An increasing number of Americans are asking whether living in the United States is still a good idea—and I don’t blame them; there’s a lot going on right now. I’m still a fan, but that doesn’t mean I’m not keeping my options open, downloading Duolingo, and learning as much as I can about how to move to somewhere else. Bali sounds nice, and I’ve always want to be an ex-pat.
Unfortunately, pulling up stakes and moving to another country isn’t exactly easy—but not every country forces you to jump through as many hoops as, say, Canada. The following 10 nations are all over the map, literally, from freezing Svalbard to exotic Bali, and each has different requirements for entry. Some nations are perfect for independently wealthy folks, where some will take just about anyone. Check them out, and maybe find your new forever home.
Retirees, remote workers, and general laze-abouts can stretch their incomes incredibly far in Mexico. It’s close to the U.S., the food is excellent, and an income that barely gets you by in an American city will give you a comfortable middle-class life in Mexico, where the average cost of living can dip as low as $600 a month. It couldn’t be easier to move there, either: A six-month tourist visa is granted just by crossing the border and filling out a short form, and can be renewed indefinitely by crossing the border again. If you’re a remote worker, you’re allowed to work on that visa without paying Mexican taxes (your US.-based employer might not be happy with you, though). If you are a retiree, have a job in Mexico, or just stick around on short term visas for a few years, you can apply for a permanent resident visa too.
Disadvantages: The idea of moving to an impoverished nation to take advantage of its weak economy makes me queasy, and there are parts of Mexico that aren’t exactly safe for Americans to travel to, according to the State Department anyway.
I’m sure you already know how awesome France is. It’s got Paris, wine, cynical filmmakers, the Champs-Élysées, they still eat horses, and they wear berets—you know, all that good French crap. But is it easy to move there? Oui, oui!
The most common path to French residency is getting a work visa by gaining employment at a French company and having your contract approved by the French authorities. If you don’t have a job but you have some money, you can apply for a visitor visa. That requires a letter explaining how you plan to spend your time in France, and proof of both your means to support yourself and medical insurance. You can move to France on a student visa or marry a French Monsieur or Mademoiselle too.
Best of all: if you’re a man who is under 40, you can still join the French Foreign Legion! You’ll be given a new identity and, if you survive through the required five years of service or are wounded on the battlefield, you’ll be allowed to become a French citizen.
Disadvantages: If you’re moving because you disapprove of the creeping right wing authoritarianism of the U.S., it’s creeping over to France too. Far right politician Marine Le Pen earned 41% of the vote in the last French election, and the next could easily be 51%.
The Cayman Islands
The tiny Caribbean nation of the Cayman Islands offers beautiful beaches and lax financial regulations, making it a favorite of SCUBA instructors and shady capitalists alike. Relocating here from the U.S. is extremely easy, provided you are filthy rich. You can get a Certificate of Residency for Persons of Independent Means by investing at least $2 million in Cayman real estate.
That’s not the only option though. The nation has recently instituted an immigration program for working rich people too. The Global Citizen Concierge Programme is designed for workers who are employed outside of the Caymans. To be eligible, you are required to earn $100,000 a year for individuals, $150,000 for couples, and $180,000 for families. You also have to bring your own health insurance.
Disadvantages: You probably cannot afford to live in the Cayman Islands.
Known as the Land of Smiles, Thailand is the only far eastern country to have never been colonized by Europeans. Most people who move to Thailand permanently start with an easy-to-get tourist visa that’s good for 60 days. From there, you can extend your visa by a year by visiting the Thai immigration offices and applying, then renewing for future years. In broad strokes, you can extend your visa for the following reasons: business, education, marriage, and retirement. If that all sounds a little vague, it is. The bureaucracy in Thailand can be confusing, and political instability means things can change quickly.
Disadvantages: While goods and services are inexpensive in Thailand, anything exported is very expensive, and ex-pats are expected to pay more at many places. Thai people, by reputation, are extremely friendly, but they will see you coming a mile away.
