My Decision to Leave the United States: The Whys and Hows
September 20, 2019
I’ll always remember the moment I thought, ‘’It would be cool to leave the United States someday.¨ I was in the driveway of the house I grew up as a teenager. Ten years later, I’m certain that teenager would be satisfied knowing that’s what she’s actually doing now.
I used to think the American dream was questionable and as an adult, I’m learning I was right to question it. We’re made to believe that if we work hard we will be successful and lead a good life.
Sure that’s true, but not for all. People here work hard in a multitude of ways from physical labor to desk jobs. From I see, not everyone can have the American dream even if they put in the work to earn it.
To me, my American Dream would be to be able to afford decent housing, enjoy a night out with friends once a week, have healthcare that doesn’t give me anxiety, and save at a decent rate while not living under the poverty line. To have all those things, you typically have to fit a very specific box working 9 to 5 at a corporate institution.
My decision to leave the US stems from my qualms of living in this system and of course, the fact I actually can leave and work long term if I desire. As a US citizen, I’m not bound to my country’s borders. US Citizenship and knowing the English language are of benefits that make a ticket to live abroad much easier to obtain than for others.
While my goal in life is not to just be an English teacher, it’s a step towards the life abroad I once wished for. The opportunity for remote work will always be there too, I just have to work for. With my years of working with children, teaching English will be a start to something more. Plus, the time to leave America has come.
In 2018 I graduated college, started living in the real world, and began throwing money into my savings to go abroad by 2020.
I’ll start part one of my life abroad in Central America. I won’t actually be teaching yet, but traveling, practicing my Spanish, and visiting the community of Las Cruces in Panamá where I volunteered as an English teacher last summer. Then in December I’ll head to Taiwan to achieve my dream of living and working abroad.
The timing of my goal seems impeccable. I’m not a supporter of our president or the direction US politics are heading, so frankly, I’m happy to watch from abroad. Trump is not what made me want to leave the US, but I’m not complaining that I’m leaving during his presidency (and potential second term).
My vision to leave the United States is actually manifesting and I know there are others out there wondering about how to do the same. While a multitude of opportunities abroad exist, these are the whys and the hows behind my story to leave the United States.
Why 1: It’s Living Abroad!
After my years of travel, I’ve never fully achieved living abroad. I’ve stayed in places for up to two months, staying with family, locals, or with other students. To me, that’s not actually living abroad. Two months is enough time to embrace a location, but after that time is up, it’s back to real life. I consider these stints abroad ¨stays¨.
When I go to Taiwan, I plan to live there at least a year (and in Asia at least two). If all goes as planned, I’ll pay for an apartment, have a job, enroll in the National Health Insurance Program, and be a legal resident.
While I’ll never be Taiwanese, know the Chinese language, or get to connect with the country and culture like a life-long citizen, I’ll still be living, functioning, and making money abroad! There will be a point to my existence and presence beyond just travel.
I’ll get to know my favorite restaurants, find activities I enjoy, and make new friends. At some point, all of these things will become the norm of my day to day.
While I could stay in the States and make a relative income, why? Why not do it living somewhere where I can grow as a person of our world?
Also, I hear people are nice and it’s quite safe. Coming from Philly, I look forward to wandering the streets without having to watch my back at all times.
Why #2: Healthcare
As someone who enjoys working multiple jobs at once, healthcare in America is the real issue. Unless I start making good money as an independent contractor or find a full time job with insurance, health insurance won’t spare my bank account.
On my mother’s insurance plan two years ago I skipped the doctors visits due to the high co-pay and deductible. Did I mention I was out-of-network? It wasn’t rational.
Without knowing the price, I avoided going to the doctor in Philly. Instead, I only went to the doctor when I went to visit my mom in Georgia, where her insurance was based.
Eventually, at 24 and with two more years to be on my mother’s insurance, I decided to de-enroll from her program. I began to financially support myself and enroll in Medicaid.
The approval for Medicaid was probably one of the best strokes of luck I’ve gotten living in a high-expense, money vacuuming healthcare system.
I often thought ¨Is this how people who live in socialist countries feel? They go to the doctor without a second thought as to how it will potentially f*** up their finances? Wow.¨
Yet unlike those who have legitimately free or low cost healthcare in their own countries, I feel like I’m at the mercy of the institutions, kissing their feet in appreciation.
I’ve been very fortunate, but of course this benefit comes at another cost. I have to stay under the poverty line to be eligible. It’s simply not sustainable in the long term. Healthcare in the US only feels worth it if you’re poor or rich, and if you’re somewhere in between, it’s like gambling without having much choice.
In the US, a country of powerful institutions, intelligent science, and money to throw at any development deemed necessary, people are left to fend for their own healthcare. It’s sad that this is even a why on my list, but I’m legitimately afraid of being taken advantage of by the medical system. At the same time, I’m tired of staying broke for the sake of reliable and consistent healthcare.
