International Living By Geoarbitrage

An Oyster

I kick off a series of posts amongst my other ongoing series that’s of deep interest to me and I hope, to many others who’ve always maybe wondered or dreamed about living in a country other than the one they live in by the accident of birth.

People often say, “I’m an American,” or, “I’m a European,” “I’m an Asian,” and whatnot. Well, I’m still an American. But I live in Thailand.

This series is about how you can achieve a dream of living wherever you want, no matter where you were born, and without permanent immigration.


The common word for a citizen of one country who lives in another is “expatriate.” Expat for short. The small difficulty in that terminology is the diluting of the meaning of “patriot” in English and American parlance, where to be patriotic is to love one’s country and so, expatriate must mean to no longer love it.

Ultimately derived from Greek patrios, meaning “of one’s father,” patriot entered English via French patriote—meaning “fellow countryman” or “compatriot”—during a time of political unrest in western Europe that was characterized by infighting among fellow countrymen—especially among those of the Protestant and Catholic faiths.

For much of the 17th century, words like good were attached to patriot to distinguish patriots who shared both a love of country and a common allegiance from those having opposing beliefs and loyalties: to be deemed a “good patriot” was to be a lover of country who agreed on political and/or religious matters with whoever was doing the deeming.

Sound familiar?

The point is that ‘expat’ amongst all of us expats simply means that you have citizenship in one country but choose to live in another whilst maintaining your citizenship in the former. That’s why we have distinctive add-ons here like Brit expat, Aussie expat, American expat, Canadian expat, German expat, Swiss expat…to name just a few. African-Americans aren’t expats. Do you get it?

We haven’t given up citizenship, we don’t hate our home countries (usually), and we haven’t made this permanent—in some cases for decades of international living. To do so would make us immigrants.

International Living

To complicate matters, the term expat implies that you’re living in a country other than your country of citizenship permanently. In other words, you’ve taken up residency, exercising one form or another amongst the visa options offered by the country in which you live or are staying for a god while. I’m under what’s technically an non-immigrant visa in Thailand, but it’s commonly referred to as a ‘retirement visa,’ available easily if over 50 years old. Younger folks use education visas and work visas—even charity-work visas—to accomplish the same thing, though with more hoops.

You have just straight-up expats—those who live permanently in their chosen country. I know expats in Japan, Philippines, and here in Thailand who’ve been expats for more than 30 years. They are still citizens of their home countries and most try to get back for a visit now and then.

There are part-time expats: those who live in their home countries a portion of the year, then in one or more other countries the rest of it. In general, you wouldn’t really think of someone who lives more than 6 months of the year in their home country as an expat. They’re travellers.

Similarly, there are the nomads. That’s an old word that means no fixed home. In more recent times that has been associated with those who just move from place to place, but formally. That is, they have passports and do visas hoops.

The new phenomena is an outgrowth of global internet: Digital Nomad. That’s related to the ability to work internationally via the internet but live wherever, and the particular advantage is that if you hold a passport from 1st world western countries, visa and entry-permit requirements are minimal. In many places, you can just fly in with your passport and get up to 90 days with minimal hoop jumping. There’s even a cottage industry built up around that, a value-add innovation of the internet cafe thing. They’re called Co-Working Spaces. It comes with the standard coffee and smoothie thing, but is very heavy on desk space and internet. And some even have food (vegan and other woke options, of course).

If you care to see what I’m talking about and perhaps get a sense of how big and important it could be, Chiang Mai, Thailand, is maybe the Mecca of coworking spaces worldwide. Take a gander at the 3 pages of pretty cool places there. I lived there for 4 months. I visited a few of them but the woke vibe doesn’t quite get to me like a beer-bar format with a new batch of girls from the Isan provinces… I digress. …But they do have free WiFi.

Given all of that, I’m going to be using the more general term International Living throughout this series.

My Credentials

So what do I know about International Living? Given that the posts in this series will be written for members, you decide whether you think it’s worth it to join up.

I’m an American born in 1961 and prior to 1982 had the international experience of a day-trip to Victoria Island in British Columbia in about 1971. It’s a bit ironic, in the sense that my father is a German immigrant to America, 1952.

