Utah Lifestyle

Why Are More and More Utahns Moving Abroad?

More and more Utahns are moving abroad. We talk to two expats about their reasons, experiences and popular expat destinations.


Popular expat destinations

Photo courtesy of Otto Mileti.

Popular Expat Destinations

In 1969, Otto Mileti and his best friend cruised in his Chevy panel truck for three days, headed to Guatemala City from the University of Texas in Austin.

The goal of the road trip was to visit Mileti’s college girlfriend who was Guatemalan. While there, his future and ex-wife, Carmen, showed him Lake Atitlan, Central America’s deepest and most picturesque lake in the highlands of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range.

Little did he know he would buy a vacation house there decades later in 2007.

It’s a really incredibly beautiful place to hang out,” said Mileti, who is the founder of The Zephyr Club, a once-thriving downtown live music venue that closed in 2004 after a 20-year run. The Zephyr attracted many top-notch acts, including Emmylou Harris, John Mayer and the Black Crows.

Mileti is one of a growing number of Utahns either moving to or buying second homes in Mexico and Central America. In fact, the trend of Americans becoming ex patriots, or expats, has grown since the March 2020 Covid lockdowns as people are fed up with anxiety and the upsurge in violent crime, mass and school shootings, fentanyl overdose deaths, a cooling economy and partisan political wrangling. 

The U.S. State Department estimates there were roughly 10 million citizens living abroad in 2020, which is more than double the number of Americans residing overseas in 1999, when the same department reported it to be 4 million. And in 2021, Taiwan, Mexico, and Costa Rica were the best expat destinations worldwide, according to InterNations.org, a website that connects expats and gives them tips for settling in 420 cities globally.

His advice for anyone considering putting down roots abroad: “Before you decide to move, you should live there for a few months,” he said. “Going in blind is tough. And realize it’s a third world, and there is going to be third world stuff happening.”

the view from Mileti’s home in Guatemala on Lake Atitlan.

About a three-hour drive from Guatemala’s only major airport and accessible only by boat, his home on Lake Atitlan is surrounded by bright blue water and flanked by three verdant mountains. You can sit in the hot tub and daydream away with stunning views.

I wake up and look outside, and I see three volcanoes,” he said. “It is the most beautiful lake in the world.”

Kym and Dan Meehan. Photo courtesy of the Meehans.

Kym and Dan Meehan of Park City also fell in love with and bought a place in another nation that they had vacationed at starting decades ago.

After retiring from the property management company they founded in the 80s, the Park City couple moved to Los Barriles, a fishing village in Mexico located on the southern tip of Baja California Sur, a Mexican state south of the Golden State.

Avid windsurfers who love the ocean and beach, the couple were ready for a change and sold their Deer Valley home and now have a house on the shore. They first purchased a trailer and put it in a trailer park before tricking it out, adding a second level and outdoor bathroom.

We had such little quality time with each other and our children,” Kym said. “We needed to run away to get away. Los Barriles proved just the spot.”

One of their main reasons for emigrating to Mexico aside from escaping their hectic life here was to show their children how to live a simpler and happier existence without all of the material trappings of growing up in an affluent area like Summit County.

We loved it there and taught our then children (2 and 4) that not all life and families were like those from Park City, Utah,” Kym said. “We were accepted into the Mexican community and eventually bought a trailer in a trailer park we considered better than the richest mansion in the world. We were able to navigate the laws of Mexico feeling comfortable with our purchase, and more and more a part of our community.”

Los Barriles was ranked fourth in the top 10 retirement spots on the Baja peninsula by Insider Monkey, a blog dedicated to investment and retirement. The ranking was determined by taking into account variables like small town life, healthcare availability, cost of living, weather, crime and shopping.

Scoring high on everything but shopping, Los Barriles is 65 miles south of La Paz, the capital, and is home to about 1,200 people. Los Barriles is renowned for its fly fishing, kitesurfing, windsurfing and pickleball facilities, a sport that combines tennis, badminton and ping-pong.

Chatting from a tour of Peru with her family, Kym said she has no regrets about becoming a dual citizen. She feels a sense of community in Los Barriles and hopes her family appreciates how lucky they are to live in such an enticing locale.

I feel safer than in my own country, truly,” Kym said. “The media focuses on horrific cartel murders and violence, and it does exist. But they are after each other not me. I have no business buying drugs and being out late in dangerous parts of the country. I bet the worst violence is in my beloved USA!”

 Top destinations for expats 2021. Source: InterNations.org

  • In #1 Taiwan, not a single expat interviewed feels personally unsafe.
  • #2 Mexico places first worldwide for personal happiness.
  • In #3 Costa Rica, nine in ten expats describe the population as generally friendly.
  • South Africa (#57) joins Kuwait (#59) and Italy (#58) in the bottom three.


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