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Is Cognitive Bias Keeping You from Moving to a Less Expensive Country?


Updated 2019

My moving to Mexico as a single woman was initially based on logic more than feeling.  I wanted an affordable, interesting life.

security guard and expat in Mexico

Confirmation bias in action - Whether you think Mexico is safe or not-safe will probably determine how you interpret this picture. My expat friends were amused (or just loved a man in uniform), my state-side friends alarmed, by this picture of me with a security guard outside a local bank.

In the United States, one seemed to preclude the other.  I discussed my plan with my CPA. The math as well as the logic fell in lock step with my spirit. 

When I was a fundraiser, one of the phrases that guided me, picked up from book on the subject by Harold Seymour was “The heart goes where logic leads the way."

His assertion was that even acts of charity were based on rational thinking, that the heart tended to follow rational thinking.

If only logic were always so easy to come by. 

In his engaging and useful book, “The Art of Thinking Clearly,” Swiss entrepreneur Rolf Dobelli itemizes 99 common cognitive biases that negatively affect our decision-making.  (Booklist called it a “well-considered treatise on avoiding self-induced unhappiness.”)

As I read and re-read the book, I tried to shine its light on my thinking patterns as I decided whether to move to Mexico.  Of the 99 biases, here a few that I recognized could affect my decision making.

1. Social Proof (if 50 million people say something foolish, it’s still foolish) - There are hundreds of platitudes surrounding how people should live, work or retire.  Most people will forward conventional wisdom.

While not inherently foolish, those solutions should be examined closely against who you really are.  Just because something is the most popular solution does not mean it’s the best for you.  Moving to Mexico will never be the most popular financial plan, but it works for me (and about a million other Americans).

2. Sunk-Cost Fallacy -  Rational thinking, according to Dobelli, requires that you forget about the costs to date, such as sitting through a terrible movie because you paid for a ticket.  In lifestyle planning, this would be continuing to invest in a lifestyle that is failing to work for you, whether financially or emotionally, because you've already got so much invested in it. 

3. Omission Bias means that if action and inaction can both lead to negative outcomes, we tend toward inaction.  Somehow when things don’t end up as planned, we feel better having done nothing and ended up in a bad situation rather than if we had taken an active role in it.  Omission bias for example, is probably a reason why people don't invest in the market.

4. The Availability Bias, my favorite, states that we create a picture of our world according to what information is the most available. If I heard someone say something like, “I knew someone who lived in Mexico for 20 years and felt safe everywhere,”or conversely “I knew someone who lived in Mexico and squatters moved into her house when she was in the hospital,” either statement could make me be vulnerable to availability bias.  

Because we are likely to grab the most available information, not the most researched or rational. This is my favorite because people having such bad opinions of Mexico is because the bad news, cartels and violence, is so much more available than good news.

Because of availability bias, we go through life with “an incorrect risk map in our heads." according to Dobelli.  Taking his advice, I fended off my bias that Mexico was at least as safe as the United States by being open to those who had negative yet first-hand stories to tell. This step has also helped me avoid…

5. Confirmation Bias is our tendency to filter all new information in such a way our prior conclusions can remain unchallenged. 

When weighing whether to move to another country, don't rely on second-hand opinions or information that dates back to your college years.  Get first hand information from people who have actually lived there, then examine your conclusions against these common biases. 

 As Dobelli goes on to say, in making good decisions “Axing beliefs that seem like old friends is hard work but imperative," particularly if you're considering Mexico.

For updates and information from Ventanas Mexico on living full-time or part-time in Mexico,

Related Links:

"Things Not to Say to a Mexican" - A Mexican friend sets me straight  Ventanas Mexico

"Safety in Mexico Means Many Different Things" - Mexico, not safe? Well, it depends on what you're afraid of - Ventanas Mexico

Come up with a few of your own beliefs and test them with "Eight Myths About Retiring to Mexico" -  Ventanas Mexico

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About the author:

Hola -  I'm a partner with Ventanas Mexico, which helps people explore living full or part-time in Mexico.

I am also author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online" an interactive tool for adults learning the language who get bored with the same tools every day.

I also released the exciting, "If I Only Had a Place" (but only exciting if you like living in an oceanfront condo for $850 a month.)