Originally Posted by MikeB
You can find a lot of posts where people claim to be living on a fraction of the cost of life in the US. Glaringly absent from most of these posts is any description of the quality of life they have in Central Mexico or anywhere else.
A lonely gringo stumbling over the language and holed up in his cheap apartment -- even one with maid service, water and electricity -- is not a happy sight.
For the record I also lived in central Mexico (Zacatecas) for about two years just after I got out of the Army. But I was riding my motorcycle all over -- twice to the Yucatan -- and having some pretty colorful adventures with Mexican friends. To be there primarily because it's cheap seems a pretty lame motive.
And it's amazingly easy to distinguish between those expatriates who actually have a lively interest in local culture and the growth opportunity that lifestyle represents and those who are only there for the cheap booze or inability to function usefully in the US. All you have to do is exchange a few words with them to determine whether or not they speak the local language or at least are attempting to get beyond "otra cerveza, por favor." If they don't speak the local lingo it's a sign that the life they accept is essentially bounded by the four walls of their bargain apartment. That's sad.
You make really excellent points that reflect my observations.
People always mention that they live in a Dream Location. They never mention that they live in 3rd world conditions in a roach infested dump because anything semi-decent in Dream Location is expensive. They always compare themselves with local dirt-poor farmers and how - comparatively - they are doing great! They never compare themselves with local educated middle class that don't live in shacks and have regular housing that is comparable to US housing.
Most developing countries are only cheap if you want to live on the baseline like a _poor_ local. If you want air-conditioning instead of baking in 100 degree room 24/7, hot water in your bathroom, clean, without any bugs running around, with decent kitchen, in safe area - prices are often more expensive than in the USA for comparable standard of living. It depends on the exact country and location, and some places offer better value than others, but this is how it goes for a lot of locations.
People say they don't mind it, but it seems like very few can withstand to live on the baseline for long. It wears on you. That's why there are very few people who manage to do it long term.
Developing countries are also only cheap if you drastically alter typical lifestyle. If you plan to have kids and provide for them, you will be shocked what a good education will cost you in these countries.
And if you ever want to get a car - or anything that needs to be imported - you will find that everything is ridiculously expensive because of heavy import duties/tariffs... much more than USA prices. So if you want to maintain or try some life enriching activity - photography, ice skating, bicycling, mountain climbing, paragliding, whatever - you will find it prohibitively expensive and logistically difficult to pursue.
The only "cheap life" you can have is sitting on the beach, sleeping in your hut, and drinking cheap beer. That gets pretty old, pretty fast for vast majority of people with a modicum of motivation, self-development, or curiosity for life.
I've met plenty of people living like this and I got the impression and feeling that they felt stuck, not free.