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More Than 8 Million Americans Have Emigrated to Other Countries. Here’s What to Consider if You Plan to Be One of Them.
Any American who chooses to live in another country is commonly referred to as an “Expat” or expatriate. This is defined as a person who is voluntarily absent from their home or country.
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Why Do People Leave the United States?
Americans choose to be expats for a variety of reasons. They include:
- A business assignment that requires them to live and work in another country for an extended period of time.
- A lifestyle choice driven by economic and lifestyle options preferable to their situation in the U.S.
- A retirement decision driven by climate, taxes, and cost of living favorable to someone on a fixed income.
- A political decision driven by dissatisfaction with the political landscape and policies of the country at the time.
According to the Association of American Residents Overseas (AARO), U.S. expats can be found in more than 160 countries:
- 40% opt for the Western hemisphere — Canada, Central and South America.
- 26% move to Europe.
- 14% head to East Asia and the Pacific (Australia and New Zealand as well as China and Japan).
- 14% head to the Middle East.
- 3% travel to Central or South Asia.
- 3% choose Africa.
- New Zealand
It’s a Complicated Decision
Taking up residence in another country is more complicated than moving from Tennessee to Wyoming. There are a variety of decisions confronting anyone considering expat status, from citizenship to the numerous factors that affect daily life in another country.
This exploration is an effort to guide any decisions related to relocating to another country. It’s by no means exhaustive, but there are sufficient links and statistics to provide a general overview if you have moving to another country in the back of your mind.
Rather than recommend a specific country, I’ll present the facts and data across a range of options so you can identify the factors that are a priority for this kind of decision. Key things to consider will be highlighted as things to Keep in Mind.
Before You Move
A commonsense approach to this decision would be to visit any country you’re considering and spend some time there on a tourist visa to see if it suits you, and to do some research while there before making any final decision. This would assume you have carefully considered all of the factors that would make even an exploratory trip worth the time and investment.
If you are currently working in the country or have spent some time there in the past, all the better.
Primary Factors Worth Considering
There is no single factor that should guide any decision for relocating to another country. They need to be considered collectively and align with your priorities. As an example, some countries with very low tax rates like Switzerland and Bermuda also have the highest cost of living.
English is the official language in The Philippines and Nigeria but factors like terrorism, crime rates, and political instability make them far from attractive destinations for a vacation, let alone a future home. In fact, Nigeria has the smallest population of American expats of any country in the world.
Here are the 12 most common factors worth considering when evaluating a new country for relocation with some attention paid to factors appealing to a homesteader or prepper:
- Culture and language
- Cost of living
- Political stability
- Economic stability
- Real estate cost
- Climate and weather extremes
- Cost and Quality of Medical Care
- Pollution and environmental factors
- Endemic disease
Which of these factors are a priority varies depending on your age, savings, and self-reliant capabilities and needs. It’s also a matter of “where” in a country you plan to live. Many of these statistics are based on data collected from large cities. If your choice is to live in a rural environment, the data may vary both positively and negatively.
Crime may be high in cities and low in rural areas, but that’s not always the case. Conversely, quality of medical care may be good in cities but poor in rural areas. Take the data provided with a grain of salt and do some research both before and during any exploratory vacation to a future home destination.
Keep in Mind:
It’s a balancing act you have to measure. The cost of living may be low in a country, but the reason could be that most people are living in poverty. Always look at the big picture.
Many expats choose the dual citizenship option. This allows them to remain a citizen of the United States while also having citizenship in their new, home country. Applying for citizenship in another country takes time and comes with considerable fees along with certain qualifications like residence in the county for a period of time and other qualifications.
Keep in Mind:
Dual citizenship also requires you to continue to pay taxes to both countries to varying degrees, although the money earned in another country is typically not taxed as high as income earned in the U.S. and obviously you would pay no state taxes, but any income from U.S. investments will also be taxed as long as you are a U.S. citizen.