I know healthcare abroad won’t be perfect, but from my research, I’m ready to leave the United States because I feel much less anxious about receiving healthcare abroad than I do here.
Why 3: I’m a language learner myself
This reason doesn’t relate to why I’m leaving America, but my desire to teach English.
In high school I took french for four years. It sounded so romantic and all “Oh, la, la!” so my ninth grade self dove in. During my senior year, I was the only student still studying French.
Sadly, I forgot French and can get as far as “”Je ne parle francais,” and even then I’m not sure if that’s right.
Then in my last semester of community college in 2016, I tried Spanish. It just clicked. The learning process, similar to French, helped me pick up the language much faster.
In addition, when I look at a word in Spanish, I don’t have to question how it’s pronounced. I actually could feel confident it saying words! Three years later, I’m still speaking and learning it at an advanced intermediate level.
I’ve made it a life goal to become fluent someday.
The reason behind my Central America trip before heading to Asia is to reinforce my speaking ability and take some classes. After I leave to Asia it will be awhile before I can immerse myself again.
In finding my passion through language, especially in Spanish, I feel more motivated as a teacher because I know through my own experiences that learning another language is life changing.
The hows behind my quest to leave the United States are quite simple but have taken work to achieve. No matter how many “whys” there are behind your goals, you need to have figure out the “hows.”
How #1: My Degree
This is a critical piece to how I’m getting abroad to work. Without my degree, I would probably be having a much harder time as someone aiming to become an English teacher.
Since most countries prefer their teachers have a bachelor’s degree in order to come abroad, having my degree opens lots of opportunities. In Taiwan, where I’m going, it’s actually a legal requirement.
Without my degree, this probably would not be happening. I would obviously still be plotting other ways to live or stay abroad long term, but the goal would not be so simple as ̈Apply to teach English, go abroad. ̈
Student loan debt sucks and attending school for four years isn’t for everyone, but the debt and time I put in is becoming so, so worth it. Hasta luego, Estados Unidos.
How #2: Saved Money & Lived Frugally
This is a pretty obvious one, but it came with its own sacrifices.
Last fall was actually a struggle each month because I aimed to find a real job by 2019. I rigorously job search while working about 6 hours a week at the University City Arts League. While the hourly pay was good I was barely scrapping by.
I needed work so badly that when I gave up my job search it was kind of a relief. I didn’t want to be a substitute teacher, but the work and income was instantaneous. In January I finally had income and I never wanted to go back to that broke, desperate, begging for a job feeling again.
On average I’ve saved between $500 and a $1000 a month since January, all while staying below the income limit in order to keep my blessed Medicaid. I had to live frugal as hell while saving.
Most importantly, you have to have a solid savings plan. I lived low income but managed to save while paying rent and allocating for a little fun. I lost a lot of time with friends due to the fact I was on a tight budget and their fun was typically more expensive but like I said, sacrifices.
To keep myself on plan, I used a spreadsheet to budget my trip expenses to create a savings goal and then created a second tab to record each amount of money I transferred into my savings.
One act that forced me to commit to my savings was buying my plane tickets ahead of time. Once you buy non-refundable plane tickets, that’s kinda it.
There are great ways to save money for travel as I outline in this post, but my personal motivator way forcing myself to commit (buy the ticket) after I had a budget plan I could meet alongside a regular income.
How #3: Use Your Resources!
The internet can be a strange place but it’s chock full of information. Surely without all the information online I would still be working towards these goals, but the internet has changed how effectively I can make decisions and plan.
For example, how did I choose Taiwan as a location? Well, the internet. So many websites offer ways to explore jobs, location cultures, and let you visualize yourself there. Message boards also reveal a lot about the expat communities (sorry to the Vietnam expats, but the Vietnam English Teacher groups on Facebook were a huge turnoff).
In regards to Central America, how did I know it was best to travel to Panama by land through Costa Rica and not from Colombia? The internet. In fact, it’s risky to cross into Panama from Colombia by land and not being able to afford a flight, making the choice to head to Costa Rica over Colombia was simple.
With the wonderful web, I’m set on packing for my solo backpacking trip to Central America, have an idea of what type of income to expect in Taiwan, and among many other topics, am overall more confident in my abilities to make it happen!
Just Make It Happen
If you have a desire to live abroad and have the ability to do so, do it! As a travel lover who doesn’t trust the American system wants to take care of me, I used my experience, motivations, qualifications, and the internet to set my goals to get abroad.
If you’re like me, a US citizen ready to leave the United States, you have options. Which ones fit your life?
These are the whys and hows behind my leap of faith abroad, what are yours?
American millennial Kayla Marie has a vision to live life outside the margin. As a creator, her goal is to tell stories and inspire others to live for themselves. She focuses on themes of inspiration, hustle, and travel to promote values that question the status quo.