How to Decide Where to Live

We’ve relocated our family for fun several times wondering “where to live.” We’ve moved from Silicon Valley to Lake Tahoe to Reno to Puerto Rico and back, with a bit of vagabonding “nomadic life” in between.

Although living in Tahoe is fantastic, we’re not sure it’s our forever home. So we’re starting to look at the best places to live in the United States as we approach retirement. We hope you’ll join us on our amazing adventure, because we’d love to help you find your perfect place too. Here’s exactly what you need to do to get started:

Step #1 – Assess Where You Are

My first significant relocation as an adult was out of Stockton, California. I didn’t care for the lack of trees or that it was flat. I disliked the hot summers, the boring culture, and I didn’t like not having a trendy downtown with cool stores and cafés.

I did like the small city conveniences of having two malls. We had some nice parks, and I liked the winter fog and the many canals around town. I also liked that you could drive to either the mountains or the sea in just a couple of hours. But I was ready to try something new.

Take a look at where you’re currently located. What do you hate about your current location? What do you like about it? To get a clearer picture of what’s essential to you, make a list of likes and dislikes.

Step #2 – Make a Spreadsheet

When we were considering relocating to South America, we made a spreadsheet to help us narrow down our choices for where to visit in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay as well as the areas around them.

The sheet is an effective way to quickly and easily compare and score locations for various attributes. In the first column, list out all the attributes that matter most to you, which may include some of the following:

  • Affordability
  • Airport proximity
  • Churches
  • Climate
  • Community vibe
  • Cost of living
  • COVID restrictions
  • Crime stats
  • Government
  • Grocery proximity
  • Gyms
  • Hiking trails
  • Hospital proximity
  • Job opportunities
  • Local community groups
  • Medical care 
  • Proximity to family
  • Recreational activities
  • Restaurants
  • Schools
  • Shopping
  • Sports facilities
  • Startup scene
  • Taxes
  • Things to do
  • Veterinary services
  • Walkability
  • Yoga studios

Add a column that ranks the significance to you on a 0-10 scale to get more accurate results. 1 means the attribute isn’t important to you at all, while 10 means it’s very important.

Next, add columns for each place (city, state or country) that you’re comparing, for example, Miami and Austin. Rank each attribute from 0 to 10. Generally, high scores are good and low scores are bad.

To learn more about any particular attribute, look up information about the location online and make a judgment call. In many cases, such data is readily available from government sources.

If you’re weighting attributes by importance, create a second column with a formula that computes the weighted average of the rating for that place attribute. 

For each place you’ll want to compute an overall score of the weighted attributes.

If all this seems daunting, and you want to have the formulas done for you, copy our free Google Sheet to get started immediately.

We hope you enjoy it! When you begin filling in your new spreadsheet, we recommend ranking your current location to compare against the others.

Step #3 – Google for Ideas

Now comes the exciting part, researching unique locations to see what appeals.

My husband and I were seriously considering Chile before we moved to Puerto Rico because it is a huge country with a lot of interesting towns. We did a lot of online research and narrowed down the choices to a small list of places we wanted to visit in person.

One of the first things we considered was whether we wanted to live in a big city or a more rural location.

As we dug deeper, we discovered that we adore smaller towns with lakes and mountains not far from a decent-size city, with a good airport, in a climate where you can produce food.

So we Googled for the top small towns in Chile, best resort towns, where to buy small farms for cheap and so on, just to get started. 

Scouring Google maps and expat forums was one of the few things that we did as well. We ended up adding Puerto Varas, Valdivia, and Pucon to the top of our list of places to explore.

When you do your research, you’ll find many websites, blog posts and listicles that address everything from top cities for entrepreneurs to top towns to raise a family to top places to live off-grid.

YouTube is also a phenomenal resource for learning what it’s like to live in any area of interest.

Put anything that looks interesting on your spreadsheet with links to resources for easy reference until you’ve exhausted the possibilities and have a good list of finalists.

Step #4 – Score Your Top Contenders

We started off by comparing South American nations that we found intriguing. This assisted us in narrowing down our list to Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, with Chile being the winner for us.

After that, we then used the sheet a second time on various towns that looked interesting to help us plan a tour in-country.

You can score as many places as you like and have time to compare. This will help you find the top places to visit to reduce your travel time and cost. 

Tip: We strongly recommend visiting first to get a true feeling for the area and not rely on research data. 

What looks interesting online may turn out to be a total disaster in reality—something you’d never know unless you experience it for yourself. 

For example, Diane was interested in a town called Talca in Chile because it was a farming area with inexpensive land, not too far from Santiago. 

The photos looked good on the internet, but when we arrived, it was not what we expected at all. The plaza was okay, but everything was crumbling, poor. There were insufficient services, and it just wasn’t a place we could call home. 

So make those travel plans to see the places you might consider living before making your final decision. You may want to change your scores based on what you see after or during your trip.

Step#5 – Go and Live Local

When we were looking to move to Puerto Rico, we lived like locals during our month-long scouting trip.

We went grocery shopping, to the mall, to the movie theater, to local restaurants (because we dine out frequently), and we spoke with some real estate agents.

They had so much inside knowledge, along with connections to community resources, which made the whole idea of moving there so much easier.

(And by the way, if you need an introduction to a good, local agent anywhere in the US or Puerto Rico, let us know—our team is happy to make that happen.)

So as you visit each place you’re considering, forget the touristy stuff. 

Go out to the grocery store, try the local gym, visit a yoga class, try the nail salon, walk in the park, and sample any other amenity that you need for a happy life. 

Visit the local schools, talk to people in restaurants, and if you’re thinking of buying a home, definitely meet with a good, local real estate agent to get the lay of the land.

Spend the time to get a feel for the place by doing your regular daily activities, and see if you can imagine living there long-term.

Step #6 – Decide Where to Live

Finally, after visiting each of your finalists, weighting and scoring them, it’s time to decide. Take a look at the ratings on your spreadsheet as well as any notes from your visits to the locations you’re thinking about.

Use the spreadsheet as an influential or helpful guide. Obviously, making the final choice as to where you move will ultimately be a gut decision.

You’ve only got one life, so make the most of it and go out there, broaden your horizons, and enjoy the journey.

To help you find your perfect place, we recommend using a spreadsheet with weighted scores to help you clearly prioritize your choices. Our free template below can save you hours of time as you weigh your options.

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Quickly Compare Places to Live With Our Free Tool

Use our free Google sheet to help you quickly decide where to live by scoring weighted attributes of the places you’re considering. To get started, click the button below to sign up for our newsletter and get a copy of the sheet.