It’s nice to know that some American comforts exist all over the world. It’s hard to go anywhere in the world these days where you’re not too far from a Starbucks or a McDonald’s. I have mixed feelings about this. In some ways it’s a bit sad to see too much of the Western footprint everywhere and infringing on other cultures. On the other hand, McDonald’s has always been a reliable place where I could find a toilet that wasn’t of the squatter variety.
Well, the discount membership clubs have a worldwide footprint. And while I haven’t seen Sam’s Club, I know Costco has a few establishments in Taiwan. We took a trip there the other day. Here’s what an American can expect on a trip to Costco
Notice that all the prices are listed in the local currency which is NT dollars. The conversion rate for US currency is 1 NT = 0.032 USD as of January 28, 2019. In other words divide prices by 32 for approximate US price.
If you have a Costco membership in the US, your card works over here. If you don’t have one signing up is cheap enough.
These days it’s easy to be a road warrior and travel to foreign lands when you have a smartphone in hand. You can translate language on the fly with Google Translate. You always know where you’re going with Google Maps or Apple Maps. Restaurant reviews are at your fingertips for any location you discover unless you’re not connected.
If you’re planning to travel overseas, you definitely don’t want to be without a connection to the internet and smartphone as it can make travel much more challenging.
I’ll share a quick story about my first time visiting Japan. In 2012 I went to Tokyo, and while I did a fair amount of research for my trip, I didn’t put much effort into planning for my cell phone service. I foolishly assumed it wouldn’t be a problem.
By the time I had visited Japan, I had a fair amount of Asia travel under my belt. I’d blazed trails in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Thailand. In most Asian countries picking up a SIM card is as easy as stopping at an airport kiosk or cell phone store and buying a prepaid plan. And the rates are often quite affordable.
It’s possible I simply missed it, but when I was in the airport I looked for a few phone service SIM card shops and couldn’t seem to find one that would sell my a SIM card. It’s possible there was a communication gap but I was under the impression a foreigner couldn’t buy a SIM card. Someone advised me I could rent a cell phone but I passed. I figured, I could find somewhere in town to pick up a SIM card. I spent about four days in Tokyo and was never able to find a place to get a prepaid SIM card.
Well, I’ll tell you that Tokyo, Japan isn’t beginner level travel for an American wanting to travel within Asia. Without access to Google Maps, and translate and my various travel sites like Wikitravel, I was a bit lost at times. My internet times was relegated to the free WiFi in my hotel, or what I could pick up in a local coffee shop. Incidentally, I’m at a local coffees shop now as I write this. (Shout out to Louisa coffee in Taiwan for good coffee at a decent price.)
Travel by subway was challenging without internet. Tokyo has multiple subways systems operated by different companies. While they are interconnected, I found that sometimes it wasn’t clear to me which stop was the correct one for my transfer. Sometimes the stops were only posted in Japanese, and there wasn’t an indicator on the train that a subway stop was connected to the other system.
Tokyo is also one of the most expensive cities in the world. It’s not the type of place you want to be without good information of where to go and the most cost efficient way to get there. Information is money in this day and age and being cut off from good info can be costly.
I had a great time in Tokyo and loved the little noodle shops where you choose your selection at a vending machine, pay, and then get a ticket which you can redeem for noodles when your number comes up. I still feel like I might have had a better time if I had been connected.
Later on, I revisited Japan. This time I went to Osaka, and I was adamant about getting a SIM card. Somehow it was easy as pie to pick one up. I just bought it from a vending machine in the airport and was online after some fidgeting with the setup process. The setup process took a bit of effort and was something I wasn’t able to get right until I got to the hotel.
Don’t Make My Mistake
So I’ve learned my lesson to make sure I have a good plan when I hit the ground in a new country so I have phone service. But one part of my plan that his been fantastic was picking up a SIM card from Google FI.
The way it works, is you can get a free SIM card fromGoogle FI and the plan is pretty straight forward. You pay $20 US for unlimited calls and texts in the US and then you pay $10 per Gig of data. This is a decent price butGoogle Fishines because when you go abroad, Google FI works in most countries and data is the same cost per gig.
Now in my opinion, $10 per Gig isn’t a bad price but it’s true you can find data cheaper in other parts of the world. But the major benefit is that if you have Google Fi, you have internet the moment your plane lands and can catch a signal. This can be useful to catch up on email and do last minute research before you go through the process of deplaning and going through immigration, customs, and get your bags. No more fighting with airports WIFI login that might require setup and passwords.
