If you were actually going to leave the US for good, where would you go?
May 7, 2020 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Hypothetically, let's say you are frustrated with the United States for political and cultural reasons and wanted to leave - but for real. Where would you actually go? Bonus points for: -A federal government that actually seems interested in governing -A strong sense of community, including a strong social safety net -English spoken (or tolerated while we muddle through learning the native tongue) -Good for kids -A culture that would welcome newcomers Obviously economic opportunity is crucial, but let's leave out that whole can of worms for now.
posted by Anonymousness to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I think an ideal country for all your paramters would be Germany, esp. major cities, like Frankfurt and Berlin.

But, it's very difficult to get a work visa or establish permanent residency in Germany without sponsorship from an employer or gobs of cash.
posted by dis_integration at 8:55 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]

New Zealand
posted by pinochiette at 8:55 AM on May 7 [9 favorites]

The Netherlands.

Are you taking the practical matter of legal residency into account?
posted by humboldt32 at 8:59 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]

Canada. But like Germany you need an employer to sponsor or $250k and a solid business plan.

If you can work remotely, I would suggest Costa Rica. It's easy to renew your visa by popping across the border, unlike Canada who looks askance at Americans border bouncing to stay in the country all the time.
posted by ananci at 8:59 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]

This describes why we moved to the Netherlands.

In the middle of the Bush years, 2008 to be exact, I had this sense that the US had been heading in a bad direction for a while. That and healthcare - which would never be fixed- made me jump on the chance of moving to Europe. We actually moved to the UK but once it became clear over the past few years that the UK wanted to be more like the US than like Europe, we hopped across the Channel.

A federal government that actually seems interested in governing -A strong sense of community, including a strong social safety net -English spoken (or tolerated while we muddle through learning the native tongue) -Good for kids -A culture that would welcome newcomers Obviously economic opportunity is crucial, but let's leave out that whole can of worms for now.

The government seems competent here. When the health secretary had to resign, the PM appointed a member of the opposition as the new health secretary so sure parties disagree but there isn't this toxic atmosphere. Universal healthcare, lots of social support. Quality of life is very high here and great for kids. I love the bike culture, the great public transport. English is widely spoken here while you get your bearings on Dutch.

The only issue may be finding a way to immigrate here. I suppose finding the right job might do it, depending on what you do.
posted by vacapinta at 8:59 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]

Should we assume that you and your family is white and Christian (or Christian-ish)? Because if not, choices will be diminished.
posted by tzikeh at 9:02 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]

vacapinta, anyone can immigrate on the DAFT. It's really quite simple and requires little capital investment.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:02 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]

Yeah, New Zealand is the obvious answer here. Aside from that, any Northern European country (Germany, Benelux, Scandinavia, etc.) should probably be ok. I guess the “would welcome newcomers” part might be an issue if you’re not white, but otherwise all are good options.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:02 AM on May 7

At the level of "I want to engage in wistful daydreaming about this:"
*If you mean an actually federal government, you're going to be mostly limited to Germany and Canada
*If you just mean a national government that doesn't have to be federative, anywhere in western Europe except the UK, and New Zealand

At the level of "I want to actually make these plans:"
*Where you might want to live doesn't matter.
*Where would be the best place for you doesn't matter.
*The only thing that matters is where you might be admitted as an immigrant. This depends on your and your spouse's near-past ethnic background as well as your qualifications, degrees, work history, and liquid assets. But the short answer is that unless you are quite wealthy and/or an utter superstar at something, your menu of choices is going to be very, very limited.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:03 AM on May 7 [20 favorites]

This depends on your and your spouse's near-past ethnic background as well as your qualifications, degrees, work history, and liquid assets.

Additional significant factors are age and health conditions; being older or having a chronic health condition can make you ineligible for immigration in many countries (though you can still often stay under a shorter-term status).

If you are self-employed or can work fully remotely, you will have more options than if you need to find a job locally.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:13 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]

Last time I looked at NZ immigration, it seemed very doable - obviously depends on your specific circumstances, though.
posted by mosst at 9:18 AM on May 7

If you're looking to live in a majority diverse environment, not just one full of white people who sometimes, kind of, tolerate people who don't look like them, your option is pretty much ... Toronto. Which isn't say we're perfect, and we sure have a lot of work to do, especially at the federal level, and particularly with regard to indigenous issues, but .... super hard pressed to think of anywhere in the world that's more accepting in general.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:27 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]

My other offbeat recommendation is Portugal. One of the most left-wing (socialist) governments around run by a man I greatly admire, incredibly diverse (historic African and Indian community) and welcoming society. One of their first actions in the CV crisis was to grant all asylum requests immediately.

