EXPAT INSIGHTS

Should I Stay or Go Home? The Challenges of Living Abroad During a Global Pandemic

I am one of the estimated nine million Americans living abroad or traveling overseas. For us, the pandemic nightmare of canceled flights and closed borders began on January 31, 2020. COVID-19's viral speed and the subsequent government lockdowns had millions of people scrambling to cut trips short and find a way home before all borders and options to leave a country were canceled. 

If you were a short-term vacationer this was not a life changing deal. At worse, these travel restrictions may have ruined once-in-a-lifetime trips. But for people living abroad, the pandemic represented a critical juncture on whether to continue living overseas or pack up their lives, say goodbye to friends, and return to the uncertain safety of "home."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the US government has arranged rescue flights for over 62,000 US citizens stranded abroad

Millions more are attempting to "shelter in place" while living in a foreign country. I asked over 16 expats to share their stories of living abroad during a pandemic. The stories below shine some light on what life was like living overseas as COVID-19 hit. You can read about the decision-making process they went through. See how common concerns like healthcare, safety, and cost of living factored into the decision to stay or go home. Find out whether they regret any of the choices made so far.

Even Without a Global Pandemic, There Are Challenges to Living Abroad

  • Lack of a support network- You are thousands of miles away from your family and friends. Simple things like someone buying you vitamins when you are sick are more complicated. 
  • Difficulty communicating- There are 7,117 languages spoken in the world. Most of us only know one.
  • Visa difficulties- Strong passports (US, EU, Canada, etc.) make short stays in most countries easy. Staying longer than 90 days requires planning. 
  • “Third World” health care system- This is a hotly debated topic. Western countries outside the US decry the US's lack of universal coverage. People in the US will protest that any medical treatment outside the US is substandard.
  • Unfamiliarity on "how things work"- Trying to navigate government bureaucracies in any country will test anyone's patience. Trying to navigate illogical bureaucracies in a foreign language will make you want to punch a wall.

Living Abroad during a Global Pandemic 

The speed and the severity of COVID-19 shocked and surprised most of us. For people living overseas, the challenges of living abroad multiplied the difficulty of trying to separate truth from hysteria. Conflicting news reports and government directives added to the confusion. 

Should I shelter in place in a strange country? Can I be deported? Would I be allowed entrance to my own country? Is home even safe? We were confused, stressed, a thousand miles away from home, and the information we were getting was as clear as mud. 

As an example, in Thailand, people were required to practice "social distancing", yet there was initially no exemption for overstaying your 90-day visa. People lined up for days to renew their visas to avoid large fines, deportation, or possible jail time. 

The COVID-19 pandemic shook even experienced expats and veteran travelers in March. Hundreds of thousands of travelers were slowly stranded as countries around the world systematically shut their borders: first blocking incoming tourists, then expats and citizens, lastly, all inbound and outbound flights were suspended completely. Embassies worldwide scrambled to rescue citizens stranded overseas or warned them to prepare to "shelter in place" indefinitely.

Real people living abroad making real-time decisions in a crisis

This article focuses on real-life experiences of 16 expats and nomads facing the difficulties of living abroad when COVID-19 broke out. Below are 16 personal stories of real people thousands of miles away from home, making difficult choices affecting their lives and the lives of their family, during a global pandemic and unprecedented travel restrictions.

I reached out to over 30 individuals consisting of friends, strangers, people I have met while traveling, redditors, and bloggers I follow. 16 people have been generous enough with their time to share their insight, experience, and decision-making process on whether to risk staying abroad or heading home.

Specifically, I asked a variation of the following questions:

  1. 1
    How long have you been living overseas, and where were you living before travel restrictions went in place?
  2. 2
    Why did you decide to stay vs. return to home?
  3. 3
    If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?
  4. 4
    What city or country would be your primary choice to live during a COVID-19 lockdown, and why?

You should definitely read through all the answers. It gives plenty of insight into the realities of living abroad, the healthcare debate, the family considerations, and the challenges faced. Use the handy links below to skip ahead or by all means, get comfortable, and read through all the great responses.

