Some Americans have threatened to move to another country depending on the election outcome Tuesday, reminiscent of the dismay they felt after the 2016 presidential contest results.
But not everyone ditched the USA as they claimed they would, including actor Samuel L. Jackson and comedian Jon Stewart. One sheriff in Ohio, Richard K. Jones, is already mocking celebrities who said they’d leave four years ago but didn’t. Now he’s offering a one-way ticket for them out of the country.
Still, record numbers of Americans have wanted to flee in the U.S. in recent years during President Donald Trump’s administration, according to Gallup’s World Poll in 2019. The 16% of Americans who said in 2017 and again in 2018 that they would like to permanently move to another country is higher than the average levels during either the George W. Bush (11%) or Barack Obama administrations (10%).
The number of Americans, particularly young women, who say they desire to leave the U.S. permanently is on the rise. In fact, 40% of women younger than 30 say they would like to leave, the study showed.
Maggie Fitzsimmons, 28, is one of those women. She moved to London in 2017 after living in New York City. She realized she felt most at home across the pond after traveling there for personal and business reasons.
“I’m loving it. It’s been enlightening being here, especially during a time when there’s turmoil in the U.S.,” says Fitzsimmons, a client partner at a digital product company. “I have friends who’ve been exploring how to work from London temporarily, particularly citing the political turmoil and pandemic chaos.”
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Canada is a top desired destination for would-be emigrant Americans, Gallup said. In September, Google reported a spike in the number of searches for “How to apply for Canadian citizenship” in the U.S. following the first raucous presidential debate.
When Martyn Jones moved to Canada in 2015, he was surprised by how much he saved in health care expenses when he started a family.
“The dread prospect of bankruptcy as a result of a medical situation doesn’t hang over your head in the way that it does in the U.S. even if you have a decent employer-provided insurance policy,” says Jones, 32, a content specialist in the office of communications at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.
An estimated 9 million U.S. citizens live overseas as of 2019, according to the State Department.
USA TODAY spoke with American expats who already took the plunge and left. Some fled to escape the political turmoil in the U.S. in recent years, while others moved abroad for new job opportunities. Or, they found love and got married.
Here are their stories:
After retiring, Devon Austin, 70, and her husband left San Francisco for Costa Rica in summer 2016.
Austin, who had worked as a client adviser for a global insurance broker, decided to take the plunge and left after the political turmoil became too much for them to bear, she says.
“The political situation in the U.S. got rough and racial situation became overwhelming,” Austin says. “This isn’t the America that I knew.”
The couple love living in Central America, not just for the unique culture but also for some of the cheaper housing and health insurance costs. As a retiree, the cost of living – about $2,000 a month – is cheaper than when she lived in the Bay Area, she says.
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“If you have a way to make a living and you really just want to be in Costa Rica, I say still come,” Austin says. “Everything is mostly open, you just have to wear a mask.”
When they first moved to Costa Rica, they lived in Grecia, a small farming town. They rented a furnished three-bedroom home with two baths and a washer and dryer in a gated community for $800 a month. She paid $2,400 a month for a smaller home in Emeryville, California.
They moved to Escazú this past summer, a ritzy city near the capital, San José, that provides more amenities and shopping options. They pay $1,200 for a smaller two-bedroom condo with two baths in a modern high-rise. It has a jacuzzi and laundry room, and it is within a few blocks of shopping.
The couple found health care was far cheaper than back home, which saves them hundreds if not thousands of dollars. They pay into the country’s medical system as foreigners, which is based on their income. It costs them $84 a month for full medical coverage, but the government dropped it to just $11 during the pandemic, she says.
Many expats, like Austin, opt for a mix of public insurance, or they self-insure through discount plans, switching between the two as needed. For instance, when she contracted E. coli during a trip to Mexico, she paid just $35 for the appointment and $9 for the prescription through self-insurance.
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“We have medical care just like in America, but for a fraction of the cost,” Austin says. “Now we have the best of both worlds. We can go to a local doctor and get treated for free, or we can choose our own doctor if we want to be holistic.”
Through the public plan, she can go free but has to wait for appointments and can’t pick the doctor. But through self-insurance, she can choose the physician, which has been helpful for dental work, she says.
Tabitha Bakare, who has lived abroad for eight years, first began mulling the big move after the 2008 financial crisis.
She spent the first six years of her journey in South Korea, splitting her time between Chuncheon in the northern part of the country and then Pyeongtaek, about an hour south of Seoul. Then she relocated across the world with her two children to Querétaro, a colonial city in central Mexico.
“Moving abroad was the best decision that I’ve ever made for myself, especially due to the lasting effects from the Great Recession,” says Bakare, 39, who had a difficult time finding a job after finishing graduate school in 2010.
Bakare, who is from North Carolina, couldn’t find a full-time collegiate teaching appointment. She taught at a community college for almost two years where she was uninsured and felt she was underpaid.
