Help us find a new country!
July 25, 2008 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Where to live, where to live? So, I know this question has been asked a couple of times before. But, I think my situation is a bit different (with some important constraints) and I am seeking both actual and anecdotal advice on where to live in this wonderful world. Details inside.

The SO and I have been thinking a lot about our futures and how we want to spend our lives together. We are in a very fortunate situation (lack of commitments, etc) in that we can move practically anywhere in the world.

So, we've decided to give it a whirl and have given ourselves until the end of 2008 to tie our loose ends in good old Chicago, USA and find the perfect new country.

Unfortunately, we do have some requirements given our stages in life (both professionally and personally). Professionally, the girlfriend is a clinical pharmacist working in a hospital setting. So, we need to relocate where her licensure and skill set is completely or somewhat transferable. That is, a place that has a similar need and use of pharmacists as the US.

Also, I am an entrepreneur, and although I would continue my involvement with my company in the States, I would very quickly need to start a new venture in my new home. So, countries that are technologically savvy, well-educated, have a strong entrepreneurship and venture capital network, and generally capitalistic are preferred.

Now, with the technical requirements out of the way, I can get into the personal stuff. In lieu of describing what we want out of our new home, I will describe what we like and do.

-I am 31, she is 30. We have no children.

-We love long dinners (preferably al fresco) over great wine and long conversations.

-We love natural beauty and warm weather.

-We love historical buildings, locations, and history in general.

-Our friends are extremely diverse and we prefer our new friends be as well.

-Well-educated conversationalists are a must.

-Libraries, cafes, theaters, and museums are necessary.

-Nice people, if possible.

-And of course, our biggest vice is boredom, and we don't watch TV, so dynamism is extremely important.

So, hive mind where in the world should we live?
posted by copernicus to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
what languages do you speak?
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 6:53 PM on July 25, 2008

Maybe you should elaborate on your entrepreneurial expectations. Are you talking about opening a shop or restaurant, or are you talking about raising a $10M VC round?
posted by ryanrs at 7:01 PM on July 25, 2008

Response by poster: She speaks fluent English, Urdu/Hindi; Passable Spanish, Arabic

I speak fluent English, Gujarati; Passable French

As far as entrepreneurial expectations- we're not talking small ma/pa coffee shop. Having said that, I'm also not expecting to raise $10M in VC money (that's rare as I'm sure you know).

Flow of capital and an educated work-force is far more important. Think along the lines of if I moved to Silicon Valley, I could very easily join a startup, or exchange ideas with others to create one. I hope that makes sense.
posted by copernicus at 7:08 PM on July 25, 2008

San Francisco seems like a good match, except you sound like you want to leave the US.
posted by ryanrs at 7:13 PM on July 25, 2008

I was going to suggest Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, until I read the "warm weather" part. Their winters may be more mild than a lot of canada, but they still kinda suck.

What about Seattle or Vancouver? Lots of diversity, amazing restaurants, beautiful landscapes, etc.
posted by gwenlister at 7:23 PM on July 25, 2008

I have no idea how practical/plausible moving to these cities would be, but these kind-of fit your criteria:

Cape Town, South Africa
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Barcelona, Spain
posted by belau at 7:32 PM on July 25, 2008

Very few foreign countries that have educated workforces of their own are going to allow your girlfriend to work as a pharmacist just because she has a US pharmacist's license. Just as in the US, we don't allow people who have medical and other professional licenses from other countries to practice their professions here, it's a form of cartel designed to protect the existing domestic practitioners of the profession. You should research very carefully the pharmacy licensure laws of any country you are considering to find out whether her American pharmacy degree will even allow her to sit for the pharmacist exam there. You may find that it will not, in which case she'll need to either go back to school abroad or find a new career.

If you choose a developing country, your girlfriend will likely have far less trouble. However, such a country is far less likely to meet your other requirements.
posted by decathecting at 7:36 PM on July 25, 2008

Best answer: Your keywords: skilled migrants.

Australia has a program for highly-educated/skilled people here; essentially, it's a lot easier to migrate if you have a profession which is in high demand. There are similar programs for New Zealand and Canada, both of which have tests you can take to see if you qualify under a points-based system to apply for a visa. Here's the NZ version (with links to their areas of demand/future growth), here's the Canuck version; you can take the little quiz thing multiple times and don't have to sign in or anything, so no consequences.

Britain and Ireland don't meet the warm weather qualifications and might blow whatever budget you have. Malta (and to some extent, Cyprus) also speak English, are EU members, are in the Mediterranean, and perhaps have more opportunities for pharmacists given their high proportion of retirees.

Singapore is one of the most entrepreneur-friendly countries in the world, speaks English, and is plenty hot, and is situated in a fascinating neighborhood. And the food is mind-blowing.

As for your actual question - where would we like to go? - I think it's actually more important to focus on getting all your vital documents in order and actually move somewhere (anywhere, even!) by answering this: where can we go? On the NZ quiz, I put in what I could glean from your data above (your ages, educations, occupations, and presumed amount of work experience) and you got a score of 130, which is above the current threshold of 100 points; presumably this means you'd stand a pretty good chance of moving there. The pass mark for the Canadian quiz is 67 right now; I could only get you up to 55 based on what I know, but perhaps you know more about your life than some random dude on the Internet.

