rogers’ rationale was that this is Asia’s century from an economic perspective. He sees the trend toward Asian economic dominance continuing, and he wanted his two young daughters to grow up speaking Mandarin fluently.
I had no idea what Singapore was like and wasn’t even sure I could find it on a map, but I knew Rogers to be a smart guy, so I figured if that was his choice I should probably at least make a stop there to see what the place was like. As I started to reserach Asia I realized that a key requirement would be to choose a place where English is spoken by everyone, since I don’t speak Chinese and only know a few words of Thai. I also felt that I should focus on “first world” rather than “third world” destinations. I very much enjoy visiting third world countries on holiday, but can’t envision myself living in one full-time. Aside from the cold weather, New York City is my favorite place on earth, and I think of myself very much as a city person. I prefer not to own a car and I use public transit for everything. So places like rural Thailand or Vietnam were ruled out.
Admittedly, there is good reason to question the idea of living in a major city at all when the natural resource scarcity problems anticipated by the Crash Course come to roost. But I felt those scenarios were not likely to occur any time soon, and I still prefer city life. So I narrowed my list down to Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Of those cities, English is [one of] the official languages in all but Tokyo.
“Wait a minute! I don’t need to wait for the Crisis!”
Having already been to Sydney and knowing what it had to offer, I booked a trip to spend two weeks each in Singapore and Hong Kong, two cities I had never been to before. I vowed not to be a tourist and do tourist things, but to instead try to recreate my day to day life (in a hotel room), and try to feel what it would be like to live there. Again, the agenda was only to get a sense of these places so that I could consider them if and when it ever became necessary to leave the USA in an escalating financial/monetary crisis.
After 17 days in Singapore, I concluded that I could live there but had some serious reservations. It was culturally different enough that I felt it would be a sacrifice to my personal lifestyle, but after 17 days I finally convinced myself I could do it if I ever really had to. Then I came to Hong Kong and fell in love with the place within 20 minutes! It felt like Asian New York City with Manhattan City life, Florida Weather, and a San Francisco-like interface between inner city and very beautiful natural surroundings just outside the city.
In a surreal moment I’ll never forget, I was enjoying a beer at a sidewalk cafe along the mid-levels escalator when I caught myself almost hoping that the worst would happen in America so that it would become necessary for me to move here! Then I caught myself and thought, “Wait a minute, just because I came here to research a contingency plan doesn’t mean I have to wait for a crisis to develop at home before I move here. I like it better here so why not move now, crisis or no crisis?” That was a defining moment I’ll never forget. I found a realtor the very next day and started looking at apartments.
My own choice to leave now didn’t really have much to do with the possibility of an escalating economic crisis in the USA, even though that was the original impetus for my trip. It took me a while to figure it out, but what I eventually realized is that I had spent 44 years of my life living in one country when there were over 200 to choose from. More to the point, I feel that the things that used to make America special and unique are no longer true. Governments always try to grab as much power as they can, but what is going on now in the United States is different: The people are, for the most part, cheering on the loss of personal liberties and civil rights in the name of supposedly increased security. If the government were taking away Americans’ rights against the will of the people, I would have felt a civic duty to stick around and fight for what’s right. But the masses seem to welcome the loss of the freedoms and liberties that once made America unique. So I decided it was time to move on and see what the rest of the planet had to offer.
A Contingency Plan is still needed!
As noted above, my own choice to move to Hong Kong last fall was not made because I think Hong Kong is a better or safer place to weather a global economic storm involving resource scarcity. To the contrary, as a small island with incredibly high population density and a dependence on foreign imports for everything, this place would be a disaster in a true global crisis brought on by natural resource depletion. I came here because I love it here, now, while the exponential growth economy is still functioning. I still feel the need to have a contingency plan – a safe place to go in the countryside if TSHTF in a really big way, making city life impractical. I still have the house in Maine for that reason, but it’s on the exact opposite side of the planet from where I now live, and getting there in a crisis might be impossible.
So my own near-term plan is to stay here in Hong Kong because I love life here and much prefer this life to staying in the USA and reading every day about yet another constitutional right I thought I had but now suddenly don’t. But despite how much I enjoy life here, it’s resoundingly clear to me that if a global resource crisis were to develop, this would be the worst place to be.
So my goal is to find a replacement for my home in Maine. A location that, like Maine, could serve as a vacation home in good times but also be ready to provide a safe haven if TSHTF really badly and city life became impractical. In difficult times, racism and nationalism are always hightened, so another goal is to have a place to go where I look like the natives. Australia and New Zealand seem to be the best choices in that regard.
What I hope to accomplish with this thread
When I reached out to Richard in Buenos Aries to ask a few questions about life there, I was shocked by how many e-mails I received from FSN listeners who were interested in the same topic. There seems to be a very popular desire among Americans considering getting out to hear from other American expats about what living in a particular place is really like.
