I've been reading through the various new and long-running threads about making a living while cruising and living aboard
and how much it costs and the trade-offs and all of that and a few things have occurred to me that at least from a context standpoint seem to be missing from most of these threads:
1. Citizenship -- UK/Commonwealth vs EU vs US/Canada:
Being in a profession that takes place mostly outside the US (linguist / writer / language & culture consultant), I've learned the hard way that where you're from and what your citizenship is matters far more in this world than your abilities or work ethic when it comes to your ability to live and make a living.
Some key differences should probably be kept in mind regarding giving and receiving advice about the realities of living a part-time or full-time life out and about on board a vessel. First there is the likely reality of your economic status to start with (and these are generalizations please so don't get upset if I'm not matching your individual situation). UK/Commonwealth folks probably have the best chances from a pure starting out standpoint because you have a fairly reliable pension scheme compared to most of the world which means you won't starve (may not eat like a king but you won't die like an outcast either) and when it comes to ability to stick around and make a buck, commonwealth citizens have probably the most options in the most cruising places because the ability to gain some legal
right to work or do business is far greater than just about anyone else.
EU citizens probably come in second in this regard. Depending on the country of citizenship, continental Europeans probably have it the easiest when it comes to figuring out how to pay the bills because the social net provided by your governments (whether you're at home or not) is simply the best in the world and many supposedly impoverished and out of work / government
pension Europeans make receive considerably more income
and support each month than most full-time working Americans do knocking out 40 hours per week. Not to the extent of commonwealth citizens but still to a good extent, the former colonial footprint of the various European powers also extend many of the EU-benefits of membership
to quite a few nice areas of the Pacific and Caribbean
making getting a job or doing business very simple.
Both UK and EU citizens also (at least in theory) have the huge worry of healthcare taken care of. To some extents moreso and others not, when abroad some national health
benefits transfer over into covering issues in foreign ports
. But for anyone from these groups, you do have the reality that if you get sick, need an operation, have a long-term condition requiring medication or treatment, etc that you can get your medicine for free (or nearly free) and go home for treatment. This is an aspect of life abroad that we don't like to worry about, but if you are a US (and to a lesser extent Canadian) citizen, you're for the most part out in the cold when it comes to healthcare. It's possibly one of the reasons I'd imagine that so many from North America have to wait till they reach medicare age to go cruising just because before this the financial unknown of getting sick is too much of a potential deal breaker.
US/Canadian citizens have some benefits certainly in some aspects here. Primarily these come from the fact that we don't get messed with by most governments because they don't like to deal with our government
. Also, there is a substantial list of buddy-buddy relationships that allow us fairly free and unregulated access to most places where you'd want to go with a boat. At the same time, when it comes down to it, we're on our own.
For most of us, healthcare is dealt with not with insurance
but with trying to live healthfully and hoping we don't get sick. This might be the one big decision maker when many Americans would try to decide whether cruising or living aboard
and abroad is possible for them. If you're retired and manage to make it to 65 (or is it 67 now?) medicare kicks in and at least covers you on the basics via mail-order pharmacy services and back home. However, if you're living the first 2/3 of your life as a US citizen, you're really out on your own when it comes to health
coverage. With insurance
rates for healthy people ranging from $300-1000 per month (and considerably more if you actually want them to pay for most things and always toward the higher end if not purchased through an employer), any potential US cruiser is going to have to at some point make a decision between being secure in healthcare or being out on the water
. Certainly you could do both, but when we have so many threads looking at cruising or living aboard for say $500/mo, the healthcare side for most Americans means that this number is really closer to $1000-1500 per month or requires you to be secure enough in your chances out there to go about your journey without much security
Another disadvantage for Americans is obviously in the ability to make a living outside of the US. Whether we like to admit it or not, most residents in other countries think that the citizens of the world's richest country and the world's richest and most taken care of people and thus don't need or deserve the same fair treatment given their own citizens. What it means for Americans and Canadian and to a lesser extent Aussies and Kiwis (and if you're SA, just save up or pack it in early) is that laws are in place to not only not let you into the local market, but to specifically keep you out. This again varies by location and my experience has been as varied as the places I've worked. In Mexico
as an American, I had a much easier time than my non-US anglo counterparts because visas and permits were mostly just a matter of a couple hundred bucks in fees
and bribes once a year and as long as you were nice and kept your attitude in line with the fact that when in a foreign country, you are the foreigner and are entitled to nothing more than would be afforded foreigners in your homeland, you're good to go. The only times I saw real issues in most of Mexico
