When the Expats Come and Take Over

expats in costa ricaExpats (def): People who leave their own country (expatriate) and live overseas.

I’ve been one three times in my life. There were the few months I lived in Amsterdam, the few months spent living in Taiwan, and the just over a year in Thailand. I love expat culture, especially in Asia. There are events every night, you meet people from around the world, and everyone is open to meeting new people. After all, we are all strangers in a strange land and that creates an unspoken bond between people. I’ve had nothing but good times in my experiences living as an expat.

But I recently realized that sometimes expats run amok and simply ruin a place.

Having spent the last two months in Costa Rica and Panama, my thoughts on expat life are now forever changed. With a cheap cost of living, cheap land, loose tax laws, and close proximity to the United States, these two countries have become a haven for retired Americans. Everywhere I went, there were always old Americans running around in socks and sandals. In many of the best locations, American expat communities seem to outnumber locals and, in my opinion, ruin the paradise they came for.

This was especially evident to me in Panama. One of my favorite places was a small town called Boquete. Located on the western part of the country, this little village is surrounded by beautiful jungles, coffee plantations, a volcano, and great hiking. It’s a relaxing place to visit. There’s not much to do here, and that great combination makes it a perfect place to retire. Americans have flocked here buying up land and opening restaurants. There are McMansions everywhere, fancy restaurants, and tons of spas. A few locals quietly complained to me about how things have gotten a lot more expensive for them over the last few years.

an expat home in boquete

I noticed the same thing while I was in Pedasi, another town in Panama. This was once a small, quiet, middle of nowhere beach town. Now there are many boutique hotels, lots of Western owned restaurants, and the cost of a hotel room is double what it used to be. I met a number of people who thought I was there to buy property. When I told them I wasn’t, they asked if I would consider it. “It’s cheap here.” they would tell me while handing me their business card. I even overheard one guy lament that the new airstrip was going to be the final blow for this place.

Tamarindo, Costa Rica was the worst offender of them all as is the once beautiful Manuel Antonio. This was once a peaceful surf spot, but now it’s overrun with hotels, huge houses, western restaurants, overpriced local food, and overpriced shops lining the beach. A few years ago the pollution was so bad that the city lost its environmental seal for clean water. Now the water is better but they still don’t have that environmental seal back.

an expat home in boquete

One could argue that expats are bringing in much needed development to the area, but the places I’ve been to don’t show anything to warrant that. The cities in Panama and Costa Rica were still poor, there was trash everywhere, and the roads were full of potholes and lined with broken sidewalks. The flood of expat money seemed to only create an expat community that lived largely divorced from the local life. When I went into the tiny local restaurants or stopped to watch some local event, there were never any expats around, never anyone but travelers. The local expats simply hung out with themselves, in their own community, largely doing what they did back home but cheaper.

When I used to be an expat, I lived in big cities. With large cities, the expat lifestyle isn’t as pronounced as it is in small places in Central America. Yes, expats in Bangkok have driven up prices in some places, but the whole city of 12 million people hasn’t been fundamentally changed. In Taipei, life went on as if the expats didn’t exist. A few thousand people can’t change cities of millions. I can’t say the same for these small towns. They are definitely different. They are forever changed.

expensive eating in Bali

And seeing that change has changed me. I never really thought about the impact that large communities of expats have on developing countries. I don’t think it is for the better. I think that large amounts of money coming into a country can actually have a negative effect on the people and place. It doesn’t always have to be the case. There’s a way to create an expat community that doesn’t ruin the local environment. But after seeing Phuket in Thailand, Seminyak in Bali, and now Central America, it seems that more often than not the expats come in and supplant their own way of life. They create a bubble for themselves.

I can’t change the way governments behave in foreign countries. I can’t control how places deal with expats but I can control how I spend my dollars. It would be naive of me to say that I will never visit a touristy non-local place again. Popular places are popular for a reason and just because a place has Westerners doesn’t mean it is bad. Moreover, you can’t always know who owns a place. Maybe that pizza place is owned by a local catering to tourists. But, wherever I go, I can make the effort to support locally owned businesses. I can give my money to the people who were there before the expats came in. I eat at the local food shops and stay in small guesthouses. I can contribute to the locals and not the expat bubble. I can make an effort. And, from now on, that’s just what I plan to do.

