American Ex-Pats Explain Why They Quit America
The work / life balance sucks, there are too many guns and thanks to a certain someone now in charge, things are likely to get worse.
Image by Lia Kantrowitz for VICE.
On the evening of November 8, 2016, a hoard of frantic Americans crashed the Canadian immigration site when they realized the election wasn't going to way they had expected or hoped. Moving to Canada—hell, moving away to anywhere at all—has been on the minds of many Americans ever since. But the idea isn't new. People have been leaving the US in the rearview mirror for a long time and for a lot of different reasons. We talked to a few American expatriates to find out why they left, how they're living now, and whether they'll ever coming back. Sure, some have been influenced by the Trump presidency to stay away. But health, guns, and fun are also on the list.
Too Many Guns
I moved here for many reasons, but the biggest one was that I wanted to feel safe in public places. I was only a kid when Columbine happened, but that shit got deep into my head, and every mass shooting since has burrowed deeper and deeper into my psyche to the point where every time I left the house I was not expecting to come home. Through all of this, I naively kept expecting our government to step in and help put a stop to all the craziness, but it's only getting worse. It's disgusting to me that so many of our elected leaders are in the pocket of the gun lobby.
As a former grade school teacher, the last straw for me was Sandy Hook. The UK had a similar shooting in the '90s and ended up passing a lot of restrictive gun laws in reaction. When I saw there was no hope for the same kind of justice for all those poor children [in America] it cemented my decision to apply to graduate school out of the country. I left and I never looked back. While the UK definitely has its fair share of violence and ignorance—as we've seen in the recent attacks on London and Manchester—I don't feel the same kind of anxiety in public places as I did in the US, because I know most people on the street aren't carrying a weapon that could kill multiple people in the space of a few seconds. - Jayme, 29, now living in the United Kingdom.
I've stayed in China for so long (since 2013) because I love to travel. I live in Southern China, so it is easy to get to other parts of Southeast Asia. My fiancé and I were considering moving back to America this year, but honestly after Trump got elected, we decided to say a few more years. Especially after the whole Paris agreement thing, I just can't believe people voted for this person. Many of the places I go to on a regular basis will not be here in 20 years, so the idea of climate change really hits you once you've seen the spots in the world that will be the most affected and damaged first. He's an idiot. - Croix, 27, now lives in China.
Life / Work Balance
I quit my job in finance and left the US five years ago for one big reason: I only got two weeks of vacation per year. The work/ life balance in America sucks horribly. My old boss used to praise us for working through lunch, staying late and arriving early, and one of the things they used to consider for our promotions was, I kid you not, "putting the company's interests before one's own." What the fuck!? I work for myself now as a writer and photographer and I've stayed away from the US in large part because of this mentality that we should be married to our work. Life is supposed to be fun. Too many Americans don't realize that. - Kristin, 31, now lives in Germany.
[COUGH] Health Care
Initially, I decided to come to France because after years of travel, the U.S. didn't really feel like home anymore. Paris was the place that made me feel settled, despite not speaking French.
Before leaving the US (and my ex-husband's excellent health insurance), I had a preventative double mastectomy à la Angelina Jolie. I worked like crazy to obtain my Carte Vitale, which gives me access to the French medical system. It took six months, but I got it. What I pay in social taxes, a supplemental insurance policy, and rent in Paris is not much more than I would pay in the US for an insurance policy that gives me the kind of coverage I receive in France. This year in France, I've had a sonogram, four doctor visits, a teeth cleaning, two lab tests, and four prescriptions filled. After being reimbursed by the government and my supplemental insurance policy, I think I'm out of pocket less than 200 Euros ($224). When I have my ovary removed in the fall, the French social security will cover 100-percent of the cost. For healthcare reasons alone, I will never leave France. - Leah, 42, now lives in France.
