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Feeling an Urge to Move Out of the US? Here’s How

Sales of my living abroad book spiked bigtime this week. Online searches for “moving to Canada,” “moving to Mexico,” and “how to move out of the US” are off the charts. Apparently lots of people are looking to escape and join the expat world.

Move out of the US to escape disaster

The last time I saw this was after the angry orange one lost the popular vote but won the electoral college system vote and squeaked into office. Nobody knows the exact numbers, but the estimates I’ve seen say that more than twice as many Americans live abroad now as did in 2016. I was one of the multi-millions making the exodus permanently as soon as my daughter left for college.  

These are dark days for people with morals on both sides of the political fence in the USA. It feels like we are living through our version of a monster movie sequel. The economy is booming, but a 34-count felon who staged a coup, led thousands to their death in the pandemic response, and tipped the highest court into hard-right partisan territory is now leading in the polls. The high court declared in a batshit-crazy 6-3 ruling that the American president is above the law, immune to prosecution. In most countries they would just call that what the dissenters did: a dictatorship

On the right, those who became conservatives because they believed in the Constitution are seeing it shredded before their eyes on a regular basis. The Supreme Court is now striking down long-held precedents set by decades of sensible rulings from earlier judges who weren’t political activists. (And weren’t married to an activist who supported the January 6 coup.)

There’s genuine fear from educated people on both sides that the checks and balances the founders built into our system are crumbling down. And not because of majority public sentiment. Just because of the actions of a few extremists with a loud voice or lots of unchecked power. Big business, including the gun manufacturers and oil producers, are getting a big return on investment from their bribes lobbying.  

Despite the noise, Americans have actually gravitated toward the middle in their views, evenly split between liberal, conservative, and moderate. The majority opinion on abortion, gun control, drugs, and gay marriage are very far away from how the high court has been ruling and how the angry orange side of the conservative party is shouting. (For example, roughly 6 in 10 Americans say it’s way too easy to obtain a gun and that there should be stricter gun laws. Around 69% approve of same-sex marriage.)

In the 24-hour news cycle desperation to hold onto viewers or listeners, truth has taken a seat in the very back of the bus, however. It is getting hard to hear it among the cacophony and false hyperbole. If you move away, however, it’s much easier to turn it off. 

Getting out of the USA and moving abroad

As I write this it’s close to Independence Day in America, normally a happy day where people come together to grill some burgers, drink some beer, and maybe watch the kids run around and play. After the recent erosions in human rights, the striking down of environmental protections, and the further proliferation of guns and gun shooting, many are feeling like there’s not much to celebrate.

They feel like their country has gone from a beacon of democracy to one where a president would now be allowed to stage a coup, refuse to turn over power, or have the military assassinate a rival without prosecution.

If Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Hamilton were alive now, they’d probably be looking for a way to escape what has become of their democracy. Hey, Hamilton already had family in Nevis and Jefferson had those buddies in France…

If you’re looking to move out of the US, I’ve got a whole book on this subject in paperback, audiobook, and e-book. I have been writing about it regularly since the early ’00s, so here’s some general Q&A advice to get started. 

Where Can Americans Move to?

Guanjuato house view

View from our house in Mexico

Citizens of the United States are welcomed in most of the world, so we have it much easier than a whole host of people born elsewhere. We were born in one of the wealthiest nations overall, so immigration offices are happier to see us than an applicant from some country regarded as poor or desperate. That doesn’t mean we can just waltz in and become a resident, however. 

There’s a workaround though that provides the easiest path to living abroad: becoming a nomad. If you don’t plan on living in one place for more than three months at a time, the world is your oyster. You could roam around the world until your body gives out, with no worries about filing paperwork or getting anything notarized. Sign up for my cheap living abroad newsletter and you’ll get a free report on where you can stay for 4 months or more on a tourist visa.

You can stay in Mexico or Costa Rica for six months, for instance, Albania or Georgia for a year. In a whole lot of other countries, you can stay for 90 days. 

Then there are a slew of countries that have launched some kind of digital nomad visa. This is basically a visa for remote workers or freelancers, for people who don’t intend to put down permanent roots. Some are really just vaporware or are only meant for salaried remote workers, but others are really in use and are functioning as intended. 

The next step up is temporary residency, a situation where you can come and go as you please but you don’t have permanent permission to stay. This is the first step to residency in Mexico, for instance, before you move on to permanent. (Some get to skip to permanent, but that’s up to immigration.) The parallel to this is the long-term multi-entry visa you get in India, where you can come and go over a period of five or ten years. 

The big step, what most people think of when they hear “living abroad,” is permanent residency. This takes longer, costs more, and will usually involve a lot of documents and immigration office visits. You’ll need to show proof of income, proof you’re not a felon, sometimes a birth certificate copy, sometimes a marriage certificate, and more. You’ll have to meet the requirements or you get rejected, which can even involve a language test in some countries. 

Then if you really want to go all in there is citizenship, which may or may not require you to give up the one you have. This is usually far easier if the country has some kind of ancestry clause, as Germany and Ireland do, that will give you favorable treatment because your grandma was from there. 

How Difficult is Getting Residency?

Albania condos by the sea

Come here for a year, decide if you want to stay

It’s difficult to make generalizations about this, but a good rule of thumb is that the richer and more homogenous the country is, the more difficult it is to become a legal resident. Most of Latin America is relatively easy if you’re patient and meet the income requirements. Most of Europe is much tougher, especially if you want to move to Norway or Switzerland.