  1. I’ve seen similar things happening in Asia as well. Luang Prabang is the most pronounced as it’s small enough to be affected. I was just having a conversation tonight with a couple that was there last week and they’d noticed how things like the Library and Children’s Center were both quite run down and deteriorating. All this while the property costs have skyrocketed and western hotels, restaurants and bars have begun to displace local businesses.

    Makes me appreciate my traveling now, before the vibe/soul of these wonderful cities that brought those expats there in the first place is destroyed by their presence.


    • NomadicMatt

      I’m not against people moving to other places….just sort of thinking out loud that maybe there is a better way for people to come without changing things too much.

  2. I’m heading down to Costa Rica & Panama in a few weeks, and not looking forward to what I’ve heard (similar to what you’ve discussed). I think it’s a generational thing too. There is a younger expat community living in Leon, Nicaragua. They haven’t ruined the experience there though. It’s the older group of ex-business executives that are set on living the same luxurious lifestyles they had back in the US.

    But just like our backpacking community, the retirement community shares rumors and “hot tips” with each other about certain areas. Eventually, this information leads to a growth in activity at said places.

    Sadly, I don’t think it can be stopped until a more socially & environmentally conscious generation takes over. Until then, I’ll be doing what you do as well. Spend my money with locals.

  3. The problem is no matter how we compare ourselves to the rest of the travelling community we all come crawling back into the same jive. We are in a foreign country, we long for conversations…in English. Someway, somehow, no matter how much we avoid the expat crowd we find ourselves within them. We have that certain bond with them that, even try as we could, locals would never EVER fill that void that we need – that nomadic bond. Locals are locals for a reason, they’re not travelling like we are. For travelers, we need to find someone who are on the same shoes, therefore we find the expats or other backpackers.

    Then rumours spread around of the “best beach” in town, that locals take for granted and what travellers are longing for. Word from the grapevine and voila the hoard comes in. Essentially we are responsible for this. Yes, we could stray away as you said and hang out with the locals, but how long is that going to last is the question? I certainly couldn’t speak Cantonese, if I were in China I’d sure find someone who I can communicate better with. Then there’s language barrier, how far can a conversation go with a local who has minimal grasp of the English language? Then we search for the next person we can find to have political conversation – essentially these would be the expats/backpackers. It’s the cycle of things that we can’t avoid.

    Perhaps it isn’t the travelers that are divorced from the local life, maybe the local life have divorced them? Think about your hometown…and then think about Chinatown.

    • NomadicMatt

      Travelers are definitely divorced from the local culture. We aren’t always in it, we just observe it while we are there. But I think when you move somewhere, you move for the place and I don’t think it makes sense to move somewhere but live outside in your own bubble. Then again, that’s just me. Other people are different but it does change a place.

      • Rebecca Ore

        Most Central American countries have citizens who have traveled more than most US citizens, who have some English and often other languages. Most of them are the better off people in their countries, but not always among the richest. The idea that we are more cosmopolitan than they is often not so.

        The US expat who wants to “live like a local” often goes slumming and doesn’t live like Nicaraguans of her or her educational class, and often doesn’t know what sort of education those people had.

        The parts of Nicaragua that don’t have tourism or expat retirees in significant numbers are not any worse off than the parts that do, and have fewer beggars and possibly lower crime.

        Many expats here in Nicaragua are rednecks who have delusions about how much money they’re going to make building a tourism business.

        What I’ve heard about Mexico is that things have generally gotten better, not because of tourism and retirees, but because of Mexico’s industrial development, the country’s natural resources. Nicaragua has improved economically since the Cold War ended and it’s not being used as a hockey puck by the US and the USSR. If people only see the expat colonies, they tend to think the expats brought something to an area, but cities without expats are also better off than they were ten or twenty years ago.

  4. Interesting observations! I have observed the same in popular tourist places.

    I’ve written recently about the need for expats to adapt, rather than recreate miniature versions of the places that they came from.

    In a way though, it does make the transition easier for someone that is new to overseas relocation. The issue is when many don’t make the transition to adaptation.

    Unfortunately, tourism is a double-edged sword. Locals often need tourists to bring money to the local community. It’s the ones that stay longterm that drive up prices for land, rent, etc.

  5. What has happened in Panama…was…when tourism ignoring local community and the tourism does not give any benefit for local people. Tourism should give benefits for local people…so they can support the tourism itself. It will be great if you have commit to contribute to the locals. This case also happened in my country (Indonesia).