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  • Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Singapore, Krakow
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Eric and Kate

Retired Early World Travelers

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How long have you been overseas, and where are you now?

My wife Katie and I retired in April 2019 and hopped on a plane to Thailand at the end of June. Since then, we have been traveling around SE Asia. We are currently in Danang, Vietnam.

"...the idea of returning to the US without insurance in the middle of a health crisis was terrifying."

Da Nang, Vietnam

Why did you decide to stay vs return to home?

I didn't really feel like we had much of a choice. We have no US health insurance and there's no option to purchase short term insurance that would cover a global pandemic. As such, the idea of returning to the US without insurance in the middle of a health crisis was terrifying. That left us with only one choice. Stay put here in Asia.

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

I expect travel to be impacted for far longer than that. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see restrictions of some sort last through at least 2021. I'm encouraged by the seriousness with which most SE Asian countries are handling the coronavirus, especially compared to the US and most of Europe, so I am definitely happy with our decision to stay put.

What city or country would be your primary choice to live during a COVID-19 lockdown, and why?

Tough question. We recently bought plane tickets attempting to leave Vietnam heading to both Malaysia and Taiwan. However, we were not able to use either due to travel restrictions that were implemented in between purchase and travel. It's not that we thought that Vietnam was doing a poor job, but our Vietnam visa was expiring soon and we wanted to be in a place where we could stay put for a long time. Both Malaysia and Taiwan offer 90 days visa free to US citizens. Once those options fell through, we figured out how to extend our visa here in Vietnam for 90 days and are planning to stay put in Danang for the remainder of our time here.

While there are many places worldwide that are absolutely dropping the ball in their response to COVID-19, this is not one of them. We are thankful for that. While I'm not sure we would've picked Danang ahead of time as a place to stay for 4 months (the last month of our original visa plus our 3 month extension), we are happy to be here. The grocery stores are fully stocked and the government and populace are taking the COVID-19 situation seriously. It seems like as good as place as any to stay inside and be lazy for a month or more.

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Johnny Chen
Travel Blogger

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How long have you been living overseas, and where were you living before travel restrictions went down?

I was staying in Bonaire to do some scuba diving. I had a wedding to attend in Curacao before I went to Bonaire. We took the last inter island flight between curacao and Bonaire before they canceled all inter-island flights. My flight back home to Germany was leaving out of Curacao so I had no way to get to it. Thankfully, KLM let us rebook without any fees and we departed from Bonaire to Amsterdam a week later. We were essentially on the last flight out before they closed the Bonaire airport down.

"We were essentially on the last flight out before they closed the Bonaire airport down."

Bonaire, Dutch Antilles Photo Credit: Johnny Chen

Why did you decide to return home?

The decision was very difficult to return to Germany. Bonaire is paradise and quite an amazing little island especially for those that dive. I could shore dive any time of the day I wanted to and we were fully planning on staying until May which is when the flights would be paused until. We called KLM to let them know we wanted to extend our stay and to book us on the first flight home on May 4. KLM said they could do this but that the May 4 date was just a placeholder and if we really wanted to stay, we need to be prepared to stay until at least June as they had no idea when flights would resume.

The extra 5 week stay we were planning turned into a 10 week stay. At this point, we were unsure if we wanted to stay in Bonaire or not. While it is paradise with no COVID cases, it was only a matter of time. If they did get a case, everything on the island would be shut down including diving so we would have nothing to do. In addition, if things really got bad, the hospital on Bonaire is not equipped whatsoever to handle the fall out.

Furthermore, the German healthcare system is quite good and my friends in Germany had been telling me that there is solid care for those that need it and anyone who wants a test can get it. It is reassuring to know that if the worse happened, I would be able to get the care I need.

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

I might go crazy, but probably yes! In the end, this is not a time to chase wanderlust dreams and explore new worlds. It is a time to come together and isolate yourself from the rest of the world.

What city or country would be your primary choice to live during a COVID-19 lockdown, and why?

