Many of us have dreamed of living for an extended time in another country. Or maybe even retiring somewhere outside the United States. But living in a foreign country is not for everyone.
Meet our special guest Steve Novak, a retired US citizen, who started traveling at age 16, has visited 70 countries, and inhabited extensively in over 20 different places. Steve, now resides in Buenos Aires, Argentina full time, and has even obtained a green card to live and work there.
We'll ask Steve to explain what it's like to live abroad. This interview will explore, health care, money, taxes, visas, language, food, and adapting to the lifestyle of a place outside the US.
As a world traveler, Steve Novak will provide insights into living as an ex-Pat, so you can decide if living abroad is in your future. Do not miss this episode!
Transcription EP.6 Getting Your Edge: how to right-size your home and life podcast
Title: Ex-Pat or Not? Is Living Abroad Right for You?
Dennis Day 0:00
Welcome back everyone, to episode six of getting your edge, how to right size your home and life podcast brought to you by the fabulous edge group real estate team where you get your edge and all your real estate needs. We have a great show for you today. I'm one of your hosts Dennis day. And with me is the other host and Team Leader of the edge group real estate team, Judy Grafton. Welcome, Judy.
Judy Gratton 0:29
Thanks, Dennis. Good to see you.
Dennis Day 0:32
So today we're going to discuss what it's like to live abroad otherwise known as living as an expat. Our guest today is the most traveled man I know. His name is Steve Novak. How are you today, Steve?
Steve Novak 0:45
That's fine. Dennis, thank you for inviting me.
Judy Gratton 0:48
Before we start the interview, Dennis and I asked you to do what all podcasters ask, please, if you enjoyed this podcast, we need your feedback. Please like us, share it with someone who could use this information. Write a review on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get this podcast. This will really help us to grow our audience. Okay, onward.
Dennis Day 1:11
Let me give you some background. Steve and I have known each other since about seventh grade. Right. And we won't tell you exactly how many years that is. But let's just say it's been some time. And we met in the 70s while back. Steve and I palled around in high school maybe did a few slightly illegal things occasionally. But I think we really became good friends after you got your degrees through college. So let's give it a little background. Steve, who is Steve? No,
Steve Novak 1:44
Good question. Thank you. I didn't realize you were a psychologist. And so I haven't talked to that. Normal Seattle, Kenmore Engel more graduate, University of Washington. I guess one big experience was going to Mexico as a junior in high school for a cultural exchange. And that sort of changed my life a bit. And I'm still very close to the people in Puebla, Mexico. Anyway, so I took a five year break between university and grad school, it was hired in New York two years and then was hired in Miami to and they asked me to go to Argentina, because of my knowledge of financial matters, as well as my Spanish. And that was for a six month posting expat posting in Argentina. And that was 30 years ago. So for for those of you listening, I obviously don't like it down there. But for whatever reason, I stayed for the last 30 years. That's,
Judy Gratton 2:45
Can you can you explain to people why people like you are referred to as expats. Is there a specific reason behind that?
Steve Novak 2:56
That's an excellent question, Judy. Actually, I don't know how it is now. But back when I started working professionally, 30 some years ago, an expat was somebody who was hired by a company with offices around the world, and usually a two to three year posting in each country. So that's my definition of an expat. Anyway, so yeah, so they sent me to Argentina. And then I went to Dubai for five years, to Taiwan for two years. Italy for a year, and Nicaragua for a year. And I actually can't remember where else but many, many countries, but so it's someone who is employed by a usually a very large company, in my case, banking. And you have a posting every couple of years
Dennis Day 4:00
It seems to have morphed into anybody who's living abroad that is an American.
So how many countries have you actually lived in visited?
Steve Novak 4:15
Both? Well, as we were discussing earlier, today, I, I go with 200 countries in the world. And this is not to show off, it just works out this way that I think I've been close to 70 countries in the world, which is above and beyond my expat experience, but I've lived many places, but I've also traveled very, very many places. And often people ask me, well, where have you lived more for more than a couple of months? You know, it's not just airport and I don't know the answer to that. But I would say probably 20 or 25 countries that I've lived in for More than three months. So if you have any quick questions, don't ask me. A lot of
Dennis Day 5:08
All right, you've retired and you're based in, in, in Argentina in Buenos Aires, what is what is it about Argentina and Buenos Aires that makes you want to live there?
