The Pros and Cons of Living in Tropical Countries

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Moving to the tropics is a big life decision for some. For those who have been living in cold or temperate climates, it’s important to know the advantages and disadvantages of living all year round in a tropical climate. Image: Eugen Dubrovin

For most of us born and raised in a tropical country, we really couldn’t think of living anywhere else. The thought of living in countries where it is cold for half of the year, and sometimes months of snow and freezing temperatures, makes us wonder why all the people living in cold climates don’t migrate en masse to the tropics.

Of course, that’s because there are a lot of people who like living in a cold climate, as hard as that may be to believe for us living between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. And there are a lot of people too who say they like the changing seasons and would be bored if it was summer all year round.

Most people from cold or temperate climates who experience the tropics do so only on vacations. They enjoy the warm weather, sunshine, beaches and rainforests, but they don’t really get to experience what life is like in the tropics when visiting only for a few weeks.

This listing sets out the top five pros and cons of living in the tropics for the benefit of those who may be thinking of moving from cooler climates.

THE PROS (ADVANTAGES)

1. The Year-round Temperature

For most people, the most enjoyable thing about living in the tropics is the temperature. Note that we say “temperature” rather than “weather” because the other important component of the weather is the humidity, and we list that separately as a ‘con’. The temperature doesn’t vary as much in the tropics as it does in other parts of the world. In fact, the closer you get to the equator, the less there is any seasonal variation in temperature.

The difference between average maximum temperatures in all of the months of the year in cities like Singapore and Quito is only one or two degrees, and the same applies to their average minimum temperatures. As you move further away from the equator, there is more variation in temperatures, but nothing to the extent experienced in temperate climates.

Living on the equator at sea level (such as in Singapore) means it’s hot all the year round, but those choosing to live at elevated locations (such as Quito) will experience much lower temperatures but still without much variation from month to month. There are many mountainous regions in the tropics, which means there are many opportunities to find locations in countries like Panama, Costa Rica, Thailand and the Philippines where it is warm all the year round but not excessively hot.

Yes, it rains a lot in the tropics, but it’s still warm when it rains and it doesn’t often rain for the whole day. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in most tropical regions during the rainy season, but once they have passed there is a distinct freshness in the air which many say is the best part of a tropical climate. But best of all, no more long, cold drizzly days!

2. The Fresh Food

There’s nothing quite like having fresh mangoes for breakfast every day of the year. And the freshest seafood from the market for lunch or dinner. That’s not to say you can’t buy produce from tropical countries in other parts of the world (with the exception of some tropical fruits which don’t travel well) but they rarely taste as fresh and the cost is always much higher because of freight costs.

Of course, there are some foods from cold climates that are not readily available in tropical countries (rhubarb for example) but there are far more tropical foods that are not available elsewhere in the world than there are vice-versa. And there are very few places outside of the tropics where you can buy a fresh coconut from the side of the road for less than $2.

All over the tropics there are markets and street stalls selling large selections of fresh fruits and vegetables for much cheaper prices than in the rest of the world. There are far fewer frustrations with fruits and vegetables being out of season in the tropics, and tropical countries are the only places where you can gorge on jackfruit, soursops, lychees, rambutans, langsats and mangosteens without breaking the bank.

3. The Summer Wardrobe

In the tropics you don’t need an expensive wardrobe. In fact, you don’t need much of a wardrobe at all. Aside from what you may need to wear to work, men can spend their leisure time in shorts and a t-shirt, and women in a light cotton dress (or bikini if you prefer). You’ll never need layers of clothing like you do in other climates (unless you are living in the mountains).

Of course, some women may miss the cooler climate fashions, but there are still opportunities to dress up in the tropics for evening get-togethers or barbeques on the beach. It’s just that you won’t need expensive dresses, coats and jewelry, because they will look out of place in the tropics (unless a rich millionaire has invited you onto his yacht for an exclusive party).

Casual dress is the order of the day in the tropics, and that’s usually no more than one layer, so comfort rules supreme. What you see tourists wearing on the Caribbean beaches or streets of Bangkok will become the norm for day-to-day wear. Once you get used to dressing down in the tropics, you’ll find it hard to go back to dressing for cooler climates. And your bank balance will be healthier because you’ll need far fewer clothes.