I’m also keeping my Google FI to maintain a US phone number while abroad. I’m using my Taiwan SIM for low priced data but have my Google FI SIM available if I need to make US calls. Disclaimer: This is easier if you have a dual SIM phone which is becoming more popular. If you’re looking for an affordable great dual SIM phone check out One Plus. They are also available on Amazon. These phones are great and I have no idea why they aren’t more popular.
If you’re interested in trying Google FI prepaid cell service and would like a $20 credit just for signing up, you can check it out by clicking here or any of the Google FI links on this site.
Disclaimer: This article has affiliate links for Google FI service, One Plu and Amazon products. I may be paid a commission for sign-ups or purchases. If you sign up with my Google Fi link you’ll get a $20 credit from Google FI!
I’ve been in Taipei, Taiwan for close to two weeks now. After the first couple of days I came down with a minor cold. I used to live in Taiwan, and I remember now that in Taipei, the winters tend to be cool and damp and having a mild cold and allergies was a common occurrence for me. I didn’t think too much of the initial cold until a night ago when things progressed to what I feared might be pneumonia.
Things were getting worse. I had a persistent cough, a lot of congestion and my asthma was flaring up to the point I could barely breathe. We made the decision to head to the emergency room. Well, really I thought a doctor’s appointment seemed more appropriate but my girlfriend advised to just head to the ER.
The experience is definitely different than healthcare in the west. There’s no expectation of bills that will arrive from various medical agencies at various times in your future. You settle up any payments there on the spot. It’s a bit funny but you sort of pay for the care as you get it, and so as the exam progressed and more things were recommended we were sent back to pay a couple times. It feels a bit silly but at least it keeps you current.
But so we arrived at the emergency room. Registered my name. And described my symptoms. It was good to have my girlfriend help translate a bit here as my Chinese ability is pretty limited, virtually non-existent. Within 25 minutes or so I was seeing the doctor.
The doctor spoke English well. I was a bit taken aback that he seemed to be pretty young. Maybe I’m just getting older, but he seemed maybe 19 or so but age can be deceiving. He might have been closer to 30. But I don’t think he would have been terribly out of place in one of my English classes with other high school students. But I digress. After describing my symptoms, he sent me to the lab tech to draw blood.
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They insert a thing to draw blood or do injections directly into my hand. The lab tech drew blood into a variety of vials to do a panel of tests. After drawing the blood I was a bit surprised when she then dropped a vile of solution and pushed the injection. It was saline solution. Apparently to replenish electrolytes I was told.
Next, I was advised to head to radiology for an x-ray. They did a chest x-ray to see how bad the infection might be. Didn’t take very long. I’ve probably had more chest x-rays than a person should have. It should be noted, that generally speaking, you’ll need a chest x-ray to get a working visa if you want to be an English teacher in Taiwan, unless the laws have changed.
The doctor sent me to do a breathing treatment. I’m not sure what this is called, but they hoo up a certain type of medicine (I’ll update later) to oxygen and have you inhale through a tube. I remember doing this treatment when I was a child with pneumonia once. The treatment seemed to help a bit.
The doctor advised me that within an hour I’d have my results. After some waiting we found the doctor and he sat me down and let me know the diagnosis. I have a bad cold and am having an asthma attack. Well this was a bit anti-climatic.
The doctor said that my blood looked healthy and all levels were regular. He noticed a bit of white in the x-ray that would indicate that there was a bit of infection in my lungs. He prescribed a low-level antibiotic just as a precaution in case this could be early pneumonia. My experience in Taiwan has always been that the doctors like to prescribe as much medicine as they can. The price is always reasonable so I always figured to get the meds and then read about them and not take any that didn’t seem necessary.
So let’s recap on the services I received:
trip to the emergency room
a consultation with a doctor
blood panel test
saline solution injection, steroid injection, and oxygen/medicine breathing treatment
medicine prescribed and dispensed
What would this type of treatment cost in the US? Any takers? I feel like this care would have to cost at least over $3,000 in the US.
My total out the door cost without applying any insurance was about $130 US dollars. Not bad.
If you are pursuing financial independence, utilizing the lower cost of financial independence can be a crucial part of your plan to cut costs with things like housing and food cost and especially medial care.
Man I love Asia, specifically Taiwan. I got a haircut yesterday for just $3 US dollars. Without regard to what I requested, as translated from English to Chinese via my girlfriend, then conveyed to the stylist, the cut was fairly standard Taiwan style which is high and tight. It looks well enough. For Three bucks I can’t complain.
