Help Me Become a Would-Be Expat.
November 9, 2016 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Please help us talk ourselves out of moving out of the USA. No, not to Canada.

Like a lot of people freaking out about this election, my wife and I are thinking about leaving the country. Independent of the question of living under a Trump/wingnut government, we've talked about living abroad short- and long-term in the past, read expat forums and books, even going so far as to scout jobs in Asia (and actually apply for two) a few years back. I've been to two Asian countries, plus we've been to Europe together. While we'd love to live in Canada, from what we've researched there's no demand for workers in our field, so for now that's out.

We are: hetero, 40s, public servants, politically progressive, college educated homeowners with a mortgage and student loans, two children (young adults, one lives with us), absolutely sick about Trump's election and its implications for our country's future (thanks MeFi election threads!). I'm white, she's half Middle Eastern (born here); both of us are non-religious.

We have almost no savings but have a smallish (~$200,000) retirement fund between us. We're both in good health except for conditions (me: asthma, she: migraines) well-controlled by medication.

Both of our parents on both sides are alive and in their 70s, and we each have a married sibling with kids. We're close to our families in a relationship sense (love each other lots, vacation and holidays together), but as a couple we've always lived about a day's drive away from all of them.

I realize that this is a broad question—a big part of one's experience with living in a new country has a lot to do with where it is, particulars of the living situation (work, housing, residency status), and individual preferences. I also know we're in a super-agitated emotional state right now—which is why we need a list of cons to keep the OMFG in in perspective. After we calm down, we want to look at the pros (which are plentiful and looking mighty attractive right now) and the cons of such a big step, and make a well-considered decision.

So why should we stay put? Bonus points for comments from expats former and present, people who lived abroad short-term and hated it, and those who just have a more clear-eyed post-election perspective on How These Things Work than we do. Practical, economic, psychological, family, and philosophical angles are all welcome.

TL,DR: Based on your experience with living abroad, what's on your "cons" list for a married hetero American couple considering it?
posted by Rykey to Travel & Transportation (32 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What are your plans for gaining legal residency? Without addressing that question, any other thought or planning is in vain.

Also, what's in the place you're going to that solves all this? You can't really escape stupidity.

But I'll give you a big CON, you'll still be paying taxes to the government you're running away from.

BTW, I've answered more positively in an identical question from earlier this morning.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:21 PM on November 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

At least here you have the right to work for changes you see as necessary. As an expat you will not have that right.
posted by mareli at 12:24 PM on November 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

The biggest "con" for me is/was the lack of an immediate support network - you do have your spouse, which is different from my solo situation - but there's something inherently disenheartening about being (say) ill in a strange place, or scared or vulnerable in some way, and not having a person you know will be on the other side of the phone for you.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 12:27 PM on November 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

At least here you have the right to work for changes you see as necessary. As an expat you will not have that right.

That's not really true. There are ways to expatriate and still have a vote in your new home. And you can certainly work for a better world within your new community. What's preventing those rights from expats?
posted by humboldt32 at 12:28 PM on November 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do you have a marketable skill? That's what living abroad's all about, getting that work visa. Else you're just a tourist (which is possible, long-term, but you need lots of cash for that, and sounds like you got none). Also, relatives in your destination country are a big, perhaps deciding factor in your long-term residency. And what about the tax situation for American expatriates.
posted by Rash at 12:34 PM on November 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

.But I'll give you a big CON, you'll still be paying taxes to the government you're running away from.

Broadly speaking, unless you move to a tax haven or make over six figures that isn't true. Tax treaties and the foreign earned income exclusion should mean you only pay local taxes. (You will still have to complete a tax return).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:37 PM on November 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

As I mentioned in the election thread, the US wields a disproportionate amount of influence on the world stage. While a person can make a difference in their local community wheresoever they should move, there is a smaller number of countries in which citizenship allows you to take part in shifting that influence for the global good -- or at least, take part in shifting that influence away from disaster that would impact many countries.