So what I hope to achieve with this thread is a place to network with people all around the world about what life is like there. Obviously, there are plenty of existing “expat forums” such as AsiaExpat.com and GEOexpat.com, but the people there generally don’t have the perspective on sustainability and the crises that may be coming in the next 20 years that exists here. I will begin by writing a couple of brief reviews of my impressions of Singapore and Hong Kong, the two places I evaluated carefully before moving to Hong Kong. I hope that my new friend Richard in Buenos Aries will be kind enough to write a similar review about life there and that this will inspire others around the world to chime in with similar reviews. Meanwhile, discussion about any other aspects of leaving the USA for greener pastures is quite welcome.
Thanks for reading, and sorry this post got so long! I’ll follow up with separate replies about Singapore and Hong Kong.
[Disclaimer: This review is based on my one and only visit to Singapore for 17 days. Perhaps someone who lives there will write a more comprehensive review]
When I first contemplated my recon mission to Asia, I knew almost nothing about Singapore. What little I’d heard about the place amounted mostly to horror stories about totalitarian legal system epitomized by the Michael Fay incident in 1994. Having read all of Jim Rogers books and having a sense that he shares many of my own views on life, I was dumbfounded to understand why a guy like that would have moved to a place with a reputation like that of Singapore, and I was curious to find out.
On the plane ride to Singapore, I was questioning why I was even going. I’m very much a freedom and liberty kind of guy, and what little I knew of SIngapore seemed to be on the opposite end of the spectrum. Would I be caned for J-Walking? What would it be like to visit a place where Big Brother was in charge of everything? Although it turned out not to be for me in terms of a place to live, I’m very glad I went. I came away with a radically different view of Singapore and a more enlightened view of the world and governments.
Yes, it is true that crime of any kind is not tolerated, and punishment for disobedience is extreme. The rumors you hear about how you can be arrested for chewing gum in Singapore are greatly exaggerated and give a completely incorrect impression. In truth, the sale of chewing gum has been outlawed in Singapore, and this reflects the general view that if something is seen as a problem (like the mess made when people spit chewing gum out on the sidewalk), the government has no compunction about just outlawing it. I don’t much care for that sort of legal system, but I must say that I was pleasantly surprised overall to find it wasn’t nearly as much an imposition as I expected.
Yes, there are TV cameras everywhere, and yes, the government uses them to enforce a very strict policy of civil obedience. But frankly, I found the situation in Singapore in this regard to be exactly identical to what now exists in the United States, with one big difference: In Singapore, nobody insults your intelligence by pretending you have rights that in practice you really don’t have. They are clear and forthright in telling their people how the system works: You obey the law or face extreme consequences.
Before going there, I would have labeled such a totalitarian system as all wrong. After the experience, I have a very different view. In the United States where citizens derive no apparent benefit from the loss of liberties that has occurred in recent years (I don’t buy the argument that we are somehow safer from terrorism and I believe the opposite to be true). But after visiting Singapore, I feel that I now have an appreciation for the opposing viewpoint (strong government control as opposed to free society). Singapore may very possibly be the safest place on earth. Crime is almost unheard of there because the consequences are so dire. The place is beautiful – many public sidewalks are granite or marble, and the subway stations are extremely elegant with stone floors featuring beautiful artistic inlays of metal and stone. Along Orchard Road, there are numerous glass sculptures. Everything is spotlessly clean and beautiful, and they can do things that would be impossible in the USA because vandals would destroy them immediately. When I was there they were replacing the granite sidewalk on Orchard Road, and there were several carts with huge pieces of 3″-thick solid granite in large sheets that were to form the big tiles of the sidewalk. In the USA they would need an armed guard because each of the dozens of big granite sheets would be worth several thousand US$ as a high end kitchen countertop. Dozens of these were left outdoors overnight in the construction zone, with no security whatsoever, and nobody would ever have thought of taking them. The consequences are just too great. So crime is practically non-existant.
Speaking for myself personally, I subscribe to the adage that he who would give up liberty for the sake of security deserves neither. So Singapore wasn’t for me. However, I now feel that I’ve seen the other side of the argument. In my humble view, those in the USA who believe their lives are somehow safer or more secure because of the erosion of civil liberties that has occured since 9/11 are kidding themelves. Nothing is safer or better in the USA as a result of those changes. But if you subscribe to that mentality, Singapore is your place. They really do deliver their citizens a lot of benefits in exchange for living under their super-strict legal system. It’s not my cup of tea, but I do see the argument in favor of this system now, and I also noticed that assuming you’re a law abiding person, there really is no direct downside and a whole lot of upside from this system.
Singapore is easily the cleanest place I’ve ever been. They have a territorial tax doctrine, which means that you pay taxes on Singapore-derived income, but offshore income is tax-free. For foreigners moving there, this means that all your investment income can be tax-free if you invest in overseas markets.
