Repat Chronicles

Alternate Title: Your Boy Sold Out

You read right. I have left Lima, Peru and South America as a whole. I moved my family to St. Louis in February. Hence the title. I am no longer an expat. Nor am I an immigrant or anything in between. I am repatriated, a repat.

I’ll go through the reasons in this article, but all of them fall under the MONEY category. In short, I sold out. Or as I sometimes say, I’d love to stay in Lima … but I can’t afford it!

For the last few years I had been renting nice apartments for my family in the Lince district of Lima. We had money to visit the States for a month every year and Arequipa (wife’s hometown) once or twice a year. We took a second honeymoon to Mexico City in 2016, and we could take an international trip like that every couple years. We ate in fancy restaurants once or twice a month, and cheap neighborhood spots whenever we didn’t feel like cooking. In Peru it was standard upper-middle-class, also known as “nivel socioeconomico B” (NSE B).

So what was the problem?

I wasn’t making any progress toward buying a house. Peru Reports didn’t pan out. I make good money from Peruvian Naturals, but it’s volatile. And with a goods business in which you run an inventory, you can’t pay yourself 100% of earnings. If you don’t reinvest some profits, you’ll never grow. Given the volatility and importance of retained earnings, I pay myself a modest salary.

With three children, I need at least a three-bedroom house. But I also work from home, so I really need four bedrooms or I’d have to rent an office to work out of. Four-bedroom houses in Lince start at $250,000, and those would be undesirable locations. On the nice streets (west of Av. Arequipa, south of Av. Canevaro), they start at $350,000 and go up to seven figures.

In Peru you generally need 50% down, and I’m not too shy to say that I don’t have that in cash right now. What’s worse, being a foreigner with a foreign-based business, I probably couldn’t get a loan at all.

Peru has enacted some new mechanisms to get financing, and of course with determination I could make it happen. But the house was just one part of my calculus.

I also have to think about school for three children, and in Peru that means private. Roosevelt, the top American school, charges $17,908 per year in tuition plus a one-time entrance fee of $18,500. That translates to $90,000 per child to go just during the high school years (grades 9-12). With three children, that’s basically another house to pay for.

I have worked with Peruvians and Colombians who went to the Roosevelt equivalents in their cities and countries. And from my experience, they have about the same level of education as your average public-school-educated American. But their parents paid a house worth of dollars for it.

Obviously there are more economic options than Roosevelt. The NSE B option in my neighborhood is Sophiano, and I have connections there. I don’t necessarily have a problem sending the children to a school less rigorous than the average American public school, but it would bother me a little to have to pay $5,000 per year for it.  

Then you consider you don’t just pay for the high school years, but all 13 years of K-12. For masochism’s sake, I calculated how much it would cost to send all three children to Sophiano for K-8 and then Roosevelt for 9-12: $350,000.

Obviously I’m getting whacked by two entrance fees under that scheme. So if I gave up my dream of the top American school and kept my children in their station (NSE B), the grand total all said and done would be $175,000. That’s still a house worth of money, and that would be a grind.

Not Trying to Grind

A “grind” was not my dream in coming down to Latin America. I knew it would be a grind in the initial years, but I had dreamed of the red-carpet life, being treated like royalty and waltzing into the upper class by virtue of my blue eyes. Working like a stressed-out American and suffering the uncertainty of housing prices and school tuition was NOT the plan.

I believe red-carpet treatment and being idle rich was the standard lifestyle for gringos in Latin America for a long time, but those days are OVER. In 2019, Peru is rich as fuck, as are many other countries. It’s not easy to be a big fish in a small pond because the pond isn’t so small anymore.

Peruvians have told me that, 20 years ago, meeting a foreigner was a very special occasion that would only happen a couple times a year. But now it’s every day. We’re a dime a dozen, and that’s not counting the chamos.

Tim Ferriss’s four-hour workweek and all the dickhead expat bloggers except me have popularized the fact that it’s not too dangerous down here, and it’s a lot of fun. More gringos come every year. Many will stay. More gringos mean more competition.

Not only more gringos mean competition, but more and more Latins are studying in Gringolandia and coming back with gringo education and business culture. Then there are children of South Americans raised in Gringolandia who come back with a bicultural advantage.