That is my reason for staying. I have dual citizenship and am multilingual; I could move to the other country in which I am a citizen. But on the global scale, with regard to each country's influence on international matters, I theoretically can assist in doing more good (or averting more disaster) here.
posted by inconstant at 12:42 PM on November 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

living abroad, in a different culture, is really hard for some people. i've struggled with it, personally. it's difficult to explain, but the drip drip drip of different social assumptions and conventions means that you never feel completely comfortable. at first it feels like fun, but after a year or two, it really adds up.

it is not the same as being on holiday.

and many countries are fucked up in their own special ways. i live in chile, which seems ideal in many ways, but we don't have abortion, have a gini coeff even higher than the usa, are starting to have "issues" with immigrants, etc etc.

finally, if you're white and your wife can pass as white (i don't know, but if), you're middle class, het, educated, with decent jobs, then you have a pretty easy life. don't you have something of a duty to stay and try make the country better for others? seems like if the people who can easily disappear do so, that's just dumping more shit on those with less resources, who can't.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:53 PM on November 9, 2016 [15 favorites]

These are great so far, keep 'em coming! This is why I heart AskMe and MeFi. Thanks!
posted by Rykey at 1:01 PM on November 9, 2016


If there's one thing that seems to unite American white people across the political spectrum, it seems to be their belief that things not going the way that they want is the signal that it's time loudly declare their plans to abandon society.

Do you really want to be that guy?
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:13 PM on November 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

I felt a bit this way in 2000; the corrupt election process and the shockingly bad Supreme Court response. Then war with Iraq, based on lies, and my son joined the Army in 2008, and went to Afghanistan in 2012. So the "we'll survive" comments get me riled up. Fortunately, my son survived. Many did not, including 125,000+ Iraqi civilians. I am incredibly disheartened by the thought of living with people who would elect as president someone with such a horrible character, and I believe sexism played a key role.

It's hard to move to a new country unless you have funds. It can be very hard to find a job in a new country. In Canada, just for example, you may be able to get residency if you can buy a house. Might be easier in countries that need hard currency. Like Guatemala - English is widely spoken in La Antigua, but language is the tip of the iceberg.

some links:

I live in Maine, a mostly blue state - 1 of 4 Electoral votes to Trump, as we are a rare state that will split them. I have ties to Hawaii, which is and feels distant from mainland nastiness, but is hella expensive. I may stay here and do my best to effect change. Or I may look for new options.

Why stay? Mistakes happen, people can be foolish and sexist idiots. We live in relative privilege, safety and luxury. Leaving widens that distance between family and friends. i grew up in a dysfunctional family; it's difficult to sever ties and create a new family. Now I see how much I live in a dysfunctional country.
posted by theora55 at 1:14 PM on November 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am answering this as a foreigner that has moved to the US. You won't escape US politics or it's effects. As an example my mother back in Australia spent a whole day watching the US election results as they were being transmitted on 3 of the free to air tv stations. What happens in the US effects the world. People the world over are terrified of what Trump might do, as a citizen of the US you are in a unique position to stay & fight not just for yourself & the people that his policies will effect, but for people the world over.

Having said that life yes in other countries can be better than life in the USA but it is not as easy to do as you might think. It can be physically or emotionally draining, I would not recommend anyone do anything while their blood is up after this election, it is a hard decision to reverse. Do not underestimate home sickness, or the unique ways that other countries are messed up. Oh God & the cost, it will cost you a fortune to move not only people, but furniture & pets. Visas are not cheap even if you qualify.

If you want to help, maybe give the money you were going to spend moving to a charity that is fighting the changes that will be coming. Put your energy you'd spend moving into marching in protests, signing petitions, writing letters to your representatives.

