A lot of people claimed they’d leave the country if Donald Trump were elected president, back when that seemed like just a far-fetched possibility.
Now that it’s happened, Amee Enna, who’s lived in Oakland and on the island of Oahu, is one of those Americans who’s actually following through. She sold her stuff and gave up her house in Kailua to move to Costa Rica.
“On the night of the election, I realized that the time is now. I don’t want to live in a country that elects a Trump,” she says. “More importantly, I want to show my nieces, nephews, and other people of color watching that you don’t have to stay here! We are so stuck on the romanticizing of America that we don’t teach young people about other places and options. I would like to show that survival in America isn’t the only survival option.”
Enna says she fell in love with Costa Rica over several visits and decided to make her dreams a reality. Because it’s rare for foreigners to get work permits in Costa Rica, she plans to find work in neighboring Panama.
If you also feel like it’s time to leave the U.S., we have some advice to help you plan your escape.
First let’s start with a few countries that are relatively easy to move to.
Warm weather, good food, close proximity, and a low cost of living make Mexico an easy place to move to. Start off by getting an FMM visa for only $21. Amazingly, if you don’t intend to work, this visa can be renewed indefinitely every six months.
Remember when Canada’s immigration website crashed on election night? There are good reasons. If you move there, you’ll be in good company — more than 20 percent of Canadians were immigrants as of 2011. With its shared language and similar culture, no country is more like the U.S. than Canada. It also has an express entry program for skilled immigrants.
This country’s “friendly nations visa” is the easiest residency program around.
Once you demonstrate “economic ties” to the country, you and all your dependents (including children under 25, parents, and disabled relatives) can also get a visa. What’s more, English is widely spoken, and the country uses the U.S. dollar. It’s also one of the closer Latin American countries, so visiting the U.S. when you want to won’t be terribly inconvenient.
Another English-speaking country, this is a great choice for skilled workers who want to relocate. In a 2015 survey, New Zealand CEOs said they were most concerned about skill shortages in the country. As such, it’s an easy place to find a job. Like California, it’s a beautiful country with ample outdoor activities.
This nation of 10 million gave out a whopping 110,000 residency permits in 2014. Although it has a high cost of living (like the Bay Area) social services here mean that life is easier for families looking for low-cost, high-quality childcare.
Some people will find that there may be easier countries for them to emigrate to. If your parents or spouse were born in another country, for instance, you could be eligible for citizenship there.
Other countries, like Italy and Ireland, have “bloodline” laws that can allow you to apply for citizenship if a grandparent or great-grandparent was a citizen. In Germany, the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors can also obtain citizenship as part of a “reparations” program. Every country is different.
WHAT REAL EXPATS SAY
We contacted some Americans who either lived in other countries or are currently there, and asked them to weigh in on some of the lessons they’ve learned.
Andrea Babb moved from the U.S. to Germany several years ago when her husband was transferred there for his job. “The best thing about living here is the culture and history. You learn so much and it’s mind-blowing to see buildings that are 1,000 years old! But I do miss the ease of walking into a place and just speaking English — as well as Target and Whole Foods. Sometimes, I miss the ease of American shopping,” she tells SF Weekly.
But, Babb says she prefers Germany and ultimately plans to stay.
“Priorities are more toward family, happiness, and wellbeing, instead the American life of consumerism and money and success. … Lastly, guns. You don’t hear about mass shootings happening here as much as in the U.S. It’s something we never want to ‘get used to’ again.”
Cameron Freres, who now lives in Oregon after relocating from the Bay Area, studied abroad in Japan during college and loved it so much that he went back to work and live there for three years.
“People are very socially thoughtful in Japan, but to a degree that so drastically inhibited individual expression,” he says. “Japanese friends would say how they wished they could talk to another Japanese person as openly as they could talk with me.”
Freres said that he also felt he wasn’t getting the same opportunities as Japanese engineers or being taken as seriously.
“I noticed competent U.S. engineers being placed in jobs in Japan where they were paid well but never given substantial work … because they believed that Japanese engineers were better than foreign engineers. There were all sorts of hidden racist undertones. … The U.S. might not be so thoughtful, but people have enough individuality to be able to speak their observations without so much fear of the public opinion.”
Tom Gastel, an American architect now living in Japan, also weighed in on life there, especially the logistics involved in being a foreigner.
“I knew Tokyo was expensive before I arrived, but many things are incomprehensibly expensive, like $100 watermelons, $8 single strawberries, $10 cantaloupes, and $18 non-fancy shampoo. But rent is less than it was in San Francisco,” he says.
“Communicating is often difficult, because at this point I don’t know that much Japanese and most people only have a fair understanding of English or non at all. Confusion or miscommunication occurs,” he adds, but in anticipation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, signage is increasingly being changed to also be in English.
Freres also lived in Korea, and weighed in on the food and the people.
The “hardest thing about living in Korea was the spicy food. … I needed ice cream or milk after nearly every meal, as an antidote,” he advises.
And, he added, people’s temperament seemed to mirror the food.
“Koreans are impassioned emotionally. I have seen couples walking normally down the street, when suddenly … the woman just started beating the guy with her purse. After about 20 to 30 seconds of that, it was as if whatever had completely blown over, and they proceeded to continue walking normally. I’ve also have seen people break into fights over grocery carts at the grocery store … [But] I actually think Koreans are very emotionally healthy that way.
There is an openness and acceptance of emotional turmoil that the Japanese [by contrast] try to repress and hide.”
Jenny Snap lived in New Zealand while earning her master’s degree.
“New Zealanders are really polite, but it’s really difficult to get to know them and get to be their friends. They’re tough nuts to crack,” she says. “They build relationships over long periods of time and prolonged periods of interaction — you can’t just talk your way into being friends with them.”
Logistically, Snap says, there’s still not a good way to move money around internationally. “That’s always a bitch,” she says. “You need to know you can’t open a credit card there without being a resident. So you either have to suck up credit card fees for overseas transactions or you’ve got to have cash on-hand.”
In my early 20s, I lived in Florence, Italy. I went there to study and then — in love with the food, the beauty, and the culture — stayed for almost two years.
Everything takes longer in Italy — and not just in a charming, slow food kind of way. I remember marveling at the way I had to sometimes spend more than an hour to send a package from the post office. Despite that, I considered staying in Italy and finishing college there. But I soon realized that because the American and Italian educational systems are completely independent, I would have to start from scratch instead of being able to transition from sophomore in the U.S. to a junior in Italy.
I ended up returning home. These kinds of logistical snags are often the scourge of the immigrant and expatriates life. Getting things done is really hard. Then again, sometimes that difficulty is what makes living there worth it. Eventually, you give up, call your friends, open up a bottle of wine, and figure out that life goes on, anyway.
The life of a foreigner in a new country is rarely easy, but almost everyone agreed that what it lacks in convenience, it makes up for in rich experiences. Moving abroad could be a permanent decision — or one that lasts four years. The U.S. will probably still be here if you want to come back.