Tag Archive for: FIRE

How We Paid Off $60K of Debt in 3 Years by Moving Abroad

Our story about how we paid off $60K in debt by leaving the USA was featured in Newsweek!

Here’s an alarming statistic: nearly half of all Americans are getting sucked further and further into the whirlpool of debt.

Not too long ago, that was our story too. But today, we’re writing a very different chapter of our lives, one that’s debt free and set on another continent, far from the United States.

Wondering how we got here? Here’s our story…

The American Dream, But at What Cost?

Like so many others, we lived what many would call the “typical American lifestyle.”

We had a nice house with a looming mortgage, two cars (one with monthly payments), and an ever-growing pile of credit card bills and a giant student loan.

But life, unpredictable as ever, threw us a curveball when health problems led to two major spine surgeries. I faced the daunting task of relearning how to walk (twice) and couldn’t drive for several months.

Being self-employed, this medical setback (and pain meds) meant I couldn’t generate any income during the recovery phase. Amelia, doing her best to keep us afloat, took on a local job, even though it meant a 40% reduction in pay.

Every month we were dreading the bills, watching our expenses rise while our income took a nosedive.

See Also: 

Rethinking Our Choices

View of Denver, Colorado skyline at night from our apartment in Uptown.

View from Our Uptown Denver Apartment

We considered cashing in on the appreciated value of our house by opting for a second mortgage. But the thought of sinking further into debt, especially when our monthly expenses were outweighing our earnings, felt like a trap.

So, we made the tough decision to sell our home, using the proceeds to clear off our high-interest credit card debts.

In an attempt to scale down, we moved to a cozy one-bedroom apartment in Uptown Denver. But even with the downsizing and selling a car, our expenses still exceeded our income.

It was becoming crystal clear: If we stayed in the United States, we’d be headed straight for an insurmountable mountain of debt.

Moreover, the looming threat of another medical emergency without adequate insurance could push us into bankruptcy.

Seeking a New Horizon

It was during this crisis that we began to toy with a radical idea: What if we moved to a country with a lower cost of living?

Our research was eye-opening.

If we relocated abroad, our US-based income would not only cover our living expenses but also leave us with enough to gradually pay off our debt.

And so, with two adorable dogs in tow and two suitcases each, we embarked on our journey to Ecuador, landing in the beautiful city of Cuenca.

Our first rental house in Cuenca Ecuador.There, we rented a fully furnished, 3 bedroom/3.5 bathroom house with a courtyard for just $800/month.

Our monthly expenses plummeted from more than $5K to a mere $1500 that first year in Cuenca.

And the best part? We didn’t feel like we were missing out on anything.

Cuenca welcomed us with open arms. We embraced the local culture, dined out, picked up Spanish, and made friends from across the globe.

Living in Ecuador also meant we didn’t need a car. That saved us so much money! No more spending on gas, taxes, maintenance, insurance, etc.

Plus, we loved the fresh, locally-sourced food available for a fraction of the cost compared to the overpriced Frankenfood sold in the U.S.

Though certain goods like electronics, cars, and appliances are pricier in Ecuador, the reduced costs in healthcare, utilities, housing, and public transportation more than made up for it.

In just three years, we went from using our savings and credit cards to cover monthly expenses to being completely debt-free and actually saving money for retirement.

See Also: Introducing FlexFIRE: A More Flexible Approach to FIRE

Embracing a New Lifestyle

Our time in Ecuador also debunked many misconceptions we had. The world isn’t as perilous as we once believed and Ecuador isn’t as bad now as the international news media makes it seem.

Back in the United States, we felt like hamsters on a relentless wheel, exhausted but never really moving forward. Moving to Ecuador gave us a chance to pause, breathe, and reclaim our lives.

That’s why we love Ecuador and have such a deep appreciation for it and its people. It gave us our lives back!

However, we realize Ecuador isn’t right for everyone and the rise in crime has scared many people away. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t another low cost of living country out there with your name on it!

See Also: Expat Country Comparisons

You Can Do It Too!

While our story might seem unique, it’s a path anyone can choose and millions of other people from the U.S. already have.