Overall, you need to be flexible with your desires: you might only qualify for visas if you're willing to live somewhere more rural or isolated, or if you're willing to change what you do for a living. You may have to sacrifice a lot to start your new life somewhere, but as an expat myself, I can say that the hassles and the paperwork are worth it.

Finally, on preview: are you both US citizens?
posted by mdonley at 7:39 PM on July 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

Oh, and if Canada is an option, check out TN visas, which are explained a bit here.
posted by mdonley at 7:42 PM on July 25, 2008

Response by poster: mdonley, awesome information. Those tests are stupendous for not only helping to determine if a move to NZ is feasible, but also for helping think ALL of this through.

Yes, we are both US citizens.
posted by copernicus at 7:44 PM on July 25, 2008

Consider Singapore:

English-speaking, very diverse population ethnically, but perhaps more homogenous culturally. entrepreneur-friendly. in fact, skilled-foreigners-friendly.

history and culture are present but not very richly -- but places like bangkok, china, etc are just a short (and cheap) plane trip away. we do have our historical buildings, but considering our short history...

also, good cheap food and tropical weather.
posted by Xianny at 8:46 PM on July 25, 2008

I was going to suggest New Zealand, but mdonley beat me to it! It's on my list of places to live if I decide to move countries again.
posted by Joh at 9:24 PM on July 25, 2008

look really carefully at the downsides to living in singapore as a foreigner. i have never lived there, and i am just repeating what my ex's father, who moved to singapore from canada about 8 years ago, told me, so you may want to take what i have to say with a grain of salt.

life in singapore is very good for most singaporeans, but the long-term outlook for immigrants is pretty bad. (i'm not just talking about life for poor south indian janitors and construction workers. my ex's dad was a well-paid executive, asia-region director of something for a large software multinational.)

the economy is highly dependent on foreign workers, but there are severe restrictions on property ownership rights if you are not a singapore national. you basically cannot own residential property there. also, most singaporeans find housing through a government subsidy program, which makes housing very cheap for most people; you will be ineligible, and your rented housing will cost far more than what most people pay, putting you at a serious economic disadvantage. finally, you can only stay as long as you are employed there; so, once you've built a life and roots in singapore, when retirement time comes, you get the boot.

i'm sure there are exceptions to all of these things, and if you are extremely wealthy there are probably ways around all of them. and this was back in 2003 or so, so maybe things have changed, and maybe they will change in the future. otherwise singapore does sound like it meets your requirements pretty closely.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 9:42 PM on July 25, 2008

Best answer: my two cents:

1. it's all about your life styles. Do you want to work like a dog and earn enough money to retire before 50, even 40? If so, you should definitely stay in the state side. Almost all other countries, people are working less hours, earn less money, but live a much relaxed life. A question of "work to live, OR live to work"

2. be careful of overthinking it. can you two stick around in one locale for ever? why don't you just randomly pick a place, live, explore and enjoy? if it's fantastic, then congratulate yourself. if not, decamp and find some other fun places?
posted by kingfish at 9:44 PM on July 25, 2008

Never been there, but how about Kozhikode?
posted by coffeefilter at 10:56 PM on July 25, 2008

I'm an American in Singapore, and agree with those who suggest that this place meets many of your conditions to some degree. No idea about pharmacists here, but entrepreneurs are welcome and encouraged. If you eventually want to stay long term, you would want to acquire permanent residency (PR) or even become a Singapore citizen. However, if you've never lived here before, start by visiting, and then apply for an Entrepass (an employment pass for entrepreneurs), so that you're allowed to work. If you have specific questions about the place, feel free to ask in the thread or email me at the address in profile.
posted by blue mustard at 12:53 AM on July 26, 2008

copernicus -- "Yes, we are both US citizens."

Be aware that just because you leave the United States doesn't mean your obligation to file tax returns - and pay taxes - ends as well. The US taxes on the basis of citizenship not residency.

I'd suggest you carefully consider your destination in terms of local tax rate, perhaps even engaging professionals who can help you structure earnings / investments to minimise your overall obligation.

I'm an American and I've been living in Europe for about eleven years. I currently live in London, and even though I've got to pay taxes in two (soon to be three, yikes!!) countries, my overall tax obligation only runs about 15%. All due to careful planning and structuring of investment income and earnings.

Don't hit the ground and get an unpleasant surprise. I've seen lots of Americans come over here and leave - sometimes quickly!! - because they didn't plan for the tax hit.