Well the thing is nowhere is really infection free and everyone is or should be practicing isolation/social distancing. This means any city I would have wanted to live in the past would be doin the same thing, aka staying at home and doing nothing. In this case, it doesn't matter whether I'm living in NYC, Mexico City, Cape town, or Singapore. We're all doing the same thing right now. I'm trying to think if there's anywhere that isn't doing this and Bonaire might be the last place! I will probably regret not staying there in the coming weeks!

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The Frugal Vagabond


Retired Early Expat

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How long have you been living overseas, and where were you living before travel restrictions went down?

We've lived in Spain for just over two years. Spain is one of the countries hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic and is subject to some of the most stringent restrictions on everyday movement in the world. Though we had plenty of warning that our window to travel internationally was closing, we opted to stay here for a number of reasons.

"Though we had plenty of warning that our window to travel internationally was closing, we opted to stay here for a number of reasons."

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Why did you decide to stay?

We saw that Spain was seeing large numbers of infections and deaths despite excellent universal healthcare and an almost universal acceptance of the restrictive quarantine. We compared those conditions with the casual (or even arrogant) attitudes we saw about the need to limit contact in the US, and anticipated that the US would soon carry a much higher risk of infection with coronavirus.

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

Ultimately we are more confident that Spain will take the necessary steps to contain and hopefully eliminate cases going forward. We do expect the crisis to continue at least another 30-60 days and with that in mind, are comfortable with our decision. Shelves are well stocked at the grocery stores, and the only things we've missed out on here and there are creature comforts like a particular brand of candy or imported items.

Was there any aggressive hording in Spain, similar to the toilet paper stories we are hearing out of the US?

There was exactly one day where we saw empty toilet paper shelves here in Granada: the day after they canceled school for the rest of the year in our province, which was also the day before the quarantine was declared. That day, there was also no meat in the store. Since that day, we haven't seen any obvious hoarding. There's always been enough of all of the necessities, but they're definitely being prioritized by supermarkets over some of the less popular creature comforts.

You mention Spain's health coverage. Did the US health care system play a part into your decision making?

US health insurance played a small role in our decision, mostly because we have a Spanish policy that covers everywhere in the world... except for the USA. That's pretty telling, but logistically we tend to buy short term emergency policies when we visit the US, and I would be very anxious with such a minimal plan in the midst of a pandemic.

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Johnny FD

Johnny FD
Digital Nomad

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How long have you been living overseas, and where are you currently living?

I originally left California back in 2008 to start traveling. I was most recently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand until February…then came to Sri Lanka where I got stuck under quarantine life.

"Even if the crisis extended for another 6 months I would still have been happy to have stayed here. It’s better to be stuck here with good weather and low costs of living than back home in the US."

On top of the Nine Arches Bridge Photo Credit: Johnny FD

Did you decide to stay overseas or return home? What factors drove your choice?

I decided to stay overseas here. I knew that it would be socially irresponsible to travel during the pandemic and risk getting sick at an airport or on the plane, just to bring it back to family and friends in the USA. People returning back home is a huge reason why there are so many cases of COVID around the world. Also, as a full time digital nomad that lives out of my carry on luggage, home really is wherever I am.

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

Even if the crisis extended for another 6 months I would still have been happy to have stayed here. It’s better to be stuck here with good weather and low costs of living than back home in the US. I’m lucky that I can earn money while traveling, or even being stuck somewhere. And I make the most out of each day I’m here.

What city or country would be your primary choice to live during a COVID-19 lockdown, and why?

I'm pretty happy where I am now here in Sri Lanka. But I'd still rather be somewhere where I'd be able to walk around outside, that may change but as of right that, the islands of Thailand, most of Vietnam and some places allow going outside. But all else being equal, I'd rather be in Georgia or Chiang Mai where food delivery is cheap and has a ton of variety.

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Sergio and Shannon
Retired Early World Traveler

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How long have you been living overseas, and where are you currently living?

We’re currently in Portland, Oregon on our 61st house sit! We’ve been traveling for nearly three and a half years. Our first year we spent overseas (3 Continents, 23 Countries, and 60 Cities), but we’ve since been traveling and house sitting throughout North America. We’re fortunately digital nomads, so we’re both able to work remotely. However, one of us recently got a promotion that requires us to stay within the US for work.