Relocating abroad doesn’t mean bidding a permanent farewell to your home country. You can easily move, get your finances in order, and if you ever feel the call, return home.

A good life is about choices, and sometimes, all you need is a change in scenery to turn things around.

See Also:

Watch Our Video About How We Paid Off $60K in Debt

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Introducing FlexFIRE: A More Flexible Approach to FIRE

Amelia and I started following the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement around the same time we decided to sell everything we owned back in Denver and move abroad.

We found the simplicity of the FIRE philosophy to “save more, earn more, and invest more” to be easy, refreshing, and attainable.

The ultimate goal of FIRE is to achieve financial independence and leave the traditional workforce far earlier than the standard retirement age. That part was especially appealing to us several years ago.

However, as we’ve moved through the process of paying off more than $60K in debt and maxing out our retirement accounts for the past few years, we’ve come to realize that none of the commonly accepted FIRE strategies fit us perfectly.

Based on some negative media coverage of the FIRE movement over the past year, it doesn’t appear to work for a lot of people, especially those who are struggling to put food on the table every day.

That sparked the idea that we need a new type of FIRE strategy that’s more flexible to current life circumstances, as well as changing future goals.

Before I dive into what we think is the best way to fund your ideal lifestyle, let’s take a deeper look into the FIRE movement.

What is the FIRE Movement?

FIRE is all about financial freedom and having the choice to work on your terms.

It’s not a product or service that’s for sale (it’s not like Crypto). It’s a savings methodology that helps you take control of your finances.

It’s not strictly about early retirement, although that’s the focus for a lot of people. Instead, it’s more about the freedom to choose what you do with your time (the only thing that diminishes every day and you can never get back).

Here is an overview of the three main pillars of the FIRE movement:

#1 Save More Money

Most of us waste FAR more money than we realize. The first step in FIRE is to reduce your daily, monthly and yearly expenses as much as possible by canceling subscriptions you don’t use and reducing or eliminating expensive habits you don’t need.

Cutting Expenses

One Starbucks run per week adds up to several hundred dollars a year in money down the drain (in your bathroom).

Eating out several times a month can add up to thousands of dollars per year.

That car payment, insurance, tags, taxes, fuel, maintenance, parking, tickets, and car wash can add up to $700,000 or more during a lifetime!

And don’t even get me started on smoking! This unnecessary, life-threatening habit literally sends financial liberty up in smoke!

We downsized by selling our house and moving into a one-bedroom apartment when we still lived in Denver. We also sold a car and cut our other expenses, but it wasn’t enough. We still had nothing left to save at the end of the month.

Move Abroad

That’s when we committed to moving abroad to a lower cost of living country (we chose Ecuador), which allowed us to immediately cut 70% off our monthly expenses.

This FIRE strategy is called Expat FIRE for obvious reasons, and it worked like a charm for us. We were able to pay off all our debt in 3 years and we’ve saved more for retirement in the past 3 years than we saved during the previous 15 years combined!

#2 Earn More Money

Even though saving money is the first step, it’s still easier for most of us to earn $1,000 more than it is to save another $1,000 by cutting expenses.

You’ll eventually reach a point of diminishing returns when there just isn’t any more to save, or your life is so miserable from counting the cost of every bean and grain of rice on your plate that you can’t take it anymore.

If you’re scraping by and barely making ends meet (or going into debt every month) on the money you already earn, the only solution is to earn more money.

Here are a few options to put more money in the coffers each month.

Earn More from Your Job

If you have a job, you can ask for a raise, or at least ask what it will take to get a raise. That might mean working toward a promotion with a higher salary.

Despite a tight job market, a lot of employers are still hesitant to pay existing employees more to do the same job, so you might need to look for a new job, either in the same company or at a different company.

Get a Part-Time Job

Getting a second (or third) part-time job is a good way to earn more money if you have the time and energy available to do it.

That sounds like a nightmare and a recipe for burnout to me, but it works for some people.

Start a Side Hustle

The approach we prefer is to start a side hustle that allows you to be your own boss, work from home in your spare time, and offers unlimited income potential that might eventually replace your main job with more than enough to execute your FIRE strategy.

