It’s Not a Mass Exodus, but More Americans are Leaving the U.S.
To Expatriate or Not to Expatriate is the Question
Supposedly, there’s an increasing number of Americans leaving the U.S. Not a mass exodus by any means, but more than in the past. The reasons no doubt vary.
I’m writing about this topic largely because I’ve witnessed a naivety that many expats share which I find more than a little disconcerting.
Before I begin, let me just say that my perspective comes from years and years of living everywhere but nowhere. I grew up on the road as a child. I lived in numerous states, traveled across the entire mainland of Canada, and even lived outside the U.S. in Guatemala. My family drove through Mexico to Guatemala and back four times.
That was back in the day when the Pan American highway was often little more than a dirt road in places.
As an adult, I retired at age 54 from a career in education, sold everything I owned, and lived an international nomadic lifestyle for four years. For the past 13 years, I’ve been wintering in Spain, my home away from home while continuing to explore other places of interest. I would never fault anyone for wanting to travel abroad, study abroad, or live abroad.
It’s one of the most exhilarating experiences available to human beings.
However, whenever I read a comment made by a disgruntled American who claims they’re planning to leave America, I can be pretty sure that they have romanticized their destination to a greater or lesser degree. By the same token, any time I hear an American who’s already living abroad talk about their new home with nothing but praise and acceptance, I’m pretty sure they aren’t being entirely honest with their readers or themselves.
Being an expatriate is different than being a refugee.
Both parties have left their country of origin to settle elsewhere, but one comes from priviledge and the other comes from desperation. As dissatisfied as an American can become with the U.S., and I understand that feeling, they’re still leaving for entirely different reasons than a refugee.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico over the years.
I’ve also become personally acquainted with American and Canadian expats, largely retirees who have moved to Mexico for the weather, cheaper dentistry and medical care, or in order to make their retirement funds stretch a lot farther. Suddenly, they can afford a lifestyle that they’d never have back home. Seriously. They have a maid to clean their houses and gardeners to take care of their courtyards. They could dine out for less and drink for less, too. Most never learn to speak Spanish so they’re unable to have Mexican friends. In fact, they largely depend on the expat community for their entire social life. No matter where they go, poor Mexicans are catering to them.
What’s not to like about that life?
And, yes, I agree that many expats contribute money to the local economy and help to create jobs for Mexicans. However, the enthusiastic praise that they’re often prone to give their new home isn’t entirely honest. Just as America is not a great place to live for many Americans, Mexico is not a great country to live in for many Mexicans. There’s plenty of corruption in the Mexican government. Arguably, the old Mexican caste system was based on three different blood lines. Those of pure European blood descending from the conquerers, those who are of mixed blood called mestizos, and the indigenous. I’ll let you decide who might have been on the top tier.
Americans often move into a town and join those at the top tier.
I’m just saying that when expats glorify Mexico, it’s often because they’re white and they have some money. Thus, they’re able to enjoy life, perhaps even a better life than they were privy to in America. But what it sounds like is that everything in America stinks and everything in Mexico is wonderful. That might be okay, too, if indeed expats were willing to say that they enjoy even more privilege in their new home than they did in their old home.
I’ve often seen the same behavior from northern Europeans who have retired and moved to Spain.
After Spain recovered from the Franco regime, people from northern climates began traipsing down to Spain to winter, kind of like American snowbirds who go to Florida and Arizona. Over time, Spain became one of the most popular vacation spots in Europe. Tourism brought in a lot of money, too. Things were starting to really thrive until the 2008 housing crash, but that’s another story altogether. Northern Europeans were buying Spanish properties for their retirement years.
Right away I noticed that the expats who were living permanetly in Spain, were almost identical to the expats that I met in Mexico.
They drank for less, ate for less, and scooped up a lot of property for less. Their dental care was cheaper. They often sang the praise of the hardworking Spaniards who had endured life under a dictator followed by many years of hard recovery.
Things are far from perfect for many Spaniards, but the expats are often enjoying the sun, sand, and sea, so they can’t find much to complain about.
Many if not most northern european expats also don’t learn to speak the language so are basically unable to make Spanish friends. They have entire groups of expats that form their social circle. In fact, in some towns along the coastline there were so many expats that the villages catered almost entirely to the new residence. Torrox is a town that is full of Germans. The menues in restaurants are printed in German and Spanish. Nerja, a few miles further down the road, became a British expat community.
Interesting to note, most if not all expats come from countries where their own citizens complain that refugees don’t learn their language and refuse to assimilate.
In addition to the tendency for expats to live their best lives without any real concern for the domestic issues of the country that has adopted them, I will add that it’s also entirely possible to never be asked by the natives to worry about they’re affairs. Expats are given a bit of a free ride. It’s a rather pleasant experience to leave the domestic issues of your own country far behind and yet be completely let off the hook when it comes to the problems of the new country.
I must admit this is one of my favorite fringe benefits.
Last but not least, I would be remiss not to mention that even in European countries where social democracy, universal health care of one kind or another, and free college is more the norm, there is a growing concern that far right political groups are gaining ground. What many people either don’t know or refuse to admit is that far right ideologies, nationalism, a hatred for refugees, and climate change disparity is beginning to rear it’s ugly head worldwide.
This is the trend. Where it will end, I do not know.
But things are changing and the threat is real. Spain for example has a conservative party that is gaining ground called the Vox party. France had a recent election that was a close call. England had their Brexit. Poland and Hungary have already turned the corner. Italy is flirting with far right ideologies. Portugal has the Chega party which is steadiy gaining ground. Of course, we can’t forget Brazil and their lunatic leader. Much of South America is dealing with their own corruption. Even South Korea voted for the most conservative leader in their most recent election.
It’s as though we can’t run far enough away these days. So beware of false hopes and misguided expectations.
I leave you with this. Yes, going abroad is a wonderful benefit that comes with living in modern times. I’ve spent most of my life doing some form of international travel or even living abroad. But be fair. Be fair with what you write about living abroad and be willing to look at where you’re living with eyes wide open. Take note of the poor who are struggling and listen to their concerns. Pay attention to government corruption. Be aware of the ravages of climate change happening all around you. And, make sure far right parties aren’t threatening the democracy of your home away from home.
Just because you have a maid, doesn’t mean your maid has hope.
And most of all, be aware of world trends. Contrary to popular opinion, Americans aren’t the most important people on the planet. We share this planet with lots of different cultures with different languages, traditions, religions, problems, fears, and domestic issues.
Let’s not become part of their problem.
If after careful consideration, you decide to move abroad, seek residency, and start a new life, be prepared for a long drawn out process. Many Americans are surprised that they can’t relocate with a snap of their fingers. If and when you get settled in your new country also be aware that one reason you were able to do so is that you had some money or a skill that made you a good risk. Your transition from your old life to your new life isn’t even remotely like the thousands upon thousands of refugees across the world. And, the refugee situation is bound to worsen as climate change creates more destitution. Refugees are one of the top concerns in rich countries. It’s a hot topic that far right political groups all over the world use to solidify their party.
You see, paradise doesn’t exist on planet earth.
Not yet. Maybe it never will. We certainly have a long way to go. Yes, there are places where refugees must flee either due to climate change or corruption or both. But to a greater or lesser degree, we’re all going to face ever increasing climate change issues. That’s guaranteed. Our best hope is to learn how to work together as a species. Many, many of our problems are world problems today. We need one another more than ever.
In the words of Thomas Paine —The world is my home and to do good is my religion.
Teresa Roberts is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.