"Our biggest concern was her safety and there was a bit of fear of being separated if borders and flights were shut down and canceled."

The Portland (aka, Bridgetown) skyline

Did you decide to stay overseas or return home?

We wish we could say we planned things to work out the way they have, but really, it just worked out for the best. When the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic started to spread globally, we were house sitting in San Diego, California. In early March, Shannon was actually in Dublin, Ireland for business and had the option of returning home a couple of days into her trip.

Our biggest concern was her safety and there was a bit of fear of being separated if borders and flights were shut down and canceled. However, at that time Ireland had less than five confirmed cases, which was dramatically lower than California. In an effort to be cautious but not anxious, we decided that Shannon would complete her scheduled work trip.

Once we were together in San Diego, California, we proceeded with our planned house sitting jobs and continued to be very cautious. We not only had our health in mind, but the health of the homeowners.

California was put on a shelter-in-place order four days before we were scheduled to fly to Portland, Oregon for our next house sitting job. Since the homeowner of our last San Diego house sitting job came home early, it thankfully allowed us flexibility in our travel. Our original flight was canceled and even our rebooked flight was canceled. Luckily, we were successful on our third attempt! We don’t have a home per se since we house sit full time, but the closest place to a home base is with family in Portland, Oregon. Again, we consider ourselves fortunate to have already planned to be house sitting near family during this time. We decided to travel and we did so with extreme caution, taking social distancing and disinfecting our surroundings on the plane very seriously, and then isolated for the next 14 days.

Now that we’re in Portland and near family, we’ll probably spend time with family and only do local house sits.. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and choose to travel when it’s safe to do so. Ultimately, we want to keep ourselves and those around us safe and healthy, but we also don’t want to solely react out of fear and anxiety.

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

Absolutely! It’s challenging to not have as much freedom to move as much as we’d like, but it’s necessary for our health and the health of the greater population.

What city or country would be your primary choice to live during a COVID-19 lockdown, and why?

That’s a tough question. On one hand, we’re from the United States and have family here. On the other hand, countries like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore for various reasons seem to have done a better job of managing COVID-19. With that being said, in times like this it’s probably best to be near family.

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Stephanie & Gillian

Retired Early World Traveler

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How long have you been living overseas, and where are you currently living?

We’ve been traveling full-time for the past six months. We were previously working as expats in Singapore but we were able to reach our financial goals, say goodbye to corporate jobs and set off for a life of travel. Our plan is to take the next few years to explore the world slowly, starting with Europe.

However, much to our surprise, we've found ourselves to be back home in Canada after a seven year absence. We had intended to be in Croatia by this time of year but our plans were cut short by the virus outbreak.

"We were safe and comfortable there for a month - despite being in the epicentre of the Italian outbreak - but knew we had to leave, not least because our Schengen visas were about to expire."

Enjoying a sunny day by the Arno in Florence, Italy Photo Credits: Our Freedom Years

Did you decide to stay overseas or return home?

When the COVID 19 outbreak became a global concern in March, we were in the midst of a two-month trip in Italy. We tried to leave Italy but our last-minute flight to Hungary was cancelled. We quickly decided to find sanctuary at a friend's holiday home at Lake Como in northern Italy.

We were safe and comfortable there for a month - despite being in the epicentre of the Italian outbreak - but knew we had to leave, not least because our Schengen visas were about to expire.

We then went to the only country where we were guaranteed to be welcomed, which is our home country of Canada.

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

As long as the travel bans are in place, we will stay in Canada. Being here allows us to provide support to family during a difficult time. We are taking this situation as an opportunity to spend time with loved ones after having lived overseas for so many years.

What city or country would be your primary choice to live during a COVID-19 lockdown, and why?

As value seekers, we would ideally prefer to be situated in a less expensive city than Toronto, although this is where our family lives. We would likely choose another large, interesting city in Canada, such as Montreal.

Of course, our main interest is getting back on the road again and picking up our travel itinerary in the Balkans. Here's hoping travel is safe again soon!

Click the links below to learn more about the countries discussed in this article? Links open in a new tab, so you won't lose your place.

