Clearly, the World Wide Web has changed the way we live, and may be considered a blessing and a curse. The blessing is the instant access to immeasurable amounts of information on every imaginable subject at our fingertips. It's mind-boggling. The curse is (among other things) not always being able to access that information, for a variety of reasons. No doubt we've all experienced the exasperation of not finding what we seek online, frustrated after hours of searching. One must know what questions to ask and where to look.
Suppose, for example, you are considering relocation to Panama, and you want to know how much you might expect to pay for monthly utilities in Boquete versus David. Or, perhaps you'd like to know the step-by-step procedure for obtaining a driver's license in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Maybe you want to compare actual crime statistics in Argentina and Uruguay. Knowing where and how to look for what you need not only saves time, but can avoid useless information overload.
Fortunately, one of our regular IM contributors, Bill Drake, has done the legwork for us. Be sure to bookmark these sites recommended by Bill - you may not need them right away, but when you do, you'll be glad you saved them.
Know Before You Go
IM members are no doubt far more familiar than most people with the global nooks and crannies of the Internet, having searched out details on any number of possible bolt-holes, island paradises, relocation hot-spots, and just plain great places to live around the world. With apologies to those readers who may already be familiar with the resources I'm about to describe, my experience has been that even dedicated Internet researchers often miss these three.
First, Go Global
A basic, often overlooked fact about the Worldwide Web is that you cannot simply use Google or any of the other U.S.-based search engines and actually search the whole world for relevant information.
Every country has anywhere from a few to several dozen country-specific search engines that offer access to uniquely in-country information that you will never find with a Google search. While many of these search engines operate in the language of the country, there are usually at least a few that offer searches in English, including usually one or two Yahoo-powered engines (that you usually can't access as effectively with a U.S.-based Yahoo search).
I've found that the site searchenginecolossus.com offers by far the best collection of these country-specific engines. For example, even Easter Island has five search engines, while countries like India, Brazil and Russia have dozens. Popular expat destinations like Argentina, Chile, France, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand can be explored in far greater depth using this simple strategy than can ever be achieved by even the most sophisticated Google or Yahoo search.
If the country you want to search is a non-English speaking one, the English language engines still are an excellent place to start. But don't just stick to them. More goodies are hidden away in the native language engines, and if you're patient, they can be very rewarding even if you don't read the language.
To use these engines, first run your search phrase or keywords through Google Translate, then copy and paste the translation into the engine. Once your search results have been returned, you can either copy and paste the top returns back through Google Translator, or just navigate to the sites and see if they offer an English version of their site, as many do.
As always, translate at least a few variations of your search terms or phrases for best results.
Next, Follow the Blogs
The second set of resources I would like to suggest is the world of expat blogs and websites. Arguably, the best collection of expat blogs (representing not just U.S., but also international expats blogging about their experiences and hard-won wisdom in their country of choice) is the Worldwide Expat Blog Directory.
As I work on my series of eBooks, "Cultural Dimensions of Expatriate Life" (which now covers 26 countries), I rely heavily on contributions from bloggers in the subject country, and maintain regular correspondence with several dozen of them around the world. It is in the nature of bloggers to be very open and sharing people, and anyone thinking of becoming an expat in 'their' country will be able to establish a ready-made network of helpful friends long before packing to leave.
An excellent print and online magazine, "Transitions Abroad", maintains what I consider to be the best directory of websites run by both expats and nationals in almost every country in the world. While the purposes of these websites vary widely (and while those operating the sites are not always as forthcoming as bloggers), I have found many very helpful people there and encourage you to explore this fantastic world of "boots-on-the-ground" information and perspectives.
Third, Think Security
The final set of resources I suggest is focused on an issue that is crucial for many people considering establishing a life in another country… namely, steps to take to ensure personal and family security.
Every country - even the most ideal - has its safety and security issues, ranging from petty crime and scams to active terrorist groups and revolutionary movements. Every country's police and security forces operate differently, and most expats who are new to a country realize that after the initial honeymoon is over, it will be time to get very practical about such matters.
For the absolute latest information on any country in the world, you can go to the following web sites. (These are all extremely detailed, very useful, and frequently updated travel and expatriate security web sites.)
US Department of State: Consular Information Sheets:
Overseas Security Advisory Council:
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs:
International Crime Threat Assessment:
NTERPOL Country Profiles:
World Intelligence and Security Agencies:
NationMaster (massive global database including crime and terrorism):
I encourage you to visit each site because their emphasis differs. Americans are probably the most security-conscious expats and travelers in the world, and Australians are arguably the most adventurous.
If there is a need to protect yourself in the major cities and tourist resorts of a country, the Americans will point out the threat. Likewise, if a threat exists in a remote area of the country where conventional travelers are less likely to go, but where adventurous travelers and expats are quite likely to want to explore and live, the Australians will have gone there, experienced it all, and documented it.
The International Crime Threat Assessment, INTERPOL Country Profiles, World Intelligence and Security Agencies, and NationMaster sites all offer additional up-to-date ways to research the crime and terrorism potential for any country you are thinking of traveling to or settling in. I suggest a serious study of each of these before you make any travel or expatriation decisions.
I hope these strategies will help you in your search for a more perfect place to live (and will allow you to find exactly what you need to know before you go.) And once you arrive and get settled in, why not consider doing what others have done to help those who will come after you - start a blog or website and share your experiences with people worldwide.