The most important reason I can think of to stay. I've never been to another country that does free refills on soda. Are you really ready to give that up? :)
posted by wwax at 1:34 PM on November 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

I'm a German immigrant to the U.S. Immigration is stressful. In my personal opinion, emigrating due to 'I wanna get out of here' is way (WAY) more stressful than immigrating due to positive motivators (idk, something like 'We are very attracted to Thai culture and feel we could make good community there'). The world isn't waiting for you, you know? There are people there who have their own political/economical problems and if you don't assimilate, you'll likely be seen as an unwanted intruder, more or less. And that gets very stressful, very fast. It's likely you'll be *more* of an outsider than you are here. If you don't have a concrete, positive vision of what you could gain from, and contribute to, the place you want to go - stay here.
posted by The Toad at 1:38 PM on November 9, 2016 [16 favorites]

You don't get to leave, you must stay and fight. Leaving now is an act of cowardice. If you hold out any hope for liberal democracy worldwide, it is your duty and responsibility as a citizen to stay, to stand up and speak for those with less privilege, with less voice. To stem the tide of creeping authoritarianism.

With emphasis and clarity: there is no escaping this scourge. Authoritarianism that takes hold here constitutes a threat to democracy worldwide.

I suggest you read the ten steps at the end of this article and start to get pumped about being an active participant in making our country and world a better place to live.
posted by scantee at 1:42 PM on November 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

Please stay. We need you here, particularly if you'll be more or less insulated from the worst that could happen. Volunteer, donate, etc., but most importantly just be a reasonable, empathetic person and participate in society. And be here for the midterms.
posted by witchen at 1:43 PM on November 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you have never lived abroad and especially if you have been in the same town for a lot of years, expect it to be a trial by fire.

Based on your experience with living abroad, what's on your "cons" list for a married hetero American couple considering it?

When I was living in Germany as an American military wife and I decided I wanted a divorce, I was informed by free legal counsel provided by the military that we could not get divorced as an American couple in Germany. The best I could do would be to get a legal separation and I could return to the US with my infant son (presumably to live with relatives) and wait for my husband to return to the US so we could try to dissolve the marriage then. We had just gotten to Germany. It was going to be another three years before he could return. This would have left my life in serious limbo. I had known a woman previously who dealt with something similar where the divorce was a long, drawn out mess because of the need for the military member to travel to another state. (I think I knew his girlfriend, actually, who could not marry him because his marriage was not yet dissolved due to this serious logistical issue of trying to dissolve the marriage long distance.)

The fact that it literally was not possible for me to get divorced as part of an American couple living in Germany is part of why my marriage lasted as long as it did. If there is any possibility that divorce might be on the table at some point, you might find that option difficult or impossible to pursue while you are an ex-pat. (Please note that the possibility of desiring a divorce goes up during extreme stress. Many people find it very stressful to move abroad and adjust to a new culture, etc.)
posted by Michele in California at 2:05 PM on November 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hi! I am an American expat and it has given me new perspective on all the "move to Canada" stuff from 2004-- which I am sure even I myself said. Here's the deal: being an expat is super hard, getting a job is hard, learning a language is hard, learning weird intercultural differences you would never think existed in Western Europe is hard, filing taxes is hard, forming a community of like-minded supportive people is hard. I was hospitalized for depression about 9 months after relocating. "It was a bad year" doesn't even begin to cover it.

Am I also, though, applying to jobs in Korea and India? Yes.
posted by athirstforsalt at 2:09 PM on November 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

i moved last year to Prague on a whim. i wanted to be able to travel more and Prague is cheap (not on the Euro) and 2 hrs by plane to everywhere.

you don't escape politics. this election has been the front page of 90% of newspapers in like 5 languages that i've seen recently. everyone knows what's going on in america to some degree. fascism and racism are alive and well everywhere. just when you don't speak the language, you don't overhear it quite so much.

you have to go through all sorts of hoops to get legal (which is as it should be). i have a trade license (zivotensky list) that allows me to work as a contractor for a non-czech company. i work from home and get paid in Euros into my czech bank account.

it's pretty easy to move here and become an English teacher. pay sucks but it would be the reason for you to get a trade license. i found my current job through and they just added it to my zivno. doesn't quite work the other way tho for some reason.