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Eric

Retired Early World Traveler

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How long have you been living overseas, and where are you currently living?

I achieved leanFIRE in July 2019. I quit my job and began living the digital nomad lifestyle. I first traveled throughout Latin America, visiting Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico with a work/travel program called Remote Year. At the beginning of 2020, I continued my travels in SE Asia with my girlfriend, first spending six weeks in Chiang Mai, Thailand, then a few days in Hanoi, Vietnam, and spent most of March in Canggu, Bali.

"...as the COVID-19 situation became much more severe and border closures and travel bans were escalating quickly, I became concerned about being trapped there."

Acroyoga in Canggu Bali Indonesia

Did you decide to stay overseas or return home?

I decided to return home and am spending time with my family in the US. Canggu is beautiful, and I really enjoyed my time there. However, as the COVID-19 situation became much more severe and border closures and travel bans were escalating quickly, I became concerned about being trapped there.

What factors drove your choice?

If I was stuck there, I worried that the medical infrastructure could not support a large scale outbreak, and if there was a panic, a potential shortage of food and water. My girlfriend and I made the difficult decision to leave Bali early and return to the US. We are incredibly grateful that we were able to leave when we did and are currently in self-quarantine with family in the US.

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

Yes, I would. I just feel more comfortable being back in the US, surrounded by family.

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Cris Gawlik
Retired Early World Traveler

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How long have you been living overseas, and where are you currently living?

I sold everything I owned in May 2019 and left the US in June, so I don’t have a home to go back to. I like to max out tourist visas if I can, so I spent nearly 6 months in Mexico before going to Ecuador for 3 months.

"I’m grateful to be a nomad in these times. It afforded me the opportunity to wisely choose where I should go in a world crisis, unlike others who are stuck in their home residents in populated areas where the virus is spreading."

Belize- Riding out the pandemic Photo Credit: Cris Gawlik

Did you decide to stay overseas or return home?

 I was slotted to be in Belize next for 3 months anyways so I got here 3 days early and settled in.

What factors drove your choice?

I love small towns, Placencia is under 2K residents, and although healthcare is limited in this country, we have ample food and supplies to support the country for a long time. Plus, there are only 3 mild cases of the virus in the whole country, so I feel safe. Especially, since I’m technically living on a little island across from the mainland anyways. Besides wildlife, I’m alone and can’t catch the virus since people can’t get near me unless they have a boat.

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

I’m grateful to be a nomad in these times. It afforded me the opportunity to wisely choose where I should go in a world crisis, unlike others who are stuck in their home residents in populated areas where the virus is spreading. This issue will not be over in one or two months. I fully understand that I may not be able to leave Belize for many, many months, and I feel great about that because I have food, shelter, and my health.

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Mike
Travel Blogger

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How long have you been living overseas, and where are you currently living?

I am in Bangkok, Thailand, and have been overseas since December 2019. I am in the middle of a year-long trip around the world. I am bummed that my dream trip has been paused, but the safety of myself and others is paramount.

"My adventure is happening, just not how I planned it."

Floating Markets near Bangkok, Thailand

Did you decide to stay overseas or return home?

My home is in the United States, but I chose to stay abroad because I only have health insurance abroad, other parts of the world seem to be much safer, trying to get home appears to be a disaster, and I am still enjoying being in a different country. My adventure is happening, just not how I planned it. Plus, when the COVID-19 situation is under control, I should be in a great place to resume the globe trotting.

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

I expect the crisis to continue for at least another 30-60 days and I would definitely make the same decision again (with the information I have so far).

What city or country would be your primary choice to live during a COVID-19 lockdown, and why?

For my personal situation, Bangkok is the top choice in the world to ride out a lockdown. I am with my girlfriend, we are connected to a network of local people, we are in a fairly large space, tropical climate, Bangkok is inexpensive, and officials have experience dealing with communicable diseases.

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Huw Rayner
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How long have you been living overseas, and where were you living before Colombia?

I have been long term slow traveling for about 5 years. I have mostly lived in Southeast Asia. Primarily Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam with random trips away.