Thankfully, that’s never been easier with the proliferation of online income opportunities that you can do from anywhere. This is the approach Amelia and I took.

See Also: Earn Online Income

How We Earned More Money

When we moved to Ecuador in 2017, Amelia still worked full time for a company based in Denver. I had a bank of web design clients that paid me about $800/month in recurring managed web hosting fees.

And in our spare time, we started our blog and YouTube channel.

During the first year of our channel, we earned almost nothing. During the second year, we earned around $10,000 and after 5 years, we’re earning 6-figures per year.

Amelia still works part-time (about 10 hours per week) for her “real job” back in Denver. However, we’re now earning more from our “side hustle” than we did from Amelia’s full-time job and my web design clients COMBINED back in 2017.

#3 Invest More Money

The final step in the FIRE strategy is to invest the extra money wisely in (mostly) stable, broad-market index funds that track major stock market indexes like the S&P 500.

DISCLAIMER: This information is for educational purposes only and is NOT intended to be financial advice. Please do your own research and consult a financial expert before you make any investment decisions.

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

The major benefit of investing in ETFs is that if one stock on the index tanks or even goes bankrupt, the other stocks help shore it up so your investment doesn’t fluctuate as much.

A lot of FIRE folks put all or most of their investments in ETFs that track the S&P 500, like the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY), Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO), Schwab S&P 500 Index Fund (SWPPX), etc.

There are other indexes that are tracked by a number of ETFs, such as:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTI) – tracks the entire US stock market of nearly 4,000 stocks
  • Invesco QQQ Trust (QQQ) – tracks all the stocks on the NASDAQ stock exchange (mostly tech)
  • iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) – tracks the Russell 2000 index (the smallest 2,000 stocks out of the top 3,000 US stocks)
  • SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF Trust (DIA) – tracks the 30 large-cap stocks on the Dow Jones Industrial Average

Other ETFs track things like foreign markets, precious metals, and bonds, or specific sectors like real estate, tech, retail, commodities, environmental causes, etc.

There are thousands of ETFs that will allow you to invest in things that are important to you while minimizing your risk.

Individual Stocks

Some people are more ambitious and want to take a more active role in their investment strategy, so they buy individual stocks, usually Blue Chip stocks like Amazon, Tesla, Apple, Meta, Coca Cola, etc.

The downside to this approach is if the company misses its earnings estimates or something bad happens to the company or the entire sector, your stock value could plummet.

We actually own several individual stocks that we bought before the stock market correction in 2021 and they still haven’t recovered.

We prefer to minimize our risk and we don’t like spending a lot of time thinking about our portfolio so we’re going to stick with ETFs, at least for now.

Bonds

The bond market has taken a beating since the financial reset of 2022. When the Fed raises interest rates, the face value of bonds decreases because investors are more interested in buying new bonds at the higher rates than old bonds at lower rates.

It’s a complicated system and beyond the scope of this article. However, bonds are typically more stable than stocks so the older you get, the more you might want to have invested in the bond market.

How you choose to invest your savings is a personal decision and based on many factors. Your goal should be to have a diversified portfolio with some stable investments and some higher-risk growth investments. Then leave it for 10 years or more.

Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA)

One final note about your investment strategy is to implement Dollar Cost Averaging. This means that you invest at the same time every month regardless of what the stock market is doing.

When your investment is down, you’ll buy more shares at a lower price. When your investment is up, you’ll buy fewer shares at a higher price. In the end, your investment value will be balanced out by normal market fluctuations.

There’s an old investor manta that states, “Time IN the market always beats timING the market.” Avoid the temptation to wait for the price to fall before buying because it could just as easily go back up and you’ll miss the opportunity to buy low and average the cost.

We have investment accounts with Charles Schwab and Vanguard. We’ve heard good things about Fidelity and there are several other brokerages you can use to manage your investments.

Calculating Your FIRE Number

Your FIRE number is the amount you need saved to live comfortably without needing to work anymore. It’s based on your annual expenses, including housing, food, healthcare, leisure activities, etc.

The standard approach is to multiply this figure by 25, which is the number of years you can expect to be retired and assumes a 4% annual withdrawal rate.

