So You Think You Want to Emigrate …
“If Trump gets elected, I’m leaving the country.”
I don’t live in the US, but I have read comments like this on social media and in the news. Apparently, sometimes this isn’t just an idle threat. The Guardian cites a Luminoso survey which found that:
… about 4% of 4.5 million Donald Trump-related tweets contained threats to leave the country if the billionaire became president. Of those, 25,000 identified Canada as their intended destination.
Many speak of emigrating to Canada because it’s the closest and most similar to America. This article summarizes how that can be done. The short version is: it’s not that simple.
There’s a certain arrogance and entitlement in that notion: assuming that other countries want “political refugees” from the US. The US has hardly been generous to war refugees recently, after all, accepting only 10,000 people from war-ravaged Syria.
Emigrate to the Netherlands?
As I pondered that assumption, I decided to look at what a US citizen would have to do to emigrate to the Netherlands. I put it all together in the following infographic. It’s my first attempt at writing one, so please forgive me its relatively amateurish look.
After you emigrate
Keep in mind that the US practices citizenship-based taxation rather than residence-based, like the rest of the world. An American who moves overseas is subject to a host of special laws designed to make sure you don’t avoid paying US taxes. If you earn less than about $100,000 a year, you’re unlikely to owe US taxes, but nevertheless, you’ll have to file every year, with extra forms on top of the 1040. You’ll have to pass on your financial information to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and, just in case you’re hiding something, your bank overseas will also pass on your financial information to the US.
You will have trouble with banking in any case: banks don’t want the extra expense that Americans bring with them. You’ll find it hard to find any way to invest money or to borrow for a mortgage or any other purpose.
Don’t expect to invest in the US either. Without a US address, you can’t.
If you come to Holland, you’ll have to retake the driving test (much harder than American tests!), and probably re-qualify in your field of expertise. Expect to spend some years working below your training level while you get re-certified according to Dutch requirements. If your training isn’t available in English, you’ll have to learn Dutch before you can even start. It took me several years to get back into teaching, even though I already had a teaching credential and a Masters in Education.
How it feels to emigrate
What I can’t express in an infographic is how you’ll feel if you move to another country. My friend, Karen, described her experience when she first emigrated to Holland as “being a five-year-old again.” You don’t know the simplest things: how to behave in social situations, how to communicate, how to get things done. Even if you move to Canada, where communication isn’t a problem, you’ll be regularly stymied by the cultural and organizational differences you were not prepared for. And you’ll miss home more than you ever thought possible.
I’m not saying it’s all bad, of course. Two years ago, I wrote a post giving advice to “accidental expats”: those who move to another country for love. That advice would be a good start for anyone starting life in a new country, even those fleeing a Trump presidency:
- Learn the language.
- Find local friends.
- Be observant.
- Ask people how they do things.
- Keep working on your career path.
- Make sure to save money to visit home.
- Raise your kids bilingual.
- Celebrate your favorite holidays.
- Assimilate as much as you’re comfortable with.
- Get citizenship.
- Accept that you will never fully fit in.
- Appreciate the place.
My point, though, is simply that it’s not as easy as it seems to just move to another country if you’re fed up with the US. And it’s arrogant to assume it is. We overseas Americans wince when we hear or read those sorts of comments, so don’t say it unless you mean it. And if you mean it, do your homework first!
If you seriously want to look into this, here is the Dutch government website explaining the rules. And here is the Canadian site. Good luck!
My whole US citizenship series:
- Part 1: Giving up US citizenship?
- Part 2: Republicans, expatriates, and FATCA
- Part 3: How my citizenship hit me in the gut
- Part 4: My renunciation day
- Part 5: Thanksgiving reconsidered
- Part 6: FATCA, the Tea Party, and me
- Part 7: Individual freedom, self-reliance and renunciation
- Part 8: Equality? Competition? Not overseas!
- Part 9: The American Dream
- Part 10: The irony of renouncing under duress
- Part 11: Open letter to President Obama in response to the State of the Union Address
- Part 12: 7 Reasons NOT to renounce
- Part 13: Citizenship matters
- Part 14: Citizen of a parallel world
- Part 15: Renunciations in the news
- Part 16: Vote … as a non-citizen? Really?
- Part 17: The ridiculous story of a pilot and his taxes
- Part 18: On receiving my Certificate of Loss of Nationality
- Part 19: So you think you want to emigrate…
- Part 20: Indignation Fatigue and FATCA
- Part 21: The US election, as seen by Americans overseas
- Part 22: On receiving my California voter ballot
- Part 23: Watching America fall apart on my renunciation anniversary
Good post. I’m not sure how many people would seriously consider moving to another country if Trump were elected, but as you’ve pointed out it isn’t that easy.Your flowchart about emigrating to the Netherlands could easily apply to other countries or to people wanting to move from another country to the U.S. I’m a Canadian and I know Canadians who have moved to the U.S. and faced similar challenges. It is starting over with no credit rating, etc. People may still want to move, but as you’ve pointed out they need to do their homework.
It feels like a strange time to be an American. I feel as though there may be some titanic political shifts in terms of degrading the pre-eminence of the traditional 2 partie. OTOH, change on that scale is a little like turning an aircraft carrier. BTW, impressive infographic.
Thanks, Suzanne! It is a strange time for me as well: to get used to being an ex-American, but still to be looked at, particularly by my students, as someone who can explain America to them.
Very interesting post, Rachel. I love the info-graphic. It nicely illustrates your points in an easy to understand visual way. I don’t think Americans would be too happy living in Canada. There really is quite a difference in the way we think. Especially with respect to world politics and history.
Except for the cold, I think Canada would be a great place to live, but you’re right: for people who’ve never lived in another country, the differences would be more than they would expect.
‘Love the info-graphic Rachel!
I’m British so this post isn’t really for me but I nevertheless, like the way you have written this post in a clear and simple manner. And Canada being in a close relationship to Britain is similar to the US on the surface, but in reality, quite European in life-style with great skiing to boot. What not to like!
Yes, that’s what I was thinking. Americans, I think, have this view of Canada as being just like the US, but I get the sense that many of the cultural assumptions are different, e.g. about health care.
Love this post Rachel, as adjusting to life in a foreign country requires flexibility and isn’t for everyone. We moved and lived in several states in the US and were accustomed to living some distance from family and friends and, in the age social media, staying in touch is easy. As retirees we also don’t have the problem of obtaining the credentials to work in a foreign country and moving to Portugal has been an adventure. Still, deciding to move out of one’s birth country requires a lot of preparation as well as a clear understanding of the challenges. Expatriating is not something to do on impulse, that’s for sure!
Definitely, flexibility is key for anyone moving to a different country. If you’re a US citizen it’s especially important to do your research, because of citizen-based taxation!