It just doesn’t pay much to be a gringo anymore. Sure, you can always teach English. But that’s a lower-middle-class lifestyle these days, unless you get on as a full-time teacher at a fancy high school or university. Then it’s a middle-class lifestyle. Either way, you’re not waltzing into the good life on easy street in 2019 unless you go to a shithole nobody wants to go to (Venezuela, El Salvador, Paraguay, etc.).

Apples and Oranges

In Lince, three-bedroom houses start at $250,000 (probably $350,000). In St. Louis, they can be had for the mid-five figures, and that’s not even getting into smack-and-crack neighborhoods. In Lima, the school I would probably select would set me back $175,000 for all three children when it’s all said and done. In St. Louis, FREE!

Those minimums are $425,000 in Lima vs. $50,000 in St. Louis.

To be fair, those prices do not reflect an apples-to-apples comparison. Lima is the economic, political and entertainment capital of Peru, while St. Louis isn’t even all of that for the state of Missouri. Comparing Lima to New York or Washington DC would give you a most accurate look at pricing in Peru vs. the United States.

You can get three-bedroom homes in Peru for the mid-five-figures, but I’m not willing to live anywhere other than Lima. Hell, I’m not willing to live in the conos of Lima. It’s Lince, San Isidro or Jesus Maria, or I’m going home.

I’m willing to live in various working-class parts of St. Louis. That doesn’t bother me. But I’m not doing that in Latin America. That’s not what I came for. I know many gringos who are happy doing the middle-class thing in Latin America. Some doing less. But even if I were willing, changes in my business are also pulling me back to the States.

My U.S.-based Biz

Five years ago I had only three products: Maca, Chanca Piedra and Cat’s Claw. These days I have 20. Growing the product line was necessary in order to grow the business, but that has also increased complexity.

More inventory requires more manual labor than I can pay family members to do. Somebody has to manage the warehouse. Some products require time-consuming packaging work. And while there is value in being close to your suppliers, I’ve come to see that there is more value in being close to your market. From a business standpoint, it was getting increasingly difficult to justify staying in Peru.

Shameless plug: If you want to help me and support Expat Chronicles, these are the products I need to move right now: Cacao Nibs (super-nutritious, unroasted cocoa beans) and Huanarpo capsules (boner pills, priced 2 for 1!).

So that sums up the reasons for repatting: housing prices, cost of education and business. Or in one word: MONEY.

Children > Determination

I’m fond of saying “There are two types of expats: [A]s and [B]s.” Here’s another one. One type thinks their home country or culture is rotten, ruined or somehow going to hell in a handbasket. They come from all over the political and moral spectrums and see their countries in various negative lights, so they choose a foreign country. The anti-patriots.

The second type, probably more common, has nothing against their home country. I was always in that camp. While I chose not to live in the United States for many years, I never thought it was a bad place. I was just bored. I needed adventure and the high-octane lifestyle that being an expat offers. But I was always proud to be an American and sometimes craved going home for visits.

I also have always wanted my children and especially my son to be at least a little American in their personality, which would require living in the States for some of their childhood.

But that isn’t why we made the leap now. That could have been delayed. We made the leap for MONEY.

When I first moved to South America in 2008, I may have been a little strange in determining it to be a permanent move. The thinking wasn’t a trial visit, it was immigration. In those early years, I saw many gringos throw in the towel and head back home. I developed a determination not to fail. That’s how I saw it back then, a challenge.

I remember identifying three years as a kind of milestone. Most gringos throwing in the towel did so after one year, and almost all of them did it before three years. If I could get beyond three years, I thought, I was home free.

By the time I made it to three years, I noticed another feature of gringos throwing in the towel on Latin America: children. And that’s what got me, the need for education and a big house in a nice part of town. The adults told you all your life that having children changes everything. And I’ll tell you now, they were right. They were right all along.

Repat Chronicles

Lima has beaches and the some of the best food in the world. St. Louis is an unremarkable, provincial city in the Midwest. I don’t hesitate or exaggerate in saying the quality of life in Lima is higher. Not for everybody, but for me it is.

