An escape guide for Americans
First, do you have a passport? If the answer is no, you can’t get started on any of these options. Getting your passport is the very first step.
Second, if you have a criminal record, most of these options will be closed to you. You’ll want to consult an immigration attorney to discuss your options.
I’m assuming you don’t have enough money to qualify for an investor program. Nor do you have family to sponsor you for resident status in another country. Nor do you qualify for citizenship through descent.
Lots of people talk about wanting citizenship in another country. That’s almost never how it works. Most people begin as temporary residents, then permanent residents, and eventually become citizens. Some countries will allow you to skip directly to permanent resident status if you meet certain qualifications.
Before we get started: I’m not an immigration attorney, I’m someone who’s interested in living abroad who obsessively researches things. You should verify things yourself before making major life decisions.
I’ll be updating this post and adding to it as I continue to research. If I’m missing something, feel free to mention it in the comments and I’ll add it in.
For a more complete list of your options, check out Mark Ehrman’s excellent book, Getting Out.
Most countries will allow family members to sponsor you for resident status. They’ll typically have to show that they can support you for a certain amount of time and may need to meet other requirements. I’m going to assume that you, like me, don’t have any family members who can sponsor you and aren’t married to a foreign national.
Skilled Worker Programs
The Europe Economic Area
If you’ve worked temporarily within the European Economic Area (EEA), you may qualify for the Blue Card. This program allows temporary workers in any EEA country to work in any other EEA country, as well as eventually become permanent residents. There’s also the Czech Green Card<.
You can apply for a Skilled Migration Visa and become a permanent resident using Skill Select. You can apply for a Skilled Independent Visa, Skilled Nominated Visa, or Skilled Regional Visa. If you meet the requirements for a Skilled Independent Visa, you can become a permanent resident without a job offer or family sponsorship. See if you qualify using their points system.
If you’re a young professional or work in a skilled trade, chances are you can move to Canada as a permanent resident through Express Entry. You’ll either need proof that you can support yourself while you look for a job or a valid job offer. See if you qualify.
This is a program I’ve immigrated through myself, so I can confirm that the estimated 6 month processing time is accurate.
Countries to Retire to
Quite a few countries are happy to welcome you if you have a retirement fund, or even just Social Security income. This has long been a way for retirees to enjoy a higher standard of living for less money. Generally, retirees are given temporary visas and after renewing them a certain number of times you can apply for permanent resident status.
Some countries require people to be “retirement age” in order to qualify, but others don’t. In countries with a lower cost of living than the US, the monthly income requirement can seem quite reasonable. If you have disability income, Social Security payments, a pension, an Armed Forces pension, or annuities, you can qualify. Sometimes rental income, income from businesses you own, stock market returns, or showing significant savings, and other passive income can qualify.
A few countries will allow people who are self-employed or work remotely to qualify for their retiree visa programs.
Countries that welcome retirees include:
- Belize – you or spouse must be 45+, can work remotely or be an entrepreneur
- Columbia – no age requirement, no criminal record check for 65+, may be difficult for non-government income sources
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- Panama – 18+, no dual citizenship
- Portugal – no age requirement
- South Africa
Entrepreneur & Investor visas
You may not think of yourself as someone who has enough money to qualify as a business investor, but many countries offer investment and entrepreneur visas that are within the grasp of many Americans.
Some investor visas don’t require you run a company, they only ask that you invest in their country. Buying a nice house may be enough to get you a resident permit.
If you’ve always dreamed of owning your own business or simply want to buy your dream house, here are some options to consider:
Temporary Work Permit
The dream is always to get your company to transfer you to another office. This is fairly easy, especially because your employer’s attorneys will take care of the details for you and hopefully provide a relocation consultant.
Nearly any country will give you a work permit if you have a job offer. Most countries require your potential employer to jump through hoops, like demonstrating that they tried to hire a local, showing you have unique skills, and paying fees.
You can also get self-employment visas, artist visas, research visas, and non-earning visas. If you’re a remote worker, you may fall under different visa categories, depending on what country you’re trying to get a visa for.
In Ireland, you can get a work permit for 2 years with a job offer, which is renewable indefinitely. After 5 years of residency you can apply for citizenship.
The Italian freelance visa can be a challenge.
Working remotely on a tourist visa is a gray area for many countries. It’s always wise to disclose to border control that your plan is to work remotely and ask if that’s permitted.
Some countries are happy to give you resident permits if you can prove that you have a steady income. This is popular among retirees, but it’s also perfect for people who work remotely.
Quite a few places won’t specifically say that they offer residency permits for people with external income, but people have gotten residency permits without serious hurdles.
The Non-Habitual Resident visa allows you to live in Portugal without working. It allows you to stay in the country for up to 10 years and can be renewed. You get special tax status.
The non-lucrative visa prohibits you from undertaking any type of work or professional activity in Spain, but you are able to continue working remotely for an American employer and can perform freelance work for clients located outside of Spain. While each consulate might have slightly different requirements for the non-lucrative visa, there are numerous examples of Americans that have spoken to officials at their local Spanish consulate and were told that working remotely for their US employer is ok. Just be sure to be up front about your intention to work when applying for the visa to avoid any confusion.
This is not listed as an option in official documents, but people have done it.
Start a business
If you decide to become a Dutch citizen, you’ll have to renounce your US citizenship.
If you can get access to investment funds, you can get an Entrepreneur Visa in the UK. You can become an entrepreneur in Canada with a net worth of $250k (or more if you want to go to a popular province).
You probably know someone who’s taught English abroad. You may know someone who went to teach English for a year and never came back.
South Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, and the UAE are known for providing lucrative teaching opportunities. Many include flights, health insurance, and housing.
Work as an Au Pair
An au pair is typically a young person (most often women) who takes care of children, cooks meals, and does some housework. Positions generally include room and board and a little bit of spending money.
If you’re over 18 and under 35, you can work abroad for 6 or more months. You’ll generally need to show that you can support yourself while looking for a job and have your own health insurance. The visa fees are generally quite low and it’s a lot cheaper than doing a study abroad program.
If you’re interested in staying after your visa is up, you have the chance to build your professional network in hopes of getting an employer to sponsor you for a new visa. You may also find a new love interest who would like to keep you in the country.
Here’s the scoop from a friend of mine who moved to New Zealand after doing multiple working holiday visas:
Americans should apply directly through either the New Zealand or Australia immigration sites for working holiday. You can do it all on the application, no need for proof of funds or anything else. Each time I got approved in less than 24 hours. After my WHV expired in NZ I got a work visa through partnership with my boyfriend (family category), which is probably the easiest way to immigrate assuming you have an actual partner, opposite or same sex. You don’t have to get married (same in Australia) and there’s no real time limit on how long you’ve been together, but you should be living together. – Melissa B.
Australia recently expanded its work and holiday visa to include people up to the age of 35. You can stay for a year, but you can only work for 6 months for any one employer. Your significant other will have to get their own visa and you cannot bring any dependent children. US citizens can apply online.
As an American, you’ll need to work with an approved organization to participate in International Experience Canada. Their working holiday visa is an open work permit. A young professional or international co-op visa is applied to a particular employer. You can do this through the age of 35.
The New Zealand Working Holiday Visa is open to Americans 18-30 years old. It lasts for 12 months typically, or 18 months if you’re working in agriculture or horticulture.
The Singapore Work Holiday Programme is good for up to 6 months. You can apply for a new pass 12 months after your old pass expired. You need to be a student or recent graduate.
You’ll need to be a student or recent graduate in order to participate in the Working Holiday Program in Korea. You’ll have to plan your trip, too, and provide a plan for where you’ll be living and traveling. If you’re 18-30, you can stay for up to 18 months.
Go to School Abroad
It’s generally relatively simple to get a student visa to attend university abroad — and there are no age limits. The tricky part is going to be the financing.
Luckily, FAFSA does fund some international universities. There are scholarships available, too. And, of course, some universities are free or very affordable. You can compare European schools for bachelors, masters and PhD programs. Many universities offer programs in English.
The best course of action is to contact the specific universities you’re interested in, as they’ll provide advice for obtaining a visa and financial assistance.
Many countries make it possible to get a work permit after graduation. Here’s how studying abroad in Canada can provide a pathway to citizenship. New Zealand has a similar process.
Before you start packing your things, take a step back to think about what’s important to you. Common concerns include:
- Employment opportunities in your field
- Quality, affordable healthcare
- Quality, affordable education
- LGBTQ rights and gender equality
- Affordable housing
- Low crime rates
- Low tax rates
- Cultural institutions
Deciding where to move to is a big decision. Here are some ways to look before you leap:
- Let Teleport choose the best city for you.
- Compare the US to other countries.
- Compare the cost of living from one city to another.
Other resources that you’ll find helpful:
Countries that speak English
You know that Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK all speak English. Don’t forget about Belize, Malta, Anguilla, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, Saint Lucia, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Botswana, Ghana, Liberia, Namibia, Saint Helena, Zambia, Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Seychelles, Swaziland, Zimbabe, the Gambia, Lesotho, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Fiji.
Quite a few other countries have a population that is largely fluent in English. These include the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Finland, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Iceland, Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, France, Bulgaria, India, Israel, Romania, Switzerland, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Italy, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand.
Things to know before you move abroad
What’s the difference between an expat and an immigrant? Technically, an expat is anyone who’s living outside their country of nationality. Generally, an expat is living abroad temporarily and an immigrant has made a permanent move.
As a US citizen, you have to file taxes in the US, even if you’re a resident of another country and never step foot on US soil. While this is certainly a burden, it’s unlikely that you’ll face double taxation. The first $95k (adjusted each year) of your income is exempt from taxes in the US and there are a number of deductions available for Americans living abroad. If you’re married, you get double the exemption. Thus, if someone is complaining about double taxation they either a) have a really bad accountant and/or b) just told you they make over $100k a year. Cue up the tiny violins.
You’ll likely want to choose a country that has a tax treaty with the US or a country that won’t tax your foreign income.
A lot of information out there on moving abroad is designed to minimize taxation. Before you fall down the rabbit hole of the Five Flags Theory and start offshoring all your savings, think about what sorts of perks living in a high tax country (like Canada and the EU countries) provides. Do you want access to universal healthcare, high quality public schools, affordable universities, disability insurance, subsidized housing, enforced building codes, fire protection, police protection and other perks? You might decide elaborate tax-avoidance planning isn’t for you.
Health care & social safety net
Some countries place restrictions on non-citizen’s access to healthcare and the social safety net. Generally, permanent residents have nearly all the rights of citizens, but retiree permanent resident options have restrictions.
Even if your visa or residency type gives you access to healthcare and other support, it may not kick in right away. Make sure you have insurance coverage and plans in place to fill the gap.
If you’re not retiring abroad, you’ll want to be putting money away for your eventual retirement. If you’re employed by a company in your new home, you may have access to the equivalent of a 401k.
You can’t contribute to your IRA unless you have taxable income in the US — meaning if you’re slightly over that $95k tax exemption you can max out your IRA first and avoid owing anything.