Steve Novak 5:21
Yeah, I think the bigger picture is, as I mentioned earlier, as a junior in high school, I did do a cultural exchange program. And don't ask me how I learned Spanish. Because I don't come from a Latin or Spanish family. But I've always said it's like, you sit your child in front of a piano and they play and you don't know why because no one plays piano in your family. languages for me is like that. So at least I have one positive thing in my history. And to your point, Dennis, why Argentina? Well, certainly Argentina, being a Latin country, people ask me Do people speak English in Argentina? And I believe so there's call centers we all know about call center are quite big in the Philippines, but also in Argentina. So I'm, I'm guessing for those of you who might wonder, I don't speak Spanish. How would I do in Latin America? Certainly Argentina, I think would be good. Why else do I live in Argentina? I just part of it. It's just been there a long time. Very friendly people. Very European culture. Most people think of South America, they think of Mexico, and not so much further south. But Argentina is very, very France based French based in their architecture in their cell. It's like a small Europe, within South America. There's many reasons.
Dennis Day 6:47
What is it about Buenos Aires?
Steve Novak 6:50
I was born and raised were pretty close to where I'm sitting right now in Rural King County. Actually. I was my first posting after grad school was New York City. And for whatever reason I fell in love with large cities. In Argentina is not that big. It's only 15 million people. And you know, and what does that bring is all the culture the theater, the shows the restaurants, it's just a very vibrant city. And even though I wasn't born in a vibrant city, Kenmore has never really thought of as a vibrant city. But anyway, boy, yes, it is. I just love big cities and all that that brings and the European culture and all of that.
Judy Gratton 7:45
So what is different about living abroad versus living at home in the United States? Besides the obvious like language and money? What else? Your home? What does it look like? Your, your daily routines, are they different than they would be here?
Steve Novak 8:05
If we take daily routines, Visa, vie Kenmore, and rural outside of Seattle, in this case, it's just I live in a nice neighborhood, some people would say the Upper East Side, to compare it with New York, you know, I have my flower shop. Right as I end as I exit my 10 storey building, there's my and I have my kiosko my kiosk where I get my newspaper and that, and then another block away is the coffee shop, of which there are only about 40 million in Bordeaux sided. And my you know, it's just living in the upper side, New York, let's say, you know, that is, if you've been there and can relate to that. It's everything is right there. And I'm not sure if that answered your question, but it's that city living that I enjoy.
Dennis Day 9:02
Okay, so let's get down to some really specific things like taxes. How do you do your taxes on your own Argentina?
Steve Novak 9:10
So for those of you who I assume most of you have a US passport, us a is one of the only countries in the world that taxes you on your worldwide income. And so you are required to your 1040 Wherever you make your money, that Europe is not like that, in most countries are not like that. So for those of you like I say, I'm assuming that all of you if not all of you are passport holders of the United States of America would have to do your 1040. The only twist in certain countries certainly Argentina is they don't have a tax treaty. And I won't delve into that subject but the US and UK for instance, have tax treaties. So whatever you pay, if you're working in the UK as a US, that part can be deducted From your us, maybe not one to one, but they have a treaty in Argentina, they don't. So if you plan to work in Argentina, you'd pay taxes to Argentina and back taxes to the US. So from a tax standpoint, it's not good. But I'm assuming that many of you listening are retirees who might not be making money in Argentina, but you still have to file your 1040.
Dennis Day 10:23
So you mentioned passports and visas, do you? How do you deal with visas and living in other countries for an extended period of time?
Steve Novak 10:35
Yeah, the question of visa is no valid question. I actually don't know because I've been a green card holder in Argentina for 30 years. So I don't need a visa since I'm a permanent resident of but for those of you who do not have your green card for Argentina, I believe you have six months each trip in origin, it could be 90 days, it could be six months, but there's no visa required.
Judy Gratton 11:05
But that varies in other countries, correct?
Steve Novak 11:09
Absolutely. Brazil used to have a visa, and then they got rid of that. But many countries do. I know Australia? I'm quite sure. I know. When I went many years ago, you didn't need a visa for New Zealand. So yeah, definitely check the website of the State Department. But it does depend on the country. But it's not that many around the world. But US citizens need visas. It does exist.
Dennis Day 11:35
What about health insurance? You're in a different country? And how was that handled in Argentina? Or if you were, you've spent time in Taiwan, you're in Italy, and so forth? How did you deal with that?
Steve Novak 11:49
Most of the countries I mentioned where I did live, I was employed. And so the company did take care of the health insurance. For many of you listening, you might be either retired or thinking of retiring overseas, in which case, I guess you would have to determine, you know, how much time will you spend half the year in the US and half the year over? Let's say one example, six months in the US six months in Argentina, then presumably you'd have American insurance, health insurance, in which case, you'd have to ask them, maybe they cover you anywhere you are in the world. In my case, I don't have us because I'm not because I'm a permanent resident. But that's where I live and full month of health insurance is about $100. And I'm sure that's pretty close to what I pay here. Or maybe not anyway. So yeah, relatively speaking. If you decided to live in Mexico, or Argentina, or many countries, I'm sure you would find the health insurance less expensive. So
Judy Gratton 12:54
On the health insurance question, what about like prescription medications, staying in the hospital, doctor's appointments? I know, people that have gone to Mexico, if they stay there for a certain period of time, they can actually take advantage of the Mexican Health Insurance Program, which is free. And so I think in every country, it's a little bit different. Along those lines, if you don't have a policy that you would use, like if you were just going to visit another country, is that correct?