That said, i'm gonna be 38 in six weeks. it's hard to make new friends when most people my age have kids and are settled. the time difference means that i don't get to keep in touch with home friends very much. or my online friends. one of my best friends is west coast so most days i'm getting up when she's going to bed or vice versa. i've been trying to make IRL friends through facebook groups and

depending on where you go, people may not know much english at all. it can be difficult even with google translate and gestures. it can cost you a lot of money to various agents to help you with papers and finding a place to live etc. most places (here or otherwise) won't want to rent to foreigners bc you can bail on a lease and they ahve no legal recourse. you need an driver's license for the country, some places allow international driver's license. i haven't driven a car in all this time and sometimes it would be nice to just be able to rent one. (hello ikea)

you have to learn new transit systems and what food is available. what sort of things they do to foreigners they don't do to locals (charge for tap water or bread, forex)

it is great, but it has its moments of stress.
posted by sio42 at 2:32 PM on November 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm an immigrant, having left an abusive family to come to France 20 years ago, fully planning to live here permanently. My BA is in French, and I did my last year of it in Lyon. I had studied French since middle school, loved the literature, culture, history, etc. and genuinely saw it as my adopted home.

Twenty years later, with French citizenship since 2011, it is still difficult. It took me until 2006 to get a regular job. That was ten years ago. I arrived twenty years ago. Thankfully I had a degree, skills and motivation to be a successful freelance translator for the first ten years, but as a freelancer, applying for citizenship was tricky. It might have succeeded, but the ideal configuration is: permanent job contract (in France of course), homeowner (as opposed to renter), fluent in French. Now, in order to be a homeowner without citizenship, you also generally need to have a permanent job contract. Exceptions only made for people with lots of money. Where "lots" is hundreds of thousands.

Then there's the cultural side. Y'know all the crap that was said about immigrants in the elections? Welcome to life as an immigrant. Oh yeah you can call yourself an expat, but that doesn't change how others will see you. Did you see any people called "expats" during the US elections? Nope.

The only way I'm able to deal with the daily grind of xenophobic micro-aggressions (and I am a white woman... ugh) is the massive, positive investment I've made in life here. It is my home.

And FWIW, I have always voted in US elections, write my state rep and senator regularly, and it should go without saying that I remain in touch with American friends. I'm continually flabbergasted at how Americans, who majoritarily come from people who immigrated from other countries, could blanket judge others as abandoning their country never to be dealt with again. I'm preettty sure a lot of people who say that also know which countries their parents/grandparents/great-grandparents immigrated from. You don't just up and magically lose all connection with your home country. My grandfather whose own parents had immigrated to Canada from Norway, while my grandfather had never set foot in Norway but only lived in Winnipeg and Oregon, considered himself Norwegian, spoke Norwegian, participated in Norwegian cultural exchanges, and though he couldn't afford to visit the country, actually corresponded with – and thus influenced! – a lot of Norwegians. There are Norwegians up in Lofoten who know ME by name, what I'm up to, and what I think of things because of my grandfather originally; now me. Every year I get an email from them. I've never been to Lofoten!

Anyway. If you hadn't wanted to go live in another country before this, for specific, strong, positive reasons that genuinely resonate with you, nthing don't go. It is very hard work and there is no guarantee it would be any more rewarding than staying in the States.
posted by fraula at 3:14 PM on November 9, 2016 [13 favorites]

As others have mentioned, your number one issues are going to be around getting a visa. If you've got advanced qualifications, or skills that are in short supply (IT is always good) then you'll have a better chance. Bear in mind that the recent trend is for immigration to get harder (certainly in the UK; but countries like Australia and New Zealand are also talking about increasing restrictions).

