Recently someone asked me why I would even consider leaving the United States. “We have the highest standard of living, this is the greatest country in the world. You have to be crazy or a Communist to leave,” was the reasoning.
I’m certainly not a communist, and I don’t think I’m crazy. So why would I, or anyone else, want to leave the good ol’ USA to live anywhere else?
Apparently lots of people do, and the number of Americans moving to other countries is increasing. Millions are retired and collecting Social Security, and millions more are still working or running businesses. For every million Americans living abroad, I’m sure there are at least a million reasons why that’s the best choice for them at this time.
Here are some of my reasons for considering moving overseas, and why the US may no longer be the greatest place for me to live.
- I don’t want to work until I drop dead.
The American Dream used to include the possibility of a comfortable retirement, a time when older, hard-working Americans could relax and have enough financial resources to manage comfortably during their so-called Golden Years. I’ve been working almost non-stop since the day I turned 14 – and that’s over 40 years ago – and got my “work permit.” I’ve taken breaks when I’ve had newborn babies, and for a few years here and there while my family was young, I only worked part-time. But I’ve pretty much always worked. My husband’s story is similar. Unfortunately, we never worked for a company that provided any kind of pension plan, 401(k), or the like, and while raising 5 kids, didn’t have the means to contribute much to an IRA. And after this last year’s economic meltdown, bye-bye to that little bit. So, retirement savings, zip. But, silly me, I’d still like to not have to work until the day I die. There are other countries where I can do that, where my Social Security check (assuming it hasn’t all gone to bail out Bank of America and Merrill Lynch) would allow me to live without having to work for a few years. That option is simply not available to me here, especially when you add
- Medical care.
Americans spend the highest amount per capita on medical care, but their care lags behind that received by people in other industrialized nations. In fact, our life extectancy is decreasing, and our infant mortality rate lags behind countries like Wallis and Futuna (yeah, I had to look them up, too. They’re down around Australia), Cuba, Taiwan, all of western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Anguilla, Macau, Iceland, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Japan and Singapore. We barely beat Croatia (6.26 vs. 6.37). This according to the CIA’s World Factbook. And we are the only western industrial country where individuals can go bankrupt and lose everything they own just by getting sick. Contrast that with some so-called Third World countries, where medical insurance that covers pretty much everything is available to residents for just a few hundred dollars a year, if that, and where doctor visits and hospital stays are priced so that regular people can afford them.
- Quality of Life.
The US may have the highest standard of living, as measured by the goods we own, but in the “quality of life” category, we trail other countries by a number of objective measurements. Mercer recently published results of its annual Quality of Living survey, and no US city placed in the top 20. International Living magazine conducts an annual survey, and in 2009, the US was in the #3 spot, behind France and Switzerland. The Economist.com created a Quality of Life Index in 2005. The US placed 13th, behind Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Australia, Iceland, Italy, Denmark, Spain, Singapore and Finland. Quality of life indices typically include mortality rates, unemployment, crime, political stability and freedom among their objective markers.
Whether you thrive on it or hate it, the United States today is a high-stress environment. I’d like to be able to ratchet back a few notches.
Does this mean there’s nothing I like about the country I was born in? Not at all – I love America dearly. There’s a lot I will miss when I move overseas, not the least of which will be my kids and their families, and other relatives and friends. I’m sure I’ll miss a lot of the foods I’m used to, familiar streets and landscapes, my native language. And while the USA is in many ways a wonderful place to live, it certainly isn’t the best for everyone, all the time.
So I’m looking forward to being able to live a life that’s a little more relaxed, a little more laid back, where I won’t make myself sick from the stress of worrying about what will happen to me financially if I get sick. I’m looking forward to challenging my not-so-young brain with a new language, learning new customs and meeting new people. I might even learn something from them! At the same time, I’m looking forward to the adventure that any move brings. I might return here to live again, or I might not.
And to my friend who’s afraid I’m crazy, I hope you’ll join some organization or do something that puts you in touch with folks who think differently from you, and that maybe you’ll realize people – all people, from any country – can’t be pigeon-holed quite so easily.
Do you think anyone who moves away from the US is crazy? Click the comment link below to weigh in!