Since residency with one EU member gets you access to all, the EU countries don’t make it easy for Americans to waltz in an take over the place. Here’s a bit I wrote on how to live in Europe as an American

It’s the same with all those people who will be disappointed after Googling “move to Canada” and seeing the daunting requirements. New Zealand makes it quite tough, even dropping the millionaire way in recently. Australia is not easy either if you’re not British. 

Much of Asia is easy to hang out in for a month or two, but much tougher to stick around in. There’s been talk of a digital nomad visa for Thailand and Indonesia, but these countries change their rules so much that it’s hard to believe anything will last. Malaysia gutted their “My Second Home” program a few years back by raising cash requirements into the stratosphere and most foreigners left, never to return. Vietnam and Korea are a little more welcoming, the Philippines and India even more so.

Japan and China are always looking for English teachers and will provide work permits. This is also true in much of the Middle East. 

If you’re interested in a specific country, start your research engines and look for current information. Once you’ve decided the basics are doable, find some local message boards and articles written by expat locals to see how reality compares to what the government says. 

What About US Taxes if I Move out of the Country?

The bad  news on taxes is that you can’t really escape them if you’re American. You still have to file every year no matter what. 

The good news is, if you’re willing to really leave your birth country, staying away for all but 30 days a year, then you can exclude most or all of your income from taxation. I haven’t been able to do this much because I’m usually stateside more than that for business and family trips, but it’s an option that a lot of people without many ties have taken advantage of. 

You should try to maintain some kind of permanent home mailing address for taxes, banking, and a driver’s license. Follow that link for how to handle it. Since you’ll continue to owe state tax in most states, you might find this to be a good time to change states to get out of that. 

Keep in mind that there are expat tax services out there to guide you through all this, so you can pay a little money to one of them and they’ll know how to keep you legal but pay as little as possible. 

What About Healthcare?

Here’s where your move for sanity’s sake will be joined by a move for health’s sake. Unless you’re moving somewhere rural in a very poor country, your healthcare is almost sure to take a big step up in quality and a big step down in costs. The wacky for-profit, drowning in paperwork system that Americans put up with is an outlier.

Nobody else in the world makes you jump through so many hoops to get care and almost no other country ties your health to your employer (and leaves self-employed people paying double). You will probably be able to pay out of pocket for care several times a month and still be paying less than you did for just your insurance premiums at home.

If you do buy private insurance, it’ll be a tiny fraction of what you’re used to. And you’ll get better medical service, with a doctor who is not trying to see 40 patients a day. And by the way, hospitals in cities from Bangkok to Istanbul to Panama City often look like this:

Medical care abroad - Thailand

Do I have to Open a New Bank Account?

Some countries require a local bank account if you apply for residency. Most don’t. I’ve lived in Mexico on and off since 2010 and have never had a local account, including when I bought a house. 

With all the financial services companies out there and the ease of moving money across borders these days, getting a local bank account is usually optional, not a requirement. Just get the right kinds of credit cards and debit cards with low or no fees and be sure to have a banking back-up plan when you take off. 

A Final Note on Politics, Travel, and Immigration

Understand that if you say you’re going to move out of the US, some people are going to have objections you’ll need to counter. There are some people among your family and friends that won’t be supportive. They might even be downright hostile. The ones in red hats who watch the fear and anger channel all day especially.

Before anyone who fits that profile goes and leaves an unhinged rant in the comments in all caps, yes, I am going to talk about politics on this travel blog. This isn’t the first time and won’t be the last. 

Travel and politics are intimately intertwined. Politics impacts who can even come to a country or which ones you’ll probably avoid. 

travel and politics

If you want to talk about living abroad, even more so. 

You’ve got visas, tariffs, transportation regulations, infrastructure spending, human rights, immigration laws, press freedom, environmental laws, and dozens of other aspects. Where you can go, how you can travel, and how you can live are impacted by who is ruling the country or state. In some cases, politics impacts what you can wear and your freedom of movement. 

Then there’s the obvious reason they’re connected: people who travel internationally a lot tend to be a lot more open-minded and a lot less regressive in their world view than those who stay in their comfort bubble. Travel impacts politics in the other direction. 

More Resources on Moving Out of the US 

Like I said in the beginning, I’ve been writing about this subject for ages. I’ve lived in Turkey, South Korea, and Mexico and spent months in other countries like Bulgaria, Greece, and Thailand. The first edition of A Better Life for Half the Price came out in 2014, the second edition during the pandemic. See more info on that by clicking the photo below: 

best book about moving out of the US

Otherwise, here are some more articles for further reading if you’re serious about using your freedom and a strong passport (for now) to get out of this mess and move somewhere with less daily stress. 

How to prepare for a long-distance move 

6 nagging details to take care of before moving abroad

Nomadic lifestyle option 1: a cheaper life abroad

Nomadic lifestyle option 2: living large for less

 

Sherry

Wednesday 3rd of July 2024

This is super helpful, thanks! I'm waiting to see how things play out in November, but I'm making a Plan B in case things go from bad to worse.

I still can't believe the polls that this criminal will actually get back into office. Who still answers phone calls from strangers to take a poll? I'm hoping that the quiet majority will have their morals in line. Though that's a lost cause with the supposed Christians voting for an adulterer, thief, and liar. (How many commandments are you allowed to break and still get their vote?)

Rusti

Friday 5th of July 2024

He just made a deal with the saudies to put a luxury hotel there ( Remember the guys who bankrolled 911?) Sexually assaulted numerous women and hung with Epstein. But yeah... tell us about that Biden!!