Leaving the United States…The 7 Best Countries for Americans Wanting to Escape

Every election cycle there is a surge of Americans who have had enough of the politics in the U.S and want to escape to a different country. That’s nothing new. But what is new, is the incredible volume of people who are now taking a hard look at leaving the U.S. The Canadian immigration website famously crashed on election night 2016 due to the crush of panicked Democrats.

Politics has become increasingly polarized and the Trump phenomenon now has people looking sideways at their fellow citizens in disbelief….and slowly walking backwards. The next election’s implications for the county’s identity are extremely high, perhaps even existential. Large numbers of people are now looking for the fire escape.

The other big motivator for leaving the United States that we hear from expat families is gun violence, and school shootings in particular. For those that have not become anesthetized to hearing about it on the nightly news, the frequency is now truly shocking. I have to admit as a mother of three who now lives abroad, that it is a tremendous relief to not have to think about the safety of my kids while they are at school.

So the question is, if you’re ready to leave the U.S. with your family….where are you going to go? To help begin that exploration, we put together our short-list of the 7 best locations for American “refugees”.

We chose these spots because:

  • They’re politically and socially progressive
  • They’re safe and gun violence is low
  • The visa process is relatively straightforward
  • Healthcare is good
  • The job market is healthy
  • And last but not least, they are beautiful!

 

Once you start exploring the options that are available, we hope you start feeling less like you are fleeing something, and more that you’re moving towards an exciting future. 

So start day-dreaming, or better yet, start actually planning, and check out the possibilities below.

7 Best Places for Americans Looking to Leave the United States…

  1. Sweden

  2. Australia

  3. Switzerland

  4. Canada

  5. Denmark

  6. New Zealand

  7. Spain

 

1. Sweden

Moving to Sweden is an amazing option. It is safe, progressive, the people are famously happy, and the landscape is beautiful. If you’re moving with kids or are planning on kids, Scandinavian countries are a great choice given the importance they place on family. Raising a family in Sweden is less expensive than many parts of Europe and you’ll also get perks, such as 480 days of paid parental leave (both parents combined) to care for your child. 

Sweden was recently ranked by US News and World Report as the #1 country in the world for raising kids. We thought long and hard about moving to Sweden, but in the end the long winters had us look further South. But if you don’t mind the winter weather, Sweden is indeed a paradise. Check out visa requirements here.

Home of the real Vikings

2. Australia

Australia makes leaving the U.S. easy. The lack of a language barrier is pivotal for many Americans looking to move overseas. The culture is also similar in many ways (except you unfortunately need to learn to eat Vegemite). It can be a great choice for families looking to move but who might be concerned about culture shock and assimilation. 

Gun violence is very low compared with the U.S. and the country leans center left as a whole (with some important regional differences to be aware of). The job market is good with unemployment at about 3.8%. 

It is incredibly diverse in terms of landscapes and the climate lends itself to an active, outdoor lifestyle. Easy access to southeast Asia for travel is also a plus. Oh, and of course the surf. Check out visa requirements for Australia here and if you want to get serious about exploring Australia as an option, check out this book focused on making the move down under.

Life down under

3. Switzerland

Switzerland is the perfect place to live if you value order, cleanliness, and staggeringly beautiful storybook landscapes. And who doesn’t? But, there is a price to calling a place like Switzerland home, and it’s called money. Two of the world’s most expensive cities are here. A cup of coffee that costs the equivalent of 10 buck is not uncommon. However, the average income in Switzerland is also high, so if you can land a local job, then the cost of living may not be a barrier. Big families and digital nomads may have a harder time unless you’ve already got some pennies saved. But if you can swing it financially, it’s remarkably safe, the healthcare is world-class, it has great schools, and landscapes that don’t look real. 

We spend a lot of time in Switzerland and every time we are there we fall more and more in love.  The stunning natural beauty, combined with the sense of safety leaves you feeling such a sense of peace.  If only it had an ocean. In some other universe, we are currently living in a Switzerland that isn’t land-locked. 

Here are the visa requirements for Switzerland. For more details, check out our other post specifically on moving to Switzerland, and if you want to get really serious, here is a whole book on making a move to the fairytale kingdom.

Only Switzerland gets to have a square flag

4. Canada

There is a reason why Canada’s immigration site crashed on election night, it’s the easiest of all places for Americans to escape. Almost zero culture shock, no language barrier (outside of Quebec), very safe, very open, and accepting of all types. It has a strong job market, a reasonably low cost of living, very low gun violence, and you’re not far away if you ever decide you want to head back south of the border. 

Visa requirements are straightforward in Canada, but leave some lead time. Vancouver is one of our favorite cities in the world and you could spend a lifetime exploring the Canadian Rockies. Moving to Canada also allows American expats to stay roughly in the same time zone for work purposes, which can be central. 