I'm not American but I have lived as an immigrant in a far-off country. Some thoughts on the negative side:
- you're a long way from family. If you have nieces or nephews, you miss much of them growing up. You become aware of your parents' mortality, and think about wanting to spend more time with them
- it can be hard proving yourself in the workplace - your experience might be disregarded in favour of people with local experience (maybe not quite the same for someone from the US...)
- even similar countries are different - the food brands, even the types of food. The language. The references (politics, sport, TV, culture).
- it can be hard to make friends (at least for me, relatively introverted)

Agree with others that US politics will dominate the media wherever you are - though you'll likely find more people who agree with you than the reverse.
posted by Pink Frost at 4:04 PM on November 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've moved countries twice as an adult, in my mid 20s and my mid-30s. Both times with the same long-term hetro partner (no children). All the countries have been English-speaking, so lots of cultural similarities.

My main negative is how long it takes to rebuild a healthy social network - like, having real friends as opposed to just acquaintances. For me it takes at least five years.

In the short term, it's also expensive and exhausting. Moving costs a lot. It can take a long time to find a decent job, and it's often at a more junior level than you were before you moved. It takes at least a year till you have learnt how to do all sorts of mundane things that you didn't previously realise were learned knowledge, like where the hell do you go to buy cheap cotton underwear here?

In the longer term, you're setting yourself up for never quite feeling at home anywhere. If you move, in five or ten year's time you will wonder whether you should move back. Whatever choice you make then, there will be friends you miss, and you will have nostalgia for aspects of the country you're not in. You will have endless discussions with other expats about the pros and cons of staying.
posted by yesbut at 5:51 PM on November 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Leaving now is an act of cowardice

this is a surprising thing to hear in a thread full of immigrants, children of immigrants, and descendants of immigrants. I suppose it was not intended as an insult to all of them, though it is one; only a few people emigrate from anywhere when things at home are terrific. If everyone put loyalty to birth-country above all there would be no such nation as America to shame us into loyalty to, in the first place. no great loss, some would say, but there you are.

that said, it is always better to run towards something than away from something. As long as you can shelter yourself and your loved ones from immediate catastrophic effects, and it sounds like you can, you would be running from miserable feelings and thoughts more than from external circumstances, and those cannot be escaped in this manner. Trump will still be president even if you're not here to see it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:15 PM on November 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

Don't leave this beautiful, resource-rich country to the small-minded and short-sighted. Take it back.
posted by lakeroon at 6:20 PM on November 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

A man dies and goes to heaven. Heaven is fine, if a little dull. After some time, Satan arrives. He invites him to come visit Hell and the man accepts. For three days, they smoke and drink and dance and whore non-stop. But when the three days are up, the man decides to return to Heaven. Back in Heaven things are dull again as usual. After a long while, Satan returns and invites him to visit again. Again they have a roaring good time down in Hell, but after three days, the man returns to Heaven. Finally, after a very long time, Satan returns again, but this time tells him if he wants to come to Hell again, he’ll have to stay there permanently. The man had been desperately waiting for the chance to go again and agrees.The moment the man sets foot in Hell, devils grab him from every side, stretch him out over the flames and start skewering him with their pitchforks. The man cries out, “Satan, what happened?”

Satan replies, “C’mon, don’t you know the difference between tourism and immigration?!“
posted by BinGregory at 6:22 PM on November 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am currently an expat, basically on easy mode.

I live in Denmark, and am a well educated white woman with a good job. Denmark (particularly Copenhagen, where I live) has a very high rate of English fluency. Even so, and even though I have made an effort to learn Danish in my two years here- there is still a language barrier. I have trouble communicating with administrators here because, even though Danish culture is not *so* different, something is getting lost in translation.

Culture shock, even from these very mild differences, is real. I have had a lot of trouble making Danish friends, because I don't speak the language comfortably and because I miss social cues. (I fuck up socially in the US a lot too, but here it's worse). I have been here for two years and I only last week figured out where to buy light bulbs. I had to ask a coworker how to buy pants. Toilets are different.