If you retire at 60 and live to 85, you shouldn’t run out of money as long as your annual expenses don’t dramatically increase, or your investment values don’t plummet.

For example, if your annual expenses are $50,000, your FIRE Number would be $1,250,000 (25 x $50K or $50K / 0.04).

Some financial analysts now argue the annual withdrawal rate should be closer to 2% to be more conservative, which would double your FIRE Number.

For example, $50,000 / 0.02 = $2,500,000.

If your plan is to continue working at least part-time into your 70s (like us and a lot of people) while living abroad in a low cost of living country like Ecuador, your FIRE Number will be much lower because you’ll have fewer years in “no work” retirement and your annual expenses will be lower.

Personally, we feel comfortable with the 25 year/4% annual withdrawal calculation so that’s what we use. That means our conservative FIRE number is roughly $30,000 x 25 = $750,000. We still have a long ways to go, but we’re making progress.

FIRE Strategies: Exploring Different Paths to Financial Independence

The FIRE movement has blossomed into various strategies that cater to different lifestyles, income levels, and financial goals. Here are the most popular versions of FIRE:

Barista FIRE

Individuals pursuing Barista FIRE save enough to retire but continue working in a low-stress, part-time job or side hustle. This strategy helps cover some expenses and offers social engagement while prolonging the life of their nest egg.

WiFIRE

WiFIRE is similar to Barista FIRE, but instead of working a traditional part-time job, you work online. This can be through remote jobs, gigs, or influencer outlets like blogging, podcasting, or running a YouTube channel.

See Also: 

Coast FIRE

Coast FIRE means you’ve saved enough early on that you don’t need to contribute further to your retirement savings. You keep working, but only to cover current living expenses. Without the need to contribute more to your retirement savings, you might decide to take a lower paying job doing something you enjoy more.

Fat FIRE

Fat FIRE is for those who wish to maintain or enhance their current lifestyle in retirement. It requires a larger nest egg, allowing for more luxurious spending in retirement. If your current annual expenses are $50,000, you might want to double that (or more) for the Fat FIRE Number calculation.

Lean FIRE

Lean FIRE involves achieving FIRE by cutting expenses and living a minimalist lifestyle. It requires careful budgeting and a lifestyle often well below the average cost of living.

Expat FIRE

Expat FIRE involves retiring to a country with a lower cost of living. This can greatly reduce living expenses, stretching your savings further while immersing you in a new culture. We think this option will have the single biggest impact on your FIRE goals.

See Also:

Slow FIRE

Slow FIRE is about taking your time on your way to financial independence. This strategy promotes incorporating elements of your dream retirement into your current life, balancing living for now with planning for the future. It might take you longer to reach your FIRE Number, but your life will be more enjoyable along the way.

MoFi (Moderate FI)

Similar to Slow FIRE, MoFi emphasizes the journey to financial independence over early retirement. It promotes balanced living while slowly building wealth over time.

Hybrid FIRE

Hybrid FIRE blends multiple FIRE strategies. For example, you might amass a large nest egg (Fat FIRE) but choose to live in a country with a lower cost of living (Expat FIRE) while still working online (WiFIRE).

FlexFIRE: A Customized Approach to Financial Independence

Amelia And JP on a swing with bright orange and yellow wings in Baños Ecuador.Over the past several years, Amelia and I found that it was impossible for us to stick to one FIRE strategy.

What made sense when we started (Lean FIRE), wasn’t as necessary after we moved abroad (Expat FIRE) and started earning consistent income from our YouTube business (WiFIRE).

Then, when we paid off all our debt, our strategy changed again when we wanted to increase our quality of life by spending more on rent and travel (Slow FIRE).

Now that we have more stable income from a variety of passive income streams, it has changed yet again (Fat FIRE).

After looking back over our years of implementing the FIRE strategies, we realized that our flexible approach to FIRE was missing from the list.

What we now call FlexFIRE incorporates aspects of Hybrid FIRE by combining different strategies based on what works best for the individual. However, FlexFIRE goes further by assuming continuous income from part-time work (Barista FIRE) or online income (WiFIRE) rather than a traditional “no-work” retirement.