International taxation can be a real bitch is you let it sneak up on you.
posted by Mutant at 4:00 AM on July 26, 2008

as mdonley said, you're going to want to research skilled migrant visas. however i also wanted to point out that because you're not married, in many instances you'll need to each qualify for your own visa individually.

these visas may also be tied to specific jobs - generally if your visa is tied to a specific employer, you can't stay in the country once that employment ends.

also, most immigrants are quite restricted legally, in terms of being able to open their own businesses or new ventures, so i'm not sure how that would work for you.

just some considerations to bear in mind. have fun with your research!
posted by wayward vagabond at 4:55 AM on July 26, 2008

Consider The Netherlands - the economy is great, almost everyone in Amsterdam and in the cities speaks English fluently, foreigners (and esp Americans) are well-received, and it's a great place to live...
posted by mateuslee at 4:57 AM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

With regards to sergeant sandwich's answer, Permanent Resident status in Singapore has been made a lot easier to get. And yes, rents in Singapore are high, but not much higher than any other major city. You could try a sublet government apartment or a government apartment on the resale market (you can't buy directly from the government as a foreigner)if you can't afford private property.
posted by Xianny at 4:59 AM on July 26, 2008

the problem with south america, i think, is going to be corruption. if you're not happy dealing with that then being a entrepreneur may be tricky (although i don't really know what that means - see below). if that's not an issue, nor the spanish, then buenos aires sounds good. or, if you can cope with portuguese, perhaps one of the big cities in brazil (i know less about them). santiago has much less corruption (and a very open, easy, transparent regulatory system for being self employed etc), but misses out on "cosmopolitan big city" vibe, which sounds important.

also, if being an entrepreneur means generally bullshitting, trying to raise money and hussle deals (i am a technocrat and so perhaps don't understand) then everyone down here (santiago at least, and i assume continent-wide) is doing that already. the economy is much more fluid. and without community contacts i'm not sure how you'd win out.

finally, for what it's worth, living in another country, with a different culture, may be harder than you expect.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 5:04 AM on July 26, 2008

Here in Europe the traditional view (and still a very broadly accurate IMHO) is that the north is the best place for business and the south, around the Mediterranean, is best for climate (both places will provide your cultural and educational requirements in spades). These days cheap flights and online working have led to a rise in the number of people who keep a home in both areas - and who also may divide their business interests in this way. Once you have a right of residence in one country then you are free to live and work in the rest of Europe so you could potentially come to somewhere like the UK on a points system and then either extend or move your interests to somewhere like southern France or Catalonia. The exact nature of the problems you will encounter as an entrepeneur will vary substantially according to the type of business you want to set up: so you need to think about what this will be, establish whether you are going to need to employ local people and so on.
posted by rongorongo at 8:07 AM on July 26, 2008

I'm surprised no one has suggested Italy. Not Rome and not too near the coast.
posted by cmoj at 8:29 AM on July 26, 2008

rongorongo -- "Once you have a right of residence in one country then you are free to live and work in the rest of Europe ..."

Important distinct between residence and (what I suspect you're thinking of) citizenship.

Since 2002 I've had what's known as Indefinite Leave to Remain, permanent residence in the UK. But I can't live nor work - legally - in other European nations. My wife is Dutch, we keep a second flat in Amsterdam, but even so I can't live nor work there.

I could either take Dutch citizenship or acquire a spouse visa, but my UK Indefinite Leave expires if I'm out of the England for two years.

Lots of restrictions unless one is a full citizen of a EU country, but once that new passport has been acquired we're back to the tax ramifications that I mentioned earlier.

In general, European taxes are more aggresive and higher than in the US. This means not only do you hit the highest rates quicker, but those higher rates are in some cases much, much higher than the Stateside load. That being said, it is possible to play off both systems against each other to dramatically lower one's overall burden, but this advantage disappears once takes EU (in my case either UK or Nederlands) citizenship.

Finally, every country is interested in attracting entrepreneurs; the capital and other requirements vary, but it seems for European nations if you can put about $250K to maybe $500K on the table as money dedicated to start a business, you will get fast tracked in (sidenote: the US does this as well). For obvious reasons, countries don't really publicise these shortcuts, but they exist. On the low end, when I last looked at these programs The Dominican Republic only cost $80K.
posted by Mutant at 9:41 AM on July 26, 2008

I'd say that you're looking for Western Europe, if you can find a way around the taxes. Being from Canada, I'd veto it.
posted by Beardman at 12:41 PM on July 26, 2008

Countries all over the world are making migration harder unless you are willing to invest major moolah. You are probably going to be the lead applicant, and your partner the 'trailing spouse' as the expat lingo goes.

Despite this, there are many countries that are 'traditional' for expats for good reason - besides the weather, working life etc, there is the infrastructure to make setting up in a new country and settling in easier. eg, I'm in the Netherlands, there are expat offices and plenty of clubs to help you navigate the bureaucracy (even though I'm an EU citizen it's still tricky). I think most of the countries in this part of Europe could be an option for you, although the weather is not ideal over winter.

Best of luck with your search, wherever you go.
posted by wingless_angel at 9:57 AM on July 27, 2008

My intuition says Italy. You'd need to learn the language, but enough italians speak English that the transition is doable.

Second guess, give Chennai a look. English is pervasive (among the business/educated class), and one of you speaks Hindi. Lots of entrepreneurial spirit, and I think that it meets your climate requirements.
posted by Citrus at 7:39 AM on July 28, 2008

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