I Don't Need Your War Machines, I Don't Need Your Ghetto Scenes
September 22, 2010 7:52 PM   Subscribe

I am an American citizen. I am utterly disgusted with America. Help me become an expat.

I'll start off by saying I am a gay man, generally opposed to war, and a civil libertarian. While most people would consider me to be on the political left, I really don't adhere to any specific political program and I try to consider issues on a case-by-case basis. Needless to say, I've watched the country with a mix of shock and disgust over the past decade, and while I've had vague thoughts of leaving, I was compelled to stay in the US to take care of my elderly mother. Now that she has passed away, I have no reason to remain, and I want to get the hell out of here.

People have told me to "stay and fight" and "[not] let the bastards win" too many times to count, but honestly, I can't endorse that sentiment: The war is long over, and the "bastards" have not only won - they've won everything. I realize that moving to another country will have its own challenges, and I've thought hard about whether my desire to leave the US is the result of Grass Is Greener Syndrome. I have reached the conclusion that it isn't, and I will take the good and the bad of becoming an expat in stride.

I have some attributes that I'm looking for in a country - while I recognize that no place is perfect, I would like to find somewhere that meets or comes close to most of the following conditions*:

*some exceptions are fine if you think there are other positives that outweigh the negatives

Must be strongly opposed to war as an instrument of foreign policy; military spending must be a very small portion of GDP

No large state security apparatus or military-industrial complex exists

Domestic spying is forbidden or highly restricted

Privacy must be an expressly enumerated right and taken seriously by the citizenry

The country must resist efforts by the US to bully or influence domestic politics and must not be afraid to stand up to the US government over disagreements

No jingoism or strong nationalism - citizens should be proud of the country without believing in its exceptionalism

Obviously, I want a place where I can feel safe from violence and harassment because of my orientation

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should be forbidden; legal marriage or recognized partnerships would be a huge plus (although I am currently single)

Skepticism regarding religion and a distinct lack of religious extremists would both be nice

I enjoy cannabis - the country should ideally have very liberal laws towards it (either legalized or decriminalized to the point where you can smoke in public and have nothing happen to you)

Corporate influence over government and the political process must be minimized to the greatest extent possible - no Citizens United-esque rulings

Businesses seen as important but kept reasonably in check; politicians don't all subscribe to a neoliberal consensus view of economics

Strong tradition of a free press, intellectuals valued

Lastly, countries with an easier visa process or shorter road to citizenship would rank higher for me than equivalent countries with a more difficult process.

If there's a place that meets many or most of these requirements, I'd like to learn about the logistics of moving there and getting a visa or attaining citizenship. I have read books like Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America, and while they've been useful, they haven't gone over the emigration process in depth. I am fortunate to have enough capital to live comfortably abroad indefinitely, but I would certainly not be opposed to finding work, even if it happens to be fairly low-paying. I will also strive to learn the local language, so concerns about the language barrier should be minimal.

Finally, if there are any American expats here who left (either in whole or in part) for political reasons, feel free to relate your experiences to me. I'd love to hear from you. Thank you for the help!
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (52 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered the Netherlands? It seems to meet several of your criteria.

Of course, keep in mind I've never been there, but based on its reputation, you could probably do a lot worse than moving there.
posted by AMSBoethius at 8:07 PM on September 22, 2010

Well, Canada fits the bill for most of that, especially BC. Except for bullying requirement, but we have been known to stand up for ourselves when needed (ie Iraq.) Not sure where we stand on spying, but most kids know about the FBI and CIA long before they know as Canadians we have CSIS. Pot's still technically illegal, but... well, as long as you're not getting busted for a grow op and not wagging your joint in a cop's face, you should be ok. Maybe I'm not in the right neighbourhoods, or not paying attention, but I don't usually see it openly on the street - smelling it though, definitely.

Thats not to say we don't have issues - in Vancouver we have a really horrible provincial leader at the moment, and federally it's a disaster. But as long as the Conservatives only have a minority government, their ability to completely fuck up the country is significantly limited.