and central America
were when gringos failed to recognize that when in Mexico, you're the "mexicans" and that no one has any reason to kiss you butt or give you preferential treatment because of the words on your passport. Either way, I found that for much of the continental Americas, getting the right to work comes down to having the right attitude, coming to the table with actual skills so you can contribute, and being willing to go somewhere and share the wealth locally with those who would benefit from your contributions which without you may not be available. This is really no different than in the US, and one thing that I think speaks well of the United States and Canada
is that at least when it comes down to people with qualifications and skills, citizens and non-citizens have a pretty fair shake when going about jobs and businesses legally. Sure, it's not the easiest thing to get permission to live and work in the US and it takes a decade to actually become a citizen if you want, but if you are from anywhere and you come to America legally, from the second you step on shore, you enjoy all the rights and protections and opportunities of citizens just the same as us (except for voting for federal and depending on your location sometimes state and local elections). If you're an American (and really if you're anyone outside of most places) you really have to keep in mind that short of the very limited and very lengthy process of naturalization, that in most places where you're going to be a foreigner that you will be always locked out of true integration and will not enjoy the same rights and protections as your native counterparts and will certainly have much more limited opportunities economically.
Even in the non-sailing expat world, this is an unfortunately reality of being an American abroad. In the UK and most of the EU where it's generally quite easy for Americans to live and not too difficult to set up shop, you'll only be "welcome" as long as you're seen as contributing to the pot. In Germany
for instance, US/Canada expats pay the highest levels of income taxes
they have regardless of income levels just for being non-EU and you still have to pay as much if not more as EU citizens into the social insurance, pension, and healthcare funds. And, the kicker
is that the minute you lose your job, have to close your business, get fired, or your company downsizes, most of these countries technically give you 24 hours to leave and go home! Oh yeah, and all that money
you paid into the system for unemployment and such, sorry, that's only for citizens...but thanks for p(l)aying!
Certainly life is easier in continental Europe
for British expats. In fact I would argue that if you're the sort who is likely to spend your life working throughout Europe
and much of the world that a British passport is probably the most valuable thing you could ever find! This is one of those areas though where something that's good for Brits is very bad for the rest of the non-EU anglo world. This is one area that has seen big change over the past 20 years. The first time I lived and worked in Europe it was a pretty fair shake for non-citizens in most EU countries. If you had the in-demand skills and the ability to be there and do the work (North Americans do tend to exhibit a far greater work ethic as to attitudes toward working and showing up on time and coming in with ironed clothes and such than may of our anglo cohorts abroad for some reason), you could find a good job -- good by local standards usually and sometimes good by global standards, but it wasn't bad and Brits generally only held the benefit of proximity and ease of moving around compared to the more expensive moves from abroad. Even then, there were generally some legal
things that made it a bit easier for Brits to get jobs over non-EU people, but it wasn't too bad and since most north American expats generally enjoy a bit higher level of specialization and education (granted at our own expense) and generally have been working some sorts of jobs since they were 15 or 16 whereas the usual Brit abroad was usually either a school
leaver having never worked or someone who had decided to find a new career after losing his life-long and unrelated job to the economy, it all generally evened out.
By the time I had returned to Europe in 2006, it was a completely different game
. Namely, the UK government had become very proactive in shaping EU labor laws in favour of Britons. Whereas when I was there before it was more about what you could do rather than who you were, the situation today is totally reversed. The ability for people to get a job in most of Europe is today very much primarily based around citizenship with skills and experience being much further down the list unfortunately. Certainly, I don't think that an expat of any flavour should be able to get a job over a local with all things being equal. But there is a sad reality that especially affects US/Canadians/South Africans and to a lesser extent non-EU commonwealthers.
As I said, the UK government and their EU commissioners and parliamentarians have been very busy behind the scenes trying to give their citizens the leg up when it comes to jobs. Bravo for them as to the fact that government actually working to protect those they govern seems rare but boo from a global audience and from someone whose culture is built around economic opportunity and hard work being tied far stronger than protectionism. Today, this is how it would work: (actually this is a situation that played out in my past several times) Say a company like BMW has a need for a particular position in Germany
and it can only be filled by a native English-speaker. Under the old system, BMW would have to first try to fill that job from within their own local ranks. After that, the job would go to a qualified local citizen (who happens to be a native speaker), and then an equally qualified permanent resident, and beyond that, was open territory.
