FreeLife: Getting used to paradise
By Claire Wolfe
On July 4, 1997, David Jessup* woke up in Costa Rica -- a U.S. citizen, but no longer a U.S. resident. Why did he go? For the same reason millions came to America in the first place -- to find freedom. Last week he talked about how he came to leave. This week he tells, among other things, what it was like adjusting to his newfound home.
Doug Porter mentions in his article about offshore living, "Tax Freedom Now!" that mail, phone and other things we take for granted can cause unexpected problems for a new expatriate. What was the biggest problem of this sort that you encountered?
Ordinary paper mail took the longest to get to work well. Soon it won't be important at all.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
When you visit a foreign land, you do it because it's different. If you take the same attitude when you're there long term, the cultural adjustments aren't a big deal.
The biggest issue may have been the language barrier. I didn't speak more than a couple of dozen words of Spanish. In places with large American expatriate communities, so many people speak English it's more like a speed bump.
In Costa Rica there's also a lack of concern for private property. Squatters have a lot of official government support there, and there's more trash on the roadsides than the U.S. has had since the 1960s.
What were the two or three greatest benefits in making the move?
The strongest benefits were knowing that we were living our dreams, and the loss of fear that my freedom was at serious risk specifically because I was willing to take action to be free.
You mention using offshore banks. But in my research on the Net I've found that offshore banks tend to require initial deposits of $250,000 or more. Have I just stumbled upon the high-rollers' banks, or is this typical? Ditto with ATM cards -- $50,000 or more in deposits seems a common requirement! Have you found banks that'll do this for a few thousand?
There are very good banks that will accept initial account balances well under $10,000. Look in the Caribbean, the Baltics, and Singapore. You can find them all the way down to an initial deposit of $1000 for your main account and $1500 for your secured Visa card.
Some of these banks almost hide. One of the best ones asks that their information not be put on the Internet. They believe the most visible offshore resources come under the most pressure.
One fairly recent change in the offshore world: Banks in the British Commonwealth are no longer very private. And Switzerland hasn't been a good choice, in my opinion, for many years.
If your income is not much above average and you don't care about privacy, you can just use U.S. banks. The IRS will say you have to pay some taxes, but not much.
(Note: The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that taxes its citizens while they're living abroad. However, there's a $72,000 threshold, below which the IRS doesn't demand a share of your offshore income.)
What -- if anything -- do you say to people who criticize you for "abandoning" the U.S.?
It almost never comes up. But the choice is simple.
You can fight for freedom, or live free.
I believe people have a right to choose their own way of life. Most Americans have made their choice. As John Perry Barlow says, they are "clamoring for shorter chains and smaller cages."
I'm not willing to settle for familiar chains.
When you return to the U.S. (if you ever do), what strikes you as the greatest contrast between your present life and your past life?
I haven't been back. Let's see, I can go where people screech that they are free while eagerly building a police state, or enjoy a tropical paradise with more freedom than I dreamed of. ...
Anything else you want to add that might help potential émigrés know what to expect in a new homeland?
The biggest surprise benefit is the sense of perspective you get about the U.S. after just a few months away. The posturing of politicians there seems even sillier, since it is far less likely to affect you. You think much less about the old country, and much more about the world.
There is a small downside: When you leave, you'll lose credibility with people who stay behind and still believe the propaganda. That seems to be a major reason China lets some dissidents go.
After a while you realize the US isn't the best or the worst place in the world to live. It's just somewhere in the middle of the pack, and moving in the wrong direction. The U.S. seems worse to many of us who grew up there because we were taught to expect much more than that country now delivers. It's not a very free place today, except economically. Even in that area it's not the best choice.
Don't choose another country in hopes it will protect your liberty. They can take freedom, but never give it. Choose a country by how little they damage liberty.
Or choose no country at all.
*Pseudonym to protect privacy
Note: The linked article on the lack of privacy in British Commonwealth banks is from the March 20, 1999 Economist. The link may become obsolete when a new issue of the magazine goes online, but the article should then be available in the magazine's archives. Otherwise check a back issue of the (gasp!) paper version of The Economist.
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