Canada also seems to be the most blatantly obvious choice, so I'm curious as to why you might have discounted it (if you have, that is.) I will say that as a Canadian, living 30 km from the border and completely inundated with American media and politics - I'm damn glad to be a Canadian, faults and all.
posted by cgg at 8:09 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sweden seems to fit quite a few of your criteria. Worth looking into, anyway.
posted by lollusc at 8:11 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Iceland has a pretty open immigration policy, and Reykjavik is a lovely city. However, I'm not sure it meets your requirement of not believing in exceptionalism.

New Zealand and Australia are also easy to emigrate to if you are white and educated.
posted by halogen at 8:11 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a Scandinavian country might fit the bill, though cost of living there is astronomical (Norway, home of the $12 pint of beer), and immigration is difficult unless you're seeking political or economic asylum--and no, asylum from the USA doesn't count.

Not to mention the recent electoral victory of the Sweden "Democrats" [sic]...even Scandinavia is touched by reactionary nationalism. Part of Scandinavia's openness is rooted in the fact that, until very recently, their societies were extremely homogeneous--especially Norway, since it was so poor that few people wanted to emigrate there until oil was discovered under the North Sea.

Otherwise, Scandinavia would seem to be a good choice, especially since it's one of the least religious places on earth.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:14 PM on September 22, 2010

New Zealand:

1.1% of GDP on military spending

Privacy Commission

Relations with America are solid, but famously stood up to the US over the ANZUS Treaty because of its anti-nuclear stance

Civil unions are legal in NZ, and afforded almost all of the same rights as marriage (still working on adoption, though)

The NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists describes NZ as "one of the most secular and tolerant countries in the world"

Free press: According to the BBC profile: "New Zealand's broadcasters enjoy one of the world's most liberal media arenas."

Currently ranked #1 on the Corruption Perceptions Index

Cannabis is illegal in NZ, but we have the 9th highest consumption rate per capita, and the local Green Party (received around 6% of the vote in the last election) has legalisation as a part of their platform.

NZers speak English... well, a kind of English, anyway.

Of course, I'm only painting the sunny side. It's no utopia - there are plenty of problems that come along with it, and idiots of a different stripe seem to abound in every country. NZ's immigration requirements aren't terrible, although there are a number of hoops to jump through.
posted by Paragon at 8:17 PM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

New Zealand has a thirty year history of non-militarism as foreign policy and fits many of your other requirements, though the restrictions on immigration are fierce.

On preview:
New Zealand and Australia are also easy to emigrate to if you are white and educated
As an Australian I would recommend strongly against Australia as a country that fit the characteristics the asker is after. We have quite healthy domestic spying, our foreign policy is based almost entirely around that of our major strategic ally, privacy is a third- order issue at best for most people, and the sale of pot is quite definitely illegal. We also have what might be the worst media concentration in the developed world and a historical tradition of pissing on intellectuals and all their works. Our philistinism is world beating.

That said, at Mardi Gras time Sydney is one of the gayest places on the planet.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:23 PM on September 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

Canada could be okay, but we have an American Prime Minister. Toronto is on the verge of electing the village idiot as mayor, if you believe the polls.
posted by ovvl at 8:23 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also: if you manage to make it to NZ, I'll buy you a beer.
posted by Paragon at 8:27 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Paragon has done the leg-work on New Zealand, and kudos to her or him. Australia is very similar. Currently Australia has a centre-left government and NZ a centre-right one, but I would perceive that NZ is overall a little bit more left, but a good bit more parochial. If you want a place with a real sense of identity and fierce pride in being what they are (yet oddly not too jingoistic), go enzullund. If you want a place that's a bit more open to the world, but maybe a bit harder, go orstraya.
posted by wilful at 8:27 PM on September 22, 2010

In defence of Australia, Fiasco speaks as one of those awful sydneysiders (I keed). Us southerners are far nicer (true dat).
posted by wilful at 8:29 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

How much money will you be bringing in? How are you planning on earning a living?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:33 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's nice to look at possible destinations you might like, but at the practical level, you'll also need to consider which countries make it possible for Americans emigrate for the long term. In this age of tighter immigration policies around the world, there may be fewer actual options than you might assume, especially since, as mentioned above, Americans typically don't get to apply for political asylum. That said, advanced scientific/technical training and/or career experience in certain specialized professions would definitely open up more options.
posted by 5Q7 at 8:46 PM on September 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

As far as electronic freedoms go, it's worth reading the wiki article on Internet censorship in Australia. That such a measure has gotten as far as it has makes me sad, even if it hasn't passed yet.