The plan isn’t to stay in the United States forever. But there isn’t a plan. There is only a minimum, and the bare minimum is three years. Three years is the time required for Wife to get American citizenship so we don’t have to dick around with visas anymore. Five years is a more realistic minimum.

In the back of my mind, I’d like to return to Lima for the oldest to attend high school. But I wouldn’t go back without a big pile of cash — like $200,000. If that doesn’t happen, I won’t go back to live. I won’t go back to grind.

Something else I’m fond of saying: it’s a brave new world when you have to work and save in the States in order to buy a house in Peru!

In the meantime, I’ll still be blogging. I published a taste of new content in “This is America,” a series about repat culture shock. I have a few on deck, so stick around. I’m still dropping good reads here and in the newsletter.

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21 comments

  1. Nice one, Colin. Sorry to see you go and will miss your acid, but well formed, commentaries. Your new guy on Turismo Lima is the bog’s dollocks, great stuff.

    Good Luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another good reason to be back in the Midwest for the kids: avoiding the classism so pervasive in Latin American culture, especially the private schools. It’s not healthy for developing adolescents. I spoke with a teacher at CNG, the American international school in Bogota, and she said the worst students for behavior/attitude were always the Colombians who had US passports. I totally get why you’re moving back. I stayed 8 years in Bogota and lived a similar lifestyle to yours but didn’t have a family so it was easier. My Colombian partner wanted to get a PhD so we’re in the US for several years. Definitely be prepared for reverse culture. It will be an adventure for your whole family which they will appreciate. I look forward to the repat posts!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I didn’t know you were planning on returning to the states. I guessed you would eventually. Your reasons were exactly the same as mine…

    We’ve been in the UK for just over five years now and my kids are thriving in the FREE high quality education system. We also have access to state healthcare. We own a business and a a nice house with a garden. We have two cars and we take 2-3 overseas trips per year. All things we would have never achieved had we stayed in Colombia.

    Quality of life is good, We have managers running the business so it pretty much takes care itself leaving the wife and I enough time to focus on other projects. We’re a few mins from London by train; international culture, shopping music, restaurants, theatre etc. My kids walk to neighbourhood schools by themselves. There are no street zombies, no third world transport systems. And best of all we’re a long way from the wife’s family. No meddling mother in law or useless brother around, so the kids aren’t subjected to their backward ways.

    I have no regrets about coming back to the UK. The long term goal might be to cash in here in 10 years time here and retire to Latin America or elsewhere.

    PS: did you ever locate Christopher?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s funny, I’m relocating to St. Louis in the near future. I’m curious what neighborhood you chose, or are considering. From what cursory research I’ve done North city is really cheap, but supposedly has high crime that some attribute to high black population and poverty. Don’t know if that type of segregation is that much different from Lima’s classism. Anyway good luck with your move.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No North City if you aren’t black yourself! And there are several neighborhoods in South City and the northern suburbs which aren’t safe if you aren’t black.

      An easy test I developed for high-crime cities (not just St. Louis) for evaluating neighborhoods is the night walk. Go to the neighborhood you’re considering after 9 p.m. and take a walk around the side streets. Preferably on a Friday or Saturday night. That will tell you everything you need to know.

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  5. Have family from Lima (Miraflores) and the stunning debt-fueled appreciation of housing over the last decade is amazing. Looked at buying pre-construction in Lima in ’10 – San Isidro 4BR adjacent to a parque. Could have purchased USD$200K – probably hit $750K last I checked. But its all debt fueled acquisition – which is why you are priced out. Peru has benefitted from raw material sales to China over the last 20 years since the depression of the 00’s – if China slows you’ll get your chance again to pick up something cheap (er). It didn’t end well in the US in ’08-09 and it won’t end well in Peru either. Boom/Bust. Good luck though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree with everything here. I didn’t mention it here, but I wouldn’t buy anything until the inevitable crash in the NSE A and B sectors. I’ve been waiting for that for years. Who knows when it will happen? I don’t think so, but it could be another 10 years! As somebody said, the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