The experience was pretty cool. You enter the salon, and put a 100 NT dollar bill (about $3 US) into a vending machine. A ticket spits out with a number. When your number lights up you go to the stylist and get a quick decent cut. The best part is at the end of the haircut is at the end, they use this sort of vacuum tube to suck all the loose hairs from your head. It’s kind of noisy but it feels cool. I’ll chalk it up as a Taiwanese win.
So I’m on day three of my mini-retirement. I’m posted up in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a week or two and I’m thinking about the low cost of living and debating the merits of living in lower cost areas in Asia vs. the USA. In my opinion, the best reason to live in the US is to make a good salary. But I think if you really put US salaries under the microscope, they aren’t as big as you think.
Let’s consider a respectable middle-class salary of around $65,000. For the purpose of keeping things simple, I’ll consider a single person. A couple earns more of course but they often come with children and more expenses. After the tax man takes his cut, you’re likely left with around $4,000 a month based on a take-home pay calculator for someone living in Chicago. Before you’ve purchased anything, your $65,000 salary has shrunk to about $48,000.
You Don’t Dare stay in USA Without Health Insurance
If you’re going to reside in the US, you simply can’t go without health insurance because if health problems come your way you can be devastated. Medical expenses are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the US. Health insurance doesn’t come cheap with especially as you get middle age. Prices vary wildly depending on coverage but middle-of-the-road coverage for a middle-aged person might run about $300 a month. You’re $4,000 a month salary is now about $3,700. Your $65,000 annual salary is now closer to $44,000.
Never mind that American healthcare cost are absurdly high. Never mind that most health insurance doesn’t provide much value until you’ve spent over at least $1,000 a month out of your own pocket. We’ve come to accept these things as acceptable.
The Cost of Working
In order to get to your job, you’ll typically need to live within a reasonable proximity of your place of employment. It’s true that you can definitely reduce cost by taking on roommates but for some of us past a certain age, it’s less feasible. Living in a decent pace in our near major cities can often run around $1,100 a month or so and that’s not extravagant living at all. Your monthly funds are now coming in around $2,600 and annually you’re at $31,200.
Of course you’re going to need electricity. You’re also going to need internet access and you’re going to need a cell phone. If you’re frugal all can be had for just a bit over $100 a month. If you’re looking to get phone service for only $20 a month plus data, I recommend Google Fi. Get a $20 sign up credit here. It’s great for global travel too. Now were’ at $2,500 a month and an even $30,000 a year.
Here’s where you have a lot of flexibility in how you handle things financially. I did my best to be frugal buying a Japanese economy car at a decent price and keeping it for two years before heading overseas. I would have had a much better average total cost of ownership if I kept it for 10 years instead of two. But I ended up spending over $600 a month surprisingly to have this car. I’m sure most can do better with effort but I think you’d be hard pressed to keep a car and pay less than $400 a month for TOTAL cost of ownership. So that bring us to $2,100 a month and $25,000 a year.
I won’t go over every detail of expenses but consider what we have left. You need to eat. You’re going to be cooking and eating out sometimes. Even if you’re frugal and intentional with your money you’ll be spending at least some on entertainment. Haircuts happen. Trips to the doctor happen. Medical expenses happen. Birthdays and Christmas happen. You need to shop. I think it’s fair to say that you might budget around $500 at least for the rest. Now you’ve got around $1,600 a month left or $19,200 a year.
The Value of Your American Job
So you might put the value of your “$65,000” job to actually be a bit closer to $20,000. Things ALWAYS happen that could reduce this but this is a rough figure for what a typical person might have available to them to save from their time toiling at the office for some 2060 hours of work a year.
How to Do Better!
Avoid The Taxman
One of the best easiest ways to hold on to more of your money is to shelter it from taxes to the best of your ability. If your company offers a 401k plan, by all means participate in it to the fullest extent that you can afford. For a traditional 401k, you’ll be able to avoid significant taxes on the income you diver into your retirement account.
When you leave your job, you can rollover your 401k to a good broker that has low fees or even no fees like my favorite broker M1 Finance. Get $10 FREE for signing up with M1 Finance here.
Go to Where Living is More Affordable
This is a big part of what’s bringing me to Asia is the lower cost of living. At the time of this writing, I’m in a very popular spot for low cost living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The prices here play a big part in driving tourists. I stayed at my hotel for around $23 a night. Check it out on Agoda below.