Beautiful country with great landscapes and food. Family oriented. Only reason I am not there myself is mainly economic reasons but I will likely end up there eventually.
posted by vacapinta at 9:45 AM on May 7 [14 favorites]

Italy will give you a house for a dollar or less in certain areas where the population has aged out, and they are running out of residents. Portugal for what I have heard about visits there.
posted by Oyéah at 9:50 AM on May 7

Not right now, but I think in 6-8 years, Israel will be a good candidate, even for people who are not Jewish. (IMHO we'd need to wait for Bibi and his ilk to die out for it to be in good ethical shape to move to.)
posted by juniperesque at 10:26 AM on May 7

New Zealand.

Australia in parts, the country parts are getting even more rednecky than they used to be, the current Prime Minister isn't great, but Australia also tends to go through Prime Ministers pretty regularly. Evangelical Christians are taking off but no where near as bad as the US .. yet.
posted by wwax at 10:42 AM on May 7

Just a note on NZ if you're looking to go earlier than later: Prime Minister Ardern has been quoted as saying it will be "a long time" before they open their borders again due to COVID. They've been keeping their numbers low and want to keep it that way.

Long-term there's been a souring over foreigners with lots of money trying to establish or invest in NZ, it might become much harder to do this. A law was passed in 2018 banning non-citizens from buying real estate.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:57 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]

Emigration from the US is not generally a question of "Where would you actually go?" but "Where could you actually go." Despite the encouragement of those who casually say Love It Or Leave It, you generally can't leave, in my experience. Oh, you can travel continuously -- lots of places will grant you a 90-day tourist visa, and there's legions of expatriates out there traveling to the border every three months to get a new one -- but if you really want to stay, you need a residence visa. Which means getting a job there, or marrying a native. Or maybe you're one of the lucky who can acquire a second passport because your parent or grandparent came from there. Or maybe you're rich -- there's the ticket, if you can afford it. (Remember also, unlike other countries, Uncle Sam insists on your paying taxes to the IRS even if you're living abroad. Maybe not an issue if you're planning on never coming back.) But here you go: 17 countries where money can buy you a second passport or 'elite residency'.
posted by Rash at 11:13 AM on May 7 [10 favorites]

Look into the Dominica investment program for straight-up citizenship with minimal financial risk, or the Portuguese residency program if you are looking for more of a permanent lifestyle (if you're gonna buy a house anyway, may as well buy it somewhere that'll grant you residency based on the fact that you just bought a house).
posted by aramaic at 12:26 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]

In the middle of the Bush years, 2008 to be exact
Er, 2008 was the END of the Bush years. BHO was elected in 11/08, and took office in 1/09.

humboldt32, I had to good what the DAFT was, but holy cow that sounds awesome. By "little capital investment," it looks like they mean "like five grand."
posted by uberchet at 12:48 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]

A few issues that can come up if you live overseas for any length of time (I've done so twice, though one was a shorter ten-month stint that wasn't going to be longer by plan): length and expense of getting back to the US to see family (especially if your parents are still alive); the taxes you might still have to pay to the US. But a big issue is that even when you are elsewhere, the US is still ever-present in the news. I was overseas during the last presidential election, and everyone there wanted to talk to me about it. News from the US still is a big part of their international news coverage, more than we get about other countries in the US.

This might not be in the spirit of your question, but I had a conversation recently with a friend in a different state, and I was struck again by the very big differences living in different parts of the US. Of course, it's no surprise to say some places are more conservative and some more liberal. And we know that this generally tracks to more rural areas and more urban areas, with the suburbs in between. But I think, in talking to my friend, I realized something else: living in an urban area in a blue state (even in Oregon, which has plenty of conservative folks) can feel very different than living in a suburb or college town or small city in a red state.