  6. I had this same experience in Vilcabamba, Ecuador when I went. I was shocked by the number of expats running around speaking English, hanging out in their own restaurants, etc. I got a really nasty reply from one expat living there re: my article, I wouldn´t be surprised if you get the same backlash. It´s true though, there´s a huge difference between large numbers of expats in cities and in smaller towns.

  7. Max

    I don’t know what’s worse, your spelling mistakes, definition of expat, or this round-a-bout “blog” post.

    The bottom line is you were no “expat”. I’ll margin a hefty bet you were one of those TEFL kids in Thailand for your whopping great 1 year.

    A few months in Taiwan and Amsterdam … That would be the Netherlands or just the capital?

    Never mind, it’s not worth the argument. I doubt it will sink in.

    • NomadicMatt

      Thanks. I did miss an S at the end of a word and “lived” should have been “life.” Thanks for picking it up.

      As for my expat life experience, I did teach English in Thailand but I also did web consulting. A year in Thailand is still a year in Thailand. In fact, it was closer to a 15 months and I go back every year so my observations aren’t less valid because I didn’t spend 20 years there.

      But “never mind, it’s not worth the argument. I doubt it will sink in.”

      • Steve

        Wow…why do people like Max even read the blog?

        I am curious to know what you and others think about how long one “must” be abroad or in one place to go from tourist/traveler to expat. When does that line get crossed?

        • NomadicMatt

          In my view, when you get an apartment, a job, local phone, and local friends, you live there. There’s no time limit like “You must live here 5 years before you are an expat.” No, that’s just people trying to validate themselves over others. Someone who has lived in a place longer will know the place better but that doesn’t mean the newbie is any less of an expat.

          • Kyli

            I’ve never thought of it like that before. I have traveled to 23 countries and have been told countless times that I didn’t really live in a place because I was only there for 10 months, etc. I like this perspective. So I guess that means I really do live in Mexico right now, since I have everything listed above, except for the cell phone.

            Back to the original topic: Yes, too many expats can ruin a place. I’ve seen this first hand in Mexico, although there are less expats here because of FOX news scare tactics about the drug cartels.

  8. It makes sense that expats would hang out together but this sounds like it goes beyond that and forms a sort of insulated culture.

    I agree with Matt, I think its largely a generational thing. Many of the boomers are retiring and looking to form their own insulated retirement communities abroad. They’re trying to take the Florida gated community concept and transplant it. I mean no offense to any boomers reading this post as I’m sure you don’t fall into this category!

    There’s also the issue of the cruise ship / all inclusive resort vacation method. Lets face it, most people vacation this way and don’t really understand how to immerse themselves into other cultures. They arrive in large mobs, and typically never get to see the poverty. This is what they envision the rest of the world to be like so they form these communities and protect that image.

    Amy and I aren’t heading out on our RTW adventure until 2013 so I hope the damage doesn’t get worse!

    Hopefuly this issue eases up due to the ongoing housing market slump in the U.S. House can be had for really cheap nowadays in the traditional retirement venues.

  9. Now that I have a year of being an expat under my belt here in Colombia, I can relate. I see new businesses (hostels, bars, tour companies) set up by foreigners who want to make a living here, and I know it will slowly change the experience for me over time.

    It’s tempting to insulate yourself, especially if you don’t speak the language, or it’s not an easy one to learn (such as Mandarin or Japanese). Maybe that’s part of why I’m spending time in Latin America, as Spanish is one of the easier languages to learn. I’ve also found a nice balance between Colombian and Western expat friends.

  10. I’ve seen a similar trend when I travel. I try to support the locals as much as I can. It’s not that all expats are bad but some just don’t try to blend at all.

    In the Caribbean, islands tend to cater to tourists and expats are now doing the same. Puerto Rico is full of retired folks that own big houses and set up restaurants, stores and what not taking over local businesses. Prices have gone up but nothing is getting fixed. What I find sad is that tourists get pulled into these places and often miss the real culture. I’ve heard many people say “I did this and that then hit the beach and experienced everything the island has to offer.” Well, locals usually don’t necessarily eat the same food or maybe there’s a better beach.

    I’ll stop rambling now since I’m not making any sense. Places can be changed by expats, especially small towns. When ever I go back to visit Puerto Rico, I notice things are not the same as more and more local businesses are closing as those being run by foreigners flourish.

