Leaving the U.S. (for a While): Positives & Negatives

Photo credit: Rob Wicks/Unsplash

When we depart for France in May of next year, we have no plans to return to the United States for at least a couple of years, and may be outside the U.S. for as long as four or five years, depending on what’s going on with our family, how we feel, and if we are continuing to enjoy full-time travel. It sounds very exciting, but we are at the beginning stages of figuring out the positives and negatives of leaving the U.S. for a long time without a permanent overseas address. We will maintain an address in Hawaii for tax and other purposes, but otherwise will have nothing left to tie us down here.

There are both positives and negatives to being full-time nomads. I’ll start by getting the negatives (so far) out of the way first:

  • We will not see our family for long stretches. While we plan to visit Japan and see our son and his family at least once a year, spending time with the girls is going to be a bit more difficult. Meiling and YaYu are able to afford to travel and have said they will try to visit us once a year in one of our locations, but it will be much harder, if not impossible, for YaYu, who will be attending grad school. We’re going to set aside a little each month so if necessary we can help with the girls’ transportation costs if they’re able and want to come and see us overseas, especially YaYu (maybe a good reason to get that Delta card and miles?).
  • Our driver’s licenses will expire during our travels. This was one of the main things that was going to keep us on Kaua’i until the end of 2022 – we just could not imagine existing without a driver’s license. Without licenses we would not be able to rent a car overseas for short road trips. However, we finally realized we lived successfully for months on end while we were traveling before without a car and were fine, and that we will be okay again with or without driver’s licenses. Will we want licenses again when we eventually return to the U.S.? After a lot of discussion the best answer we can come up with is maybe. Another problem: without having license (or a car) when we return, how would we go about getting a license again if we do want one? That has turned out to be pretty easy to overcome though. We can sign up for a day or two of practice with a driving school, then use one of their cars and insurance to take the driving test, if necessary. People do it all the time.
  • We’re still responsible for paying U.S. taxes no matter where we go. All I can say is thank goodness for online tax preparation. Brett took care of our taxes while we were on the road before and he can do it again. They were very simple while we were traveling.
  • We will be unable to vote, or at the least it will be very difficult. As two people who have always voted, in every election, this has the potential to be a big negative for us, but we’re also thinking with everything going on right now it might be time for us to be able to observe things from a distance. We’re already looking foward to being outside of the U.S. for next year’s midterm elections.

There are positives to being outside of the U.S. for a while, for us anyway:

  • We can get necessary dental work done for less overseas. We both have major dental procedures coming up that would cost us a small fortune in the U.S. At first, the thought of having to have dental work done overseas was a huge negative, but the more we’ve learned it’s turned into a positive. There are locations overseas where we can get high quality dental work done for far less than it costs in the U.S., and our dental insurance will still cover some of it. So, the big question has become, “Where should we spend some time and see the dentist? Spain? Prague? Malta?” Medical care, if necessary, will also be less expensive.
  • We will be living car free. Brett and I have dreamed about living without a car for a long, long time, but we will have a big opportunity to put it into practice and develop strategies to see if living completely car free actually works for us. We figure if we were able to live without a car in the rural Cotswolds for three months, we can adapt the skills we used then to living car free almost anywhere, although urban settings will obviously be the easiest. We know we may still end up wanting a car once back in the U.S. – that will depend on where we eventually decide to settle – but we may learn we can live without one for good.
  • We will continue to see, explore, and learn new things about the bigger world. It’s not that we wouldn’t or couldn’t learn new things if we were staying in the U.S., and it felt comfortable coming back to the U.S. after being outside of it for several months, but this time around we are looking forward to being “uncomfortable” a bit longer and having to see and adapt to things with different eyes, not only to find what we need to get things done but to understand how others think and see the world. We enjoy learning more about the rhythms and culture of each place we visit and hope longer stays in each place will open our eyes and minds even more.
  • We’ll be putting some distance between ourselves and the current negativity and political polarization in the U.S. This, we feel, will be a very good thing. Sometimes we honestly can’t believe or get over some of the things happening these days, and the anger – the rage – and violence we read about in the news. Although we are still doing well in spite of the current inflation and other changes, there are times when we feel like we can’t recognize our country, while at the same time recognizing the current situation seems the logical end to so many things that happened in the past. We are looking forward to looking at our country from a distance for a while.

