Want to Live and Work Abroad? There’s a Visa Waiting for You

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on September 16, 2020 in Live Better

A message recently received from one of my friends: “So, like, if I wanted to get a visa to live in Prague, could I? I mean, I’m not saying I want to, yet. But, like, could I—just in case?”

It’s the “just in case” that stopped me. 

I’m accustomed to questions from friends and acquaintances who want to know about freelance visas or pensioner visas in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. They know they want to live overseas and either work or retire abroad, and rightly they have some logistical or procedural questions. But, increasingly, there’s another subset of Americans who are now beginning to think about living and earning away from U.S. shores: the disaffected American.

These are reluctant, wannabe expats who are frustrated, angry, and exhausted with what has become of the country they once knew. And please: Don’t read any political commentary into this. I’m just sharing the sentiments of people who tell me they’re done with political parties that only represent the extreme fringes of Red and Blue. They’re done watching freedoms erode. They’re done watching a police state expand its powers. They’re done watching science-based rationality yield to opinionated and uneducated gibberish formulated through specious Google searches, the Twitter echo chamber, and the disinformation Facebook promulgates. 

This isn’t the fault of any one particular administration. Statistically, U.S. policies and quality-of-life data points have been moving in the wrong direction for 20 years. All of which gives rise to some telling statistics: Record numbers of Americans have renounced citizenship, while record numbers have begun seeking information on emigration.

For any number of reasons, these Americans have reached their personal tipping point. And, so, they’re reaching out to people like me with questions such as: “If I wanted to get a visa in Prague, could I?”

And the answer, for the most part, is…yes.

It’s not a blanket yes because you can’t just wake up some random Tuesday and decide “Hey, I want to live in the Scottish Highlands,” and then plop yourself down in Inverness. Not all countries will accept you if you don’t have a job offer from a local company.

Nevertheless, numerous countries—particularly in Europe and Latin America—offer long-term residence visas that allow you to live and work within their borders. And that’s an opportunity, because aside from political factors, a revolution is afoot today that makes living and working abroad all the more appealing: the ability to live anywhere that makes you happy.

That’s a function of what I’ve been writing about during these post-COVID-19 months: companies forsaking the traditional office and telling workers it’s fine to work from home. The latest entrant is BP, the old British Petroleum, which recently announced that all 6,500 London employees will be working from home within two years, and that the energy giant aims to sell off its building. 

Yes, that’s London. But the U.S. is no different. Recent headlines indicate apartment rents and real estate sales are plunging in big, pricey cities such as San Francisco and New York, even as demand soars in secondary and tertiary cities. Given the choice, people are choosing smaller, less stressful, and cheaper living arrangements. In short: a higher standard of living.

And the numbers—the renunciations and requests for emigration information—show that many are looking offshore for that.

Consider that I live in Prague, a major, European cultural capital with a population exceeding 1 million. Yet, my cost of living is 20% lower than Little Rock, Arkansas, a secondary city with a population under 500,000. (That’s not a knock against Little Rock; it’s simply to show how cost of living in the U.S. is out of whack.) Living costs in Malaga, Spain, a sunny, seaside city on the Mediterranean (think: Southern California without the crowds), is 20% lower than Savannah, Georgia. Lisbon, a beautiful, Old World Portuguese city, is slightly less costly than Memphis. 

Living in any of those places—as well as Germany, France, Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and so many others—can be relatively easy. 

I’ll use Portugal as an example, because I flew there last year to do a bit of research…

The country offers something called a “D7 Visa.” Aside from a passport and proof you’re not a criminal, all you really need to show is that you earn or have access to €7,620 a year (about $9,000), the Portuguese minimum wage. If you want to bring a spouse, add 50% to that. 

With that, you gain one-year permanent residence in Portugal, which also allows you to earn an income as a remote or freelance worker, and it gives you access to the Portuguese health system, ranked among the top 12 in the world (the U.S. ranks No. 37, just for comparison). After that first year, you can easily renew your visa for two years, and then easily renew again for two more years. After five years, you can apply for permanent residency, if you wish.

Not all countries make obtaining a long-term residence visa so simple, but even the “hard” ones aren’t terribly hard. 

So, if you find yourself frustrated, angry, exhausted, and you just want something different, then, yes—there’s a visa waiting for you somewhere in the world.

By Jeff D. Opdyke