Remember when a long slew of celebrities said they would depart the United States should a certain real estate tycoon win the presidency? Well, he did, and they didn’t. But many millennials have already left, and are leaving — not because they’re afraid, but because they’re inventive and frugal.
Imagine being a tourist — permanently. With the advent of Internet-based employment, that’s not only possible, it might be your most feasible option. As The New York Post‘s Dakota Kim reported, scores of millennials have taken their skills, their inventiveness, and most importantly their laptops elsewhere, drawn by the low cost of living.
In fact, there’s even an Uber for ex-pats. On Nomad List, those open to moving elsewhere can browse the weather, Internet, fun, safety, and — perhaps most importantly — cost of living in cities across the world. The top three cities aren’t even in Europe or North America: they’re in East Asia! Chiang Mai and Bangkok, both in Thailand, take first and second place, with Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam — yes, that Vietnam — ranking third.
According to the Uber for ex-pats, cost of living is about $777 per month in Chiang Mai, where the average temperature is 81 degrees Fahrenheit and the overall Wi-Fi score is 15 megabytes per second (mbps). Twenty-seven-year-old Trish Roberts moved there in October to launch her home-and-garden e-commerce site. For two years before that, she lived with her parents while working full-time to save up and follow her dream.
“I have known for years that I wanted to go into business for myself, but the cost of living in the US made it hard for me,” Roberts told the Post. “I knew that if I wanted to provide myself with every opportunity to succeed in business, keeping my overhead cost and personal expenditures low was essential. I knew that if I stayed in America, those savings would be gone fast.”
For ex-pats like Roberts, leaving the states doesn’t mean retiring with Mai Thais by the beach, but working smarter, not harder, overseas — and by the pool!
“My friends and I gather on a weekly basis to co-work from a rooftop pool,” said one ex-pat who turned down a job with Pepsi to work and travel across the world. This is just one of the highlights shared by Saigon-based Mike Swigunski, founder of the travel site SwigMeetsWorld.com and the philanthropic clothing site Endangered Apparel.
“I have never felt unsafe, most cafes and restaurants offer free and reliable internet, and there are a ton of expats and always something fun going on,” Swigunski told the Post. “The expat entrepreneurial scene is flourishing in Saigon. You can always find something new to do any day of the week — salsa dancing, social meetups and poker nights are just a few.”
“Work as a concept has changed,” argued travel writer and editor Alex Crevar, an ex-pat now living in Croatia. “I think people generally are now freelancing — as a lifestyle — in one sense or another.”
While the opportunities fostered by the Internet may be new, Americans’ long history of creative entrepreneurship isn’t. “This isn’t historically abnormal,” argued Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future.
“Whatever hardships we’ve seen in the US have actually produced a ton of opportunities for those who’ve paid attention,” Guillebeau explained. “So when times are hard, smart millennials should look around and see what else they can do instead of applying for the same limited number of good jobs that hundreds of their peers are looking at.”
Next Page: How starting your own business can be easier overseas.
It’s not just the flexibility of working by the pool or the ability to shake off the American rat race driving ex-pats, however. Starting your own business may very well be easier overseas. Ryan Paugh, co-founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, listed some of the reasons why: “Overhead can be significantly lower. Finding the right talent can be far less competitive. Not to mention, many foreign countries are welcoming foreign startups and entrepreneurs as an economic development opportunity — frankly, something the US could learn from.”
W. Michael Hsu, founder of the accounting company Deepsky, moved to Taipei, Taiwan — ranked number 6 on Nomad List with a $1,641 per month cost of living, an average temperature of 71 degrees Fahrenheit, and 15 mbps Wi-Fi. “In Taiwan, you can live large like a millionaire or eat street food for $1 on the side of the street, all in one breath,” Hsu explained. He praised Taipei’s reliable public transport, fast Wi-Fi, and night markets.
But there’s something else Taipei offered better than the United States: good talent! “While my startup was scraping the bottom of the barrel for talent in the States, we are getting the best people from Big 4 CPA firms in Taiwan,” Hsu told the Post. “These kids are hardworking, willing to learn, and very thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow with a company that cares about them.”