It’s a highly adaptable approach that underscores the importance of living well now (tomorrow is not guaranteed) while still focusing on planning and saving for future financial independence.

Most importantly, it remains flexible to changing life circumstances and encourages you to reevaluate your strategies regularly based on what’s important to you and where you are on your FIRE journey.

FlexFIRE not only reduces the total amount you need to save for financial independence, but also encourages you to keep your mind and body active so you live a longer, healthier, more meaningful, and more Unconventional Life.

Final Thoughts…

The FIRE movement offers a tantalizing alternative to traditional work life, highlighting freedom and flexibility over the standard 9-to-5 grind.

Whether you choose Barista, WiFIRE, Expat, Coast, Fat, Lean, Slow, MoFi, Hybrid, or FlexFIRE, the goal is to make your money work for you, providing the freedom to live life on your terms.

The beauty of FIRE is that it’s not about retiring from something—it’s about retiring to something. And what that “something” is, is entirely up to you.

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING WE GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH OUR LINKS. THERE IS NO COST TO YOU AND SOMETIMES YOU'LL EVEN GET A DISCOUNT BY USING OUR LINK. PLEASE READ OUR DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

 

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Redefining Retirement: Pursue Your Passion and Live a Life with Purpose

Far too many people spend their entire lives working hard to make someone else rich, only to find that when they finally cross the finish line to retirement, they’re bored and aimless.

Sadly, this is the reality for many who retire, leading to deteriorating health, depression, and early death.

And now, according to recent studies, more baby boomers than ever are becoming homeless. It takes just one crisis, like a job loss or medical bills, to push someone nearing retirement onto the streets!

The traditional concept of retirement is outdated, but you can redefine your retirement to make it more fulfilling and purposeful while protecting yourself from the dire consequences of unexpected hardships.

The Problem with Traditional Retirement

Redefine RetirementWith traditional retirement, you spend your whole life saving as much as possible, work to a certain age, and then stop working. A lot of retirees stop doing much of anything.

If you live in the United States, the rising cost of living and healthcare may eat away at your retirement savings faster than you expected, and that could lead to financial disaster later in life.

However, according to an article from MarketWatch, the retirement mindset is changing. People are beginning to realize that saving enough money for retirement is important, but having choice, autonomy, and agency matters even more.

Redefining Retirement: Live Life on Your Terms

Retirement doesn’t have to be a death sentence. By ditching the outdated concept of traditional retirement, you can create a life that revolves around your passions and interests.

Today’s retirees are redefining what it means to retire, with many continuing to work on their own terms or pursuing delayed dreams.

Here are some suggestions for how to redefine your retirement:

  • Try something new – Explore new hobbies or interests that bring you joy and a sense of purpose.
  • Turn your passion into a business – Utilize your life experiences and interests to create a meaningful, purpose-driven venture.
  • Create passive income streams – Although passive income is not entirely passive, it can allow you to live life on your terms and prioritize what truly matters to you. Check out our Online Income eCourse for ideas and quick start checklists.

We’ve seen it ourselves – people living unconventional, freedom-based lifestyles that they thought were unattainable.

Moving abroad, for example, has provided us with the flexibility and freedom to shape our lives in ways we never thought possible.

If you’re in your 30s, 40s, or 50s and don’t have enough investments or income to retire yet, you’re not alone. Neither do we.

But it’s never too early or late to take control and redefine your retirement, which might mean retiring early (with the right plan).

Overcoming Retirement Obstacles

To break free from the constraints of traditional retirement, and possibly retire early, consider these strategies:

  • Reduce expenses – Cut back on unnecessary spending, such as retail therapy or buying things you don’t need.
  • Downsize – Consider moving to a smaller home or relocating to a more affordable area.
  • Move to a low-cost country – Many countries offer a lower cost of living, allowing your retirement savings to stretch further.
  • Pay off debt – Use the Debt Snowball Method to pay off your debts and free up more money for saving and investing.
  • Earn more money – Start a side hustle or find online income opportunities.
  • Save and invest – Look into financial strategies like the FIRE movement to boost your savings and investments.

It seems cliche to say you need to spend less and earn more, but it really is that simple.