I don't know where you live in the US, but if you're not in a city in a bluer state, it's worth considering relocating within the US if this stuff gets you down, and then focusing a lot more on city and regional and state politics. There's real progress that can be made, even in the absence of a better federal government. (And, again, apologies if this isn't a helpful perspective.)
posted by bluedaisy at 1:43 PM on May 7 [8 favorites]

People have suggested Canada in this thread, and it’s a natural suggestion since there’s a lot of similarity between the countries. But as a Canadian who’s been living in blue-for-the-States part of the US for years now, I can say that even if you consider yourself to be a dyed in the wool leftist who is completely out of place in the US in this cultural moment, you may be surprised to find yourself viewed as being further to the right on the political spectrum than you are used to. In addition, I find Americans across all parts of the political spectrum to be pretty well-steeped in American Exceptionalism (in all the forms that expresses itself), and it can be really off-putting. Even well-educated and travelled Americans can display an ignorance of the world outside their own borders (even Canada!) that can still surprise me.
- A culture that would welcome newcomers
I think this point might be more loaded than you think, and I’m trying to be gentle here, my intention is not to be too judgmental but to give you a different perspective - even a culture that is generally welcome to newcomers may not be welcoming to (and I’m making the assumption as others have here that you are coming from a place of privilege) Americans fleeing their own country at this moment. The US has burned a lot of bridges internationally in the past, hell, 20 years, let alone since Trump, and while you may not feel personally responsible for that, you are an American citizen and voter. You have options not available to the rest of us to bring about real changes in this situation you rightfully abhor. You can run for office at multiple levels, donate money to political campaigns, you can canvass and organize and be an activist *as a citizen*. How do you think you should be perceived abroad, when you have those powers to effect meaningful change in a society which is pursuing policies that is enormously damaging on a *global* level, and you are bailing out? Maybe that feels unfair - welcome to life as an immigrant. Expecting to be welcomed as an American in this moment comes across as kind of clueless and entitled, and suggests maybe you aren’t really seeing this through the eyes of the people who you would essentially be asking for political ‘asylum’ (in scare quotes because again, I’m assuming you have some power here and are not in any immediate danger to your life or livelihood). Immigrants are generally expected to express gratitude for the opportunities offered them when moving abroad. I’ve lived in a few countries not my own, all wealthy and privileged in their ways, and have been made to feel this way pretty much everywhere. TL;DR - if you want to feel welcomed in other places, approach this move from a place of humility, and realize that you may have to work to prove yourself worthy of your new home. The rest of the world is not a buffet for you to choose from.
posted by aiglet at 3:33 PM on May 7 [36 favorites]

Suggest reading Grumpy Expat on FB for a time and decide what your tolerance for welcoming is, exactly. Big European cities will have more tolerance for expats. So if you live in The Hague or Amsterdam, you would be fine on all points— but there’s a cost, of course. You might be miserable in— say— Weesp— by the same token. In any case, the Netherlands is a pretty good place to start, Hong Kong if you can go with work, Ireland possibly.
posted by frumiousb at 5:28 PM on May 7

I’m enjoying Mexico quite a bit.

As long as you don’t intend to work for a company in Mexico, all you need to do is prove solvency to the tune of having had $25,000 USD in the bank for one year. There’s nothing to stop you from consulting for companies outside of Mexico as long as you stay out of the Mexican economy.

It’s a little too easy to get by without Spanish actually; it can be hard to get motivated to learn. Part of the problem is that people are way too accommodating — the woman who does my laundry at least forces me to speak Spanish and tuts at me when I confess to not studying. I could use a few more like her.

I don’t have kids but I know of quite a few expats that do and I have never heard of endemic integration problems. Still, I’m sure it’s not the easiest transition to make.

I had originally dismissed Mexico because of cartels, but that’s a lot like saying you won’t move to Denver because of Chicago’s murder rate. The Southeastern part of the country is just fine.

It is possible for civilians to own guns here, but there’s only one gun store in the country and the bureaucratic hoops to get a license are legendary. School shootings and random public massacres aren’t a thing.

I got my water bill today and it was $0.00. That has its roots in a message from the Yucatán government last month which said "We’re shutting down the whole city for quarantine so all of your utilities are free for at least the next two months." The bill hadn’t even been reprinted to have some blowhard politician’s name on it.

On the downside, at the national level governmental corruption is a way of life. It’s the same stuff you see in the U.S. (no-bid contracts, etc.) just more so. And of course there are always accusations of massive wrongdoing being levied against anyone in power, but that’s the same everywhere.

The divide between rich and poor is a real and potent force here, and some of the poorer Americans you’ve met would fall on the rich side of the line. Except that the poor here get medical care and other social services. Call it a wash.

Right now I’m living on a temporary resident permit, which will automatically turn into a permanent resident permit in four years. I’m still considering whether to pursue citizenship but at the moment I’m leaning towards it. I’m ashamed to be associated with the U.S. right now, and if we’re unable to reclaim some dignity it may reach the point where I need a new country.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:55 PM on May 7 [7 favorites]

Long-term there's been a souring over foreigners with lots of money trying to establish or invest in NZ, it might become much harder to do this. A law was passed in 2018 banning non-citizens from buying real estate.

