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A Growing Trend of Leaving America

11 | 29 | 2011


A Growing Trend of Leaving AmericaBy some estimates 3 million citizens become expatriates a year, but most not for political reasons

Editor’s Note: I ran across this article written in 2008 by Jay Tolson for US News & World Report. I thought it was still relevant and wanted to share some things with you.

Among other things, it was talking about the sizable number of Americans who are moving to places like Panama and Mexico: “These Yankees, it turns out, are part of a larger American phenomenon: a wave of native-born citizens who are going abroad in search of new challenges, opportunities, and more congenial ways of life.”

In his 2008 book Bad Money, political commentator Kevin Phillips warns that “an unprecedented number of citizens, fed up with failed politics and a souring economy, have already departed for other countries, with even larger numbers planning to do so soon.” However, this article goes on to say that this “may be putting too negative a reading on this little-noticed trend,” because while some may be part of a lot of today's expats are not part of a new Lost Generation, many more of “today’s expats are entrepreneurs, teachers, or skilled knowledge workers in the globalized high-tech economy. Others are members of a retirement bulge that is stretching pensions and IRAs by living abroad.”

Southward trend. Europe still draws many of these American emigrants, but even more have relocated in Canada and Mexico. Others are trying out Australia, New Zealand, or one of the new economies of Asia, while a growing stream flows southward to Central and South America. John Wennersten, author of Leaving America: The New Expatriate Generation and a retired historian who has taught for many years abroad, wrote a “thought-provoking book that fleshes in a compelling picture of Americans abroad….If you've ever considered taking off for places unknown--or were curious about why others might do so--Wennersten's book offers fascinating and reasoned insights into this complex issue." Review by The Hill Rag

While the book doesn't tell you how to start a new life, …”in historical perspective it does a nice job investigating why other people have done so, and where they ended up, etc. While this account might not initially seem practical to anyone looking at 'getting out', throughout the book there are tidbits of interest to most people considering an international move.”

The article goes on to say, “Exactly how many people are part of this trend is hard to say. Precise emigration figures have never been easy to come by in the United States. ‘It's been an implicit assumption that people come here to stay, not to come and go,’ says Mike Hoefer, head of the Office of Immigration Statistics at the Department of Homeland Security. The government's last trial effort to count Americans overseas, in 1999, was deemed inordinately expensive. Elizabeth Grieco, chief of immigration statistics at the U.S. Census Bureau, puts it bluntly: ‘We don't count U.S. citizens living abroad.’”

However, even if the government is not counting, others are. “Estimates made by organizations such as the Association of Americans Resident Overseas put the number of non-government-employed Americans living abroad anywhere between 4 million and 7 million, a range whose low end is based loosely on the government's trial count in 1999. Focusing on households rather than individuals (and excluding households in which any member has been sent overseas either by the government or private companies), a series of recent Zogby polls commissioned by New Global Initiatives, a consulting firm, yielded surprising results: 1.6 million U.S. households had already determined to relocate abroad; an additional 1.8 million households were seriously considering such a move, while 7.7 million more were "somewhat seriously" contemplating it. If the data collected in the seven polls conducted between 2005 and 2007 are fairly representative of the current decade, then, by a modest estimate, at least 3 million U.S. citizens a year are venturing abroad. More interesting, the biggest number of relocating households is not those with people in or approaching retirement but those with adults ranging from 25 to 34 years old.”

According to Robert Adams, the CEO of New Global Initiatives, the motives of relocators are almost as hard to pin down as the numbers. "The only Americans who understand what's going on are those living abroad," he says. "There is no movement, no leader. It's just millions of people making individual decisions to do it."

“…Adams finds that the reasons people give for moving abroad often change, particularly among those who stay overseas for any length of time. In fact, he says, those who claim they came for a specific reason—for example, dissatisfaction with American politics—tend to be least happy with what they find in the new settings. By and large, most successful Americans abroad ‘are running to rather than running from,’ Adams stresses.

A new "West." “Today, moving from the States to a place like Panama (or Mexico) is almost tantamout to moving from the East Coast to the West Coast 50 years ago. And the Internet, Skype, and satellite television make it easy for people to stay in touch with the homeland. ‘While people are looking for something new, they're not giving up their citizenship,’ says Adams, who prefers the word relocation to emigration. "I can't imagine living in the American rat race, even though I love Ameri-ca. I wouldn't leave here. I'm at the top of my game."

Most who move feel that American attitudes and education prepare them well for a successful life abroad. "I think perseverance is a distinctly American quality."

It may not be much of a stretch to say that today one of America's strongest exports is its skilled, energetic, and often idealistic relocators. If America's information-driven economy is the engine of globalization, it is fitting that Americans are working in those parts of the world that are being transformed by the process. They make up an entrepreneurial "peace corps"—establishing businesses, employing, instructing, setting examples, and often currying goodwill. It is a cliché, but still largely true, that many foreigners say that they distrust America but like Americans. These relocators have something to do with this.

And America itself is also learning something from those Americans abroad. "We're developing a breed of Americans who won't find it easy to go back home," says Adams, stating a truth that is not as negative as it sounds. Two Americans who exemplify that breed are Coley and Allison Hudgins, a couple with backgrounds in political and corporate consulting who now live in a small Pacific coast community about two hours from Panama City. She and a partner run a small short-term rental agency, while he and an associate head Latin American Venture Partners, locating investors for assorted building proj-ects in the country.

Escaping "sameness." Doing most of their work out of their condo, the Hudginses have two young children whose education at a local Spanish-language Catholic school is supplemented with materials that their mother downloads from the Internet. Describing themselves as libertarians, the Hudginses went abroad out of discontent, not with American politics but with a dull sameness they found in American suburban life. Even though there have been challenges, both are quick to say that the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. In addition to valuing the warm weather, the idyllic setting, a close family life, and a busy social schedule, both are clearly invigorated by days that that are demanding but not stressful in a culture that blends the modern and the traditional in a comfortable way. They appreciate the irony that American know-how and technology (largely the Internet) make it possible for them to enjoy what is in many ways a very un-American lifestyle. But they are doubtful whether they can go home again. "We may decide to pack up and move on one day," Allison says. "But it's more likely that we'd find some new port of call than move back to the States."

Source: excerpted from US News & World Report   

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