In Praise of Underappreciated Countries

Cars in rainy Colombian street
Photo Credit © Michael Froehls
Written by Michael Froehls

When it comes to dreaming about a vacation or a new country to live in, chances are high that our list of potential choices reflects what is popular, known, famous, or in the news. Think “Top 10” lists of favorite destinations or places to live and work. But if we only focus on the well-known staples, we miss out. Thus, today, I’d like to praise underappreciated countries and explain why they should be on your radar screen.

What Makes a Country Unappreciated?

For one, it could be a place with a bad reputation for being a failed state, dangerous to visit, having no built-out tourist attractions or infrastructure, or making any visit just unpleasant or difficult. In other words, a place even I would stay clear of.

Second, it could be a country that had a bad reputation in the past, and a subsequent change in fortune has not yet translated into a widespread rediscovery of this country. A good example here is Colombia. Over 20 years after the death of Pablo Escobar, many people still associate drugs and kidnappings with this beautiful country instead beaches, food, coffee, salsa, medical tourism, and amazing hospitality.

A third reason for flying undercover might be that the country is just small or never played a big role, geopolitically or otherwise. Nobody reports about it such that even avid consumers of news and travel magazines might not know much about it.  Paraguay, Georgia, or Montenegro come to mind, or even Portugal or Uruguay a few decades ago.

A fourth reason might be inaccessibility for a long time. Maybe it’s visa restrictions or lack of infrastructure, or a combination of both. How many of us have visited Russia beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg, despite the country offering unparalleled nature and discovery?

Reasons to Visit

When I visited Guatemala, one of the poorest countries and certainly one flying under the radar screen, not only did I discover a wonderful place to study Spanish but the most amazing Mayan sites like Tikal. Tikal for me is on par with Machu Picchu, but only a small number of people make the effort to be Indiana Jones and explore the former. Before a place becomes hip, you might have it almost to yourself.

I took my first trip to Medellin long before it was discovered by International Living Magazine, digital nomads, and many expats. I had the good fortune to buy some Colombian contemporary paintings right from an artist’s loft. There were no contemporary art galleries at that time, let alone a good tourist guidebook. Bringing home these two canvases felt great, like having been on a successful little treasure hunt.

Reasons to Invest

If you invest ahead of the crowd because you saw a trend coming, be it Crypto, tech stocks, or real estate in Miami, pat yourself on the shoulder. The same logic applies to investing abroad as well. Getting into Croatian properties along the coast after the fall of communism, gobbling up farmland in Uruguay before people realized that the country is the better version of unstable Argentina, or buying a condo for a song in Medellin, there are countless opportunities available every day. Sure, going after unappreciated places for investments might carry high risks, but often yield spectacular returns once a place is fully appreciated. Frequently, I have to admit, I saw these opportunities but was too cautious to grab them, to my great regret. I hope to do better in the future.

Reasons to Move and Immigrate

Just because everybody wants to move to Switzerland or the USA does not mean that you should. The higher the demand for a place, the harder it might be to get in (be it due to visa quotas or visa application duration). You are also less special if you are one of millions of immigrants. Costs could be higher as well. Maybe you feel safer having many of your countrymen around you (or other expats), but the price you pay could be higher real estate costs driven by demand of other immigrants. Also, low hanging business opportunities have likely already been captured.

What about going to an as-yet unappreciated place or a place in the process of discovery? Not only might the country roll out the red carpet for you with easy immigration and favorable tax rules, you might be a trailblazer wherever you settle. I just talked to an US venture capitalist who moved down to the south of Colombia. Not many US expats there. But with minimal investment required and a fast visa process behind him, he is now pursuing several ventures. He also owns great real estate, and might soon get his second passport while enjoying life among the most beautiful women on earth. The world is full of little gems and depending on your profession, you might find your little paradise where your friends might need a map to locate you.


It is easy to follow the “Top 10” tables when it comes to places that we consider visiting as there is safety in the numbers. Same for investment destinations or even finding a new country for moving abroad. But the biggest rewards might come to those of us who dare to check out underappreciated places, whether they have been inhospitable in the past, be plain unknown, or just hiding in plain sight and kept as a secret by its inhabitants and insiders.

© Michael Froehls – 2022 – All rights reserved

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