Immigrating to this beautiful Middle Eastern nation on the Mediterranean Sea is extremely easy—as long as you are Jewish. Israel’s Law of Return, enacted in 1950, allows all Jews and their spouses and children to become citizens of Israel, no matter where they were born, as long as they didn’t convert to another religion and aren’t criminals or otherwise judged a danger to the state. If you are not Jewish, you are basically SOL in terms of moving to Israel: There is nothing in Israeli immigration law that allows immigration for those who are not Jewish.
Disadvantages: It’s a lifestyle thing—living in the center of the world’s major religions means you’d be surrounded by religious people. Maybe that’s cool for you; it’s not great for me.
Digital nomads on a budget should consider Mauritius. This tiny island in the Indian ocean is rich in natural beauty and offers a yearlong remote worker visa for free. No fees at all. Unlike the outrageous salary requirements of places like the Cayman Islands, you only need to be pulling in a doable $1,500 a month from your remote job or freelance projects to be eligible. You could do that working for a couple days a week, then spend the rest of you life enjoying how much your money is worth while sipping mai tais on a beach and learning to play the banjo. Why aren’t you already there? Why aren’t I already there? You know what, I’m out! See ya!
Downside: You have to pay taxes to the Mauritius government on the money you earn while living there.
Teaching English in South Korea is a little like the French Foreign Legion, but without the new identity and suicide missions. If you’re not sure what you want to do with your life beyond “get the hell out of America,” teaching English in South Korea will give you a plan, a solid salary, health insurance, and a ticket away from your home country. Plus South Korea is an amazing country.
To be eligible for ESL teaching, you need to be a native English speaker from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or India, have a bachelor’s degree in any field, and a TEFL certificate, which is often provided by your employers.
If you’re considering moving to North Korea, it’s possible—there are around 200 Americans living in North Korea—but even though you could end up as a movie star playing corrupt Americans in propaganda flicks, it’s still a very bad idea.
Disadvantages: This blog post lists “too much downtime” as a “con” of teaching ESL in South Korea, because 18 hours of desk-warming per week is built into many teachers’ schedules. What a nightmare! Not being able to choose where you want to teach actually is a downside though.
Located in the high Arctic, the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard requires no visas to live and work there—everyone is welcome, as long as they can support themselves. Few are hardy enough to go through with it though. Svalbard is fucking freezing, and impossibly remote. It’s dark six months of the year. Avalanches are common. You’re required to carry a gun if you leave the territory’s only city, Longyearbyen, so you can scare off frickin’ polar bears. If you move to Svalbard, you’d better be tough.
Disadvantages: Other than ease-of-entry, Svalbard is pretty much all downsides.
Like most first-world countries, Portugal has a variety of immigration programs for eligible students and workers, but it also has the lowest priced investment-based residency program in Europe, the “Portugal Golden Visa.” Aimed at non-European investors, the Golden Visa is extended to anyone who invests at least €280,000 in the country. You don’t have to stay in the country to keep your visa, but if you want, you can work, study, or just laze around there. The Golden Visa allows you to apply for Portuguese citizenship after only five years; after securing that, you can live, work, and study anywhere within the European Union.
Disadvantages: €280,000 is nearly $300k in American dollars. Not totally insurmountable, but still a serious amount of cash.
Bali is one of 21 nations that offers (or intends to offer) “digital nomad” visas for remote workers who want to live somewhere awesome while working in the United States. I picked Bali because who wouldn’t want to live in this tropical Hindu paradise? Also: the the five-year length of the visa is the longest I can find, and living in Bali is cheap. The planned Balinese digital nomad visa is for five years requires no tax payment to Indonesia, and, because it’s new, you’d be among the pioneers—the first of a new class of Balinese citizen.
Disadvantages: Who knows if the announced program will actually happen?
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