I was raised in a middle class WASP family in Winnipeg. After graduating as an Engineer, I moved to Montreal. There I worked for a large multinational.
Along the way I accumulated enough wealth through investments to become financially independent. I never felt as though I belonged in Canada; it was an accident of birth. I always felt out of place living there.
I began to feel more and more alienated as time passed. I disagreed with the political system and the all pervasive discriminatory policies couched as political correctness. The government was eager to get it’s pound of flesh at tax time but I felt I got little value for my money.
The political system favored minority groups and I began to feel like a second class citizen. I am a Christian but am not attached to any organized religion. I resented the fact that although the government professed freedom of religion, Christianity was under constant siege and treated as a pariah.
I went through a divorce and again felt discriminated against as a man by a justice system. After 20 years of corporate existence, I was leading a life of quiet desperation like 92% of the general working population.
For as long as I could remember I hated winters and, lifestyle always ranked higher than career. I longed to live in a warmer climate. I also felt that most Canadians were politically illiterate and naive, and I had problems resonating with people in general conversations, which at some point would move into the realm of politics.
I never claimed to be smarter, only wired differently, perceiving subtle changes that the general population could not or did not want to see. That image of the Canadian public remains has not changed to this day.
I strongly believe in the inner compass, inner voice, gut feeling, or what ever other term you wish to ascribe to it. This is our umbilical cord to the Divine. I believe that each of us has a unique destiny and this inner conscience guides us along some predetermined path, telling us through subconscious messages what opportunities to seize and which to ignore.
Many of us arrive at some comfort zone in our lives, call it an equilibrium point where we choose to no longer challenge ourselves and we begin to atrophy. As I now reflect on the purpose of life, I realize that it is all about change. If we resist change, and are not following the divine plan for our lives, life will conspire to force us out of our comfort zone and create the needed changes.
In short this is what happened to me. I was overwhelmed by despair; bad marriage, unhappy and desperate job situation, bad politics, cold weather and a feeling that life was beyond my control. At the same time as life’s perfect storm approached the corporation where I worked was downsizing and offered generous separation packages to resign. This was the event that changed my life forever.
My passion in life had been scuba diving. Choosing the Cayman Islands as a new home was not a difficult decision . Residency is not automatic nor easy to obtain. You have to demonstrate sufficient income to support yourself and after 2 years, residency is granted. You must also purchase real estate worth at least $180k US. It is virtually impossible to get a passport in Cayman.
As a simple resident, you are not allowed to work in the local economy. Investing in the markets from a computer is fine which suited me well. As long as you are not infringing on the employment opportunities of the local population you are free to do as you wish.
You see, unlike Canada and the US, in Cayman local citizens have more rights than foreigners. Although this discriminated against me I found it refreshing and logical. The concept of political correctness was unknown.
As I said, lifestyle is important to me. The average yearly temperature was 25 degrees. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The water was the color of windex and I bought a condo on the waterfront.
In Cayman there are no direct income taxes; all taxes are consumption based except real estate where you pay a one time up front tax called a stamp duty (5%): that’s it.
There are no social programs, yet everyone enjoys a high standard of living. There are no pan handlers on the street or begging of any type. Infrastructure is first class and it is a racially mixed society with no racial tension whatsoever.
There are more expats than locals and meeting new friends is easy. Many Canadians work in Cayman but they do so under a work permit system. Employers seeking to employ a foreigner must first advertise the position and qualification in the local newspapers for 2 weeks to see if there are any locally qualified people who apply.
If a local applies then he/she gets the job. Unlike Canada, if you are charged with a felony, you go to jail or are repatriated to your home country without a human rights tribunal or series of court hearings.
Invariably, all the Canadians that I met in Cayman had a special place in their heart for Canada. All talked about how wonderful and special a country Canada was but I never met one that returned.
Overall I believe the Caymanian people are among the happiest people on earth. They live in a first world country with an almost perfect climate.
I have never lived in a country like Cayman where there was complete racial harmony, and there is no legislation needed to bring this about. The government makes it clear that Cayman citizens are 1st class and are protected.
There are few if any social programs. Government revenue programs are few, and since there is no direct income tax, government is small and relatively efficient. There is virtually no unemployment. Foreigners who are not permanent residents and who are not gainfully employed must leave. How could someone living in a system that is so logical not enjoy living there. It all made so much sense to me.
However, Cayman is expensive. And, after a few years, the intuition I mentioned told me Cayman was overdue for a major hurricane. It arrived 6 months after I sold and moved. Ivan a category 5 arrived and destroyed the condo that I formerly owned. Eighty per cent of the buildings on the island were in some way touched by the storm and the clean up was long and arduous.
Every foreigner here thinks exactly as I do. They all fear for the future and have chosen Uruguay as it is peaceful and geographically isolated from potential war zones.
In 2004 I moved to Panama. Why? At that time the OECD and the US Government were on a witch hunt against offshore tax havens. At that time conditions were not favorable for offshore banking, a mainstay of the Cayman economy.
Although I could afford life in Cayman I became annoyed at the high cost of things. At times, I felt ripped off paying $11 for a watermelon.
I moved on to Panama, remarried and settled in the coffee growing region close to the border with Costa Rica. Many foreigners are retired here, and it is a thriving community in the mountains where it is temperate all year round.
