Dreading a President Clinton or Trump? How to Try a New Country
Rob Calabrese, a Canadian radio disc jockey, launched a website earlier this year inviting Americans to take refuge on a Nova Scotia island. The site, Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins, has received two million visits and so many inquiries about emigrating that it now offers a link to the Canadian government’s application. (President Obama even mentioned it during a state dinner with Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister.) The site was, of course, a response to a familiar refrain, the threat to move abroad if politics doesn’t go your way. During this presidential campaign, people took to Twitter to vow to move to Canada, and the use of the search phrase “move to Canada” surged on Google.
The Association of Americans Resident Overseas estimates that eight million nonmilitary Americans currently live abroad, in more than 160 countries. While there are no reliable statistics about motives, few of the expatriates are believed to have left out of disgust with their politicians. Much more likely, they made a job-related move. Or retired to a warmer climate and friendlier economy. Or simply took a vacation and never came home.
Nan McElroy, for instance, had been working as a film and video editor in Atlanta when she visited Italy for the first time at the age of 40. She fell in love with the country, and ultimately moved to Venice 11 years ago. Now 60, she works as a sommelier and oarswoman, teaching people to row boats standing up in the Venetian style. “Even when it’s simple, it’s really complicated,” she said about emigrating. “You have to really want to do it.”
I asked Ms. McElroy and others familiar with expat life about the things Americans traveling abroad should do if they’re visiting a place with an eye to settling down. Here are several suggestions.
Book your accommodations through Airbnb and be sure to take out the garbage.
If you really want to get a feeling for a city, my experts agreed, do not stay in a hotel. Hotels cater to what they think are your tastes and go out of their way to make you comfortable. Instead, find an actual home that allows you to experience genuine life. Stumble around during a power failure. Take a shower without hot water. Sort the trash; did the neighbors give you the stink eye? Recycling regulations vary from country to country but can be astoundingly complex. Japan has eight categories of trash, including combustibles, noncombustibles, plastics and plastic bottles. If you don’t put the right detritus in the right bag, your garbage may be publicly branded with what one expatriate blogger in Nagoya described as “the red sticker of shame.”
Stop by a local grocery store. Did you find peanut butter and Pop-Tarts?
Of course not, but even if it’s hard to imagine life without typical American foodstuffs, don’t despair. George Eves, the British-raised, Amsterdam-based founder of Expat Info Desk, a website that produces guides for expatriates, said that a growing number of non-American businesses cater to American tastes. Mr. Eves singled out My American Market, a French website that sells Dr Pepper, jelly beans and Aunt Jemima syrup among its 900 products. Despite such bounty, there will be difficult-to-sate-cravings that a brief vacation may not reveal, so think hard about what you may miss. A Quora survey answered by 26 American expats pinpointed Mexican food as the No. 1 yearning. For those serious about Cape Breton, Mr. Calabrese warned that the nearest Ikea is a 20-hour drive. (Though another is opening in Halifax, only five hours away.)
Rent a car and tool around.
It’s the best way to get a sense of the local topography and find out where everyone goes on weekends. Keep in mind that gas prices are all over the map. The highest price is in Hong Kong ($7.19 per gallon), the lowest in Venezuela (4 cents per gallon). A study by the traffic app Waze, based on data from 50 million drivers, rated the Netherlands the best country overall for driving, El Salvador the worst.
Take off your jacket and imagine the sun beating down on you in midsummer — 20 years from now.
What may seem like a pleasant climate in spring may be a sopping inferno in summer or cryogenic tank in winter. “If you’ve never lived by the Equator, you may find you hate being in air-conditioning all the time,” said Mr. Eves, who has lived in India, Poland, South Africa, Russia and Ukraine, among other places. There’s also global warming to consider. Prognosticators say the countries that will endure it best have both fortunate geographic locations and strategies for mitigating the impact. A University of Notre Dame index put Germany and Iceland at the top of the list, Chad at the bottom.
Tour the local institutions: real estate offices, international schools, houses of worship — but not the hospital, if you can help it.
Much can be learned about medical services in other countries through websites like ExpatHealth.org and Just Landed. No need to court disease or injury on the road. Asked whether giving birth in a foreign country was the best way to test the healthcare system while securing citizenship for a child, my experts demurred. “That doesn’t always work these days,” Mr. Eves said. “I was born in Switzerland, and I didn’t get Swiss citizenship.”
If your company is giving you two days to make up your mind about resettling in a new land, head instantly for the nearest expat bar — you can find it through the local English-language newspaper or digital equivalent — and interrogate the people sitting there. If you have more time to decide, feel free to move on. Betsy Burlingame and Joshua Wood, who run Expat Exchange, an online resource site based in New Jersey, said that many users make the prospect of retiring on the beach a theme of their travels. “Some of those people start planning ahead of time and take vacations for years,” Ms. Burlingame said. They report being in Ecuador, then Costa Rica, then the Philippines. “They find their place that way.”
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