FYI the law bans non-residents [not non-citizens] from buying existing homes. Someone not fitting that criteria could still build their own home.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:07 PM on May 7

I second Portugal. I was there for three seconds and loved it. Or Iceland. We were planning a trip there in July and I had been getting all psyched up for it plus I just heard they're coronavirus superchamps.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:43 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]

Hypothetically, let's say you are frustrated with the United States for political and cultural reasons and wanted to leave - but for real. Where would you actually go? Bonus points for: -A federal government that actually seems interested in governing -A strong sense of community, including a strong social safety net -English spoken (or tolerated while we muddle through learning the native tongue) -Good for kids -A culture that would welcome newcomers Obviously economic opportunity is crucial, but let's leave out that whole can of worms for now.

It sounds like what you're looking for is somewhere that is *structurally* more liberal (in the US sense of the word) rather than just happens to have a currently slightly leftier government.

-Effective government
-Strong social safety net (so has to be a wealthy country, I think this will rule out otherwise acceptable Spanish speaking countries in the Americas)
-English spoken OR English will work + a language that is not too hard
-Welcoming to newcomers

I would also add: allowed to migrate there, distance from family in the US, (and economic opportunity but you asked us not to consider that)

I'm not going to talk about healthcare between the wealthy countries on the list because they're all better so it's not a differentiator between them. Given that w

First, the other settler states of the Anglosphere.
These will all be culturally comfortable and familiar. They are all more liberal than the US on a national level but I am assuming that you want countries that are substantially more liberal - otherwise you could just live in an enclave in the US.

I think that rules out the UK and Australia. While both are leftier than the US, I don't think they are or will be sufficiently so to justify the disruption of leaving the US. Sure, live in Melbourne and London but then you might as well live in NYC.

New Zealand, yes.

Canada, yes... but note that it's not really that much more liberal than the US in many ways. If you care deeply about guns, healthcare and culture war stuff though, then yes.

The... advantage? of the settler states is they will generally have an approach to citizenship and belonging born out of their roots as such. i.e. certainly if you are white and English-speaking you will be accepted as belonging relatively quickly and your children will be fully accepted with no reservations by even the nastiest local xenophobes as soon as they pick up the accent.

Most of the other wealthy countries of the world have a super-majority descended from their pre-20th century populations. In many cases, this will not be a homogenous population but it may be several parallel cultural groups or locally dominant groups who have lived alongside one another for a long time. Switzerland, a country where four languages are spoken is the opposite of homogenous and in some ways is more heterogenous than the US. That doesn't necessarily translate into acceptance of people who are not from those defined groups.

That leads to ideas about nationality and belonging, often quietly held by people that you might not expect that you might find exclusionary. As a result, you may find that some attitudes in what you think of as liberal countries in Europe and Asia are not to your liking. In particular - many places that are extremely welcoming of foreigners will never culturally accept that they become other than foreigners. In this respect, even the UK which is not a settler state but has its own long imperial past, can sometimes be in some ways better at integration. If you are happy to live somewhere and be accepted as a resident but not really "one of us" then this is not an issue.

That being said, you may well enjoy:
Portugal, France (but only if / once you speak French and I'm sorry to say probably only if you're white), The Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland. Again, most of these countries though have substantial nativist forces at work as well in their politics even if currently not in any kind of power.

Spain I think you may not find liberal enough and is not a good example of a well functioning government. Italy likewise and also has some extremely right wing parties in or adjacent to government much of the time. Most central and eastern European countries I do not think you will find socially liberal enough and often have their own ongoing culture war type situations.

In all of these cases, I really mean the larger cities.
posted by atrazine at 12:55 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]

Thank you to everyone for the thoughtful responses! Really really informative. Although it appears I should have clarified from the get-go that I am not white...
posted by Anonymousness at 1:09 AM on May 8

If you want the most jumbled up cultures that I have ever encountered - consider some of the Pacific nations.

New Caledonia - technically a part of metropolitan France - a strong Kanak presence, the EU flag everywhere, most of the population has a working grasp of French, English and Japanese.

Fiji - the native Fijian culture, English colonialism and the Indian population. Pity about the coups.