Steve Novak 13:25
Leave Mexico would be similar to Argentina, in this respect, that is true around the world. You know, if you got the money, you got better health, I could go to the public health hospitals in Buenos itis where I live, but I think if I needed a knee replacement, and I might not be alive by the time my appointment comes up. And that's true in many countries, you know, so it is free. But if you don't have the money to put down, it's like Canadians, they pay money to come here to get their knee replacement done. I would say it's very similar in Argentina, probably in Mexico that it does exist that you can go to a public hospital and get care. But you would probably have to wait in line. The good thing is you don't have to pay a lot to have the insurance that I do, which is nothing fancy for $120 a month,
Dennis Day 14:19
You've gone to 70 countries and you've gone to you've lived in about 15 or so for extended times. What about the cost of living? Have you found it varies wherever you are, yeah, very much
Steve Novak 14:31
So, I can speak to many countries but certainly where I am now in Argentina or where I live, you know they have 100% inflation per year. So for those Americans listening to my speech here, you should feel lucky only have 7%. But if you have dollars and this is where I think where I would take this question is I am dollar based my earnings were always in dollars and I have dollars saving and so even though the cost of Living rises by 100% per year, as long as the dollar rises versus the local currency, in this case, the Argentine peso, you know, you're okay. And so it's very inexpensive. In Argentina, I rent 100 square meters, what does that 1000 square foot in a very nice neighborhood for around four or $500 a month, and you gotta spend condominium expenses, which is usually $100. But anyway, so it's very, very, I think any of you listening would find most countries outside of Europe or Hong Kong to be very to be very good for you. If you're $1 based, it does depend on the exchange put
Dennis Day 15:41
All your savings into a US Bank and and keep your money in dollars. And and you probably come out pretty good. Okay,
Judy Gratton 15:49
so So you say you're renting in Argentina? Have you ever owned property in another country? What is there? Are there hoops that you have to jump through to buy property in another country?
Steve Novak 16:02
I'm not an expert in Mexico. I've been many, many times as far as but I believe in Mexico along the coast, you cannot buy. I don't know if that's still true. They're very protected of their coastal in Argentina. There's no restrictions. You know, you don't even have to be a permanent resident in Argentina to own property in Argentina. I did own it one time. And yeah, no problem I saw only because I came back to work in in the US for a few years. But there's really no legal restrictions for an American to own property. In Argentina.
Dennis Day 16:44
How about safety? Have you ever felt unsafe in a place?
Steve Novak 16:48
Yeah, I was up in the Bronx around midnight. One night? And I'll tell you, Oh, you're talking about overseas? Oh, well, so I guess the point might have been taken. Hopefully, that, you know, there's no place it's safe. And there's no places dangerous. And there's both there's places in America that I wouldn't want to go to and you just have to be smart, smart in a you know, keep your eyes open. You don't want to go to the Bronx, by the way, probably best o'clock at night. I love New York. Don't take that wrong for you. Bronx sights, or whatever you call them. But, you know, there's just places in Seattle, I wouldn't want to go at night. And I'm sure you would all agree, you know, so you just have to be aware of where you go. I was with my mother and father in Rio. And my mother had her diamond wedding ring on the local bus. You know, I said, Mom, you know, probably going to take that off. You know, you're not in imminent danger. But you have to always, you know, how many people know somebody who went to Paris subway and got their wallets in? So just keep your eyes out?
Dennis Day 17:54
What are some downsides to living abroad?
Steve Novak 17:57
Well, I think it depends who you are. As we were talking earlier this afternoon, a question related to that is somebody says, Well, Steve, that sounds great. Argentina, wonderful, great wine, great, meet the whole thing. But I don't speak Spanish. So getting close, I wouldn't worry about that. First thing I wrote, As a note to myself is, you know, go visit the place before you move there. I mean, hopefully, that's clear to all of you, you know, you wouldn't just sell the house and take container down to Argentina. But take a look, you know, in the larger cities, certainly Mexico City, buenos itis and Bogota. A high level of English is spoken around the world.