I moved to Europe well before the 2016 election, but the results left me shell-shocked; I had an identity crisis about what it means to be an American. I acknowledge, and even love, the diversity of opinions in the States. It is a nation that disavows, but permits, hateful speech. I wholeheartedly disagree with its use, but I agree that you are permitted to say and think what you want. I knew America had these element—it's what contributes to the American experiment. But I assumed the decency in the majority prevailed. I was wrong.
It's only been one year since I've moved here, but I have yet to have any serious pang of homesickness. I don't miss the States I thought I knew. Chalk that one up to living in a bubble, but I place more emphasis on the positivity, welcomeness, and experiences the rest of the world offers. I still defend the States—I had the privilege to grow up with opportunities no other place could offer—but I am no longer their champion.
I unfortunately owe Donald Trump a thank you: the fact that he was even campaigning in 2015 was the catalyst for me to look for a way to move abroad. It's one of the best personal and professional decisions I've made in my nascent adult life. Always looking for that silver lining. - Thomas, 26, now lives in the Netherlands.
Muslims Not Welcome
My family and I decided to move four years ago due to a lack of opportunity in the United States. Because, while it's hard to prove, I am certain I was passed over or ignored for work opportunities or advancement because of being visibly Muslim (I wear hijab). It was hard in the US because of the discrimination, comments and harassment my family and I faced. I've been spit at, verbally abused as well as completely ignored in situations. My husband was told to go home on different occasions and had other racial taunts said to him. We didn't want our kids to deal with bullying at school for these reasons either. We temporarily considered moving back until the 2016 election season began, but the more we saw things ramp up, the more we leaned towards staying. After Trump won we decided we wouldn't return. While we love our family and home in the US we also faced a lot of difficult times as Muslim Americans. We decided that Morocco offered more opportunity for us to live our lives, run our business, and keep our family (especially our kids) away from the environment we saw in the States. - Amanda, 33, now lives in Morocco.
Education and [COUGH] Health Care Again
I graduated from university in 2013 and planned to go to law school, but couldn't justify the cost and the amount of debt it would put me in. I found an English-speaking graduate program in Heidelberg, Germany, that aligned with my area of study and was completely free for both native Germans and foreigners. In fact, all public German universities are completely free! Because I didn't have to pay for this program, I was able to also pursue business school in Edinburgh, Scotland. My fees for that program were about $20,000, not free by any means but substantially cheaper than going to business school in the States. Plus, the business programs (and most graduate programs) in Europe are only a year long!
After completing school, I was motivated to stay abroad for another reason: health. I'm a two-time childhood cancer survivor and the status of healthcare in the states is quite unnerving. Even with Obamacare and insurance coverage, my healthcare is substantially more expensive in the US than in Germany. Additionally, German insurance companies can't discriminate against me, and maternal health in Germany is lightyears ahead. I can have a full year of maternity leave at 67 percent pay, and my boyfriend can have two months of paternity leave, also with 67 percent pay. Plus, there are many social services set up for children if I want to go back to work. - Jordan, 26, now lives in Germany.
I have Norwegian roots so I've always been interested in the culture and the beauty of the country. After I graduated high school, I decided to postpone college for a bit and came to Norway instead for a year-long Folkehøgskole program focused on ceramics. It was an amazing experience. After becoming fluent in Norwegian over the course of that year, I decided I never wanted to leave. Norwegian social culture is decades ahead of America in so many ways: legislated gender equality, gun control, concern for the environment, healthcare, and free college tuition, to name just a few!
It's definitely expensive to live here but I feel good about the fact that the money I pay in taxes goes to programs I can support morally, and not to finance pointless wars that pad the pockets of millionaires. I also like the Norwegians' laid-back approach to marriage (tons of people just live together forever without ever getting legally married and it's no big deal). They do have weirdly conservative ideas about marijuana which I find hilarious, but hey! Amsterdam is a quick plane ride away... - Erik, 28, now lives in Norway.
Follow Caroline Thompson on Twitter.