Both the pros and cons of living outside of the U.S. are of course highly personal, and particular to our situation. With a permanent overseas residence some of these things would not be an issue or occur, but there would of course be other issues popping up that we’ll be avoiding because we’re nomads. We’re also sure other issues are going to pop up that we haven’t even considered yet. But that is one of the things we found we loved about being nomads before: facing new situations, sometimes difficult ones, and finding strengths we didn’t know we had as well as challenging ourselves to figure things out, all the while learning more about not only ourselves but others as well.

22 thoughts on “Leaving the U.S. (for a While): Positives & Negatives

  1. This month is the 1 year mark for us departing the US after 20+ years residing in the US. We have been holding a review of what has worked for us moving back to Oz and what we don’t miss about California. The number 1 thing that has made us the happiest has been leaving behind the political polarization that you mention. We knew it was stressful when we were living it, but now it’s only looking back that we realise how bad it was. We still have not addressed the voting issue now that we are not US based, but the truth is it’s not something we want to tackle at this time. We choose not to follow the US political situation in any depth because it is such an emotional roller coaster. I dread to think how things will ramp up next year with mid terms approaching. I think 2022 is a good year to get on the road and focus on the things you can control.

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    1. We are especially looking forward to not having to deal with the polarization around the election. I just cleaned out my Twitter account – I kept it fairly positive but the polarization still found its way in. I want to enjoy where I am, know what’s going on, but not be immersed in the heated back and forth all the time. As you put it so well, I want to focus on the things we can control.

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  2. Just curious, you said you will maintain an address in Hawaii. How do you go about doing that if you are not living there? As far as a driver’s license, I don’t know how it is in Hawaii, but in my state, you can renew online, in most cases.

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    1. Actually, according to Brett this morning, we will not be maintaining an address in Hawaii because we don’t have plans to return again. We are going to use a mail forwarding service, probably in Washington state. The service gives you a physical address versus just a PO box. We get almost no mail these days anyway (everything is digital), but a few things come through now and again that will need to be taken care of.

      There is no online renewal for driver’s licenses in Hawaii, and definitely not on Kaua’i (I think the only island that may allow it is the Big Island).

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      1. That’s interesting about the mail forwarding service. I had no idea there is such a thing, but that’s good to know for the future. I’d say about 98% of the mail I get is junk. It’s too bad Hawaii doesn’t have the online renewal for licenses.

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      2. It is too bad about not being able to renew online, but there are a few good reasons for it (large transient population for one). The solution when we get back though doesn’t seem to bad, and we only really used a car when we returned for stays in the U.S. – otherwise we didn’t need to drive, and we spent that one summer in Portland without a car and did fine using public transportation.

        Lots of nomads use these mailboxes. Think of all the people driving around and living in their RVs in the U.S.! The service is a real lifesaver – they scan all your mail and send it every few days. You let them know if it’s something that needs forwarding and if not, they shred it.

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      3. I have wondered what people in RVs do about their mail, LOL. I thought maybe they have a relative or friend handle it, but that wouldn’t work if you’re gone a long time, so it’s great these services exist. I looked into a few and the prices aren’t bad.

        I would think as long as you’re living in a place that has decent public transportation, you probably wouldn’t need a car. I have plenty of friends who live in cities who don’t have a car. They have a license for ID purposes and in case they ever needed to drive, but that’s it. There are services like Zipcar where you can rent a car for a few hours to run errands, etc. so that might be an option, depending on where you and Brett end up living after you’re done traveling.

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      4. Brett’s sister handled our mail before, but using a service will be more efficient, especially since we’re not planning to be back in the U.S. for a while.

        We were honestly very upset at first about not having licenses, but then remembered how little we drove while we were traveling, and that *no one* overseas ever wanted to see our licenses as identification, only our passports. It will be easier than we imagined to get new licenses when we get back. We don’t plan to own a car again and will sign up again for Zipcar or another car sharing service if we do end up driving. We used Zipcar during our summer in Portland (all of 3 times) and it was easy and efficient.

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      5. Where I live (Australia) we can get 10 or 3 year licenses. Is that similar in Hawaii? Also, if your forwarding address is in Washington maybe you could renew your licence online using WA??