    From an expat living in the Midwest USA.

  11. I think it depends on the size/population of the place. If the expats start to equal or out number the locals then yes I think their influence and impact starts to drastically change a place. Although expats can also help in offering a lot of resources and assistance to some areas if they choose to do so, others just come for the cheap lifestyle and give little back to the community. I remember meeting people in an expat community in Mexico. Some had been there for over a decade and could barely speak a word of Spanish. I guess their are pros and cons.

  12. Having grown up as a third culture kid (my parents are diplomats), and now as a foreign student, I am very familiar with the expat experience. I agree that if there aren’t any regulations in place, then the place gets ruined by the influx of expats. One must admit that the world is getting smaller every day, but still, there are ways to preserve the culture and heritage of one destination and still welcoming expats to their community. Expats will always be guests, we/they should always keep that in mind. It’s up to the local government to make efforts to preserve the heritage that will otherwise be lost if foreign influence is not controlled.

  13. I sort of agree and I sort of don’t. Yes, it’s bad when the local place is out of a sudden flooded with foreigners and locals can’t afford it anymore. But it also brings in money and creates jobs for locals – especially the retired expats who spend money but don’t want to earn money locally. Younger expats want to blend in more and maybe even find a local job. I’m wondering if the consulting you did in Thailand could have been done by a local…. in that case, your last paragraph about spending your dollars from now on only on locals to support them, seems a little… well, I don’t want to say hypocritical, because I actually really don’t want to offend you. Nor do I disagree with supporting locals. I am just wondering if supporting other expats is so bad in all cases… As I said, no offense! I just sort of agree, and sort of don’t and can’t really wrap my head around it if that makes sense.

  14. I live as an expat in Chile and there are still few incentives for foreigners to come here and live and snatch up real estate. That is not the same about some places in Central America! What bothers me is that they go to Panama or Costa Rica for example looking for everything to be the same as it was in the states. Ahem, isn’t that what some people gripe about with immigrants in the US? Don’t get me wrong, I love the flow of people, the cultural exchange, and new ideas but only if it’s a two-way street. Living in Panama without really “living” in Panama is not my idea of a great expat experience. Learn the language and try to mingle a little. It’s not all about having a grand life on the cheap!

  15. Whoops, never mind. She already commented here. I should flick through comments before making my own 😛

    I tend to avoid expats since it conflicts with my language goals, but laziness took over in Thailand – I did have an incredible experience and made some lifelong friends, but I feel like I left the country with no real sense of having experienced it.

    Some expats do an excellent job of integrating, but sadly most I’ve come across are just glorified weekend tourists…

    • NomadicMatt

      I’ve made some of my best friends living overseas as an expat but there were also many times I thought “I don’t integrate into the local culture as much as I should.” I made an effort a lot, especially to learn the local language. Even that basic step is a lot more than many people I know do.

  16. Case in point: Migas, Málaga. The only old-world thing that has remained are donkey taxis. My parents were shocked to know we’d be eating at restaurants with Anglo names and that they didn’t ahve a single person greet them with, Hola/buenos días

  17. Similar thing in happening in Asia as the cost of living is cheap and senior citizens from developed countries have better options. In places like Thailand people buy homes and live.

  18. It’s quite annoying traveling to the other side of the world to see that an abundance of American franchises like Mcdonalds and Target have already taken over! I remember when I was in Byron Bay, a small hippie town in NSW) the locals were protesting about a Mcdonalds opening up there…

    • NomadicMatt

      I actually have no problem with that. If locals want a Starbucks, then me going “Ohh this Starbucks has ruined this place.” is actually just me going “My idea of Rome is ruined now that Starbucks is here.” In Costa Rica, there fast food chains as far as the eye can see sometimes and they are all filled with locals eating there. Who are we to say what they can and can’t have? But for me it’s when the expats just come and take all the benefits but don’t give back to the local communities….It’s when they don’t share the wealth more.

  19. Rob

    I find it hard to get too worried about something that’s been going on for thousands of years. There are chinese temples all over asia and chinatowns all over the world and some of them are pretty insular as well, in a hundred years tourists will be turning up at these places and marveling that a perfect microcosm of Americana exists in some tiny little town in the middle nowhere, the same way that there are places in China and India you can go and be transported back to microcosms of 19th century european architecture.