As far as freedom of speech goes, it's worth reading the wiki article on the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Although it's possible you don't particularly subscribe to the American idea of free speech, so maybe this won't bother you.
posted by sbutler at 9:00 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Take a look at the UN rankings by Human Development Index. Top ten in the most recent (2009) report are Norway, Australia, Iceland, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, France, Switzerland, and Japan. Full report is here.

Having money will make your move easier, especially if you can invest in the country or have a unique skill.
posted by lukemeister at 9:05 PM on September 22, 2010

I think you want to relocate to Davie Street in Vancouver, BC. If you are a software developer you will easily find a job.

Other countries that come to mind are Denmark, Norway, and Sweden
posted by KokuRyu at 9:11 PM on September 22, 2010

What Fiasco said.
posted by pompomtom at 9:38 PM on September 22, 2010

I recently read "Getting Out" which is a guide for Americans leaving the country. It's got overviews of most countries and touches on a lot of the ground you covered. @Amazon
posted by amanda at 9:42 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing New Zealand. Australia is actually quite difficult to migrate to. (I am Australian with friends and family who have migrated. It's a long and painful process.)
posted by t0astie at 9:43 PM on September 22, 2010

That is a big list! I might say Switzerland or Canada. But actually a lot of European countries would cover a lot of the list: Belgium, Netherlands, even Germany.

As for the weed, I think Europe will wait to see what happens in the US with legalization. They don't seem to be closer to legalizing than Colorado, California, etc. but I am no expert.

As for staying and fighting the Man, I don't think you need to. Life's too short! But I wouldn't renounce your passport too quickly either. :)
posted by acheekymonkey at 9:44 PM on September 22, 2010

Yes, the problem with most of the countries people have mentioned is the difficulty in emigrating to them, especially (from what I understand) the Netherlands and Australia.

Canada might be your best bet, but as others have mentioned, it's no Sunday picnic up there right now either.
posted by elder18 at 9:55 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Visiting NZ and living there as an American expat are 2 VERY different things.

(Chip, meet Shoulder!)

I love NZ, but if I do it again... next time Australia.
posted by jbenben at 9:57 PM on September 22, 2010

I'm straight, but man, I have to tell you that I completely understand your frustration with our country and I feel it too. Here's something to keep in mind: wherever you go, you're going to find a whole new set of issues.

Then again, if you can somehow move to Vancouver B.C., you should do it! Vancouver B.C. is crazy expensive, but it's also one of the world's five most livable cities.

Otherwise: Iceland, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark or Finland. Notice a trend among those last few.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:58 PM on September 22, 2010

w/r/t New Zealand, here are some answers from a question about moving there, from an American who spent 3 weeks there and from a native.
posted by mlis at 11:08 PM on September 22, 2010

How much money will you be bringing in? How are you planning on earning a living?

"I am fortunate to have enough capital to live comfortably abroad indefinitely, but I would certainly not be opposed to finding work, even if it happens to be fairly low-paying."

I recently read "Getting Out" which is a guide for Americans leaving the country. It's got overviews of most countries and touches on a lot of the ground you covered. @Amazon

"I have read books like Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America"
posted by mlis at 11:12 PM on September 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

The country you describe doesn't exist.

Ireland ticks many of your boxes, is potentially possible to immigrate to, and if you live in Dublin is... oh who am I kidding, you're not going to get your head kicked in, and there's a great Pride parade, but we are not a bastion of gay love. We just got divorce the day before yesterday; gay marriage will take a while unless the EU declares all European countries have to have it. There is not the issue of religious extremism the way you mean it; die-hard practising Catholics are an ageing minority but the country is heavily culturally Catholic.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:17 PM on September 22, 2010

Also, with respect to MLIS's first link, the wistful little bit of wisdom at the end of the comment re: Flight of the Conchords is entirely untrue.
posted by Wolof at 12:00 AM on September 23, 2010

Better yet, move to Pakistan for a few years and learn how great your country is by comparison.