There are minor differences that have a noticeable effect- one of the drugs I take more my moderate allergies is not available here. So I had to entirely switch up my drug regimen. It would have been worse if I had mental illness or ADHD. And Denmark has very good medical care! It's just different.

I quite like Denmark, I admire the social democratic politics, but right now all I want is to go home. I am worried sick about my family and friends back home, and I feel a very strong compulsion to fight for the future I want- and I can't do that effectively from here. As an outsider I have little ability to comment on or affect local politics, and I am too far away both physically and in time zone to have any involvement with local politics back in the US.

Speaking of, even Denmark with its strong social safety net, Denmark the fond example of Bernie Sanders, has a problem with xenophobic nationalism. It's endemic across Europe, and looks to get worse. So too with Islamophobia. I can't speak about other locations personally, but I think this is a world problem. Running won't fix it in the US, and it likely won't fix it even personally for you wherever you move to.

As for family and friends, that's hard too. It's possible these days with skype and email and text.. but I have missed so far two weddings and one funeral. (I've gone back also for a few weddings and one funeral- I said I was doing this on easy mode-- but I can't go every time).

Mr. Nat's nephew is growing up without me. My friends' children have no idea who I am. My parents are growing old without me, as are my aunts and uncles.

And even when my contract runs out in August and I most likely move back to the US, it won't be easy- I fully expect to get some reverse culture shock (what, I can't bike everywhere? I need a checkbook?).

I came here with a job, with sufficient personal savings, I look and dress enough like the locals that I am almost always initially addressed in Danish. I work in a branch of science that is an international community so English is the language I use most at work. I travel back to the us frequently for work and so I have enough frequent flyer miles to visit for personal reasons too. I am doing the expat thing on the easiest possible mode.

And it is still really fucking hard.

(This isn't to say don't do it; but realize what you're getting into, weigh your personal risks staying in the US, and make informed instead of rash decision).
posted by nat at 8:04 PM on November 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

I moved to Western Europe 4 years ago for reasons that had nothing to do with politics.

Reasons not to emigrate:

1. In my experience, it takes 3-5 years of serious work to learn a new language and get to a point where you're fluent enough to have real conversations in it. When you can't speak the local language fluently, everything is harder and you are very isolated from the community you are living in--way more than you are as, say, a liberal in a conservative town or as a transplant from one state to another.

2. As an immigrant, bureaucrats have the final say every time about really basic parts of your life, and you run into a lot double-bind situations (or, I have anyway): you need a visa in order to do something or get something, but in order to get that visa you need to already have that thing. At the very least, you need to find a job that will satisfy their requirements, and if you lose your job or want to change your job, you won't just have to worry about finding a new job--you'll have to worry about losing your visa. In both countries I've lived in, getting hired full-time is a two-part process. First you have to convince a company to hire you, and then you and the company have to convince a central government authority that there were no EU citizens who could do that particular job.

3. It's exhausting to be a foreigner all the time. It makes you realize exactly how American you really are (or wherever you happen to come from). There are all sorts of cultural touchstones and commonly-know facts about the U.S. that you take for granted that no one around you is going to understand. It's jarring to constantly run up against that. I've hummed the old Batman theme song as an automatic jokey response to something in a conversation only to be met with a room full of uncomprehending faces. People ask me what exactly you do on Thanksgiving, who George Washington was, why Americans dye their cheese orange, who Bugs Bunny is, if Boston is on the East Coast or the West Coast. The other side of it is tiring too: people who are surprised that I've never eaten a particular food, seen something by a particular comedian, read a particular book, been to particular places.