Being only 85 miles from the Equator, Singapore is really hot, all the time. I don’t mind that so much but it could be a deal killer for a lot of people.
If we experience a really serious crisis in coming years, Singapore just might be the best choice in this part of the world, because it’s undoubtedly the safest place to live. For now, I’m not willing to give up my freedoms to the extent necessary to live there, but I would observe that their supposedly “totalitarian” system really isn’t much different from what now exists in the United States. The difference is their citizens get some benefit from that system, whereas Americans don’t.
I moved to Hong Kong in September 2009 and have absolutely loved it so far. I have yet to endure the hot, wet summer season, however. To me, Hong Kong can be summarized as Asian New York City with Florida weather and a San Francisco-like juxtaposition of city and naturally beautiful surroundings, except that Hong Kong’s surroundings are more tropical. Imagine being in Times Square (downtown Manhattan, NY), and being able to take a US$15 taxi cab ride to arrive at a tropical beach in the Bahamas. That’s Hong Kong.
For me, this place is absolute paradise, for now. The reason I stress “for now” is that I do believe that a major global economic crisis much larger than the 2008 event is coming. Nobody knows exactly what the Peak Cheap Oil shock is going to feel like or when it’s going to hit. But as Crash Course grads know, a global crisis involving food shortages and natural resource depletion could very well be in our future in the next 20 years. If something like that happens, any city will be the wrong place to be. But for now, with the exponential growth economy still functioning, I absolutely love it here.
It never ceases to amaze me how many Americans think Hong Kong is “a city in China, which is a communist country”. That’s analagous to saying “The pacific Island of Samoa is a typical American City”. Yes, it’s true that American Samoa is technically a territory of the United States, just as Hong Kong is technically a territory of China. But the culture and legal systems are completely different. Under the one country, two systems doctrine, Hong Kong is guaranteed by treaty to retain its own legal system (based on British Common Law) and to remain a capitalist economic system, through 2047. In most respects, Hong Kong operates as its own country. When Hong Kongers speak about China, it’s definitely a disucssion about them, not about us. In contrast with the People’s Republic of China which is in fact a communist country, Hong Kong is closer to the U.S. in terms of its legal and economic systems.
City Life feels almst equivalent to NYC to me. Admittedly, we don’t have broadway theatre or world-class Opera, but those things never interested me much in New York. Like NYC, Hong Kong is going 24/7, and there’s always something to do. New York will always be #1 worldwide in terms of being home to the very best restaurants, but frankly that’s only relevant if you’re willing to spend upwards of $500 per person on dinner. In my opinion, the middle of the road quality level restaurant selection is even better in HK than in NYC. It’s a foodie’s paradise in many ways.
Cost of Living is the big downside. Residential real estate here is unbelievably expensive – even more so than pre-crash Manhattan. A 1400 sf highrise condo with a sea view costs US$2.5mm to purchase or about US$6,000/month to rent. And I’m not talking about lavish, super-deluxe accomodations. I mean in a 20-year old building in a nice neighborhood, but nothing fancy. Rents upwards of US$15,000/month are not at all unheard of for the A-list addresses, and luxury homes on the exclusive Peak sell for upwards of US$10 million!
The good news is that although real estate is frightfully expensive, everything else is dirt cheap by comparison. A taxi cab across town generally costs less than US$5, and restaurant meals are generally considerably less expensive than the same fare in any major U.S. city.
Hong Kong also offers a Territorial Tax Doctrine, which is a key benefit. There is a 15% tax on income earned in Hong Kong but all offshore investment income is tax-free.
Hong Kong also offers a reasonably attractive Capital Investment Entrant Scheme, which basically allows foreigners with sufficient assets to qualify for residency by making an investment in Hong Kong. That investment may be in stocks or other securities listed in either Hong Kong or China, or in Hong Kong real estate.
Reports of excessive pollution are overblown in my opinion. It certainly is true that hazy skies obscure what would otherwise be an incredible view of the surrounding mountains, but pollution like you hear about in Beijing where it’s difficult to breath or exercise outdoors simply isn’t an issue here. We hike and run outdoors all the time and have never noticed the pollution as an issue.
The Climate here isn’t for everyone. Most people find it too hot in summer. I don’t mind the heat so much, but was surprised to learn than in winter it’s barely any warmer than San Francisco (too cold for me). Our apartment doesn’t have a heating system, so we ended up buying space heaters to get through the winter months comfortably. The rest of the year feels about like Florida – too hot for most but just fine for my taste.
