Dateline: Kiev, Ukraine
I’ve now spent a combined 10 years living in both Latin America and Eastern Europe. I initially spent about five years living all over Latin America in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina. Then, I arrived in Eastern Europe, where I lived for about six years now on and off. I started out in Lithuania, where I spent about two years, followed by Ukraine where I have spent the last four.
Eastern Europe is one of my favorite regions of the world. Obviously, I'm a bit biased because I'm an Eastern European myself, born in the beautiful Odessa, Ukraine.
But lately, I've been thinking a lot about Latin America. I miss the region a lot. I miss its variety of music, its colorful food, the warm and super friendly people and even its great year-round weather.
Just the other day, in one of the big parks here in Kiev, Ukraine, they had a Latin night where people were dancing and enjoying Latin music such as salsa, bachata, merengue, and cumbia.
What both regions have in common is that they're firmly outside the West. That makes them not only more affordable but much more enjoyable as well.
Nevertheless, there are crucial differences as well that you must take into account before making your decision.
The Pros of Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is much safer
Latin America varies from being rather dangerous and unpredictable (Rio de Janeiro) to relatively safe and predictable (Medellin, Bogota). Rio de Janeiro is one of those cities where anything and everything can happen to you in an instant.
When I lived there, many of my friends were robbed in broad daylight while they were just minding their business and going about their day.
Even the relatively normal cities like Mexico City and Buenos Aires aren’t entirely safe. Mexico City isn’t as dangerous as Rio de Janeiro, but it’s nowhere near a completely safe city. Buenos Aires, on the other hand, has gotten much more dangerous over the last several years.
In Eastern Europe, you never experience this sort of unpredictability. Cities like Kiev, Moscow, Minsk, and Vilnius, just to name a few, are completely safe to walk around them during the day and night—provided you use common sense and stick to well-lit streets in good neighborhoods.
Eastern Europe is cheaper
When I initially moved to Latin America, I thought I had it good. I remember my $10 lunches and my $15 dinners in Rio de Janeiro. I also remember renting a decent apartment for $750/mo in the famous Copacabana neighborhood a few blocks away from the famous beach of the same name.
That sure was a hell of a lot cheaper than my overpriced life in San Francisco, which I had just escaped a few months before.
Little did I know that Latin America was still relatively expensive and that a much cheaper lifestyle awaited me years down the road.
When I moved to Lithuania, I rented a decent apartment in the capital of Vilnius for only $350/mo. Correspondingly, my expenses were also half of what they were in Latin America.
Here in Kiev, I rent a great apartment for a bit more than that, but still enjoy amazing $3-4 lunches and $8 dinners.
Of course, comparing Eastern European cities to a city like Rio de Janeiro, which is a relatively expensive city, isn’t exactly fair, but even when I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, my expenses were still higher there than what I’m currently spending here in Eastern Europe.
Eastern Europe is a little more organized
This is probably close, but Eastern Europe is still Europe, so it’s slightly easier to get things done when it comes to dealing with businesses and government. Things like residencies and various permits are easier and more straightforward than in places like Argentina and Brazil.
Brazil is a bureaucratic nightmare. There’s always a “jeito” or a specific way of getting things done and it’s never by the book or law. Other Latin American countries—Chile being the notable exception—work the same way.
Of course, Eastern Europe is far from having the efficiency of Denmark or Norway, but it’s still more organized than Latin America.
Eastern Europe is culturally and historically richer
Eastern Europe is home to such talented writers like Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov just to name a few. This region also endured several wars and close to a century of communism. Walking around central Kiev, Moscow or St. Petersburg and being surrounded by beautiful architecture, you can't deny that you're somewhere very special. There are tons of cultural stuff that one can do: visit world-class theaters, watch plays, enjoy a magnificent opera or ballet.
Of course, Latin America has its own history and the beauty of, say, Mexico City's downtown gives any other city a run for its cultural money. Still, it's hard to deny that cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg are “grander” than pretty much any Latin American city. They just can't compare. (If you haven't been to St. Petersburg, you haven't been to Europe. That city makes all the other capitals seem like provincial villages).