Today it works like this: BMW still tries to fill the job from within. Failing this they try to fill it with a qualified local citizen and then a qualified national citizen through their federal employment
office. The difference is how it works after that. Now instead of the old system where a qualified legal resident was able to be offered that job once the in-country citizens had been culled through, now they've been moved far outside the look. Group 3 of potential employees today is now automatically any EU-citizen regardless of their residence AND regardless of their skills or qualifications. This was put in place primarily to give Brits preference over US/Canadian citizens in fields where English
is the dominant language such as IT and engineering and marketing
and such. The unfortunate side of this is that citizenship has now been elevated above qualifications. This means that from a legal standpoint, BMW needing say a corporate trainer who speaks English
and will be training their global sales staff in how to negotiate with UK/US companies in English, is legally required to offer that job to a native English-speaker from the UK who's maybe only worked as a cleaner or waiting tables for a few years and doesn't have a degree the job over a list of non-EU candidates that might have every single
qualification and level of experience they are seeking.
The way the laws are worded, only after exhausting every possible corpse with an EU passport can BMW hire a qualified American, even if that person is ideal for the job and happens to be living right next door to their offices and already on the ground in Germany. Certainly lots of non-EU people do get jobs and they do get around this, but it's a paperwork nightmare for companies and employers and creates a bureaucratic nightmare where companies usually just exclude non-EU applicants because the months of paperwork and thousands of Euros in fees
they'd have to pay to hopefully get permission to legally give the best candidate the job is not worth their time. And of course, even once hired if hired, the non-EU worker is burdened with a slew of tax penalties and restrictions not applicable to his counterparts (including having his right to reside and work often tied solely to that one company and job meaning changing employers is not usually an option).
OK, I know that went longer than I intended, but my point is that if you are a US or Canadian citizen and wanting to work abroad, even in our "friend" countries, you're going to find yourself often in a situation that might make you jealous of the opportunities for making a living your average "undocumented worker" in the US has even as bad off as they can sometimes be. And, even if you are able to find work, it will likely be as a freelancer which means you'll make less, have no benefits, yet have all the same responsibilities, pay considerably more of your income in taxes
and fees (and thus have less money
to work with each month than your colleagues), and that you won't get all the fun stuff you'd think like the month or two off for vacations each year or the ability to collect a pension or even a hand finding a job if the one you're at disappears. Freelancing seems to be the trend now in the US too and it's a reality that we all might face as any of us, especially those still trying to find their life's occupation or income.
Pretty much, just like when you run out of water
in the middle of the ocean, when it comes to making money, having an income, and surviving whether on ship or on shore or in your own country or abroad, we're all to more or lesser extents on our own. And unfortunately for we north Americans, we're as on our own as we can get so when looking at going abroad and cruising or living off the hook, whether it be money or medical
care or the ability to sell your skills, we need to keep in mind that what may be valid for our British, Commonwealth, and European friends, may be a far cry from the reality we are going to face.
2. Age and whether you're retired or not
-- there's obviously a reason most people on the water are retired. Because, they can be! Certainly all of us would love to get on the water as early as we can and live a life of adventure and enjoyment rather than wait till we're older in the hopes that such opportunity will still exist. But, within this sort of planning, the 21st century has for the most part opposite repercussions to many, especially Americans, than it had in the 20th century. From the time of Teddy Roosevelt through the 1980's, laws and regulations
and expectations changed to give Americans unprecedented opportunities for education, employment
, medicine, food
, and a series of economic and social safety
nets. These changes of the past allowed the US and Canada
to become the models for what most of the world wants and allowed a couple whole generations of Americans to move from poverty to prosperity and to move that American Dream from ideal to reality. Unfortunately for all of us post-baby boomers, once the generations of our grandparents and parents benefited from all that opportunity, employment protection, home ownership
, pensions, healthcare and all that that allowed them to build their successful lives, they sort of became a$$holes and spent a couple of decades changing the laws to make sure their children
and grandchildren would never have such access themselves all out of some misguided fear that everyone else having the same access to life they'd enjoyed would somehow be the means by which they would be personally robbed of their fortunes.