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  6. Hope that works out for you. I do have to say you keep referring to Lima as Peru. Lima is expensive as fuck. There are many other options in the country for people who don’t have you wine taste. My wife and I have different needs and wants then you and your family has but I have been living it up in Cusco for a 1/4 of the cost of living in Lima. The Cusco and the Sacred valley is a bargain compared to Lima. I rent a 2 bedroom house for $300 a month and fresh food is close to nothing. My monthly expenses is under 1k that’s food rent booze excursions etc. Granted I don’t have any kids but I think at times you write as if all Peru consists of is Lima. To each their own but personally I prefer the mountains and nature so Lima is an overpriced congested city to me. Point being there are alot of options for different lifestyles. Hope St. Louis works out. Cheers

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    1. Zero argument from me. Only thing is a matter of preference. I like big cities. I’m only willing to suffer St. Louis because my family is here. If we had a little more money/flexibility we would be in Chicago if not New York. A personal taste that is limiting. Other countries have second-tier cities which aren’t small towns (Colombia, Brazil, Mexico), but beyond Lima there simply isn’t anything for me in Peru.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Welcome to the club.

    Got resettled in Austin late last year after ten years of goofing off in Nicaragua; now trying to start over from scratch at 40. About halfway through the green card process for the wife and stepson, littlest has his passport. Forgot how clean everything is, how on time people are and how advanced the society is compared to Nicaragua. Everybody has hot water and AC/Heat and talks to their thermostats before leaving in their electric cars. My kids are gonna flip when they go to the park and the see other kids flying drones with VR headsets.

    Good luck in St. Louis! Shout me if you ever make it down to ATX for any reason.

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  8. I totally respect Colin for putting his kids first, and caring about the culture and education that his kids will receive. If only more parents did the same.

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  9. Colin, Did you remove my post about the murder rate in St. Louis? In fact, I thought I had several comments on this thread and I don’t see them any more. My post was about the fact that St. Louis has the highest murder rate in the USA and I suggested you move somewhere safer like Detroit. Now I see the photo you posted on Facebook of you and your daughter in front of your new home is St.Louis Blues jerseys. Judging by the houses across the street you are living in a slum. There are not even bricks on those houses. A slum in St. Louis is not a step up from Lima, Peru and I would not move my family there. Sorry Colin, but that’s the truth.

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    1. I would never delete a comment from such an esteemed reader!

      However, I don’t think I implied that I was taking a step up. In fact, what I say here is that I would happily live a working-class lifestyle in St. Louis, but that I was not willing to live anything less than upper-middle-class in Latin America.

      And I must take issue with the word “slum,” which is a gross exaggeration at best and a little melodramatic at worst. The neighborhood doesn’t meet any of the major dictionary definitions of “slum” (overcrowded, run-down, poverty). There are no drug spots, gangs or prostitution. Nothing like that. On the other hand, there are manicured gardens, American flags and family barbecues. Children riding bikes and playing sports. The only change in the last 30 years has been an influx of Hispanic families, which is great for us.

      Given the volatility of my business, I bought a cheap house. I didn’t want to run any risk of missing a payment. And this house has been in the family for a couple generations. So there was sentimental value and a vast ocean of house-specific knowledge I can tap. Also important, the wife is thrilled. She doesn’t want a bigger house. That would mean more cleaning!

      And my house has bricks 🙂

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      1. Well done, Mr Colin. For someone who spent a “few” years enjoying socially stimulating substances, your brain power seems not so much declining as much improved, like wine maybe, with age. An excellent, mannered and well presented defensive piece. Congratulations.

        House-specific knowledge is useful when you need to fix or improve things! (we rebuilt this one from a wrecked shell).

        The issue with social levels in Latin Merica is there from the colour of your eyes inwards. A gringo is EXPECTED to possess advantages. Your aspirations are entirely correct (with the possible exception of restricting yourself to Lima).

        My disclaimer is that I DID wait until retirement to move here (by which time I was resource-ready of not only the bank balance but also mental agility. It’s well thought-of here to be quick of wit, rapid response). I COULD have moved here with the new Peruvian wife and a bereft 9 year old son, but … fill in the blanks including of course the era of the Japanese presidency … often,though, wondering what might have been; my background was in IT and there was NOTHING then. Whereas now IT is all over the shop. Literally, if you mean the corner bodega with its electronic vat tickets.

        I hope you manage to get your savings in order in the few years you have left before you become an old man!