Consider lowering your total cost of living by ditching your car and finding some other way. Consider lowering your cost of living even more by getting out of the US. Look at the cost of some of these delicious meals in Chiang Mai.
The conversion rate for Thai baht is 100 baht is roughly about $3 US. Many of these meals are hovering around 50 to 80 baht.
Getting rid of my car felt great. There’s plenty of ways to get around in Asia without a car.
It’s not just food cost and housing cost that drop when you’re overseas. Medical and dental costs drop as well. I was able to get a dental cleaning for $700 Baht which is about $21 US dollars without any dental insurance. I got two free tubes of toothpaste as well!
Don’t Fall for the Illusion
A fat salary is only fat if you’re able to hold on to and save most of it. If most of your salary goes out the window to cost of living then the dollar amount of your salary is worthless. Focus on how much you can save when valuing your current situation. I know English teachers in Asia that were able to save up to $1,000 a month USD working part-timee. If your job doesn’t allow you to save this much then consider other lifestyles that might allow you to hit your savings goals sooner.
So here I am on day one of my mini-retirement. I flew from Chicago to Bangkok with a layover in Shanghai. I reached my destination around 1:00 am and grabbed a few hours of sleep and now it’s 10:00 AM. What better way to start the day then hitting an American based international coffee chain? (Just once I swear.) I got a latte and egg sandwich and am sitting in a Starbucks writing in central Bangkok, Thailand. So what’s going through my head?
My initial feeling is a mix of happiness to enjoy travel freedom but with some feelings of being desensitized to my reality. Much has happened and I’m still processing everything. Here’s a recap of recent weeks.
I finished up a consulting contract and am now recently unemployed.
I sold virtually all my possessions and vacated my apartment about a month ahead of my lease end date.
I packed up what was left and flew out to Asia. My ultimate destination is Taiwan, but I’m stopping over in Thailand for a while first. The itinerary consists of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket before heading over to Taiwan.
Traveling Pro Tip: If you’re flying to a specific location in another country, it’s worth doing a bit of research to see about the cheapest way to get there. Here’s what I mean. Find the cheapest flight to that continent. Then you can sometimes find a cheap flight over to your ultimate destination. For example, I was looking at tickets from Chicago to Taiwan and most were over $1,000. But I found a ticket to Bangkok, Thailand for only $679, From there, you can get a round-trip ticket to Taiwan for around $250. it’s like a free mini-vacation flight.
I’m making good on a promise I made to myself to be done with midwest winters. I can’t take any more 10 degrees below zero days January/February days. This trip is an undefined break from corporate life. I’ve been freelancing and have rental income and this could transition to a life of freelancing and travel. Or I might end up back in the US this spring to do another round of contract consulting. I’ll see how I’m feeling in March.
My head is swirling a bit from big life changes. So I’m recently unemployed as a result of my contract ending. I sold all my stuff. I just spent about 22 hours flying which consisted of a rushed layover in Shanghai and a 1:00 AM arrival in Bangkok Thailand with onward travel to Chiang Mai, Phuket and then later Taipei, Taiwan after I catch my breath.
I’ve lived a fairly dull life the last few years that was focused mostly on work and I realized I’ve got to try to get off the mode of being a “work robot”. My life consisted of grinding out the nin to five and living frugally. Delayed gratification and stoicism was the strategy, but perhaps at the cost of a bit of my soul. Of course, I spent some good time with friends and family but most of my life was spent working in the office or on freelance projects.
At least now if I’m working, it can be on the projects where total ownership is in MY hands. As a side note, I’ll mention to anyone reading that I just recorded a podcast episode of Choose FI which is scheduled to drop in early January. Hope I sound good. It was a lot of fun recording with them. They really are great guys even behind the scenes a shout out to Jonathan and Brad. Keep up the great work guys.
Thoughts on Disconnecting from Corporate Life
Man, working in an office for years took a toll. The past four years of cubicle sitting hasn’t done me well physically. I think I may have overdone frugal with sleeping on an air mattress. But no more.
But the real consideration is a mental and psychological one. Working in an office gives you structure and order. When you don’t have a 9 to 5 job you potentially have chaos.
Tools That Made My Trip Go Smoothly.
You can usually get good hotel rates on Agoda. I recommend them and I’m a partner so if you book using that link I’ll get a commission at no charge to you. I also like their app that has a feature called “Taxi Helper” to show your taxi driver your hotel address to assist in getting you to your destination. This is helpful if you’re still brushing up on your language learning.