(I'm an expat who learned a lot about what "America" means in his first few adult years abroad; I'm still out here and enjoying it, but I'm much more understanding of "my" country than I was before.)
posted by msittig at 12:28 AM on September 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

Given that you are pretty set financially, why not just head off traveling for a while? Speaking as a habitual expat, places can be very different in reality than they look on paper. How else do you explain Auckland's continual presence in world's best cities lists? (I kid... kinda)

I'd also recommend that you think hard about what kind of lifestyle you want to live day-to-day. No point living somewhere you're aligned with ideologically if you're not happy.

If it were me, I'd make a list of places which fit the bill, then loosely plan a trip around that list, with plenty of room for detours and meeting people and all the good stuff. Travel has a sneaky way of re-defining everything you thought you knew about the world.
posted by clipperton at 1:31 AM on September 23, 2010

I chose Finland. And recently Newsweek ranked it the best country in the world to live in. Note on Scandinavia - the term does not include Finland, when that country is included its referred to as the Nordic countries.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 1:45 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're living in an imaginary world. Even if such a country existed, it will always have aspects or elements of those things that are on your list to be rid of by leaving the US. You'll just end up disillusioned again, and displaced. But, by all means do move abroad. It's a wonderful experience and worth it but don't expect it to be any panacea.

Aside from having a familial connection, there are generally three paths to residency / citizenship for the countries I, or my family have lived in: 1) Points or skilled worker programs 2) Employer sponsorship 3) Business investment or self-funded retirement.

Skilled worker programs will depend a lot on the your education, age and work experience combined with other metrics depending on the target country. Employer sponsorship is just that, but it doesn't guarantee residency. Business investment is essentially buying your way in through direct investment in government recognised businesses or instruments.

I've just found out that the threshold for the UK is ~200K GBP. Australia was $700K AUD when I looked several years back. Switzerland has a similar program. Self-funded retirement is similar in that you demonstrate and commit certain funds to the host country. The difference is that you can't work.

So basically, unless you intend to qualify as a valued member of your desired host country as a worker/professional, you'll need to buy your way in. And somehow, I don't think that would sit well in your idealised scenario.
posted by michswiss at 2:26 AM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

But I wouldn't renounce your passport too quickly either.

I agree with this but do keep in mind that if you keep it and remain abroad, you will still owe U.S. taxes on your worldwide income. This would pretty much defeat the purpose of leaving, since you'd be funding the very government you're trying to divorce. My advice would be to travel around a bit and see what appeals to you. Definitely try Scandinavia and northern Europe.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Ljubljana at 3:07 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Netherlands scores big points on equal rights for and lack of violence toward homosexuals. Homosexuality is a complete non-issue, except maybe in some of the smallest villages of the Dutch Bible Belt. The Netherlands also meets your requirement for decriminalized marijuana.

My guess is that it satisfies your requirements about corporate involvement in the political process and limitations on the powers that corporations have, but I don't have any data to back that up. Military spending is 1.4% of GDP, and the Dutch Army just pulled out of Afghanistan.

There's a lot of national pride in the Netherlands, both of the "it's fun to have parades and wear orange" variety and of the "Muslims will never Dutch enough" variety. Fortunately, there's more of the former than of the latter (despite Geert Wilders' recent political gains). Non-Muslim, English-speaking Americans will have almost no trouble (they're the "right" kind of immigrant).

The NL probably fails your privacy requirement, simply because the police install more phone taps per head of population than any other country in the world (26,000 last year alone). There is a sentiment among some portions of the population that if you're not doing anything wrong, you shouldn't mind being monitored.

It definitely fails on ease of immigration, unless you have a way to obtain EU citizenship (e.g. one of your parents is European) or you can qualify for the Dutch knowledge migrant programme. This basically requires "sponsorship" by a company that wants to hire you; they must prove to the government that you are more qualified than any EU citizen they could hire, and you must meet a minimum salary requirement. This will get you residence for a year at first, and then possibly longer if your employer extends your contract; however, you don't really have much freedom to change jobs.

It would be helpful if you ranked your priorities; it's hard to guess which items you're willing to give up if the others are really good, especially because some of these are very hard to quantify.
posted by neushoorn at 4:18 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with this but do keep in mind that if you keep it and remain abroad, you will still owe U.S. taxes on your worldwide income.