In 1982, as a Midshipman in the Navy ROTC unit at Oregon State, I did the big-ass and so-called summer cruise, where they send you anywhere in the world to actually experience the real Navy. I got sent to an amphibious ship that was in Pusan, Korea for a port visit at the time. They got me there on a charter 707 flight from Oakland, CA—via refuelling stops in Anchorage, AK, and northern Japan…then an overnight sleep in southern Japan—and an Air Force C-130 cargo transport.

Pusan, Korea.

After a few days left in Pusan and then a few weeks at sea, we docked in Sasebo, Japan and were there for about 5 days. By then, the month was up and it was time to go back. That was via a flight up to Yokota AFB and a next-day charter back to USA. I teamed up with some buddies, we figured out the train to Tokyo, stayed out all damn night, and just made it back for the chartered 747 back to Oakland, CA.

When in your early 20s, you easily dismiss sleep and food for better things to do.

I ate up the whole experience and it sparked the passion for a more global perspective on living.

…In 1984 I graduated Oregon State, spent 6 months at Navy courses in San Diego, CA, and flew on another 747 charter to Subic Bay, Philippines, where I picked up my first official tour of duty on USS Reeves (CG-24). It was out of its home port of Yokosuka, Japan, but we got back there soon enough.

Almost all officers either just lived on the ship or secured housing on the base, typically American. Boring! Not me. I rented a small house across the peninsula on a beach about 10 KM away. It was my home for almost 4 years. In 1987 my tour ended on Reeves, but I secured a really cool gig on 7th Fleet Staff, and it was “across the pier.” I’d have stayed in my house but my dear next-door-neighbor landlord—an old Japanese fellow—needed it back because his place was in shambles. So, I had to get another place for the remainder of my five years living internationally in Japan.

To put a big cut on it, you would only find me on the Yokosuka Navy Base when I was punching the clock. Otherwise, I was out on the economy, to use the parlance of the time. In the five years living there, I owned 3 cars over that space and a big-ass 1,000cc crotch rocket motorcycle. I knew the roads and thoroughfares throughout the peninsula, and could drive all over south and central Tokyo by the back of my hand.

…During those five years, since we were on a ship, I spent accumulated months of time in the Philippines, Korea, and Thailand. The Philippines was because of Subic Bay Navy base. I spent port visits and vacation there. Korea was because of cold-war geopolitics, so many port visits. Thailand was R&R, but I flew out a few additional times for vacations, a month at a time. We also visited Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Diego Garcia.

…My next tour was quite different, as an exchange officer with the French Navy, navigator duties aboard two of their ships in the south; Toulon, France. Per usual, the first thing I did was secure my living arrangements. A 3br flat on the Mediterranean across the street from an old stone fort. Classic French, too. Tile floors, “French Doors.”

We spent much less time at sea than does the US Navy, so I really immersed. Within 6 months or so I was barely speaking English anymore and starting to focus in on their slangs and manner of speaking. It’s as bad as us. (Here in Thailand, the French-speaking Swiss and Belgians are a joy to chat with. They speak French right.)

During that two years, I visited Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, and the USSR. In later visits back to Europe I’ve visited Germany, Spain, and Poland in addition.

…I wouldn’t have any international living experiences for a long time. I returned to the USA in 1992 and it wasn’t until 2015 that I dipped my toe in with a trial, 3-month thing in Mexico. It was intended to be 5-6 months initially but ended short. Without a deep dive into it, it’s just too close to America with too many woke people in expat communities who want to make it like a soccer-mom gated community.

…And that brings me to Thailand, my home for the last two years and a month as I write this. During that time, I’ve lived 4 places from north to south. From Chiang Mai to Phuket. In land area, it’s about 2 times the size of California. Sizeable. The geography is hugely varied. About the only things it doesn’t have are desert and snow.

So, do I have enough experience over a long space of time to qualify me to speak competently about this? For, I know there are thousands of 20-somethings out there who seemingly know everything there is to know about living internationally.

Numbers, Desires, Sparks, and Culture

This won’t be about where you should live. That’s up to you. It won’t even be an admonishment to live somewhere else. That’s up to you too. It’s for those who really want to and those who entertain the audacity of it.