Judy Gratton 18:40
And I have had experience in living in other countries and literally got thrown into it, not speaking the language. And for about a month, it was very, very difficult. But what I found when I tried people were very helpful. So what I also found is, if you think speaking louder will mean that the person who doesn't understand English is going to understand you any better. That is not true. So I found that if I just try and speak the language and tell them, you know, forgive me, I'm trying people will go out of every country I've ever been in where I've spoken, tried to speak their language. I've had good luck with it. So I don't think language needs to be a barrier. I think you begin to get it because you have to I lived in Tokyo and I I had to learn to read to get out of a train station. Are there any other downsides to living abroad? Say for instance, I know you've mentioned the meat in Argentina. When I was in Japan, the first time I was there, I found the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken, because initially I'd never tasted Japanese food and at the time, I didn't like it. And so eventually I fell in love with it and sushi and the whole nine yards. So she made everything but are there other things that like the way the house is maybe built sort of a thing? How do you central heating central hot water? Do you have to heat a hot water tank every time you use it? Things like that.
Steve Novak 20:14
So my career was in finance. So I always go to financial thoughts when I hear anything, actually not just questions, but I think I think to just back up for a second on your question 2d is, what's the motivation? And what is your and what is one's mental thoughts on change? Because it's more than just language, it's more than just food, we could call that culture, the big picture culture. And so I would do a reverse pyramid. Actually, if you really want to see it, just let me know. Let Dennis know. But anyway, it's really an inverted pyramid. Are you who are listening to this? Are you okay? To change the way you act, the way you see the way you eat? You know, some people aren't and that's okay. So, I mean, if you're just not there, then you probably good to stay in Denmark, or wherever you might be. And that's okay. A lot of people stay here, you know, so kind of work down the ladder as Okay, so I took a little Spanish Okay, so that's a start. And I'd really like to participate in new culture, okay, you know, you work down these decision, if you know, these decisions. And you know, if the first thing you think of is, well, I gotta eat really good meat and drink good wine, but I don't speak Spanish. And that doesn't make me comfortable, then. You know, it definitely requires a second thought. All right,
Dennis Day 21:49
You've been only 70 countries, what country or new areas on your bucket list for places to go in the future?
Steve Novak 21:58
Yeah, like I said, there's 200 countries, and I'm only at 70. So I got 130 to go. So that would be my quick answer there. But yeah, as Dennis and I were talking earlier today, I've never been Norway. No. Where am I going? Oh, in April, I don't even know where I'm going. I'll have my people get all your people. But yeah, I Helsinki, I've never been to Norway, I've been to Scandinavia. I'm favorite country, by far. My favorite place, Jerusalem. I was fortunate to have gotten there many years ago. And I would like to go back. It's not religious. I'm not Jewish is neither here nor there. But just gives me goosebumps thinking about, you know, the dawn of everything we know, pretty much. And anyway, so yeah, going to Venice. And when did I say it was going? Yeah, February and, and? And Finland? And, yeah, I mean, there's nothing that's going to stop me from jumping on a plane to go somewhere. I would encourage all of you who haven't thought about this to just buy a ticket. It all
Judy Gratton 23:02
Sounds so exciting and interesting. And like you said, it isn't always for everyone. But I think your idea of just going and trying it for a short period of time and see if it works for you. Is is a really, really great idea. So do you have any last words of advice for anyone who might be thinking of living abroad? I mean, you mentioned taking a container of your items. Did you do that? Did you move your do you move your furniture from country to country to country? Do you suggest Living Light? How does that work?
Steve Novak 23:38
That's a good question. But I think it's more of a personal I think. But I've the good and bad is that I have moved enough that I don't know. Yeah, you have emotions. But as far as keeping these doilies, they're coming with me. That wouldn't be me. But I think the bigger question is, as I said, visit the place for more than a week, wherever you might decide you might want to move, get to know it a little bit. And the other big thing is, and I am American, I actually do have a US passport. As far as the last time I checked, and, you know, just be open to different ideas that not the rest of the world thinks like Americans, and that's not good or bad. It's just they have different views. Be open, be open to new ideas to new foods to new. And if that's just not your thing, then maybe moving abroad is not your thing. But I think that's a really good lesson that I've had by having lived in many different parts.
Dennis Day 24:51
So if you're not really open to new things, maybe an RV is the better choice. Any last words, Judy?
Judy Gratton 24:57
No, I just I really enjoyed What you had to say thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us. You mentioned your inverted triangle. And we need a freebie for our episode. And I was hoping maybe you had dentists, he could get that from you that might help people look at how they live and make decisions. And that might help them to get a clearer picture as to whether or not living abroad is a good thing for them.
Dennis Day 25:27
All right. Thank you, Steve. And I appreciate everybody who's been our listener today. We'll put up a freebie as soon as possible. And again, please, Like, Share would really help out our podcast, bring awareness to our audience. And that's all for today. See you the next episode. Goodbye.
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