This depends on how much money you make.
posted by neushoorn at 4:19 AM on September 23, 2010

you will still owe U.S. taxes on your worldwide income.

Unless you qualify for an exemption. Check with a tax attorney - there are certain criteria where if you meet them (physical presence test, i.e. outside the country +330 days per annum, etc.), and your income is under a given level, you only pay Social Security and FICA, no income tax.

As an expat living abroad in South Africa and Kenya for going on 4 years now, I'd recommend both. They are of course a bit behind the developed world in catching up on the gay-friendly thing, but there seemed to be a thriving community in Cape Town in particular when I was there. There's even at least one or two gay Mefites living there that I'm aware of. Definitely might want to talk to them.

Otherwise I'd say both of them (and a number of other places in Africa) meet most of your criteria. MJ isn't really an issue in either if you have cash for it.

As someone with fairly similar political views to yourself, who also left out of a serious amount of frustration with the way things were (see my own AskMe in that regard), I can only tell you I wish I had left sooner. I'm not proud of being a permanent expat per se, but I feel much less complicit in everything going on there that I completely do not agree with.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:51 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

sigh. I live for the day when Pakistan is no longer the "first random unpleasant country I can think of" of choice.

Having lived in both Pakistan and the US, I have to tell you, both have their good and bad sides. Although for the OP, I really wouldn't recommend going to Pakistan. I think it pretty much goes against every single one of your requirements.
posted by bardophile at 5:04 AM on September 23, 2010

As many unthread mentioned, that country doesn't exist.

Many of us abroad are embracing what's known as Five Flags; basically one country to make money in, one country to reside in, one country to invest in, one country to play in and one country the provides BENEFICIAL citizenship.

I've been living abroad since 1997, don't plan on residing in America again (if I can help it). I won't renounce US citizenship, unless the country moves even further to the right than it is now (which is pretty far right, which evaluated against other Western democracies). That being said, I know lots of ex-pats, and a non trivial number are now talking openly of renouncing, while a few have either completed or initiated to long and drawn out process. Ten years ago NOBODY that I knew did this.

Look at Five Flags this way: governments cause most of the worlds problems. By tying yourself to any one nation you've only dodged the current problem.

Arrange your affairs so you can dodge any potential problems in the future.

Oh yeh, not to offend anyone's sensibilities, but America no longer provides BENEFICIAL citizenship; those days are long past. The US Government views it's citizens very, very differently than twenty or so years ago. Very differently.

posted by Mutant at 5:04 AM on September 23, 2010 [13 favorites]

New Zealand:

Anecdotally, I have several American and Canadian friends who moved to NZ for a few years, and loved it enough to apply for citizenship. They're all left/liberal-leaning.

Visa process: it was easier a few years ago to get a short-term visa and then extend it. With the downturn, there are fewer jobs and it may be harder. WIthout knowing your age and skills, it's hard to be more specific, but see Immigration NZ. Citizenship is going to take several years at least. The comment upthread about it being easy for skilled whites to get in is somewhat bizarre - China, India and Fiji are in the top five source countries for migrants to NZ (along with the UK and South Africa).

War: doesn't spend much on military, but has troops in Afghanistan and non-combatant engineers in Iraq. Sent troops to Vietnam.

state security apparatus: secret service exists. Govt participates in Echelon project with US etc, helping US spy externally.

Domestic spying: peace and environmental campaigners have been spied on, including infiltration of groups and bugging of meetings. Historically, union and left-wing leaders have been spied on.

Privacy: As above, Privacy Commissioner exists. Some criticisms of Commissioner in media/among public.

Stand up to the US government: 1984 Labour government was expelled from defence alliance with US after disagreement over visits of nuclear-powered/armed ships. Subsequent govts have held to this line, in face of some negative consequences. NZ is not US ally but 'very, very, very good friend'. Realistically, NZ is in US sphere of influence in Pacific; would resist any change (e.g. move to Chinese sphere).

No jingoism or strong nationalism: some, but not to the extent that you are probably thinking.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation: forbidden by law in employment (and probably housing etc) situations. No same-sex marriage, but civil unions are available (to all) which have equal status to marriage, and de facto same sex relationships are recognised. Some places (Auckland, Wellington) are better than others, but you probably won't get much overt discrimination anywhere.

