In the wake of the recent decision by the Supreme Court to upend decades of precedent, ending access to reproductive healthcare in much of the country and jeopardizing health privacy, the legality of non-heteronormative sex, and both gay and interracial marriage in the coming year, there is an increasing desire to seek alternatives to living in the United States. This yearning, for many, is not new.
There are many other reasons one might wish to move abroad beyond politics. There are preferences for climates, cultural affinities, job opportunities, or a combination thereof. When hearing that you are in the process of relocating to another country, a common reaction is one of disbelief or jealousy. Questions like how can you afford to do that? or statements like oh, wow! I wish I could do that are commonplace.
Janelle “Jash” Cooper, founder of Joyriding With Jash, has been living abroad since graduating from Tuskegee University in 2019. She didn’t decide to move aboard lightly but decided to seek a better quality of life.
“For many of us, it is the best thing we could ever do. Time and time again, the United States has shown people of color, African-Americans in particular, that we are not welcomed,” she told LGBTQ Nation. “In a country we built, we have to work twice as hard to get half as far, which is exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally. I saw that grass was greener in other places, especially as a black woman.”
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Granted, moving to a new country isn’t accessible to everyone in every set of circumstances. However, there is almost always a path if you’re willing to compromise and accept risk, almost regardless of wealth. Though, realistically, it can be a barrier.
Tammy Shaklee, an LGBTQ matchmaker at He’s For Me, who moved from Texas to Panama, doesn’t think becoming an expat is only for the affluent.
“Most [every other expat] I have met has been financially-responsible and budget-minded,” she said. “Some talk about the world and those who seek to see and learn more about it.”
In Tammy’s experience, expats are often minimalists seeking education, growth, and development in exploring a new culture with its foods and traditions.
Shaklee thinks that those who best keep costs under control “are those who move with very minimal belongings. Getting rid of, selling, and eliminating things not conducive to your new climate and lifestyle is freeing. You can also make some money which you can, in turn, use to offset the moving expenses and lower the cost of shipping your belongings. Some basics you might purchase for your new home might be more affordable in the new country—especially from others who might be moving on to their next country.”
In making this leap, you should track your spending and cut needless expenses. Instead, focus on making sure what you spend delivers value—experiential or practical—gives enormous freedom. Downsizing, or right-sizing, is the way to make a big move possible.
Jeremy Albelda, from TheWorldorBust.com, moved from Miami to Mexico City seven years ago—a move that has become permanent in the wake of the tumultuous Trump administration and other events that have disillusioned him on life in the States. Jeremy recommends conducting a ton of research before hopping on the plane.
Expat groups for the city you’re interested in on Reddit or other sites offer “a wealth of information from people who have done exactly what you’re looking to do,” Albeda told LGBTQ Nation. “You can search the threads and find the answers to most of your questions. If you don’t find an answer, you can post [your question]. These groups are fantastic resources for finding apartments, good quality used furniture, how to get visas, making new friends, and more.”
Tom Kelly, CTO of Life Part 2, notes, “I decided to leave my home country because I wanted to take advantage of job opportunities. Moving to a new country was quite complicated. I needed a visa and a work permit, and I had to find a place to live. I also need to learn the language of the new country.”
Kelly continues, “Moving to a new country can be expensive. I saved enough money to cover my moving and living expenses. Still, there are several things I would do differently if I moved to a new country again. I would join a social group for expats, and I would take language classes. I would also research and learn as much as possible about the new country before moving.”
That research should include learning all you can about the paths open to you based on your unique situation and needs. There are a few paths for relocating to a country besides digital nomad visas.
Depending on your qualifications, you may be able to find a job in a country that needs more people in your field of work. Alternatively, you could choose to learn new skills and get a foot in the door, so to speak, by attending university in your country of choice.
Getting a job while needing a sponsor is complex, and only the fortunate will succeed this way—but it’s not just for the wealthy. For example, the United Kingdom lists restaurant, retail, and construction managers on the list of eligible occupations alongside IT technicians, musicians, and personal trainers. France is actively seeking tech workers, so if you’re qualified to work or invest in that industry, the French Tech Visa might be the thing for you. Though, for those able to find a company willing to go through the process on their behalf, you might also have help covering relocation expenses.
You may also be able to get citizenship by descent in certain countries. This would allow you to bypass the visa process altogether. The first step is figuring out where your parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents moved from and seeing if that country offers citizenship to their foreign-born descendants.
For example, Italy has a well-known (and therefore reasonably easy to navigate) process to claim citizenship when the following conditions, according to the Italian government, are met:
- The applicant’s parent must be an Italian citizen or must have the right to Italian citizenship via descent
- The applicant must have been born before August 16th, 1992, and their parent must not have naturalized to another citizenship before the applicant’s birth
- The applicant’s mother was Italian, and the child was born after January 1st, 1948
- Ancestors who naturalized before June 14th, 1912, cannot transfer their citizenship even to children born before they naturalized.
If you qualify, you are responsible for gathering the required documents and submitting them with an application form to your local Italian embassy or consulate.
There are similar processes in many other countries—so exploring your lineage makes sense when considering expatriating.
There is also a treaty for Americans wishing to move to the Netherlands. It makes the process very easy for someone who has (or wants to start) their own business or freelances. The Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT) allows US citizens to move to the Netherlands to start a business for an “investment” of €4,500 that needs to sit, untouched, in a business bank account for the duration of your visa. This is an easy entry to the Netherlands for your spouse as well—an application for a partner visa is possible to give them working privileges.
The DAFT visa process is relatively simple:
- Arrive in the Netherlands, find housing, and submit your application via the mail.
- You’ll receive a letter verifying that the IND (immigration) has received your application and instructing you to pay your fees (€1,446 for the DAFT visa and €207 for the partner visa if you have a spouse or long-term partner).
- Visit the IND to give biometrics (fingerprints and photographs) and get a sticker placed in your passport giving you the right to engage in self-employed work.
- Register with the municipality where you live and get a BSN.
- Register with the chamber of commerce (KVK) and open a bank account (deposit €4,500 you won’t touch at all).
- Submit a balance sheet from a Dutch account to the IND.
- Within three months of your application, receive your residence permit.
The initial visa is valid for two years. Renewals are valid for five years each, though you can apply for Dutch citizenship at the end of the first five years of continuous legal residence. You’ll need to meet some requirements, such as learning the language, but the process is not arduous. The downside? The Dutch disfavor allowing dual nationals, so for most people, you’ll need to renounce your previous citizenship.
For US citizens, if you’re considering renouncing your citizenship, remember that Uncle Sam will carefully review your tax records for the prior five years, interview you, and collect a fee. Currently, the cost to renounce US citizenship is $2,350.
Yes, it is easiest if you bring jobs (as an entrepreneur) or investments with you. Still, those aren’t the only paths to building a permanent home in another country.
There are numerous other options, especially for those fortunate to be wealthy. You might want to jump-start your research on Reddit (check out the subreddits IWantOut and AmerExit), where you can find helpful advice and even some practical guides for other options to expatriate.
“Leaving the States was not me running away, but, rather, me running towards the lifestyle I always dreamed of. It was seeking out the things that seemed unattainable for people that looked like me,” Jash finished. “Pursuing a better quality of life that most people in the States can only imagine. My experience has been overwhelmingly positive and rewarding. This unconventional lifestyle has ups and downs, but the positives outweigh the negatives tenfold.”
Whatever you decide, you’re not alone. There have been many before you blazing the trail. Learn from their experiences and build the life you wish to enjoy—wherever that takes you.