Overall, Canada is a solid choice for Americans leaving the U.S., especially for those who want to get out, but also stay close. Check out the Canadian embassy site for visa requirements. For more details, check out this helpful guide for moving to Canada

 

5. Denmark


Back to Scandinavia to the second happiest country on Earth to be specific. If you dream of work-life balance, safe schools, fantastic health care, super tall people, and insane food, Denmark is for you. Of course the tax rate is around 55% on average, but you get what you pay for and social services and transportation are top notch. 

The country leans left and is very accepting of all walks of life. Denmark is also within relatively easy striking distance of great European destinations, so your new home can be a great travel hub. Visa requirements are here and whether you move to Denmark or not, you need to read the Little Book Of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, it will change your life.

6. New Zealand


We lived in New Zealand when we were students and have been back several times since. It’s a uniquely beautiful and peaceful place. The west coast of the South Island is particularly incredible. It’s an amazing country for nature (and sheep) lovers, but if you’re looking for access to fast-paced culture, it can be pretty quiet outside of Auckland. We have expat friends struggling with that now down south. But if nature and quiet are what you need, there is no better choice. 

U.S News scored New Zealand in the top 10 places to raise a family. While the Christchurch mosque shooting in 2019 is a reminder that tragedy can strike anywhere, the overall rate of gun violence in New Zealand is low. About on par with Finland. Because New Zealand is so attractive, getting in has gotten more difficult. But if you’ve got in-demand job skills and some resources, it can be done. 

Check out visa requirements and How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps for more info. (You can also watch reruns of Shortland Street and Flight of the Conchords to get in the spirit).

 

7. Spain


We currently live in Spain because of its unique combination of culture, climate, and natural beauty. But it’s also a very progressive and safe country. Perhaps it doesn’t run quite as smoothly as say…Switzerland, and there might be some graffiti on the overpass, but it more than makes up for that in personality and quality of life. It has more diversity in terms of landscapes that most people picture with stunning mountains, sparkling islands, wine-growing regions, whitewashed villages, and bustling cities. It’s also an easy train ride or short flight to the rest of Europe. 

Society is accepting and progressive in urban areas and a little less so in the rural areas…like anywhere. And it’s true there are some spots on the Mediterranean coast that are overrun with tourists in the summer, but they are pretty easy to avoid. 

Despite the reputation of its bureaucracy, the Spanish healthcare system has been excellent. We pay about 3K per year for private health insurance for a family of 5. The visa process takes commitment and some organization for a big family, but it’s very doable. But plan ahead because it does take at least a few months. 

For more info check out our other post on the 10 best places in Spain to raise a family, and this great book on moving to Spain and buying property. For any American leaving the U.S., Spain is a great choice.

 

Things to Consider Before Leaving the U.S.

Wherever you go, here are some basic criteria to keep in mind when evaluating any new potential destination.

Way of Life…

The climate, cost of living, customs, insurance, economic and political stability, freedom of movement, freedom of worship, and so on should all be taken into account when deciding where to live. Make sure you do LOTS of research before you decide which country is the best spot for you when starting over.

Healthcare

Health should always be a top priority. Make sure the healthcare options are top-notch in terms of quality, cost, and convenience.. You can’t enjoy your new location if you’re not healthy.

Safety

Check out resources like Numbeo that provide crime rate comparisons between cities. Steer clear of places with high rates of non-petty crime and areas plagued by political unrest and fundamentalist groups.

Job Market

Making a living may cramp your style, but it’s an unfortunate fact of life for most of us. So choose a place that has a lot of job opportunities and a friendly environment for running a business.  Check out our other post on the best jobs for digital nomads and how to get them.

Taxes

Americans leaving the U.S. need to stay tax compliant in the U.S. and everyone should have this book.

Language

Community is essential for long-term success in a new location. And if you don’t speak the language, you can feel like an outsider. In some places there are expat communities and you can get away with just speaking English, but even there, you won’t feel integrated. Assess your current skills and be honest about the commitment it takes to learn a new language. We have found the Doulingo podcasts to be a great tool. Same with News in Slow Spanish (or other languages like German, French, and Italian). Both are available on Amazon Music.

Final Words

Again, while politics and gun violence are the catalysts for many Americans looking to leave the U.S., the search for a new home and the exciting journey ahead can turn the process into a positive one. There are limitless futures waiting for you and family out there. So plan a scoping trip to your top candidate and view it through the lens of a local not a tourist. And if you’re looking to compare candidate countries, check out our workbook, Choosing Your Perfect Country to Move Abroad

Good luck and send us your stories!

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