4. The Beaches and Nature

Most places in the tropics, aside from central India, are not far from beaches, and many choose to live right on the beach. A white sandy beach with a warm ocean lapping at your feet is a great place for early morning or late afternoon exercise whether you are into walking, running or swimming. So right on your doorstep you have great spot for exercise all year round that’s going to contribute to healthier living.

Even if you aren’t within easy reach of a beach, chances are you’ll have walking tracks in rainforests nearby, or access to rural areas or parklands where you can enjoy nature whilst undertaking a year-round exercise routine. That’s something you can’t do in cold climates unless you are a hardened runner or cyclist. No more boring sessions on treadmills and expensive gym memberships!

There is so much nature at your doorstep in the tropics that only a lucky few in temperate climates can experience. Research has shown that having nature all around you reduces blood pressure, stress, and anxiety. It’s a natural antidote to depression and has a soothing effect on the human body. You can almost feel the body

5. The Pace of Life

Some might say that the laidback pace of life in the tropics should be listed as the No 1 advantage of living in a tropical country, but we’ve listed it last because many see the ‘mañana’ attitude of many countries in the tropics (loosely translated ‘mañana’ means ‘tomorrow maybe’) as a disadvantage.

The heat and humidity of the tropics means that everything happens at a much slower pace. For those who see this as being in ‘holiday mode’ it’s a positive feeling, but for those trying to get an air-conditioner or refrigerator fixed, it can be a negative feeling. Either way it’s important to recognize that things don’t happen as quickly in the tropics, and you will need to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate that fact.

The slower pace of life combined with many other elements of the tropics like the beaches and palm trees, rainforests and waterfalls, fresh fruits and flowers, sunshine and blue skies, colorful parrots and fiestas, make up what is known as the ‘tropical vibe’. It’s a feeling of living well, in an environment where life is meant to be unhurried, and it can contribute to a much less stressful way of life for those living in the tropics.

THE CONS (DISADVANTAGES)

1. The Humidity

For many people the humidity is the most unpleasant part of living in the tropics unless you are in one of the dry Middle Eastern countries like Oman or living at an elevation where both temperature and humidity is lower. For those born in the tropics the humidity is not a problem – they grow up with it and are used to it. In fact, many Caucasians are amazed how many ‘locals’ seem not to sweat when they themselves are dripping in perspiration.

But long-term expats living in tropical countries will tell you that you do eventually acclimatize to it and learn to adjust your daily routine to avoid going out during the most humid parts of the day. Air-conditioning offers a respite from the humidity during the day, and family gatherings and parties are often held at night to avoid the humidity.

Some women believe that living in the tropics makes their skin look younger because it never dries out and doesn’t require lots of moisturizer. There’s some truth in that because older people who have lived their lives in the tropics usually have fewer wrinkles and dry skin if they haven’t been working outside in the sun.

Although most people do get used to the humidity after a while, the hardest thing for expats from temperate climates to deal with is going through the process of re-acclimatizing after taking a one or two week trip away to a cooler or dryer climate. Getting used to the humidity takes a while, but as soon as you go away and come back, it hits you like a sauna all over again.

2. The Creepy Crawlies

There’s no getting away from this one, but the tropics do have lots of creepy crawlies. If snakes and spiders freak you out, then maybe the tropics are not for you. That said, it is possible to live your life in the tropics and hardly ever see a snake because generally snakes mind their own business and stay away from humans. Some regions, like northern Australia for example, do have a lot of poisonous snakes, and residents there learn to take precautions to avoid them, while some island states have almost no snakes at all. Hawaii for example has only one species of a terrestrial snake — a tiny non-venomous brown snake not much bigger than an earthworm — and a venomous sea-snake that is hardly ever seen.

Spiders thrive throughout the tropics. There are hundreds of different species of huntsman spiders in the tropics, some of them frighteningly large. They are venomous (although not usually fatal) but rarely bite humans unless being aggravated. Tarantulas can be found throughout the tropics too, but in no greater numbers than exist in sub-tropical and temperate regions of the world. In fact, there are as many species of venomous spiders in other regions of the world as there are in the tropics. The difference is you will see more spiders in total in the tropics.