"The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?” – Jack Sparrow

Social Distancing with Flatmates in Medellin, Colombia Photo Credit: Huw Rayner

Why did you decide to stay in Medellin vs return home?

I am a UK citizen. I have only recently been in Medellin for the past 1 month. I have never been to South America before and I only started learning [Spanish] when I got here ( My Spanish is very basic). Back in England, I would have had to stay with friends and family. One of the main reasons I left is I wasn’t stimulated and was very bored and life wasn’t social enough for me. If I went back to England now, I would have to spend 2 weeks in quarantine and then likely be very bored for a long time.

From what I have heard, people have gone a bit crazy back in England, panic buying etc. From the information I have, I might end up actually being in a worse position (definitely more lonely, maybe struggling to get supplies, and things would be more expensive). Seeing as I had no intention of living in England, returning would be the last choice and would only do so if I was forced or there was violence on the streets or severe food shortages. Even though I am a UK citizen I don’t feel like the UK is “Home” anymore.

From what I have heard from other traveling friends, I am in a good position, and even though my journey here has been a bit random, I am currently happy where I am. Seeing as I was already throwing myself into a new adventure and have apparently landed on my feet well, I will stay here

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

Thankfully the visa situation in Colombia is very good. I got a 3 months visa on arrival and can easily and cheaply extend for another 3 months. As long as the food keeps flowing and I am not struggling personally and still have a social environment, I will stay. I think most of the people I am staying with are of the same mindset at this point.

My living costs are lower than they would be in the UK. People seem less frantically worried from what I have seen over here compared to the irrational behavior and scaremongering back in the UK. I feel like I am in the right place at the right time.

What city or country would be your primary choice to live during a COVID-19 lockdown and why?

It depends how self-sufficient you are. If you are happy cooking for yourself and comfortable in your own company, I guess anywhere that you feel secure and safe and feel that the healthcare system is up to scratch. I was very happy in Thailand; however, I think if was still there (Pai 3 hours north of Chiang Mai), my experience would be quite a bit different. The visa situation sounds problematic there as well.

Surprisingly given that I’m on a new continent and don’t speak the language, I’m [sic] my current situation I will be staying here and am very happy about it! The random decisions and riding the wave of adventure seems to have brought me to a place I am currently happy.

Extra note. I have no personal fear of the Coronavirus itself. I’m more afraid of the human reaction to the problem. I have no plan on going back to the UK and potentially bring the virus to any elderly or at-risk friends or family. The people I am staying with are of the same mindset. Be careful and don’t take an unnecessary risk, but otherwise, just try to get on with life as much as possible.

A lot of people will be lonely and struggling now for reasons caused by the virus. Please take the time to check on your friends and family as you never know the struggles that people go through behind closed doors. We are all in the adventure of life together, and sometimes it throws us curve balls. Let's take care of each other, and we will come through this stronger.

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April Dawn

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Digital Nomad

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How long have you been living overseas, and where were you living before Colombia?

So I've been living overseas for almost 3 years and have been traveling for almost a decade. Before I was in Medellin, I spent 2 months in KL [Kuala Lampur].

"One week everything was fine and happy and I was considering staying in Colombia long term - The next week I made it out of the country maybe a day or two before Colombia closed their borders to everyone in and out."

A parrot overlooking Comuna 13 in Medellin, Colombia before the pandemic

Why did you decide to return to home? Where in Canada is home?

I was born and raised in Saskatchewan. My childhood was split between 2 sleepy small farm towns. Weyburn and Yorkton. After high school, I lived in Regina for a few years before I started traveling North America. I was planning to come back to Canada this year, but in the Summer. When COVID-19 hit - One week everything was fine and happy and I was considering staying in Colombia long term - The next week I made it out of the country maybe a day or two before Colombia closed their borders to everyone in and out.

What factors drove your choice?

I bailed because I wasn't prepared to hunker down as a solo traveler in a country I didn't speak the language of for maybe months while the world dealt with COVID-19. 

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

100%. Being back in Canada gives me the support of the medical system here, gives me the support of family and friends. This got really big really fast - I wouldn't want to be anywhere but home to whether a storm like this.

