Expats fleeing to a permanent life abroad

An Argentinian and U.S. passport. Photo: alex-s / Flickr Creative Commons

An Argentinian and U.S. passport. Photo: alex-s / Flickr Creative Commons

The most drastic steps an expat can make is to give up citizenship and take up permanent residency abroad. With tax season just behind us, the media has picked up on the expat connection.

This Time magazine article says that growing numbers of Americans are crossing that point of no return: U.S. expat taxes drive Americans to give up citizenship.  There was a similar article in the New York Times: More American expats give up citizenship.

On one hand, it’s easy to believe that high-wage workers are simply trying to evade taxes.  At the time of writing, the IRS exempts the first US$91,400 of foreign-earned income from being taxed.  None of the backpackers and English teachers I know in Asia make anywhere near that much money. They aren’t renouncing citizenship.

To see how the other half lives, take a look at this eye-opening Reuters piece: For finance pros, Asian expat life losing perks.  These executives get US$5,000 to 10,000 a month in housing allowance.

On the other hand, what if this exodus is a signal of people “voting with their feet”?  Maybe these expats are tired of government bailouts, deteriorating public services, and rising crime. They’re making a statement by choosing a more hospitable country. The arbitraging of a lower cost-of-living is an undeniable attraction.  US$1,000 a month in Thailand gets you a lot further than in America.

In some cases, the case for giving up citizenship isn’t about dollars and cents, as it is about love. Same-sex civil unions are controversial in America.  A big problem is if one partner isn’t a U.S. citizen. It is difficult, if not impossible, to sponsor a same-sex partner from overseas. This NY Times blog post goes into more detail: Do gay couples give up their U.S. citizenship?

The Daily Mail had an article that served as a nice follow-up: 9 out of 10 UK expats say quality of life is better abroad. To be fair, life overseas isn’t always an endless paradise. Bureaucracy can be much worse, especially since it will often be in a language you don’t know. Your rights to residency, work, own property, start a business, and vote are severely limited.

Infrastructure can be shoddy in developing countries.  Crime can be just as bad, if not worse. More importantly, locals can resent perceived arrogance from expats. For an extreme example of how things can go wrong, check out this Guardian UK report: Goa: property frenzy and crime poison the hippy dream.

Have you settled abroad for the long term? What made you leave? What are the pros and cons of your new home?

Posted by | Comments (5)  | April 30, 2010
Category: Expat Life, Lifestyle Design, Notes from the collective travel mind

5 Responses to “Expats fleeing to a permanent life abroad”

  1. Natalia Says:

    Contrary to the Mail Online article (and it is the Mail Online, which makes its name and money UK bashing) we have moved from Australia to the UK, to live permanently. We have lived here previously for two years, so walked in to it with our eyes wide open. And being Australian citizens, we don’t have to renounce that citizenship to take on UK citizenship.
    So why? We like the culture and history here. We like the fact tat it is much easier to travel to different countries and cultures from the UK than from Australia. and the undescribable – we seem to be ‘northern hemisphere people rather than ‘southern hemisphere people’, which probably doesn’t make much sense unless you have been through it yourself.

  2. Pat Temiz Says:

    My partner and I moved to south west Turkey in 2004 and will never return to UK. Our lifestyle here is so much more healthy and fulfilling: excellent locally grown fruit and veg., outdoor living for about 9 months of the year; beautful landscape and culturally rich surroundings; amazing history and access to other really interesting countries that have land borders with Turkey so are cheap and easy to get to. I have dual nationality (British/Turkish) and speak fluent vernacular Turkish so we manage the bureaucracy. We are very lucky and know it.

  3. Rebecca Says:

    I haven’t lived abroad, but think about it for many reasons. I happen to love the UK for various reasons. The history is astounding, and I feel more at home there. I often wondered what would have happened if the British won the Revolution, but I guess it wasn’t in the cards for them. Plus, Western (I know the UK is an island) and Eastern Europeans seem to be more laid back and aren’t in a hurry as most Americans are.

  4. Frank Says:

    Some questions: If large numbers of Americans start moving overseas, especially to non-Western countries, is that going to be OK with the US government? Will they be OK with large amounts of money leaving the country into countries that “Don’t have Western values”? According to one of those articles there are something like 5 million Americans aboard now. What if that increased to 20 or 30 or 40 million?

  5. Steve Says:

    I wonder how much of this is due to people just liking the place where they live. I know many
    people that would love to just go away somewhere and live. Emerging countries are presenting
    more and more opportunities for people to live and work. Their living standards are coming up
    too. Also, a lot of these places have very intersting cultures. Now, I don’t know if I would do
    it, but I’m sure the appeal is there for many.