Cockroaches and ants are the bane of householders living in the tropics. However clean you might keep your house you still can’t keep cockroaches out (but if the house is dirty, it will attract more) and ants will find their way into every house and even high rise apartments if there is a trace of anything sweet in a kitchen or pantry that is left unsealed. Biting ants in the garden can be a problem in some regions too.

3. The Natural Disasters

Most tropical countries – and especially those with nice beaches that attract migrants from temperate climates – are within tropical storm belts. Typhoons, cyclones and hurricanes (they are all different names for the same thing, depending on what part of the world you live in) batter tropical communities causing loss of life every year. But houses can be built to withstand tropical storms, and that’s a first priority for most people who move to a tropical country.

Knowing where the storm belts are within a country by doing some local research is an important requisite before deciding on where to live. In the Philippines for example, which is the most typhoon-prone country in the tropics, there are beautiful islands like Palawan where typhoons are rarely experienced because of their geographical location and the landfall barriers created by other islands.

It’s important to find out where earthquake faults and tsunami zones are too. Building or buying a home away from these zones is advisable. Although earthquakes and tsunamis can happen almost anywhere the world, there are more volcanoes in the tropics that cause loss of life than in other parts of the world, so it’s wise to choose a location that is not too close to an active volcano.

4. The Risks of Disease

Although it is possible to live a very healthy lifestyle in the tropics because of the warm weather enabling year-round exercise, and the availability of a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, there are some serious mosquito-borne diseases in the tropics such as malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever that can be fatal if proper precautions are not taken.

Although there is a vaccine available for Japanese encephalitis, other mosquito-borne diseases can only be prevented by avoiding being bitten by mosquitoes. Therefore an important part of any tropical lifestyle is to prevent mosquitoes entering the home during the early morning and dusk periods when they are most prevalent, and when sleeping at night, and to take precautions against being bitten when participating in outside activities.

Cholera is endemic to some countries in the tropics, and others are still struggling to bring tuberculosis under control (although tuberculosis can occur throughout the world). There are more parasites and other pathogens that are dangerous to humans in the tropics, and simple infections from cuts and insect bites can become more troublesome in hot weather than cold weather. Therefore, greater awareness of these dangers and more timely preventative action is required when living in the tropics.

5. The Mold and Mildew

The constant heat and humidity of the tropics over a few years causes build-ups of mold or mildew on personal possessions, resulting in damage to expensive items such as leather goods, artworks, electronic items and camera lenses. Those living in air-conditioned homes where the humidity is lower may avoid the worst effects of mold and mildew, but it’s impossible to eradicate completely.

Even ordinary clothes can be stained by mold if stored for too long, therefore regular washing or dry cleaning is required to keep a wardrobe in good order.  As we stated under the pros of living in the tropics, a large wardrobe is not required in the tropics, therefore it makes good sense to leave expensive winter clothes with friends or relatives in temperate climates if they have room to store them for you.

Bathroom walls can become moldy very quickly because of the added humidity from warm showers, therefore it’s a good idea to have extractor fans in every bathroom. In the dry season it’s advisable to leave windows open as much as possible to allow air to circulate in living areas and bedrooms. Using tubs of dehumidifying crystals in closets is effective too, but in the rainy season you’ll need to replace them often which can be expensive.

OTHER ISSUES

We’ve listed what we consider to be the five major advantages and disadvantages of living in the tropics. There are other minor pros and cons too, but these are things that generally affect some people but not others. It also depends on whether you are living in the tropics as a family, a couple or a single person.

Some may quote the poor standards of infrastructure and housing as a disadvantage of living in the tropics, but these are more issues relating to developing and under-developed countries rather than just tropical countries. The fact is there are more developing and under-developed countries in the tropics than in other parts of the world, so in most tropical locations that expatriates move to, the quality of public services and facilities available to them may be much lower than ‘back home’.

Overall, the lists of pros and cons are similar in length, but some may be more important or less important to particular individuals. It’s up to those persons who are considering moving to the tropics to place weightings on those pros and cons to decide which ones outweigh the others.

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