Are you disabled and struggling financially?
Living strictly off disability benefits in the United States is tough since there's only so much you can do with the paltry income you're awarded. But there's a way around the problem which doesn't get enough attention — moving abroad to a cheaper country!
This decision alone can make ALL the difference because the lower costs of living abroad will offer you a higher quality of life.
Now, before entertaining the idea any further, it's good to know both the advantages AND disadvantages of living overseas while disabled to get a realistic picture of the kind of life awaiting you. Sure, you'd be able to pay your bills and even have money to spare living in less expensive countries but there's a price to pay which I discuss in this post.
But before we get to that, let's touch on the legality of collecting disability benefits while living abroad and look at countries best suited for you...
SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY WHILE LIVING ABROAD
The Department of Treasury permits American citizens to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) while living abroad for most countries whereas Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicare aren't permitted. All you have to do is alert the Social Security Administration (SSA) to the country you're moving to once you've made your plans.
(For the record, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands and are considered part of the United States but it's still good idea to report your whereabouts should you decide to travel to one of these territories.)
From time to time, you'll receive questionnaires from the SSA once you're living in another country. You may also have to return stateside for periodic reviews every 3-7 years, depending on your disability.
Now, there are some countries which the SSA isn't permitted to send payments to…
Countries Not Allowed for SSDI
If you decide to travel to any of these countries, your benefits will only resume upon your departure (except for Cuba and North Korea which are strictly prohibited).
So, for the most part, receiving SSDI while abroad isn't a problem. The problem is where to move to and whether you should at all.
BEST COUNTRIES FOR THE DISABLED TO MOVE TO
Unfortunately, the countries most accessible for the disabled also happen to be some of the most expensive:
If your only source of income comes from disability benefits, you'll likely face the same financial challenges in any of these first world countries as you already do back home, so there's no point moving there!
That leaves dozens of allowed countries for SSDI in every corner of the globe where your dollar stretches farther, from Latin and South American countries to countries in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. But that's still a pretty big number, so let's narrow down the list even more…
If you already speak Spanish (or are willing to learn the language), I'd concentrate on countries in Central America, like Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama for one main reason: there are only a couple hours away from mainland U.S.A. by plane which makes it easy to fly back regularly for medical care, disability reviews, and visiting family and friends.
The ideal place is the one in which it's most natural to live as a foreigner. – Italo Calvino
If you're looking for affordable countries where English is the primary language (or spoken at large), consider Belize or the Philippines. I'm particularly partial to the Philippines myself as Filipinos are known to be some of the friendliest people on Earth but it's not in the cards for me anytime soon as I'm still in pretty bad shape.
If you're not a fan of hot, tropical weather, countries in Eastern Europe like Poland, Lithuania, or Ukraine might suit you better.
Now, it probably goes without saying that you have to be fairly able bodied to move abroad. So, if your disability renders you incapacitated to the point where you're unable to leave your home, you're not in a position to live overseas in a third world country. These places aren't accessible for the disabled and they aren't easy to settle in (more about that later). But if you generally manage okay on your own, third world countries like these might be an option.
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While every country in the world is unique, many in the third world share similar reasons for why they both make great and lousy countries for the disabled to live in. Let's see how...
Lower Cost of Living
Probably the number one reason disabled individuals choose to move abroad to a third world country is affordability. While living from disability benefits alone won't afford you a luxurious lifestyle in these countries, it's enough to survive on without too much worry. And that's important since stress resulting from financial worries can worsen health conditions and stall healing.
Going abroad is like being five years old again where a world completely unfamiliar has the power to fill you with wonder. The sights, smells, sounds, tastes, language and people are so different from everything you know, it can feel like you've visited another planet! And while moving overseas won't necessarily improve your physical condition, there's no doubt these kinds of experiences will make you happier. [source]
Slower Pace of Life
Have you heard the expression work to live, don't live to work? Outside the United States and a handful of other places, that's how most countries exist — there are far more laid back compared to the hustle and bustle back home. And as you'd expect, relaxation boosts health. [source] What's more, punctuality isn't a great concern and it's not even that big a deal if you happen to miss an appointment. That's good news for someone with recurring health problems that can change on a moment's notice!
Greater Social Connection
In the past several decades, Americans have become more and more alienated from one another, tending to live lives in quiet desperation while keeping others at a safe distance. [source] It's a sad development which won't change anytime soon but luckily not everywhere is like this. Plenty of cultures around the world still value human relationships above everything else. It's no surprise these deep social connections also have tremendous health benefits. [source]
Build New Friendships
Many of us have lost friends and even family members as a result of our disabilities and/or chronic illnesses. But once you immerse yourself in a socially healthy culture, you'll likely have an easier time making new, long-lasting friends. It's a great chance to start anew!
