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Travel Talk

'Question is, should you stay or should you go?'

Bud and I both have serious cases of electionitis avoidis gravis. In 2008, we spent much of the run-up to the national elections in Australia.

It was delightfully free of political ads as well as fascinating to get the Aussie take on all the hoo-ha. This time around we are in New Hampshire, and sometimes find ourselves wondering if we should just get outta here. Airline JetBlue seems to have similar thoughts, with its new promo ''Live Free or Fly''(jetbluelectionprotection.com). The idea is to sign in and vote for your party (sorry, only Republican and Democrat offered) on its website. If your candidate doesn't win, you could win a free ticket out of the country. Come back - or not.

And that got me thinking about the world of expats. Suppose we actually did want to move to another country on a semi-permanent basis?

Expats

It turns out that lots of people around the globe - perhaps as many as 200 million - live in a country other than one they were born and raised in. Some are working-age and have been hired by one of the increasingly global companies, often on time-limited contracts for five years or so. The company provides information and assistance in moving the family abroad to make the transition as seamless as possible - easy! Some of the 200 million are immigrants, intending to relocate permanently.

But some of the 200 million are retirees who have fled to warmer climates, lower costs of living and at least the hope of less overall stress and angst. Books on where and how to join the expat life are helpful (try Retirement Without Borders, by Barry & Thia Golson, amazon.com or a local bookseller). But remember that issues like legal stuff, immigration, tax policies, visas and other critical details can change in a heartbeat - so use books for philosophical, lifestyle and cultural insights and rely on the internet, especially embassy and expat group websites for the fine print (try expatexchange.com and expatinfodesk.com), but spend time Googling also.

Pros and cons

There are a ton of reasons to retire on a lazy beach somewhere - and also a ton of reasons not to settle on that beach. Scour the information out there and look deep, deep into your soul. Have your spouse do the same - then match the results. Will it drive you nuts not to have Target, Marshall's or HomeGoods a mere 15 minutes away? Can you live without a movie theater or live theater and entertainment? Do you speak the language or can you learn? Will you miss your close friends and family - or are you afraid they will move in on you?

Will the change in country mean a change in diet? Will it be easy to make friends, to find other Americans? Or would you rather find new friends? Will you be agonizingly homesick?

The really good reference material delves into all these questions immediately.

The bad material emphasizes how easy (and cheap) it is to buy property, live like a king on nothing and make a zillion dollars at the drop of a hat.

Where oh where?

Costa Rica used to be the place to retire, largely due to tax incentives, low cost of living, relatively high standards and fairly easy access. About 20,000 U.S. expats are there now.

But places like Panama, Nicaragua, Spain, Thailand and Vietnam are becoming popular, partly for financial reasons and partly because Skype and international air access have shrunk the globe. Visit internationalliving.com for detailed info and links to various countries, including creme-de-la-creme, top ranking New Zealand. If only it weren't a half a world away!

(Chase Binder lives in Bow. Read her blog at travelswithchase.blogspot.com.)

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