Public Transit in Hong Kong is easily the best in the world, in my opinion. You seldom wait more than 4 minutes for a subway train (it’s called MTR here), or 5-10 minutes for most public busses. All public transit vehicles are considerably cleaner and safer than their U.S. counterparts. An electronic cash card system called Octopus allows you to just wave your wallet at a scanner on any train, bus or other transit vehicle to pay the very low fare. The same card can be used for parking meters (if you drive which there’s little need to do), vending machines, or even to buy a 6-pack at 7-11. It almost completely eliminates the need to carry cash and is extremely convenient.
Smoking in Public is an issue that concerned me a lot as a devout non-smoker. Thankfully HK is very civilized in this regard. Smoking is prohibited in all bars, restaurants, and public places, and even in open air areas of ferry boats. Smoking on the public sidewalks is legal but thankfully fairly uncommon.
BTW, Jim Puplava is interviewing Mark Ehrman, author of Getting Out, a book on the subject, next week. http://www.financialsense.com.
I hear you on HK and the China thing. If I had a family with kids I probably would have moved to Australia or NZ for the safety and stability there. But I am a city kind of guy and am taking my chances with HK for now, while simultaneously making plans for where to go when TSHTF.
Thanks for starting this thread. As you know, my family and I are very interested in getting out of the US within the next 2 years. Obviously cost, type of living (farm/city/etc..) are our main concerns right now as is the fact that my kids are young and will need interaction with others their age for a proper upbringing IMO. While we’re blessed to be in a much better financial position than most, it’s still a nest egg that I don’t want to break.
My other concern is not having access to firearms. I know, Mike (DTM) will be all over me on this one. But if you haven’t grown up with it being a HUGE part of your life then you can’t understand. The argument of “you don’t need them because no one else has them” doesn’t hold water with me. The authorities have them, and if you understand the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution you’d understand that the “right to bear arms” was specifically intended for the American Citizen to protect themselves against their own gov’t.
Thirdly, where do you go? This has been brought up many times here on CM.com and Dr. Martensen has specifically stated that “there’s nowhere to hide”. Eric, while I understand and appreciate your reasons for choosing HK, I absolutely not be able to bring myself to move from a country that’s moving toward totalitarianism (it’s closer that most think or it’s already there and we just haven’t admitted it yet), to a country that IS a totalitarian state. HK may be a province, but China could come in today and lock that sucker down and you’d be stuck. I couldn’t put my family into that position.
Anyway, just some thoughts. Just about to get the kids ready for school so time is short. Thanks again Eric for starting this sucker! It’ll be interesting to hear thoughts and comments.
Wow Erik T. I had no idea this site was here. Thank you ! I am going thru the Crash Course now. I also turned everyone I knew would be interested in it, onto it. I will have more questions soon enough. I am looking forward to the Mark Ehrman interview. I look forward to Jim’s show every weekend ! Thanks again….
Got out 10 years ago on a sailboat, and still living on the same boat. Sailed from Florida to the Med. and still there.
It’s cheap for marina fees (usually necessary for 6 months in the winter), have a diesel main engine and a smaller diesel generator, which powers a 110v desalinator, battery charger and refrigeration. Food is over the side and on shore – pretty cost effective.
There is a surprisingly small community of ‘live-aboards’, who look out for one another.
With the financial crash there are a ton of boats on the market and located all over the world, so one does not have to buy ‘at home’ and sail an ocean to get away, but fly over to where you want and buy there.
Erik – Thanks for doing this thread. Even though I really have no desire to leave the Northeast USA, I do appreciate the foreign perspective, having been a worldwide traveler myself.
Now, IF I was to leave, and my opinion is a bit biased as I am Italian, I would go for Italy. Once you get outside the cities, everyone is a farmer or at the very least grows some food, and very GOOD food no less! The climate is fairly reasonable. I am a big fan of public transportation and Italy has very good transit systems. We talk about collapse here all the time, Italy has had something like 50 governments since WWII, the Mafia, rampant corruption, and yet still chugs along somehow. My one concern would be immigration. They have had huge problems with immigrants in recent years from Eastern Europe(Albania/Yugoslavia) and most recently northern Africa. But find a remote village in Tuscany that is on the train line to Florence, and your good to go!
You mentioned Australia. I would shy away from there. I had an Aussie tell me once that if all Aussies that were traveling(if you don’t know, they travel like crazy) were to return home at the same time, there would be food shortages. There is just not enough water and farmland to support the full population.
Welcome ericg. In addition to the Crash Course, be sure to check out the daily digest. It can be addicting! There’s also a strong presence of FSN listeners here. Indeed, it’s an amazing site. The reason I put this conversation here rather than someplace like mises.org is that I figured the other FSN listeners who e-mailed me about Argentina would enjoy finding everything this site has to offer.
John99, I had no idea you were living aboard. Perhaps you know my good friends John and Linda on Guardian? I lived aboard myself for several years as well.
To interpret the Aussie sense of humour.. The “return home to food shortages” is a joke.. (You knew that right)
The “water shortages” is true.. (under normal conditions)