    Culture isn’t a static thing, I see people bemoan the loss of a particular places “culture” due to tourism or expats, the mythical noble savages, that somehow someone else’s culture has contaminated something that was previously perfect. Except it doesn’t work like that, people absorb what they prefer from foreign cultures and retain the best of their own, even if sometimes it takes a generation for them to realise what they want to keep. The moment you find that “perfect” place and you tell someone else, that process beings.

    • NomadicMatt

      You are right that culture isn’t static and that it does constantly change. I am not against people moving to places. I’m not against the idea of expats. I think more cross connection is a good thing. It’s just how it is done that sometimes isn’t right. And that’s what I’m saying that I’ve seen the negatives in too many places and because of that, I will change how I spend my money.

  20. Same could be said for tourism in general. Afterall it’s not locals who are creating the demand for Mexican restaurants, gogo bars and Internet cafes – it’s being driven by foreign arrivals and these can indelibly change the landscape. And pretty much everywhere I’ve been an expat sees far more transient visitors than expats. At least expat businesses may be creating employment, bringing in new expertise & training and generally helping to float the economy, not all expats are barflys ogling locals or the socks and sandle brigade. Expats, like tourists, can change the landscape, but I think the “ruining it” side of things falls more at the feet of the tourists.

  21. Sofia

    Great post, I can relate to many of the places I’ve seen while traveling.

    Worst experience I’ve had so far was probably in Torrevieja in Spain.

    What used to be a few holiday houses has turned out into a huge block stretching far into the horizon, and it just keeps expanding.

    You know it’s bad when you get around better speaking English or German than Spanish…

  22. Bruce

    The backpackers, bloggers, etc. who spend their time hanging out with each other in SE Asia, Colombia, etc. aren’t all that much different then the retirees who head down into Central America. And they certainly have a lot more in common with each other than they do the locals. You certainly can’t discredit one without discrediting the other. It’s just a matter of perspective…locals see their areas raided by backpackers and then eventually the backpackers lose out to the deeper pocket foreigners and have to find someplace new.

    • NomadicMatt

      Bruce, you make an excellent point and I actually couldn’t agree more. I think many travelers do a disservice to themselves by only hanging out with other backpackers and living in that “bubble.”

  23. Both Panama and Ecuador are being heavily marketed as retirement destinations. I spent a lot of time in Cuenca, Ecuador which has been named the top place to retire because it has such great hospitals, you can drink the water and it’s pretty safe.

    The Expat community here makes me really uncomfortable. They only eat at expat restaurants and buy from other expats, they aren’t giving back to the community only taking advantage of it.

    A while back I wrote “Why Expats are douchbags” but haven’t been able to post it given the hypocrity that I want to live here too and will to become one.

    • NomadicMatt

      I have the same uncomfortable feelings about expats and wonder about hypocrisy when I am an expat. It’s always a struggle.

    • Alena

      I know of a couple in Cuena from the USA who support local businesses every day. So your comment isn’t true of all expats there.

  24. I agree that there is a point that can be reached where people influence a foreign area too much. Resulted in a damaged culture. There is also a lot to say about a foreign area that no one ever wants to visit. All in all there’s gotta be some balance!

    That’s always easier said than done, however…

    It’s a complicated issue that’s for sure and it’s an interesting point I haven’t considered. Thanks Matt for opening my eyes a bit ^_^

  25. I believe that eventually, those communities will begin to blend in with the locals ones or create new ones entirely. It may take generations and as many of the other comments mentioned, it’s been going on for a very long time in human history. Personally, I think so long as people are following the law they should have the opportunity to go where they can make the best lives for themselves.

    In a sense, differentiating expats from immigrants is the flip side of the same argument. In general, the problems of a nation or group of people stem from a complex blend of internal and external pressures – rarely immigrants or expats. It’s just easier to focus on the outsiders as the cause of many troubles.

  26. I have been an expat since 2002. Everywhere I have lived, including the US, there are people who live there but are citizens of a different country.
    I think you are asking if American expats are bad? There are heaps of Chinese and Filipino citizens where I live in Laos, and I don’t feel like they endure the same scrutiny as expats with white skin. I also notice non-American expats might make an effort to pick up the language in a place, but not to integrate culturally. I don’t think its “bad”. Our culture is part of who we are. Even if we are white we have some form of culture.