Matt Diggity, founder of SEO company Diggity Marketing, agreed with Hsu, praising the talent in Chiang Mai. He estimated the Thai city’s cost of living at $1,000 per month for a simple lifestyle with some nights out, and $2,000 per month for a life of luxury. If you budget $4,000, “you will not be able to spend it all.” Diggity said he only needed to spend $300 per night for a tropical company retreat on the nearby island of Ko Samui.
Roberts, the e-commerce site founder also in Chiang Mai, agreed. She reported eating at least two meals out a day, rather than rice and beans at home like she did in the U.S. She said one of the reasons she chose the city was “to be in a position to pay [my team] well and encourage a healthy work-life balance.”
Perhaps predictably, however, some of these ex-pats are driven less by the practicality and more by the experience. Dakota Kim herself described the strong allure of a life outside the States.
Her experience in Oaxaca, Mexico, highlighted just how much cheaper life can be overseas. “In Brooklyn, a one-bedroom can coast upwards of $2,000 a month and a high-end meal can ring in at $150,” Kim wrote. “In Oaxaca, a small one-bedroom costs me $250 per month, a filling, pizza-like tlayuda is under $3 and a fancy modernist meal is $25 to $35.”
But the real allure isn’t money (emphasis added):
Plus I get to wake up every day to the small of barbacoa tacos stewing.
The sum total of my lifestyle for one month costs about $800, living luxuriously, with Uber at my beck and call, and as much tacos and tequila as I want. The best part, though, is living my dream of being a full-time writer, making friends whose perspectives go beyond America, and learning about food and culture that edify my brain. Freedom and experiences are so much more valuable to me than money or a house in the suburbs.
Paugh, the Young Entrepreneur Council co-founder, argued that this experience is more valuable to younger Americans than physical possessions. “We’re beginning to value experience more than the accumulation of physical assets, especially Gen Y and millennials,” Paugh argued. “These generations had a front-row seat to the outcome of materialism and are choosing to live their lives a bit differently.”
Next Page: Is this a rejection of “materialism” or a selfish pursuit of eternal tourism?
But this trend of worldliness or lifestyle tourism is not a rejection of “materialism,” but an emphasis on experience. Paugh may want to make it sound like millennials are rejecting an immoral focus on accumulating wealth and goods, but is a life of eternal tourism really more laudable? Both arguably reject many other good things, like patriotism and living close to family.
If anything, this trend reveals the central values of the young generation: self-satisfaction, multiculturalism, and rejection of patriotism, coupled with inventiveness, entrepreneurship, and bravery. Many of these ex-pats likely maintain relationships with family back home, and some may be very patriotic, but this trend also brings to the fore the uprootedness of the millennial generation.
Having twice moved across the country myself, and likely planning to do so again, I know the benefits and drawbacks of this lifestyle — estranged friendships and nostalgia for my home state are coupled with new opportunities, romance, and the ability to learn new things. This is the quintessential millennial experience, and with the costs of travel decreasing, the trend is only likely to grow for following generations.
Most importantly, Nomad List ranks quite a few American cities near the top of the list. Miami, Florida, ranks number 4, even with a $4,325 per month cost of living, because of the 81 degrees Fahrenheit temperature and 80 mbps Wi-Fi, along with high ratings for fun and safety. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, ranks number 9, with Austin, Texas, at 12, and Tampa, Florida, at 13.
In fact, 5 U.S. cities make the top 20 on the list, and 11 make the top 50. In contrast, not a single European city ranks in the top 20, and only Las Palmas, Spain, ranks in the top 50, coming in at number 31.
Following Nomad List, young entrepreneurs will be drawn to East Asia and the Global South, but only if they don’t want one of these premier American destinations. You don’t have to go overseas to enjoy better opportunities — but that won’t stop many millennials seeking thrills and new learning experiences. What sums up the millennial generation more than moving to Thailand to work on your laptop?