Religion: some fundamentalists, who are attracting increasing support, but are outside mainstream and don't really influence politics much.

Cannabis: illegal but widely used. Personal use is unlikely to be punished heavily.

Corporate influence over government: some. There have been controversies over special interest groups making donations to political parties. But this is less of an issue than in the US.

Businesses seen as important but kept reasonably in check: post 1984, NZ is relatively laissez faire economically.

Strong tradition of a free press, intellectuals valued: press is free, though libel laws are stronger than in the US. Press isn't actually very good. Intellectuals probably regarded with a bit of suspicion.

Other: there can be some kneejerk anti-Americanism that may be due to a dislike of Bush etc.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:20 AM on September 23, 2010

The Netherlands is pretty much your only choice.
posted by JJ86 at 5:47 AM on September 23, 2010

Homosexuality is a complete non-issue, except maybe in some of the smallest villages of the Dutch Bible Belt.
There is still violence against gay people, also in the cities, unfortunately. See for example here (in Dutch). In 2009 the Amsterdam police got 371 reports of gay related incidents. In 82 cases there was physical violence.

I agree with neushoorn that the Netherlands are good on many points, but most certainly not on privacy. We have biometric passports with fingerprints that are stored in a central database together with photographs, ssn, etc. We love big centralized databases, there is also one with all developmental-social-medical information about every child, for example. We have to carry identification at all times and show it to law enforcement when asked. There are currently no major political parties that are very strong on privacy.
posted by davar at 5:48 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

nthing Canada, especially on the aspect of "no jingoism". Maybe it's just being next door to you know who, but our polite patriotism is kind of a national joke.

Unless it's hockey season. Then get out of the way :P

Not to mention tons of natural resources, more land to explore than you could ever need, and excellent beer.

And yeah, we occasionally go along with the US on policy, but only when we think they're right. We have on several occasions diverged from them with great success (*cough*bankingindustry*cough*)

But I'm biased, having been born and raised here. Sweden might be nice too, or Switzerland.
posted by smistephen at 9:01 AM on September 23, 2010

Become a citizen of a European Union country so you can eventually live and work in any of the other EU countries.
posted by pracowity at 9:10 AM on September 23, 2010

Buy and develop a private island.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:20 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I was 21, I packed my bags and moved from Houston to Philadelphia for law school. While there, I met a lot of people who had relocated to the East Coast from "elsewhere" and who hated the place. People are rude. The government is corrupt. The weather is terrible. The subway stations smell like urine. The list went ever on... But I didn't care. I was thrilled to have left Texas. It was what I had dreamed of since I was a child - since I had learned that my parents moved away from a magical land called "New York" when they were young, and had resettled in the fourth circle of hell, aka Texas. I was pleased as pop to be somewhere - anywhere - else.

It wasn't until I went back home to Texas that I figured out the difference. When in Texas, I felt a terrible responsibility for the uneducated, loud women with screaming children in the tasteless capitalistic suburban mall. (Or the SUVs or racist politicians or homophobes or Jesus Freaks or...) Those were MY people/cars/racists/homophobes/JesusFreaks. The uneducated, loud women with screaming children in the tasteless capitalistic urban mall in Philadelphia? The corrupt politicians/unions? The social stratification? The gentrification of neighborhoods that displaced minority communities? The hate crimes? Those belonged to someone else. Or, more accurately, if they were mine, they were mine because I chose them.

Philadelphia and New Jersey were great for me. For the most part, I lived among people I agreed with politically. I lived in a climate that allowed me to wear all the scarves I wanted. I didn't need a car. Strangers don't interject themselves into my life (unless they are Italian Grandmothers in South Philly intent on making sure someone is looking out for you). I was a resident of New Jersey, when the supreme court of the state unanimously announced that the State Constitution of New Jersey and the Law Against Discrimination prevented the government from withholding the rights and privileges of marriage from gay folks. It was wonderful, and everything I wanted in a home. Sure I was still in America, and sure I still gagged at our national politics - but my day-to-day experience was downright enjoyable. tl;dr: You're right to want to leave. The grass IS in fact greener. Go.

