Live in an Expat Community or with the Locals?

by | Feb 17, 2022 | Global | 1 comment

Are you tired of all the research?

Have you had enough of trying to think of everything you might need to know about a possible move overseas?

Maybe you’re still thinking about international relocation and are deep into the research phase. You’re gathering information. How much is housing? How do I move my things down there? What about a residency visa? Medical insurance? Bring a cell phone or buy one there?

There’s a lot to think about and plan for, but a prepared expat is a happier expat. I don’t want to pile more on your already full plate, but there is one more question you might not have pondered so far.

When you begin to look for your new apartment in your new country, would you be happier living in an expat community or with the native citizens?

I think the answer to that depends on who you are. In other words, do you like change? Diversity? Are you adventurous? What is your noise level tolerance? Are you concerned about safety?

While you’re thinking that over, let me tell you about . . .

My experience  in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

I lived in a mini-community of 10 condos in Colonia San Antonio. Expats occupied nine of the units and a Mexican family lived in one.

But we were a small white island in a large sea of brown.

I knew some expats that lived a few streets over, but as far as I knew at that time, they were the only ones in the neighborhood besides us condo dwellers. I bought from Mexicans in the little tiendas (stores), the panaderia (bakery), and the lavanderia (wash and fold laundry).

The open-air pulque bar down the street served rowdy campesinos – no women allowed! Romantic Mexican music played loudly from every doorway and passing car; every song had the word corazon  (heart) in it at least a dozen times.

The nearby Catholic Church often detonated window-rattling mortar fireworks in the small hours of the morning. That made sleeping late problematic. Life was lived in that barrio at the moment and for all it was worth.

In contrast, when I would visit a friend in her gated community up on the hill, I immediately noticed the marked differences between the two living situations. Here the faces were almost all white, it was quiet, and the air was filled with English, not Spanish.

What was missing, however, was the full-throated energy of my more modest barrio. There was a definite contrast between the two parallel worlds, and I hope I’ve stayed neutral in describing them.

To help you further explore your preferences, I’ve summarized what I think are some of the pluses and minuses of living with expats vs. living primarily with the native population:

Expat (Gringolandia!) community advantages:

  • Have a better chance of an immediate social group and help from more seasoned expats
  • Perhaps a safer community
  • Probably a quieter community
  • More gradual easing into a foreign land and its customs. Slower, smoother introduction to your new home
  • You could possibly move to a native barrio when you have some experience and some ability with the language

Native community advantages:                                                    

  • Learn the language much more quickly
  • Experience the culture first-hand and on a daily basis
  • Become acculturated more quickly
  • Discover the rich life underneath the surface and behind the doors of native citizens
  • Become more of a resident than a tourist

The choice of which community you desire may be one of the last that you’ll need to decide on, but it’s important to give it some thought before you plunk down money on your future dwelling.

No matter which community you decide to live in, I hope your future expat experience is one of the greatest of your lifetime.

I invite your comments and thoughts.