This is a difficult decision that some people make. It means that you have decided to only be a citizen of a new country while renouncing your U.S. citizenship.
You’ll continue to get your social security after renouncing your citizenship. However, you have to have worked for 40 calendar quarters in the U.S. (about 10 years). You will also get your Medicare benefits, but you have to be in the United States to get them.
Keep in Mind:
Detail of the 12 Primary Factors for Relocation by Country
Some of these considerations are relevant to homesteaders and preppers, although most apply to anyone who would consider relocating to another country for any reason.
1. Culture and Language
In addition to the United States, these are the 20 countries that have declared English as their official language:
- United Kingdom
- Papua New Guinea
- Republic of Ireland
- South Africa
- New Zealand
Many other countries define English as the de facto language of their country. It’s not the official language but most people speak it. It’s worth investigating unless you are willing to learn the local language.
Keep in Mind:
While you most likely will have to learn certain expressions, there are countries like Japan where the language is difficult to read and speak and English is rarely spoken, especially in rural areas.
Cultural nuances are also worth considering. In some countries, religious customs are a dominant factor in their society, especially in Muslim nations. In Asian countries, the demeanor tends to be reserved, polite, and disciplined, especially in Japan. Smiling at a person in France when you first meet them is considered to be an insult because it implies you know something about them that they don’t.
Keep in Mind:
If you want to fit into a society to some degree, you’ll need to be at least tolerant, if not mindful, of their unique cultural traditions and respect them as much as possible.
2. Cost of Living
Cost of living in any country is a two-way street. The cost of living is typically tied closely to the overall quality of life, the country’s location, and the health of the economy.
Island nations tend to have a higher cost of living because they are highly dependent on imports for raw materials and many natural resources. As a result, things cost more.
Landlocked nations without ports also have a certain degree of dependence on cross-border trade and overland shipping costs. This also adds to higher across-the-board pricing.
Third-World nations generally have a lower cost of living for the simple reason that most people are living in poverty. Life is cheap but resources are often limited.
Developed nations tend to have more robust economies and a higher quality of life, but the cost of living is proportionate to what a robust market can bear and the lifestyle of the majority of the population.
Keep in Mind:
It makes sense to evaluate your savings, but more importantly, you should evaluate your anticipated income and quality of life in any country given your cash flow from employment and resources from a homesteading or self-reliant lifestyle.
3. Political Stability
Anyone who leaves the United States for political reasons would be well served to pay extra attention to the current or emerging political landscape of any nation. It stands to reason that countries ruled by a democracy would be the easiest adjustment for an American, but even democracies like the Philippines, Brazil, and the UK have their share of political turmoil.
On the other hand, one of the most civilized places on Earth is Singapore and they are ruled by what has been defined as a benevolent dictatorship.
Keep in Mind:
Take the time to assess the political climate and stability of any country and don’t forget to look ahead to whatever trends or movements may be afoot that could affect that country’s politics in the future.
4. Economic Stability and the Job Market
Homesteaders and preppers tend to be highly self-reliant, but most people prefer some level of employment for basic costs and purchases. If you have a talent or skill that allows you to work remotely via the Internet, this may be less of a concern, but you have to think about your family and especially your children.
Like anywhere, your ability to find gainful employment is proportional to your education, background, and experience. Some countries have a growing need for workers across a range of industries.
You also have to consider the future. Economies evolve, and it’s worth considering how any country will fare economically over time.
Keep in Mind:
If you plan to take up permanent residence, your ability and the ability of your family to find a viable livelihood is a definite consideration. Given that most expats arrive in a country due to their job, it might be a good idea to get the job before you move.
5. Real Estate Cost
Homesteaders prefer some land to farm and raise animals, and most preppers prefer some degree of isolation.
Land ownership is a good idea but some countries like Japan and Switzerland have exceptionally high real estate costs. This is another factor you would want to fully explore on any exploratory trip to a country.