What this means is that, if you don't have a job right now where you're vested into a retirement
system and close enough to that pension coming to fruition that you can't be easily fired before they have to cut the first check, or if you're not already retired, you're likely not going to get a retirement
. We don't have the ability anymore to get a job with a company and stay with it for 20-30 years and be rewarded with promotion and pay and at the end with benefits and security
. In fact, for far too may of us we don't even seem to have the ability anymore to get a job period within whatever our field is. Jobs today come and go, companies can replace you at will, and can simply step out on paying benefits as they desire. I know very very few professionals under the age of 40 who have retirement benefits as part of their pay, and only some that even get 401-k potential with those that do so having caveats that allow their employers to drop matching contributions at any time they like.
My point is that if you aren't retired today, you pretty much have to plan on never being retired, at least in the sense that there will likely not ever be a time in our future where we can simply stop doing things to earn money because some pension or government check will show up in the mail each month. It's just not going to happen and I honestly don't know a single
person in this situation who has come up with a definite plan for what's going to happen when we're old. But, whatever it is, we're probably going to be on our own and have to take care of everything ourselves.
This again means that the numbers and dynamics of cruising and such for those of us on the post-20th century jobs side of this equation are going to have a far different nature than those who preceded us. Even within the idea of being able to cruise
for $500/mo, the reality is that we're going to have to always make sure we have a source of that $500 because it's not going to get direct deposited into our accounts, and when you have no income, $500 may just as well be $5000 if there isn't a way to get it.
But, even though we don't have the same opportunities to prepare to cruise
the world that those out there today or preparing to leave soon have had, we might have other reasons that justify going out earlier in life.
Moreso than in the past, as mentioned we have little possibility or motivation to stay in one job or with one company or in one occupation for the longterm. We often talk about needing to find a job or figure out what we're going to do in life. In the past this meant finding a job that would carry us through to retirement and figuring out what combination of making us happy and making us money would allow us to live the lifestyle we would be happy with from here on out. That's just not the way it works anymore. Likewise, when we look at jobs and careers they all require education, usually with specialized degrees and often multiple higher education degrees. Even within the sorts of telecommuting and contract
type jobs that many on here have mentioned as potential forms of employment while cruising, the minimum requirements are usually at least a master's degree if not a PhD. Those are degrees by the way that you'll be expected to pay for yourself and either come up with from your bank account (that is probably empty anyway) or you'll have to make the decision to take our 25, 50, or $200,000 in student loans to pay for it in the hopes that some day you may get paid more for a year of employment in your specialized field than a year of school
to prepare for that specialized field actually cost you.
Finally, there's the land-lubber ties. So many discussions about heading out to sea on here revolve around that big decision and formula and such on severing the ties with the land, to sell the house or rent it out, to trade
off the George Carlin style big bigger box to hold more stuff lifestyle for the smaller mobile box that has less stuff but more life. Well again the post-21st century side of this piece of the puzzle might not really matter for most of us. Between the mortgage debacle caused by all the greedy idiots on the west coast and in Florida
, the fact that banks apparently no longer have to bother lending money for mortgages, and the fact that employment and wages are just never going to be for those of us today what they were for everyone 10-15 years ago, actually owning a home has become something of an anomaly rather than a norm. I happen to own a house myself but this only has occurred because I found a good deal, bought into an improving area, was willing to spend the past 2 years completely rebuilding the place by hand, and all that. That said, I still pay probably twice as much each month as someone who's older and who had already gotten established in the systems decades ago and who has a mortgage for 3 times as much as I do, simply because the programs, rates, benefits and all that that got them into their homes aren't there for us today.
What I'm saying is that today for many of us, it's not about the order of doing things, about deciding when to cut the strings and cast off, about when to leave the rat race
to enjoy the world. It's about aspiring for a lifestyle we want to have while knowing that the alternative lifestyle that most others have to decide to give up (good job, good pay, retirement, home, etc) isn't likely to happen for us in the first place.
This certainly makes it harder for us to figure out how to save up and one day get on the water, but at the same time, it certainly doesn't leave us with anywhere near as many reasons to stay on the land!
So, who knows how this will all play out, and who knows if anyone has actually bothered to read through what has turned into a much longer post than I'd originally planned, but I think this is a valid ground for discussion and that there is just far more to figuring out the cruising lifestyle and all of our place in this very different globalized world going forward and that sometimes our discussions and debates on here tend not to consider all of this.