4. Partly because of the language differences, and partly because of the cultural differences, you will spend a lot of time in a new country feeling like you're floating along on a sea without understanding the deeper currents that are tugging at the people around you. Something will happen in local politics that seems pretty small or harmless to you, and the local people around you will talk about it for months with great agitation. There will be big tv events that you completely miss: a big program that everyone else knew to tune into but you don't. There will be systems that make perfect sense to the locals but that seem totally impenetrable to you, and it will be hard to figure out where to go or who will help you figure it out. There will be local festivals and holidays that you will not know about, or forget about, and so you'll do things like plan your grocery shopping for a day when all the shops are closed.
posted by colfax at 3:45 AM on November 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Others have touched on this, but I'm going to be more direct: As a white American living outside the US, I'd encourage you to stop thinking about being "an expat" and to start thinking about being "an immigrant."

This is not just because there are a ton of race and class issues built into the former (and there definitely are), but also because "immigrant" really carries the full weight of what you're considering.

As people have said above, there is so so so much that's confusing and difficult about leaving the US. I only moved to England and it was still a massive systemic change.
posted by harperpitt at 5:39 AM on November 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

I feel the same way after this election -- wanting to run away and never come back, but at my core, I do love this country and all that it is supposed to represent. I think the letter Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing) said it best in a letter he wrote to his daughters.

This is NOT Donald Trump's America, this is OUR America and I'm not going to run away from it. That's what they want us to do. If you want to move for reasons other than the election results, that's one thing, but don't go because of it.
posted by ATX Peanut at 9:50 AM on November 10, 2016

I was not saying "Don't go." I was saying "It will be harder than you think." I was responding to your request for cons.

Your question is incredibly conflicted. The title asks for help in becoming an expat, then the very next line asks us to help talk you out of going. I think this has had a strong influence on the kinds of answers you are getting.

If you really want to go, it isn't strictly necessary to continue your current career. That limitation is largely in your mind.

If you went someplace super cheap by American standards and either had portable income or any kind of skills they could use, this might be more feasible than you think it is in terms of finances. But, yes, culture shock is real and it would be hard in ways you have not thought about.

You could make researching various options a sort of hobby/psychological security blanket. Cambodia has particularly lax visa requirements and a low cost of living combined with a desperate need for skilled, educated workers (which is why their visa requirements are lax). As entertainment, you could try to flesh out a scenario for how to make Cambodia or any number of other countries work.

The fact that you use the term expat implies that you do think of this in escapist fantasy terms where you are privileged etc. I will also suggest you keep an eye out for news stories of trips gone wrong where travelers ended up in jail or dead. If you think laws changing here is scary enough to consider fleeing, I think you very much need to understand how horrifying it is to run up against crazy laws you had no idea existed.

When my husband was stationed in Saudi Arabia, he used to go to watch the public punishments they still dole out publicly, such as beheadments and (iirc) chopping off the hand of a convicted theif. There are countries where lashings are still part of the system. In the US, this type thing is the stuff of history books. But it still goes on in some parts of the world.

My point: Some of the protections you fear you may lose simply do not exist in some parts of the world, never did and are not on the agenda currently to create. So, leaving isn't some guaranteed path to something better than what you think is coming here.

If you make researching such things your hobby, you will be better armed to cope regardless of whether you stay or go.
posted by Michele in California at 10:54 AM on November 10, 2016

Your question is incredibly conflicted. The title asks for help in becoming an expat, then the very next line asks us to help talk you out of going. I think this has had a strong influence on the kinds of answers you are getting.

The post title refers to "Would-Be Expats," that is, people who "would be" expats, only they're not. Maybe that's a regional phrase that's not as common as I think it is?

At any rate, I'm very pleased with the answers I'm getting, including yours.
posted by Rykey at 12:31 PM on November 14, 2016

I took my family to Doha from 2013-2015. One of the nice things about it was not hearing about US politics and holiday hype. It was worth it. There's nothing wrong with taking a break and working overseas to get some perspective on your life in the US. Our life is now divided into before/after Doha, and I think that's a good thing.
posted by mecran01 at 10:15 AM on December 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Serendipitously, just came across this: 8 counterintuitive lessons I had to learn to leave America
posted by mecran01 at 11:01 AM on December 13, 2016

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