You can reduce your expenses starting today by cutting out things you don’t need. For most people, housing and cars are the biggest expenses, but it might take longer to downsize those.

We sold our house in the suburbs of Denver and moved into a one-bedroom apartment downtown. Then we sold one of our cars. When you factor taxes, insurance and maintenance into the equation, the savings was well over $2,000 per month!

It might take a little longer to start a side hustle to earn extra income, but that’s probably easier than you think, too.

It took us almost a year to earn income from our YouTube channel, but that was due to a lack of knowledge. If we were starting over today, we would be able to earn income within the first two months because of the lessons we’ve learned.

 

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Discovering Your Ideal Retirement Destination

If the idea of redefining your retirement and moving to a new country sounds appealing, we’ve compiled a list of 5 popular countries to work online or retire early according to World Population Review (2022).

These countries offer a blend of affordability, excellent healthcare, and beautiful landscapes, making them perfect for anyone looking to embrace a new way of life.

Panama

Panama is known for its lower cost of living (compared to the US), large expat community, and excellent healthcare (#56 CEO World ranking).

Its proximity to the US and the use of the US dollar make it a popular choice for expats. Many locals speak English, although learning basic Spanish is recommended.

Panama offers a 6-month tourist visa, a 9-month digital nomad visa (with extensions available), and a pension visa with a requirement of $1k/month.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is famous for its “Pura Vida” or “Pure Life” lifestyle, focusing on simplicity and well-being. With stunning mountains, beaches, and incredible wildlife, it’s a nature lover’s paradise.

Costa Rica ranks #50 for healthcare (CEO World) and offers digital nomad and long-term visas, including a 1-year DM visa (renewable with a requirement of $3k/month) and a pensioner visa with a $1k/month requirement.

Mexico

Mexico offers more than just beautiful beaches! You’ll also find great places to live inland like Lake Chapala, Ajijic, Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende, boasting pleasant weather and rich culture.

With its affordability, large expat communities, and good healthcare (#29 CEO World ranking), Mexico is a popular destination for those seeking an “America Lite” experience.

Mexico offers 2-year temporary visas that allow you to work but doesn’t have an official digital nomad visa.

Ecuador

Ecuador is a birdwatcher’s paradise with more bird species per square kilometer than any country on earth. Plus, the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon rainforest are waiting for you to explore them.

The country is known for its culture, excellent healthcare, dental tourism, and affordability, with the US dollar as its official currency.

Ecuador offers a digital nomad visa with a 2-year term that can be converted to permanent residency. To qualify, you’ll need a monthly income of $1,350 (as of April 2023). Other visa options include pension, investment, and professional visas, making Ecuador one of the easiest places to relocate.

 

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Malaysia

Malaysia is an extremely developed country with solid infrastructure, a rich history, and high-quality healthcare (#34 CEO World ranking).

Kuala Lumpur was voted the best city for expats in 2022. With its beautiful scenery and affordable cost of living, Malaysia is an attractive destination for digital nomads and retirees alike.

The country offers a new digital nomad visa requiring $24k/year, valid for 12 months with a 12-month extension available. Additionally, Malaysia has a 10-year permanent resident visa and the MM2H visa, a 10-year retirement visa with investment and monthly income requirements.

Final Thoughts

As the concept of retirement evolves, so too should our approach to it. By redefining retirement and focusing on our passions and purpose, we can create a life that’s truly fulfilling and rewarding.

Don’t be afraid to break away from the conventional retirement mold – embrace the possibilities of a freedom lifestyle, location independence, or early retirement.

The choice is yours and there are lots of amazing countries and cities to choose from if you really decide to embrace the unconventional life and move abroad.

Watch Our Video About The NEW Retirement

Videos We Mentioned in the Video:

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING WE GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH OUR LINKS. THERE IS NO COST TO YOU AND SOMETIMES YOU'LL EVEN GET A DISCOUNT BY USING OUR LINK. PLEASE READ OUR DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

 

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Enter your email address to receive helpful and timely information about living abroad, slow travel, having more freedom, and living life on YOUR terms!

You'll also get immediate access to our FREE Live Abroad Toolkit, which we created to help jumpstart your dream of living in another country.