Even Singapore - English colonialism, Asian values, and a clearing house for the wealth of Asia. Which brings its own problems.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 5:22 AM on May 8

If you brave the choppy waters of Reddit, there's r/IWantOut
posted by SinAesthetic at 7:58 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]

I researched learning abroad to test out living somewhere else for your same concerns, all my research pointed to The Netherlands.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:08 AM on May 8

Sweden is fascinating in terms of social systems, beautiful, and very kid-oriented.English skills incredible. A culture that would welcome newcomers is a stretch if by that you mean deep warm resonate connections with a circle of Swedish adults. Polite to newcomers god yes, deep friendships with newcomers is rough. There's a vibe of standoffishness and collectivist "this is the unspoken way it's done but we're not going to acknowledge it, in fact lets give a nod to hyper individualism but all eerily in the same way" that runs deep in Sweden (at least in my experience and that of my immigrant friends). Swedes are notorious for being standoffish as an inter-Nordic stereotype. I spent my time living there having 2 types of friendships: polite friendships with Swedes that always felt like I was missing something and there was something a bit wrong with me, and real fun and connection with other slightly wistful lonely feeling "foreigners". YMMV of course.
posted by hotcoroner at 9:03 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]

New Zealand: I came here in the early 2000s and never left. I’m Filipina and a mix other ethnicities and lived in several countries (Canada (citizen) -> UK (resident) -> USA (citizen) -> New Zealand (citizen)) long enough to get a passport.

As noted by others, it’ll be a long time before we open our borders again. I came here on contract under the skilled migrant category. At the time, there were no residency restrictions for home purchase, so I bought a house. After several years, I decided I liked it enough to stay and put myself on the citizenship track. No regrets.

Now I’m going assume you’re serious and not day-dreaming.

economic opportunity is crucial, but let's leave out that whole can of worms for now

Actually, this cannot be set aside for later consideration. The sponsoring nation will evaluate if letting you and your family in benefits NZ. In other words, you and your family will have to demonstrate your worthiness, not the other way around. So if you can get company sponsorship for a work visa, that’ll be best. Otherwise, you’ll need to invest $10,000,000 over 3 years to buy residency like Peter Thiel and James Cameron did.

I had brought up my citizenship history because of your stated desire to join a culture that would welcome newcomers. No country has this mindset, from my experience. Have you experienced a move in your teenage years? It’s kind of like that but amplified by the pressure to support a family paired with job insecurity. The very best experience will be ambivalence. You and your family not getting singled out for being Americans. Apologies in advance if you are not from USA. People will be mostly polite and pleasant. If you have children, it will be easier to socialise, but in general you’ll have to work hard to make friendships. Also, you’ll need to pay additional income tax unless that country has a USA tax treaty, which NZ does. The rates are almost identical; I’ve not ever had to pay additional when my USA accountant does the annual filing.

aiglet and atrazine expounded on this last topic much more gracefully but . . . . because of my experience of moving countries, I knew how to scale my behaviour and be humble. The level of entitled rudeness from first time emigrés is often-eye watering. Why don’t they have my favourite snack food? Why isn’t there Mexican (or other favourite ethnic) food here? (answer: the country south of the border is Antarctica and immigration is expensive) It’s about learning to love and adjust to where you are, not the other way around. To put it bluntly: you’re lucky to be here.
posted by lemon_icing at 1:53 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]

Thank you to everyone for the thoughtful responses! Really really informative. Although it appears I should have clarified from the get-go that I am not white...

This seems extraordinarily relevant. Specifically, how do you read to others? And how are people who look like you treated in different places? An American person of color is going to have a different reception in various countries than a white American, and certain countries are going to be more or less racist to various ethnicities regardless of citizenship.

I am white but my kids are not; I have lived with them in three different countries, the US, their birth country (though well after their adoption, not right when they were little), and a third country. They have had very different experiences in each place. Indeed, part of the reason I moved back to the US when they were little was so that they wouldn't experience the kind of racism they would have dealt with had they grown up there.

So I think the question of where to go and where you will be welcomed is related to how you are perceived.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:46 PM on May 11

I lived in the US for 35 years as a permanent resident ("green card"), and for the last many years wanted to get the hell out. New Zealand was my first destination choice. Around 2005-6 I tried to emigrate there, but to qualify I needed more capital than I had at the time. Last year I was finally able to move to Denmark. It's been a 100% positive experience from all aspects. But It was easy because I still carried a Danish passport (which I was fortunate to obtain in the 70's).

To answer your direct question, if you could move anywhere, the best places would be the Scandinavian countries and / or New Zealand. But the reality is that emigrating will not be an easy task, especially today.

You need to investigate first where you COULD move to, legally, financially & politically, then decide which place will be better.
posted by growabrain at 6:01 AM on May 12

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