Also, I recently signed up for Google FI. This is Google’s cell phone service may be very appealing to the right type of customer. The appeal to me is that fact that it works virtually anywhere in the world. It’s nice to hit the ground in a new country and not have to go buy a SIM. The data rates are decent, perhaps not the best if you comparison shop.
You get unlimited calls and texts for just $20
Data is $10 per gig and caps out after 6 gigs and then you have unlimited internet. I.e. $60 data cost for unlimited internet. It’s not Bad but other deals out there may be better
What seals the deal for me is the ability to hit the ground in a new country and be connected while exiting the plane.
I recommend Google FI for frugal world travelers that hit different countries often. I think it’s generally true in many countries you can get enough data for a couple weeks for $25 or so but then you’ll need to get a new SIM and switch SIM’s and then do this again when you hit the next country. Here’s referral link that will get you a $20 credit when you sign up. No obligation so consider trying it.
The next stop on the itinerary was Chiang Mai. It’s known as one of the hot spots for digital nomads because of the great year round climate and super affordable cost of living.
This post contains affiliate links for Agoda and Google FI. I may receive a commission for some sign ups. I personally use these services regularly and wouldn’t recommend them if I didn’t use them.
Vietnam is a great place to visit in Southeast Asia. If you’ve recently lost your job and are watching your budget, you’ll find Vietnam a very affordable place to stay for a good while and soak up asian culture.
Delicious and healthy pho is plentiful from a variety of street vendors at prices that are a steal. Vietnam is also known for a special type of “egg coffee”. I ate most meals in Hanoi for a price of around $1 to $2. Good luck finding meals for that price in the US! Vietnam is a destination that promises fun, affordability, and culture.
It’s relatively simple and will cost you just $25 for the e-visa. (It’s worth noting that there are several companies (some reputable some not) that have websites that seem to misrepresent themselves as representing Vietnam.)
The above site is the true Vietnam embassy site and the only one qualified to issue an e-visa directly. It seems like a great option as long as you have time. If you’re in a hurry, then you may want to consider the “visa on arrival” option below.
Visa on Arrival
The alternative option is the Visa on Arrival option. If you aren’t a planner and your trip is in a day or two, you’ll probably need to do this option. To get a visa on arrival, you’ll need a letter of approval from a travel company and pick up your visa at the airport. You’ll want to work with a company that can get you a letter of approval very quickly, often within one day depending on the company. There are several sites and companies that provide this service. See below for my experience using one.
Disclaimer: It’s also possible to go to the Vietnam embassy in your home country but I’ve been advised that this method can actually be quite costly. E-Visa is my method of choice.
Getting a Letter of Approval Notes
For option two,”visa on arrival”, there are a variety of sites that can assist with option three. With this option, you’ll pay a fee that varies for your approval letter. And then you’ll also need to pay for your visa on arrival.
This is the best option if you don’t have much time. This means after disembarking from the plane you’ll go to the visa area and you’ll probably need to wait a bit for them to review your letter of approval then process and issue the visa.
You’ll need to pay $25US or $520,000 Dong to get your actual visa. In my experience, we needed to wait about 30 minutes to get the visa processed and then we were free to head out and explore the exciting things to do in Hanoi
My experience with getting a letter of approval
We chose Vietnam Visa Pro to get our letter of approval. The approval letter really just acts as a sort of required first step to getting your visa on arrival. I’m not being compensated for this review so it’s unbiased.
The price was good. I got expedited service to get the letter of approval in a day for around $11. It came the next day in an email by PDF.
It should be noted there are several companies that run websites that do this. These sites aren’t government organizations but rather they are companies that are qualified to create your approval letter to make you eligible to get your Visa on arrival. You can’t get a visa on arrival without an approval letter so it’s a necessary step for the third option
Getting Around in Vietnam
It’s worth noting that as of December 2018, Uber is no longer available in South East Asia, including Vietnam. A nice alternative we discovered is Grab which is an Uber-like service. Sign up for Grab here, and get discounted rides. Or you can simply type in referral code: grabqnjfwbw4
Experiencing Vietnam Culture at Home
If you’re currently not up for the challenge of the long flight to get to Vietnam but still would like to try their amazing coffee, you can purchase it on Amazon here:
Once you have this you can easily make some Vietnamese style egg coffee by following instructions on youtube. Here’s a good tutorial.
If you speak Chinese, here’s a great page to get info on the Vietnam Visa process.