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      2. Colin,

        My bad, as I posted earlier. You did not delete my messages. I found them under the Roosh thread. Yes, the word “slum” was an exaggeration, just as I think it is an exaggeration to call the yards in your neighborhood “manicured lawns” (you wrote “manicured gardens”). I did a Google Image search on the word “slum” and they are some really terrible communities; much worse than yours. By those standards the abandoned neighborhoods in Detroit are not “slums”, either, but I also wouldn’t want to live there.

        I went back to look at the current Google Maps image for the first home I bought in 1977 (40+ years ago). It was a simple, new, brick tract home built in Garland, a not-wealthy suburb of Dallas. My home was probably lower middle class 40 years ago. I barely qualified with my first wife and our full-time jobs at about 21 years old. If I put that house today and that neighborhood alongside yours, at the same price, and ignoring the huge difference in murder rate, I would pick my first home. (Your house has bricks? Do they homes across the street have bricks?)

        So what’s my point? I think you said the reason you returned is because US public schools are as good as Lima private schools and much cheaper (free) along with cheaper houses (yeah, if you pick a neighborhood like yours). Are going to put your daughter in public schools in that neighborhood? I would think twice about that decision, too. I might feel safer with my daughter in Lima public schools and she might get just as good an education. Sorry about the overtime loss. I know what it feels like. LOL. At least the Blues are still alive.

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      3. As an expat-immigrant who chose NOT to move here early in my son’s life, I’m not too sure, in hindsight, that this was a really good decision. My evidence:

        I’ve married into a family of whom the children of two of the sisters- and one brother-in-law now include:
        – a Biologist Professor at the National University, studying for his Maestria,
        – a Microbiologist, gainfully employed at a Medical Laboratory,
        – a Pharmacist working at a Chemicals company in Lima,
        – a Graduate in Public Administration who gave the keynote speech to 3000 people at his graduation,
        – a Lawyer who graduated straight into the Colegio de Abogados,
        – an Agricultural Engineer working in the Sierra,
        – a Production Engineer working in Qali Warma,
        – a Chemical Engineer working in a food company,
        – a part qualified Accountant,
        – and an undergraduate Civil Engineer at the National;
        ¡ and !
        some of these went to the ordinary secondary school in the suburbs,
        some went to the Santa Rosa convent day school,
        and some got their secondary education far away in the Sierra Liberteña.

        I am not sure that public education here is of insufficient quality … “Could Have Tried Harder” I tell myself sometimes.

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  10. Colin, My bad. I see my comments were posted under the Roosh thread and are still there. Maybe you should move this comment.over there, but it’s not like it’s very important anyway.

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  11. Colin, maybe you would like to see this video. Maybe not. I saw it in some suggested videos on YouTube; I didn’t go looking for it. It is the Top 10 WORST Cities in America for 2019. I thought to myself “I wonder if St. Louis made the list?” Most of the cities are not very large; some I haven’t even heard their name before. But my patience paid off. St. Louis is there at number 3. Detroit is number 2 and somewhere in Delaware is number 1. That surprised me. If you don’t want to go through the whole video St. Louis starts at about 7:35. Oh well, St. Louis isn’t the worst place in the USA.

    Like

    1. You may be surprised but I do not completely disagree with the premise. I would just add some better points to this guy’s played out arguments which always boil down to the ghetto. And those problems are largely avoidable if you live in the nice suburbs. I really don’t think St. Louis or Detroit, both of which I know well, are much worse than other Rust Belt cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh or Kansas City. They’re all basically the same. To get away from that you basically have to leave the Midwest.

      So if you live in the safe parts of town then you have to drive a car every day in these long suburban avenues that are jam-packed with other suburban commuters who are all going to the same place and jockeying for their preferred lane. It’s not a nice life for me.

      In St. Louis we also have more than our fair share of rednecks. It’s the worst region I’ve found in the world for allergies. It’s the worst weather I’ve found on the planet, with dangerous snow drifts in the winter and sweltering summers.

      I’m really only here because my family is here and we want the children to know them. I have told the wife many times that if we stay here for the children’s schooling, then we are out of here as soon as they’re out of the house. Chicago, New York, Lima … somewhere else. I really don’t like it here!

      Like

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