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So she started looking for jobs abroad and scored a position as a teacher in South Korea in the public school system. She got a number of perks, including a housing allowance, a bonus when renewing a work contract and a transportation allowance. And she had national health care.
“I took the job in South Korea because I got everything that I didn’t have in my own country teaching,” Bakare says.
The South Korean government subsidizes 50% of child care for most resident visa holders, she says, so she paid only $367 a month for full-time child care for her first daughter.
“Child care alone is a major expense back in the U.S., so this was a big savings,” Bakare says.
She now teaches English online for an e-learning company while living in Mexico. The cost of living in South Korea is more than in Mexico, but it’s still lower than some major cities in the U.S., she says.
She doesn’t have a local health coverage plan in Mexico, so she pays out of pocket. The health services and medications are affordable, she says.
For a family of four in South Korea, groceries could easily run $150 a week, compared with $75 to $85 a week in Mexico. But there are ways to save money by ordering produce online directly from growers and buying from vendors.
While utilities, electricity and gas are expensive in the summer and winter months, the quality of life is good in South Korea, she says.
For others looking to move abroad, now could be the perfect opportunity, she says.
“It’s a good time for some people to move abroad, especially if their company allows it and they can work from home,” Bakare says. “But you need to know your ‘why,’ because you might leave one set of problems only to acquire another. If people are cashing out their 401(k)s and living off their savings, it’s not a good idea.”
Jones, the content specialist, has lived in Toronto since 2015. He met his Canadian wife overseas in a graduate school program for philosophy in Belgium.
The Canadian single-payer health system has changed the way Jones approached his life after having a child, he says.
“The pro-family policy in Canada makes it far easier to start a family because real support is provided,” says Jones, who has a toddler. Their health care covered appointments with an expert team of midwives leading up to the due date. When his wife had a cesarean section, the couple decided to get a private room for two nights, which came out to just $260.
“Most of my friends in the United States who are having children are instead looking at costs of thousands and thousands of dollars just to give birth in a hospital. And that’s if everything goes really well and there aren’t unforeseen problems,” Jones says.
Parents in Canada are entitled to nearly a year of paid leave, he says. His wife received nearly two months of her full salary, then got roughly 60% of her pay through the rest of the year.
Jones doesn’t have plans on leaving Canada anytime soon.
“My wife, for her birthday as a teenager, was gifted grave plots by her grandmother,” he says. “So we are basically as permanent as you can be.”
Felicia Beltran of Minneapolis moved to Madrid on a whim in 2014 to teach English. She ended up getting married and plans to start a family here.
Beltran, like the others, enjoys low health care costs, though she does face pricey rent for what she earns in Spain. She makes nearly 1,500 euros (a little more than $1,750) a month teaching English at a private school for kindergarteners.
Her rent is 500 euros, or about a third of her salary, for a two-bedroom apartment.
At first it seemed jarring compared with salaries in the U.S., though she quickly realized the cost of living, including groceries, utilities and transportation, was cheaper in Spain.
“If you’re working-class, anywhere you live you have to make sacrifices,” Beltran says. “Wages vary in different places, but so does the cost of living.”
To be sure, job prospects for Americans beyond teaching English are hard to come by, she says.
“Careers are so valued to Americans. It’s not worth it for some people knowing they’ll be stuck in a job teaching English for a while,” Beltran says. “What draws me to Spain is the quality of life. We consider Spain home and want to raise family here.”
For Fitzsimmons, who now lives in London, finding housing in the city was a challenge as an American.
“If you’re new to the country and on a visa, they typically ask you to pay up to eight weeks of rent in advance, and some places make you pay up to a year,” she says. Fitzsimmons negotiated six weeks in advance, plus her security deposit.
But unlike in Manhattan, where she had lived, broker fees don’t exist.
“It almost felt like I was paying the equivalent of what I would have paid in fees that come with New York housing,” Fitzsimmons says. “It was quite a lot of paperwork, but monetarily it evened out because I wasn’t dealing with those pesky New York broker fees.”
Transportation on London’s Tube, the public transport system, typically costs her about what she would pay in New York, but it can be slightly more expensive depending on how far she travels.
Groceries, however, are much cheaper in London, Fitzsimmons says.
Another bonus: Her employer covers her health care in full.
“London salaries are generally lower than in New York and other big hubs in the U.S., but it makes up for it with health care being cheaper,” Fitzsimmons says, who took a pay cut when she left New York.
But since then, she has received two promotions and is now making more money than she did in New York.
After three years, Fitzsimmons renewed her visa this past summer and plans to stay for the foreseeable future despite the pandemic.
“The past three years just flew by,” Fitzsimmons says. “I can’t pick a place that draws to me more than London. Plus, my sister also just moved here. As of now, I’m planning to stay.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump vs Biden: Leaving after the election? Here’s what expats say