So the point of this series is, how do you do it; and if so, how do you put a best foot forward, avoid common pitfalls, get out of shit when mired, and get over homesickness? And more.

  • It depends on you; where you have some longing, desire, or inking to live that’s not your home country. It could be from anything…a childhood memory, the experience of your parents, a story you heard in school, travel experience…even photos from travellogs.
  • The reality will be different. Count on that. What can you put up with and what are the tradeoffs?
  • Sanitation is an important issue, but sanitation costs money. How do they put sanitation money to best use?
  • What cultures outside of your own fascinate you?
  • What religions or religious-like traditions and rituals outside your own fascinate you?
  • How isolated from your core culture are you willing to be or conversely, how much do you embrace distance and isolation?
  • How far away from “woke” do you want to get?
  • What can you learn or, where are the opportunities to expand your global, international-living perspective?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What if it goes wrong?
  • Understanding what “rights” mean. For instance, many places around the world do not have an American sense of freedom of speech and can you live with that?

I could go on an on with that list, but all are things I can delve into by writing substantive posts for members.

There’s one big remaining question, and that’s where skillful geoarbitrage comes in.

What Does It Cost?

This is the area where the young and tech-savvy have an upper hand. That’s because many have migrated to various forms of online or remote work for a long time and once they realize they can work from anywhere, all they have to do is account for time zones so they can collaborate with those still doing 9-5 in offices.

There are myriad ways to make that work superlatively for you, adding the element of choosing where to live or travel for a nomad stage. For instance, I know digital nomads who primarily work with European time zones. I work primarily within American time zones. Email is not so much impactful either way, but phone and Zoom calls are.

What does it cost you to live, though?

This is where older folks get caught up. They tend to think that something like this is for when I retire and then spend forever in paralysis trying to ensure every jot & tittle will be perfect before they’ve even folded their plus-size underwear.

…If this series is about anything, it’s about showing you with my experience and the numbers how that’s just false and you can’t know much before actual experience, which requires a sink or swim attitude. I know many young families, yes families, who are expats and digital nomads, and I observe many I don’t know. I play around with some of the kids in the pool. (Ukrainians teach the young kids to swim early, like 2 years old. Sink or swim. They toss them in the pool. That’s their “swimming lessons.”)

They enjoy as high or higher standard and lower cost of living by living outside of their home country. In my little village here in Thailand, there are many Ukrainians and Russians with young boys and girls who have it better here than there. I don’t ask a lot of questions but sense that a good many of the dads are software engineers and the internet smokes here. A hundred times faster, better, and more reliable than any I’ve had in the Corporate Land Of the Free. Costs me $15 per month.

So, geoarbitrage is a big part of the whole calculation in this. I wrote recently:

That’s a simple concept where you remain employed for whomever and can work remotely (via internet and phone); you do various forms of freelance work like writing, consulting, design, development, etc.—again via internet and phone; or, you build some sort of online business like selling something via FBA (fulfilled by Amazon), drop shipping, or myriad forms of content creation where you sell books, courses, or subscriptions.

But the key to it is that you’re earning in amounts suitable for living in modern developed Western nations like US, Canada, Western Europe, et al—with a basic decent lifestyle—but you physically live somewhere that the same lifestyle can be had for far less.

For example, here in Thailand, I enjoy the same lifestyle as most desirable places in the USA for 4-5 times less.

Since this series is about worldwide International Living, I suppose I’ll have to do a relatively deep dive into relative costs of living. That’s to be expected.

People in various countries have a sense of that but the problem has always been that if you move to a lower cost of living—like from blue-woke urban to red-fuck-you rural, you have to find a new job and wages are commensurate with that.

The whole point of geoarbitrage and working remotely—as though you’re in the Manhattan or London office—or have some sort of online business—is that where you live physically can be at a pittance of what it costs to live where you work or where your online customers live.

I’ll pump out more posts with detail, stories, and even my own experiences. I’ve lived about 10 years total time outside of my home country, the USA. But, that’s in three countries, plus 3 months in Mexico. Of course, I will be working for members to accomplish that. I’m member supported, never corporate sponsored.

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Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

1 Comment

  1. Mark J on March 7, 2022 at 01:07

    Cool. Looking forward to more on this.

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