  27. Interesting how different the expat experience is for everyone. If I’m an expat and my favorite activities are within the “expat community”, my expat experience is very poor. Being an expat, to me means soaking in the hosting culture, integrating in the new society, getting as close as I can with locals, starting thinking like one, and not meeting other expats, maybe from my same country, whenever I have free time. That sounds more like living how you lived at home, with the same people, but somewhere else.

    A country is fascinating when it retains its local culture and traditions, if it absorbs too much the expats’ habits, it becomes dull. I understand that tourism is an important industry, but the native society must be able to receive all possible respect from foreigners. I totally agree about the importance of spending our money in local businesses, be it a shop, a restaurant or a guesthouse, I think this is the best way to make tourism helpful for the natives.

    Might be common sense, but if all touristy places become “Westernized”, the variety that makes traveling interesting will disappear, and this will be a huge loss also for those expats that have contributed in making that happen.

  28. Katidid

    The world is so big and beauitful and rich with history. We Americans feel we have to live like we are in America. Why? Why go some where else, just to have it be like where we came from? Foreign is foreign. So enjoy where you are!..

  29. I agree with your take on ex-pats in Panama and Costa Rica. While there are many people who do go to actually live in their host countries, there are so many who basically want to recreate life in their home country but in a tropical setting. Yep. They set up boundaries between themselves and locals and in many ways really badly exploit the local population. Because they’ll happily pay a pittance to have someone clean their massive homes but don’t give back to the community in any real way.

    That was one of the main reasons we chose not to stay in Panama.

    But I’ve also lived as an expat in other places. Argentina, for example, is entirely different. The expats here, for the most part, live within the community here. That can perhaps be attributed to the fact that right now, there are very few expats. Perhaps when the community grows, things will change. I hope not, though.

    The work I do here, through our new arts and community center http://cloudhead.org holds Argentine culture in the forefront of any project we develop. From teaching English and photography to students at a local high school to photography lessons in a local indigenous village.

    I’d hope people wouldn’t automatically discount me and my work, simply because I’m an expat.

    • Willy

      Given that Argentinians are, for the most part, European-like, phisically and culturally, it makes sense that American ex-pats would integrate more easily with them than with Panamanians, who are more “exotic”

  30. Matt, you raise a point of concern — speaking as an American who plans to expatriate to cheaper Latin America. I’ve never been a “gated community” kind of gal, and don’t want to live in an “expat community” when I move abroad. At the same time, I understand that I’m going to want to hang out with people who speak my language from time to time.

    I know that the expat communities tend to be a lot more expensive than the surrounding areas. Thanks for pointing out the unintended consequences of expat flocking.

  31. Eileen???

    I feel like the expats in Taiwan don’t really stay long (generally). Although, in Taipei, I see expats trying to act “more local than thou,” so they ignore other expats,

    The bad thing about so much tourism is when they start to change the food and atmosphere to adapt to foreigners taste buds…I find that heartbreaking. I already see that in some parts in Taiwan.

  32. Kyle

    Ex-pats can do what they want within the law. Ex-pats have been hanging together, changing places and adapting to them since the beginning of mankind.

  33. Greetings, well, I personally live abroad in Morocco since 2006, and in the community I live, I actually helped improve certain issues like cleaning, and people’s conscience towards recycling, security and other matters. I do not think I have influenced local people’s lives in a bad way. On the contrary. Also, I have been enormously influenced by them also, so I guess it was a reciprocal give away – get some back.

  34. lisa corbett

    I have been in the process of selling my stuff and have traveled all over but have not actually lived for any length of time in a foreign country in years. I’m a single woman so it’s hard for me to just wing it so I’ve been going places with G adventures to try to figure out where I’d like to live for 6 month trial. I know, without question, that I’ll live with a family and do a total Spanish immersion gig so I can start out with a true attempt at communicating with locals. I wish the countries would stop letting us buy property unless it was left natural with very little development. (We’re building over our lovely planet no matter where you travel!) I love adventure and new experiences, not hanging out in a gated community by a pool while ticos serve me drinks. God. I love this blog – it helps me feel more solid about my goal to integrate, to help and do all I can to give back to whichever country I end up in.

  35. Alena

    I think it’s disrespectful to move to a country and not learn their language and ostrasize yourself from the locals. But I know there are some Americans who have moved to other countries and contributed alot to the economy and local communities. In Mexico, for example, many Americans do charity work, fundraisers and contribute greatly to educating the poor in their areas. So it isn’t always the case that American expats have an adverse affect on their new country.