Keep in Mind:
It’s possible that your future dream home in a new country is beyond your reach. Find out first.
Every city and every country has its share of crime. The question is a matter of degree and the integrity of local law enforcement. Complicating matters is that in many countries (especially in Central and South America), rural areas have higher crime rates than some cities. Out of 133 countries evaluated, Venezuela had the highest crime index while Taiwan had one of the lowest.
Most homesteaders and preppers have strong ideas about personal freedom. That’s not going to happen if you’re living in an area where crime is a constant companion.
Laws vary by country and in many instances, it’s a matter of degree. Gun laws are a good example.
Gun ownership in some countries like Germany is relatively high, but the gun laws are strict, specific, and vigorously enforced.
Don’t assume that a high degree of gun ownership in a country equals fair or relaxed gun control. The types of weapons that are legal also vary, and assault weapons like an AR-15 are banned in most countries.
Other countries like Singapore have laws governing things we wouldn’t imagine and yes, it’s true, if you spit on the sidewalk or chew gum on the street you will be fined in Singapore. You also have to pay a $25,000 licensing fee to own and drive a car, and even jaywalking is punished with a hefty fine.
Learn about the local laws and make sure they align with your ideas about personal freedom. If you take exception to wearing a mask during a pandemic, you might want to cross Singapore off the list.
8. Climate and Weather Extremes
Many parts of the U.S. are subject to tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and drought. People who live in those areas are accustomed to the threat. Other parts of the world have their share of typhoons, monsoons, droughts, and wildfires which completely ignore borders.
Look carefully at the climate history of any country you might be considering. As the wildfires in Australia illustrate, climate extremes and natural disasters are a fact of nature and you don’t want to plant new roots in the middle of an area known for natural disasters.
9. Cost & Quality of Medical Care
Regardless of your age or physical condition, medical care is an important consideration. Curiously, the U.S. cost of basic medical insurance is the highest in the world, so there’s a good chance you’ll find medical insurance for a better price in most other countries.
Beyond the cost of medical insurance is access to healthcare and the quality of care.
It’s easy to assume that a higher cost would equate to better medical care, but that’s not the case. Here are rankings of some countries identifying the best medical care. The curious conclusion once again is that the U.S. ranks below many other countries, so don’t assume you always get what you pay for.
Most people don’t leave a country because of taxes. People who feel their taxes are unfairly high usually have the money and the resources to find offshore tax havens or hire specialists to reduce their tax burden.
But regardless of your financial situation, if taxes are an issue (and they can be in some countries), here’s a relative ranking of countries and their tax burdens.
11. Pollution and Environmental Factors
The majority of people in India speak English, and it has a robust economy. Unfortunately, pollution is an issue in many parts of the country. It’s worse in China where the air quality continues to degrade as a result of carbon emissions.
While air pollution tends to reside around cities, water quality can be compromised even in remote, rural areas.
12. Endemic Disease
An endemic disease is any disease that is permanently present within a population.
What becomes apparent is that disease in developed countries is widely different than undeveloped countries. An endemic category of diseases in many undeveloped countries is related to typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. These diarrheal diseases are often fatal and are largely due to contaminated drinking water.
And it’s not just about people.
If you’re a homesteader and plan on raising livestock, you should also investigate any diseases or conditions that are endemic to an animal population.
Keep in Mind:
Make sure you consider the presence of any endemic diseases in any country you choose to reside in.
To Go or Not to Go
If you’re considering relocating to another country, you’re in for a long road. It’s going to take time, and it’s a significant decision affecting not only you but your immediate family and any extended family members who you may not see again for a long time.
That’s why you should obviously take the time to do significant research, discuss it with your family at great length, and take the whole process in gradual, measured steps. You may also want to consider dual citizenship. That gives you the option for an easy return if any number of conditions or factors change.
The telegram is to go slow, assess the situation as you go, and don’t burn any bridges.
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