How I Unlocked a Fun, Exciting Life…and How You Can Too

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on July 23, 2020 in Live Better

Maybe you saw the story in recent days about Americans increasingly seeking refuge Down Under, where New Zealand has reported that some 80,000 Yanks in May sought information on how to emigrate to the land of hobbits, sheep, and kiwis.

But there’s another story that I haven’t seen reported. I know about it because I track this data on occasion and I looked into it just after I read the New Zealand revelations. That other story: In the first quarter of the year, 2,907 Americans renounced their citizenship, according to Treasury Department data. That’s a huge number. For all of last year, just 1,672 renunciations occurred. (For whatever reason, renunciations tend to spike in the first quarter, and going back to 2013 the first quarter has never exceed about 1,300, and has more frequently hung around the 1,000 range.) 

Now, I am not suggesting any of us go and renounce our citizenship. I’m certainly not doing that and that’s not what this is about, really. Instead, I’m pointing to the data to raise the idea of Plan B, which I mention on occasion in these columns, and which I’ll write about more in the August cover story of The Savvy Retiree. 

Clearly, an increasing number of Americans are freaked out by what’s happening at home, and they’re looking to pursue what is, perhaps, the ultimate manifestation of “live a richer life” by moving somewhere they feel safer or where they believe they can pursue a happier, easier, less-costly lifestyle. But executing a Plan B does not require we renounce our citizenship. There are other ways of approaching this.

The interest in New Zealand largely reflects fear, anger, and frustration tied to the coronavirus. New Zealand stands out as one of the exemplars of managing a crisis correctly. It saw just 1,500 coronavirus cases and 22 deaths, versus more than 3.4 million cases and, so far, about 140,000 deaths in the U.S. (Per capita: NZ is at 309 cases and 4 deaths per million Kiwis; the U.S. is at 10,312 cases and 416 deaths per million Americans, and rising, placing it among the worst countries in the world.)

But here’s the thing: Those 2,907 newly non-Americans didn’t say “Adios, Uncle Sam” because of the coronavirus. Citizenship renunciation is a many-months process. So even if all 2,907 renounced on the last day of March, their individual journeys would have commenced before coronavirus was the monster it has become. Which means there are other reasons these people pursued their version of Plan B.

With America now ranking 121st in the latest Global Peace Index, with civil discourse all but impossible, and with U.S. finances lurching toward a monetary disaster, I can guess at some of those reasons. Talking about them, however…well, it just makes me miss the country I remember as a kid.

Still, I understand why increasing numbers of Americans want out. I understand why the Social Security Administration is, as of June, now sending more than 707,000 monthly checks to Americans living overseas. (A year ago that number was just over 685,500; in 2015, it was less than 640,000.)

But you don’t have to renounce your citizenship to live a life abroad. There are simpler, less-drastic means. On July 25 and 26, I’ll be participating in International Living’s Best of Europe Private Screening online conference, offering two presentations on this idea. One will explore the best paths for obtaining a passport or a work visa in Europe, assuming you’re confident you want to live in Europe and/or you want to earn a bit of money while doing so. The other will explain how you can road-test Europe for a year, on nothing more than a tourist visa, so that you might determine if an expat lifestyle really meshes with your desires before you pull that trigger. (You can find out more about the conference here.)

If ever you’ve had even the faintest thought of what it might be like to live abroad—or if you look around the U.S. today and find yourself thinking “this isn’t my country anymore”—I can tell you that, after nearly two years of living in Prague, I wish I’d made the move sooner. 

Expat life tends to be a simpler, more peaceful existence. That’s not just me saying that. It’s the condensed wisdom of scores of expats I’ve met, befriended, or interviewed in Asia, Europe, and Central and South America over the last decade or so. Expat life feels more enriching because so much of what we experience in our new hometowns is unknown and, thus, so engaging. We’re exposed to different cultures and customs and foods. We learn new ways and new languages. We stumble into experiences and opportunities we’d likely not have back home when we’re mechanically walking the same path every day.

That’s not to belittle life in America. Just to say that life is different overseas—and different is fun and invigorating, particularly when you’re a baby boomer or a Gen Xer, like me. You’re so accustomed to an American existence after all these decades that when you finally wake up and your whole world is foreign, you’re excited again.

And you don’t have to renounce Uncle Sam to experience it.

By Jeff D. Opdyke