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  • William Pines
  • Manila, Philipppies

How long have you been living overseas, and where were you living before travel restrictions went in place?

  • u/blorg- I'm in Thailand. I've been overseas ten years now, the first 5-6 cycling my bike from Ireland to Indonesia, then settled in Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai).
  • u/blingless8- I left Canada in July, [so] 7 months [overseas] plus 2 [months] in KL [Kuala Lumpur].
  • William Pines- I did a two week test trip 2019 October. Returned [to Manila] just before Christmas with no particular expected return date.
  • u/Asyro- We moved to Singapore in 2015, then Australia in 2017, and back to Singapore in early 2019. We're bouncing around a bit, but not nearly as nomadic as some of the people on this sub. If you still find these answers useful, please feel free to use them!
  • u/Beca_Meethena- I've been over seas since Feb 2nd. I am currently living in Krakow, Poland.

Why did you decide to stay vs return to home?

  • u/blorg- I consider this home now so yes, I'd stay here, however long it goes on. I have confidence in the healthcare system here, I've been in hospital here quite a bit including an extended stint for several months that required mechanical ventilation at the start to keep me alive.

    They are competent. Also whether it's the heat or something else, the virus does seem to be having a harder time transmitting here. It's certainly not a time to be complacent, but the numbers in Thailand still seem for now to be low, and somewhat under control. So I actually have more confidence in it being handled successfully here, than in most European or North American countries. Although Ireland, my home country, does seem to have a better handle on it than the UK or US at least, certainly it did more and faster/earlier in the outbreak.

    So yes however long it goes on I would stay. I did actually come back "home" here to Chiang Mai from Phuket (also in Thailand but 1,500km south) because of the lockdown, it got to the point where if I wanted to come back I'd better do it now, so I did, I got the last flight and just before both provinces went into basically full lockdown.
  • u/blingless8- I was born in Malaysia but have never lived here. - I lived in Qatar for a few years and Canada most of my life - recently decided that I'm moving and basing myself out of KL - I'm more confident that the Malaysian government would be able to control the direction of the general public in a crisis better then the Canadian government would - allowing Canadians to voluntarily follow suggestions for too long will prove to be a bad decision in the long term versus enforcing protocols early in a time of crisis as Malaysia has done.
  • William Pines- The choice was between staying in my smaller, poorer area of Manila vs. heading to my last residence in Las Vegas vs the family homestead in Michigan.
    I looked at this and said:

    -A fairly authoritarian society that is an island nation has built in social distancing and 'firebreaks' naturally.
    -While my political leaning are anti-authoritarian an authoritarian society has the ability to enforce a lock down much better than the US or Europe will.
    -This place is a poor agricultural society where the supply lines are measured in tens of miles. Also a major stop over for shipments from China for durable goods. It seems pretty ideal.
    -Also, money will get you anything here for medium term emergencies. This puts me in a good position.
    -The trip back to the States would be more dangerous than riding it out here.

    I check and there are flights every day still if I need to get back. I think there is enough uncertainty in the situation that both plans have inherent risks and unknowns. I have set up a life here pretty well, and I am not ready to leave it.
  • u/Asyro- Home really is Singapore (right now) - it never even occured to us to head back to Canada for a few reasions... 1) we have a lease and all of the trappings of a permanent residence here 😀 2) We felt that Singapore was handling things better than in North America 3) the weather is nicer here 😉
  • u/Beca_Meethena- "Home" for me is in Arlington, TX. My dad, sister and other close relative live there. I decided to stay here because this is where my fiance and I planned to live for some time. We wanted to start our journey to travel the world and decided to start here in Krakow, as this is his hometown. I pretty much moved to stay and planned to not go home to Arlington for some time.

If the pandemic extends for another 30-60 days, would you make the same decision?