For a while, I forgot about how much I wanted to leave America entirely. But I do. And I will. I'm behind you a couple of years, but I have read "Getting Out" and I have made calculated professional decisions that will (slowly, but surely) allow me the financial freedom that is necessary to make such a drastic move. I've heard all the admonitions that your friends have thrown at you. I've considered all the countries that people discuss. And the thing I keep coming back to is this:

No matter where I eventually end up, I wont feel so keenly responsible for their mistakes. I will have chosen to be there and I will have daily reminders of why I have made that decision. I may disagree with some facets of society. And I may eventually decide to leave that place if/when things change or get bad - I'm not sure I always believe that the arc of the moral universe necessarily bends toward justice. But I know that my day to day life is going to be vastly less oppressive feeling there than it feels here.

Sorry for the treatise on expatriation. I just feel very strongly that voting with your feet is sometimes the only way your vote really counts. And surprisingly, you can probably discount a bit of what you might otherwise think of as a Total Dealbreaker.

You didn't provide any information about what you do - but you did mention that you have some money. Not sure how much, but in some places you can basically buy your way in. Other places have what are usually called "Highly Skilled Migrant" programs, which allow people who are young and educated and likely high earners to move quickly and easily through an alternative program. NZ, for example.

Anyway, I don't have any quick answers, but I understand your perspective and if you ever want to bounce some ideas around with someone, feel free to contact me.
posted by jph at 1:07 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another vote for New Zealand (I live in the US but I'm from NZ and I've always been proud of their stance on the US nuclear state).
posted by media_itoku at 5:18 PM on September 23, 2010

As a European, America sometimes seems to be a loose collection of city states with different subcultures in every suburb. Is it your location in America that's the problem?

@DarlingBri: I don't think the OP would like Ireland's politics (though Ireland quite likes Americans).

Clearly don't move to the UK. There may not be an extreme Christian right, but there is a fairly scornful attitude to liberal thought, and it's about the third country in the world for CCTV cameras per capita.

Having realised that, think about languages. You'll probably find some harder to learn than others (Scandinavia, for instance, may be less suitable than the Netherlands based on the fact you can happily speak in English while you learn Dutch). What about Switzerland? It has rules on everything, but they also regulate things like tolerance, and it runs under a closer approximation of democracy than most of the world. If you want a country the citizens are proud of, look for small countries. Note that the Netherlands, Belgium, etc., have a recent history of intolerance towards religious minorities: you may think this doesn't apply to you because sexuality's hipper than religion, but politics shift...

New Zealand is more suitable than Australia. You might not like anywhere that follows EU guidelines on privacy. On the other hand ... you sound older than I am, but stories I've read of homophobia in America sound (I'm definitely not trying to be insensitive/offensive here!) quaint. I've never met anyone in Europe who's expressed homophobic sentiment to me. (I'm female.)
posted by westerly at 5:27 PM on September 23, 2010

Before you immigrate anywhere, I would strongly recommend you spend some of that capital on taking a nice long holiday to see several parts of the world, specifically anywhere that meet most of your criteria, such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden. You will probably find nowhere that suits you perfectly, but you may find that the place that suits you best isn't necessarily the place that ticks most of your checklist boxes. (Which is rather like dating advice, come to think of it.)

You may also find that it's not the country, or even the national demographics, it's the specific two dozen or so people that you become good friends with and spend most of your time with, that make your country into your home country. You may even be able to find these people in the USA.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:03 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Switzerland is weirdly conservative and anti-immigrant in some very odd ways. Yes, it's marvelously liberal and wondrous but it's also remarkably closed and patriarchal. But hey -- you get to vote on *everything*. And also, your kids get shunted into a school system that determines whether or not they'll go to college when they're 12. So.
posted by incessant at 8:34 PM on September 23, 2010

Work for USAID in Iraq.
posted by tarvuz at 10:45 PM on September 23, 2010

Live in a place like Burlington, Vermont or Madison, WI and you won't even need to leave the country.
posted by deern the headlice at 9:01 PM on September 26, 2010

Compared to the USA, *everyone* has military spending as a tiny portion of GDP, I thought.
posted by talldean at 9:55 AM on October 4, 2010

I enjoy cannabis

The last thing you are coming across as (to me, anyway) is someone who enjoys cannabis.

Why don't you try not smoking it for a few months and then see if you want to leave the country ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:05 PM on October 8, 2010

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