Develop More Compassion
A lot of what we complain about in the developed world seems embarrassingly petty in comparison to the plight of the third world (also known as first world problems). Now, I'm sure you don't need to be told the hardships of living with a disability but being surrounded by abject poverty while living overseas gives you an even greater perspective of how hard life can be. In fact, it's not uncommon for tourists and expats to turn into passionate volunteers after witnessing such destitution.
Eat Healthier Food
69% of Americans in the United States today are considered overweight or obese. That's a staggering and depressing statistic! One thing's for sure though, we didn't get that way from a diet rich in fresh salads and lean meats. The junk and processed foods so pervasive in our culture aren't anywhere near the problem in most third world countries. Can you find McDonald's and Coca-Cola overseas? Of course you can, but most meals are still freshly cooked at home. And guess what? That's a far healthier lifestyle.
Greater Acceptance of Alternative Medicine
Do you have a health condition that requires medication? Has traditional, allopathic treatment failed you? Have you moved on to alternative medicine only to be met with mockery and skepticism? Well, you won't have that problem in most other countries where alternative medicine is more accepted and even recommended by practitioners.
Moving to a country where everything is unfamiliar can be deeply unsettling. What's worse, your entire support system is likely located back home, which can feel pretty isolating when you're thousands of miles away in strange, foreign land. Having said that, homesickness usually does get better with time, especially once you get accustomed to the new environment. In the meantime, online voice chat services like Skype can make pangs of loneliness more manageable.
Fewer Creature Comforts
Many everyday products we take for granted like dishwashers, dryers and reclinable chairs are considered luxury items in many other countries. Sure, you can buy these items abroad but you'll pay through the roof to recreate the home you left behind.
Being Taken Advantage Of
As a foreigner from a first world country, you own a LOT of money...at least that's what most locals think. Never mind the fact that the main reason you've given any thought to moving abroad in the first place is to escape poverty back home! Regardless of what you do or say, you won't change people's perception. Instead, they'll try to rip you off any chance they get, at least until you understand the game and are able to carry a conversation in their local language.
Bad things can happen anywhere but there's no question you're at greater risk being a foreigner in a foreign country. What does this mean for you? Well, you may have to take extra precautionary measures like:
- Always being alert and on guard
- Not calling attention to yourself, especially in crowds
- Avoiding certain areas
- Backing away from personal confrontations
Your life is challenging enough living with a disability, right? The last thing you need are new challenges to get through the day but that's exactly what you'll face when first moving abroad. Everyday tasks like figuring out how to get to the post office or where to pay your utility bill can turn into long, drawn-out affairs. While the able-bodied would consider these experiences as "adventures," they only serve as burdens for the disabled.
Lower Quality of Medical Care
For all its shortcomings, the U.S. medical care system still produces the best hospitals in the world — first-rate doctors, clean and modern facilities, and top quality care (generally speaking, of course). Unless you live in a major third world city, you'll likely have to settle for second-rate hospitals. Now, depending on your disability, this may or may not affect you but what if you get involved in an accident? It's something to consider...
Air and Noise Pollution
It's 2:00 am on a summer night and you're fast asleep in your comfy stateside home where the only noticeable sound is the sound of crickets chirping in the background. Well, you better buy a good pair of noise canceling earplugs if you ever intend to sleep in many third world countries where Karaoke, street festivals, and barking, mangy dogs can last into the wee hours of the morning!
Compounded with noise pollution, it's also hard to escape the noxious gasses produced by diesel fumes and burning of garbage heaps, which can cause constant respiratory problems and nausea. Not fun.
One of the main things we take for granted as Westerners is our infrastructure. All the systems that make our daily lives easier — water, electricity, sewage, highways, tunnels, bridges, sidewalks, and public transportation aren't as developed in many third world countries. For disabled individuals reliant on sidewalks and wheelchair accessible buses, this poses a great challenge.
As you can see, there are LOTS of advantages and disadvantages of living abroad when disabled. So, is moving overseas the right choice for you? Well, it depends on several factors including your financial and family situation, comfort level, and extent of your disability. No doubt, it's a HUGE life decision and thus warrants careful consideration before making any plans.
But if it's something you want to explore further, I'd pick up a book or two from Tim Leffel as he's someone well-versed on how to live abroad on a shoestring budget.
The other thing I want to bring to your attention is this…
Yes, it's possible to live in many third world countries on disability benefits alone but will you live well? I doubt it. If you need a caretaker, maid, special diet and amenities, SSDI probably won't cut it. You'll still need another source of income.
Now, you could look for a local job but it won't be easy since preference is usually given to the locals, not foreigners. And even if you land a job, the wages won't be anything comparable to what you'd earn back home...
You could try teaching English in a school but the hours can be demanding which might not be good for your health depending on your disability. And you can't just skip lessons on a moment's notice just because you're not feeling well on certain days…
You need a source of income that's location independent where you're free to be your own boss and the best way to do that is by making money online. Would you like to learn more?
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN!
Have you thought about moving abroad? If so, where have you considering moving to and why? Leave your comments below!