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      6. Our current licenses are 9-year licenses. The next ones, because of our ages would only be good for 5 years. The issue with getting a license in WA or another state is that we have to have a *verifiable* legal address (i.e. show a lease, bills coming to that address, etc.) and a mail forwarding service address just won’t cut it.

        The more we think about it, we know we’ll be fine not having licenses for a while. We traveled for two years and never *needed* a driver’s license overseas. And, we know it won’t take much effort to get new ones when we return to the U.S. (although we both dread having to take a driving test again).

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  3. i wonder if you could vote through the embassy? People do vote overseas (I remember it being discussed in the presidential election). Or at the nearest military base, since Brett is a veteran? I think losing the drivers license would be a shame. Can you renew early? Or online? If you can resolve these two issues, your list of negatives would be pretty short!

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    1. I have no idea, but I think the ability to vote is relegated to the states versus the federal government. That is, I could vote at an embassy, but would still have to prove I’m registered in my state.

      Hawaii does not have online registration renewal for driver’s licenses. There’s no early renewal either – we’ve asked.

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  4. The biggie for me would be not seeing my kids for years. The 28YO is at home about two nights a week. The 25YO moved back home with no intention of leaving. I know Mr S just couldn’t face being away from them. But then your kids are spread around quite a bit anyway so it’s quite different.

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    1. If we lived closer to our children, I doubt we’d be traveling full time. However, with our son in Japan (where we can only stay 90 days at a time), and our daughters just getting started on their own post-college, independent lives, it’s a great time for us to be doing this type of nomadic travel and we’re taking advantage of it! We’ll probably end up settling somewhere in the middle of them when the time comes (don’t know where that is for now though).

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  5. Sounds like you have thought of everything! I live at the other side of the world of where I spent most of my life, and would never go back and live in the UK now what with the disaster that is Brexit, especially as my husband is not British. We are glad to have dual citizenship (UK/NZ for me Sweden/NZ for him) as it gives us a bit more security and flexibility too. I do miss being in Europe and being able to just easily cross borders (well, when we could that is!) and visit new places. Our families are in maybe 8 different countries, so it isn’t easy to see them anyway!

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    1. We enjoyed being out of the U.S. (other than being so far from family most of the time). We had different problems, but nothing we couldn’t figure out. Our biggest issue now is figuring out each country’s visa rules so we don’t over stay our time and get in trouble!

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  6. I don’t know how they work but I believe there are international driver’s licenses or at least there used to be. Have you looked into that? I would imagine others have found a way to be able to drive overseas.

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    1. An American license is needed to obtain an international license, and you must maintain the American license along with the international license. Just our American license worked fine when we drove overseas before.

      We have planned two very short drives during our first six months overseas, but we don’t see having a license as a necessity for the duration of our travels. Americans feel naked without a DL and a car, but we found public transportation to be a much more efficient way of getting around (plus gas is w-a-y more expensive overseas, no matter how much we complain about prices here).

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  7. Betty has pushed me on the idea of leaving this country if Trump or any of his foils are elected in 2024. The hostility and fear is debilitating now. I can only imagine what it would be like if the hater-in-chief is back in charge.

    The problem is family. Our youngest daughter would follow us, but the family with the grandkids would not. I don’t know how we would handle that type of separation, while watching democracy collapse from a distance.

    Tough questions I never, ever, thought I would have to ask myself.

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    1. Our similar feelings are what initially drove us to investigate a permanent move overseas, and while the visa process was doable it was also discouraging, especially from Hawaii (it would be easier and less expensive from Arizona). Traveling full time works though, and gets us around the visa issues while still allowing us to stay in a place and settle in for longer periods. Plus, we can go back to the U.S. any time as wanted or needed and then leave again. But, we did not and do want to hang around and watch the democracy we know and have enjoyed for so long fade or collapse.

      We feel similarly about our daughters remaining here while we depart, and it’s difficult not being able to see our grandkids more than once a year, although we try to make the most of that time (COVID really messed that up though!). Everyone’s family relationships pull differently though, and everyone’s family is at different stages. The current situation is honestly something we never thought we’d experience in our lifetimes, and has caused us to think and respond differently than we might have in other circumstances. It certainly has opened our eyes to what other groups in our country have experienced for far too long, yet have no ways or means to escape.

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