  36. Name Bonnieness

    yes dito dito dito….
    I like people of other ethnicities. Being an american, I do feel we lack spiritual, family and community values, there is soo much to learn from thirld world cultures. I feel others value family and people where Americans value money and status.
    I want to experience the culture wherever I go.
    However, to retire, yes I do need good medical care, and communication is important. But we should be more conscience of getting to know, support and respect the locals,and their culture. Also volunteer and teach and learn language with and for each other.
    The travel industry is big business, bottom line. And governments of these countries often require big bucks to retire there, bringing in the money to take care of them self, building big McMansions, the government is somewhat responsible for that. Perhaps ‘communities’ should be required to be more integrated, with less American businesses……

  37. Tom

    Don’t be so naive, your “World Traveling” and your writing has the same effect, on a smaller scale. It just doesn’t impact you personally.

  38. Hi Matt. I have lived in Casco Viejo, Panama for the last three+ years after moving from San Francisco, CA. I adore my neighborhood – it has truly become home. As anyone who has traveled through Casco Viejo will know, there is a huge contrast between new & old, rich & poor. Social, economical, and cutural worlds collide and yet somehow there is a harmony about it that I have never experienced living anywhere else in the world, specifically as an expat.
    I recently wrote a blog post about how this delicate balance is inevitably changing, tipping towards the rich, the affluent, the “international”. But, while I do believe a lot of it has to do with expat community/involvement, a lot of it also has to do with wealthy Panamanians and Panamanian government. It’s a tricky issue!
    The Berry and the Fox

  39. Carl

    Having lived in Sabah Malaysia for 17 years, six years in the Philippines, and five months in England, I can to relate to the positive and negative effects of expats living in a country. Some Americans need to learn that they are guests and need to respect their culture.

  40. Marilynn Smith

    CAbo San Lucas, Mexico is over crowded, noisy and a dust bin due to being over run by American tourists and over building along their beautiful water front. It once was a sleepy fishing village, now it is a chaos of late night rowdy spots and huge hotels.

  41. just saw its an older post but reading what my favorite place bouquet has become just broke y heart……we used to stay there for some time in 2005 and drink that fantastic coffee! i think it was called sedat….back than i remember that suprisingly well equipped supermarket in the little plaza and how suprised we were when we saw all those exclusive cheeses like philadelphia and gorgonzola.than we bumped into two old man sitting in local cafe just in front of the supermarket and when asking them if they were on holidays they showed us a broshure about a retirement home called valley of….something. dont remember anymore. but that broshure was incredible. very luxurious villas with everything to please the retired peoples heart.the owners were all US-americans.those two men were talking proudly about it and saying that almost all units were sold already. looks like that was just the start back then…..
    than i remember in costa rica all the retired people we have met in the most beautiful remote places. and asking why they had come specifically to that place the answer was always the same: its so cheap. we have 24/7 live in maid who takes care of us when we cant anymore…..
    big sigh!
    always thought of showing those beautiful places we had went to show to my girls but maybe sometimes its better to keep the good memories……
    safe travels to you!

  42. Penelope Zerker

    The premise that “those people are changing this culture by bringing their culture and it is wrong” is blatantly xenophobic and racist. Believe it or not, white people can be the target of racism.

    Replace the expats in this article with any immigrant community in the US the point is evident. “Those Asians! They have their own grocery stores and their own restaurants. Its disgusting. How dare they try to make a living in a foreign country.”

    “Those Mexicans! They have their own grocery stores and their own restaurants. They are ruining this place.”

    But wait! Expats prop up a local economy. They aren’t on welfare, sending their kids to free public school (in fact, they pump money into the local economy by sending their kids to private school), or running up massive hospitals bills at the local ER with no way to pay.

    Things develop. If you want untouched, don’t go to Tamarindo and then whine about it.