  • u/blorg- I guess. Here I know people, I have been in the hospital here before, etc. If it came to that. And I have my stuff, what stuff I do have. I have a long-term visa for Thailand now which fixes that problem, this is a major problem for many others stuck here now with no way out and the government is not being as helpful with that as they could be. I'm OK which is great but I feel for these people and really they should just extend everyone's visa until this is all fixed- as many other countries in the region have done.
  • u/blingless8- Absolutely. I'm a pessimistic optimist. Although I hope for the best, I plan for the very worst. I've mentally prepared and expect to be in self-isolation for up to 6 months and I'd still feel better about being in a region that has experienced similar threats and their ability to deal with catastrophe versus Canada/Canadians in the same scenario.
  • William Pines- I was fully expecting this lock-down to last for months from the beginning. So I went in with that assumption.
  • u/Asyro- Yup, absolutely. We have no intention of heading back to Canada, especially seeing the news every night about how things are going back there.
  • u/Beca_Meethena- Yes as for the time being, Krakow is my home.

What city or country would be your primary choice to live during a COVID-19 lockdown and why?

  • u/blorg- So I guess I'm not really so nomadic anymore, I am home, it's just not my original home.
  • u/blingless8- If I had the option to go somewhere else, Singapore would be ideal as they have a huge advantage in data collection for contact tracing and rapid deployment of plentiful resources. It helps that they wrote the book on planning ahead. Their infrastructure would support my digital needs and political stability would ensure my safety. But that said, 21 days of the Movement Control Order here has been extremely comfortable and safe.
  • William Pines- Were I in USA, I would not fly here to ride it out. I have three places I frequent: Philippines, Vegas, rural Michigan. Wherever I happen to be for this would be fine. For a year long, I think I want to be in Michigan. For this one, which ever of the three I am at will be fine.

    Along with being a FIRE guy, I am also a prepper. I would be ready for this in USA, but less so here. As soon as it got serious, I laid in 20 of the purified water containers, huge amounts of rice and shelf stable foods. I got three large barrels to hold non-potable water.
  • u/Asyro- I think Singapore actually! 3 (4?) months in to the pandemic and we've only just broken 1,000 cases, despite being one of the earlier countries to start seeing cases, and we've just had our 5th death. We have adequate stockpile of PPE, and have no bed shortages in hospitals - in short the healthcare system is unlikely to be overwhelmed.

    The government has been taking reasonable and cautious steps to curb infections, while at the same time trying to preserve as much freedom as possible. Retail and restaurants are STILL open, albeit with safe distancing measures in place. Gatherings are still allowed, though no more than 10 people. Most companies have implemented WFH measures, but we're not on complete lockdown like a lot of other countries. I think that Singapore is handling this really well and it's probably the safest place we could be to ride this out.
  • u/Beca_Meethena- Honestly, I am unsure of how to answer this question. I see the news and hear from others back home in Texas and not sure being back in the US is the most beneficial. The government took too long to be proactive to contain the spread, testing is still limited and feel like I would be in more danger than here in Poland. The Polish government, I think really took quick action in taking the threat of the virus seriously and made sure its citizens started to take necessary precautions.

    But at the same time, ideally - I want to be closer to my close friends and family. I'm scared of the idea of something happening to my father, who is diabetic and is still going to work, getting sick and God forbid passes away and I can't be there or won't get back home in time.
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Who is Marco Sison?

Hi, That's me. I'm Marco Sison. I am a survivor of the corporate rat race. I started Nomad FIRE to illustrate an alternative to the stress and grind of 70-hour weeks to pay off a mortgage, a car, student loans, and countless bills. I said screw it all 5 years ago and retired early at 41 years old to travel the world. Nomadic FIRE shows you how to achieve the same upgraded life.

Currently waiting out the pandemic in Dumaguete, Philippines.

WRAP UP 

Whew! Congratulations for powering through and making it this far.

Over 16 personal experiences on what goes through your head when living abroad during a pandemic. While we hope that we will never have to make another pandemic level decision, it is good to understand the thought processes, fears, and concerns that people have when living abroad. When things get rough and stress is high, when backup plans blow up in your face, do you to stay abroad or to head home? What would you do? What criteria do you use to make a decision? How safe is safe? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

Interested in some of the countries referenced in this post? Check out these additional articles to learn more about the countries above, including cost of living, social life, food scene, and visas requirements.


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Stay or Go Home? The Challenges of Living Abroad During a Pa…

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