The pros of Latin America
Latin America has better food
This is a big one. Eastern Europe—and I’m speaking for the entire region composed of many different countries—has very bland food. It's all the same. There’s meat, potatoes, various soups consisting of meat and potatoes and a bunch of other meals consisting of meat and potatoes. Every country has its own combination of the above that it calls its “native cuisine.”
On the other hand, Latin America has an entire array of different and exotic foods. From Mexico to Colombia, from Argentina to Brazil, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to exciting every single one of your taste buds.
From Mexico’s tacos to Brazilian “churrascaria” to Buenos Aires' amazing steaks, there’s bound to be a meal that will please just about anyone, even the pickiest eaters.
Latin America’s languages are easier to learn
Latin America’s two main languages are Spanish and Portuguese, not only are these languages closely related to each other, but they’re also one of the easiest languages to learn out there.
Eastern European languages, by contrast, are much harder. For example, Russian, according to many experts, is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. So are Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian.
If you’re not gifted with languages or just want an easier language to pick up, you’re much better off going to Latin America.
Latin America has much better weather
When it comes to weather, Latin America simply rocks. You decide what kind of weather you want. Do you want hot tropical weather? Do you want eternal spring weather? Or do you want a mix of the two?
The only thing you can’t have is snow. Which, if you ask me, is perfectly fine.
When I lived in Medellin, I enjoyed spring weather year round, every single goddamn day. It was unreal to never have to worry about wearing the right clothes because it was always 25 degrees.
On the other hand, if you’re thinking about moving to Eastern Europe, you better enjoy the snow. You’re going to be seeing lots of it. While southern coastal cities don't have unbearable freezing temperatures, once you go up to Kiev and above, things get very cold quick. Moreover, the winter days become super short and cloudy which explains why northern countries such as Lithuania lead the world in suicides. (I lived there for two years, and I still don't know how I managed to get through the winters unscathed).
Latin America has much better beaches
I suppose this is a corollary to the previous point, but if you love to relax, there are no beaches like Brazil’s Atlantic Ocean shores or even better—the Caribbean coast of Colombia and Venezuela (and even the Caribbean islands), which I consider to be one of the best beaches in the world.
Geographically, Eastern Europe doesn’t really have many great beaches except those by the Black Sea, including the beautiful Odessa, Ukraine, as well as other beach destinations in Romania and Bulgaria.
Most Eastern Europeans choose to fly to places like Turkey and Egypt instead (plus, of course, Southern Europe).
Latin Americans are much friendlier
When I lived in Rio de Janeiro, I always had a feeling that I can pretty much stop anyone and begin a conversation with them. That was how friendly the culture was.
Obviously, Rio de Janeiro is definitely friendlier than other Latin American cities, but, as a whole, Latin America, is much friendlier than Eastern Europe.
There’s no city in Eastern Europe where you could be walking on the street and readily strike a conversation with anyone else. Never. That’s just not going to happen. People will think you’re weird and strange. They might even take it the wrong way.
Generally, it’s much harder to connect with people and befriend them in Eastern Europe than in Latin America.
Latin American women are more sensual
I suppose this is up for debate, but I believe that Latin American women are more sensual than their Eastern European counterparts. Of course, this is nothing to take away from EE women, which are stunningly beautiful.
Latin American women are also friendlier and more open than their EE counterparts.
Latin America is closer to the USA
I know most of my readers hail from the great USA, and obviously living in a place like Medellin, Colombia with its several-hour-flight from Texas is ideal for someone with family or friends back home. Not to mention there's not much of a time zone difference between the entire continent and USA/Canada.
Since I have family in New York City, I dread every time I have to fly back and endure a 10-hour flight from Ukraine. Moreover, there's also an insidious pain of adjusting to the new time zone (it's more difficult flying to Ukraine, though).
If you don't need to be in the US often, then this is generally not a problem.
So, there you have it. While Latin America wins on points, both of these regions are so different from each other that deciding where to go depends on what's more important to you and your lifestyle.
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