Matter of fact there are no palms, only pine forests. It is eternal spring. It is quiet, peaceful and I believe that I enjoyed more freedom than in Canada. Again the laws protect the local population and apart from this there is no concept of first and second class citizens.
To get residency in Panama, you need to demonstrate that you have a qualifying pension or sufficient assets. A passport is possible but these are infrequently issued. The citizenship test is grueling.
Although not everything is readily available from a Home Depot, or Walmart as it is in Canada or Cayman, you can find almost everything you want. Again, many Canadians live here as life is relatively inexpensive and peaceful.
There are weekly meetings for ex-pats in our community with topics of general interest and a community market offering lots of organic and freshly baked products. There are ample opportunities to enjoy the local culture as well as participate in the vibrant expat community. I love Panama for it’s beauty, people and climate.
There are no income taxes on income earned outside the country and if you build a home, you have a 20 year exoneration from real estate taxes. What is there not to like. Health insurance is inexpensive and many doctors are foreign trained. People are friendly and very tolerant towards others.
More recently , I have grown much more concerned about the geopolitical situation. I have been seeking another rabbit hole in the event that a major war breaks out. Somewhere far removed from the clouds of radiation that will encircle the planet which could result from a nuclear exchange.
Fukushima has been a wake-up call as the trade winds circling the globe from west to east have dispersed radiation throughout the N. Hemisphere. For this reason I have been living in Uruguay for the past 6 months seeking residency.
Uruguay is a tougher nut to crack. There has been a big demand for residency here so the requirements have tightened up considerably. Because of the heavy influx of applicants, the process can take more than a year.
The applicant has to demonstrate a monthly income of over $500 and also take up residence in Uruguay during this process. The government conducts spot checks to ensure that people are actually living here. For these reasons many people are critical of the Immigration process in Uruguay. If you are granted residency, there are no income taxes on foreign income.
Uruguay is an expensive country in which to live. It is more socialist than Canada. Uruguayans prefer a paycheck to opening a business. It is a small country of three million surrounded by much larger countries like Argentina and Brazil. All utilities are state owned and as is typical, they over-employ.
As a result, prices for gas and electricity are extraordinarily high. For example I use a laptop, have a couple of hot water tanks and a TV and a couple of lights and my power bill is over $100/mo.
What Uruguay offers is a more peaceful lifestyle than in neighboring countries like Argentina or Paraguay. The people are wonderful and almost all speak excellent English. Education levels are higher than in Panama and the city of Montevideo is very cosmopolitan. There is a winter season which I don’t particularly like but it is much milder than Canada. The palm trees that line the waterfront are a testament to the severity of the winter.
In Panama, there are many retired Americans and ex-military. If I speak to them about my “conspiracy” theories, I am labeled a candidate for an institution. I have found almost nobody who agrees with me.
In Uruguay the thinking is quite different. Every foreigner here thinks exactly as I do. They all fear for the future and have chosen Uruguay as it is peaceful and geographically isolated from potential war zones. We have met several Canadians here who, like I, are seeking residency.
Salaries in Uruguay are much lower than in Canada as would be expected. For example, a well paid professional would earn $1000-1500 US/mo. On the other hand 1500 sq ft condo in Montevideo could cost as much as $250-300k US.
A lot of hot money has moved from Brazil and Argentina and invested in the property market, pushing prices beyond the reach of most Uruguayans. This surprised me when I arrived. The economy here is very robust and has not even begun to feel a slowdown.
I am told that there are a lot of multigenerational families living together here. They feel the pinch of high costs. For example, in Panama I purchased a car that sells for $us 24,000. Here in Ugy, it starts at $ US 46k. On the other hand if you live in a city like Montevideo a car is not necessary as there is an excellent transportation system.
In spite of these financial burdens, people remain upbeat and happy. Again laws favor the citizens and there is no influx of refugees as we see in Canada due to the economic barriers to entry.
In short, the laws are rational and reasonable. If you desire to live in Uruguay you must demonstrate financial independence.
I am renting a 850 sq ft. apt with beat up furniture for $950 US per month plus utilities, in the capital city.
In spite of my weak Spanish and cultural difference, Uruguayans are very tolerant and accepting. They want foreigners to like their country. We have been made to feel very welcome here.
In spite of it’s size, Montevideo is a friendly city where people, sensing that you are confused at times, freely volunteer to assist you.
I am tracked only entering and leaving the country. I do not have to provide social security numbers when I rent an apt or conduct other business activity. I have rights and apart from infringing on employment opportunities for local people, I can do pretty much as I wish.
I am treated as an equal. Uruguay is a happy and peaceful country and am pleased that they have accepted me. As one friend told me; show me another country that has a happy, smiling face on it’s flag.
I feel blessed that I can explore other cultures and contribute to their societies, even if it is mainly economic. It has opened me up as a human being and expanded my horizons. I have no regrets as to the way my life has evolved and now feel totally in control.
I was so fortunate that my subconscious dislodged me from my rut many years ago. Although we are living in dark times with an uncertain future, my life seems to get richer each and every day. Just give me a place to live, where I can feel freedom without restraint and interference from a “well meaning” government; a place where everyone can feel equal and free to develop into the people we were meant to be.
Cayman, Panama and Uruguay offered this to me.