  43. Marilynn Smith

    I do live and own property in Baja Sur Mexico. Yes, it can be a two sided coin. One side is change, not always welcomed. When I came to Los Cabos, we did not have big box stores, like Costco and Walmart. No one drove a NEW car, in fact an old farm truck was normal. We did not have 5 new car dealerships lining our highways. But, prices were not really lower.
    In the old world the vendor could barely put food on the table. The local grocery store, owned by the richest folks in town over charged and gauged, as did the local electronics store. Now the local people can afford new clothes, new shoes, a new car. There was no middle class, now there is one. That is the advantage to this change. I have watched it change over 20 some years, I should know.
    Thank the dear lord that I DO NOT live in Cabo San Lucas. I drove in yesterday for the first time in 2 years. I could find not even a parking lot to put my car into. The traffic, the fumes, the noise was hideous. The people are like swarming flies in a place that was once a calm fishing village. There are hotels everywhere, restaurants and of course nicky nacky shoppes. It was soo hideous that I vowed NEVER to return. Yes, they have spoiled it.
    The local people allowed it to happen, out of sheer ignorance. Thank heavens other Baja communities have learned and will enforce some rules to keep this mess from overtaking their villages. The lure of money does not always bring something better.

    Being a part of the gringo community is special. I love my friends and I love where I live. There is definitely a perspective to be gained on ones birth country when one chooses to travel and especially live elsewhere. I have international friends, I have had dinner at a vendors home in the barrio, I have petted whales, swam with dolphins and watched a leatherback turtle lumber up the beach to lay her eggs. I have seen a moon rise over the sea of Cortez, I have driven along vast stretches of curving highway only to have an amazing blue bay come into view or see cactus growing among huge boulders.
    Enough, happy travels.

  44. I really do get your point but I also think it’s an unstoppable movement, globalisation is all about finding cheaper places to stay in these times of economical crisis and I can say how hard it is to adapt to a cheaper lifestyle. Because everything is ‘so cheap’!! It’s all kind of contradictory, I know. I loved living in Managua but after a year I still found it hard to spend my money like a local. I did do my groceries on the market though in stead of the American supermarkets for example, and really tried to immerse myself in the local lifestyle. But still, you’re a foreigner. People look at you like you don’t belong in their local busses with your white skin. Like I said… There’s two sides to the story, but just as long as you’re conscious of that and try to help out the locals, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Nice to read that you lived in my country for a bit!

    • Rebecca Ore

      I’ve bee living in Nicaragua for the last four and some years (five years in August) and I’ve often been the only gringo on the bus and don’t get the sense that the majority objects to my being here (a few do). I speak half-good Spanish and I smile and greet people. My impression is that most of the people who are very sure that Nicaraguans are racist are themselves racist. Trying to help out the locals can be condescending. I can’t fix the reality that the major economic activity in my part of Nicaragua requires people to be poor enough to see cutting coffee as a decent job. Using the term “the locals” tend to go with an often unconscious presumption of superiority of some kind. I used to be one of “the locals” and had to listen to prats explain why my grandfather’s rural county in Virginia would be improved by developing tourism and cultivating retirees. The rich in any place like tourism rather than more complex economic development because the poor stay poor and the jobs don’t require significant education.

  45. James

    We are retired and living in Merida, Mexico. We first had planned to go to the Lake Chapala area, but we bumped into exactly the mentality mentioned. I was expecially put off by the “We’re so important to this area that they need to cater to us” mentality. In addition, there was little effort made by the expats to learn Spanish. We’re very happy in Merida, a city of approximately one million. Yes, there are lots of expats from many countries, but the city remains very much a Mexican-Mayan one, and even though many American chain restaurants are now coming in, they’re aimed at the locals, not at the expats. There is an area downtown referred to as Gringo Gulch, but it doesn’t change the nature of greater Merida.

  46. I see this post was written a couple of years back. But things have not changed ! Personally I do not enjoy most of the ex pat community . I own a small bed and breakfast in the rural Yucatan and cater to tourists . The best part is that I have 14 on staff from the local village and these , mostly men ,are feeding 14 families . Not only that they spend their monies in the village so therefore supporting another family . If ex pats can give instead of take it would make for a healthier situation especially if they learn the local culture, the language ect . We are foreigners and our ways puzzle the locals , our way of thinking , our reality of what we think should be done ( when nothing need be done) . Change your way of thinking . Change the way you look at things . Change your reality instead of complaining how things should be. Don’t forget you are a visitor ! Respect your new country and in return they will respect you .

  47. Dave Bloch

    A bit off-topic, but ever notice how we (transplants from the US and Canada) refer to ourselves as “expats,” while refer to those moving into our former countries as “immigrants?” It’s a subtle difference but an important one: which of those two titles sounds “better”to you?
    –Dave in Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico

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