Having emigrated to Europe in 1948, writer James Baldwin said, “I didn’t know what would happen to me in France, but I knew what would happen to me in New York.”
Figures show more Americans are moving to Europe lately, and the ‘elephant in the room’ is that many are fleeing rather than seeking.
In the decade up to 2022, the number of Americans in the Netherlands increased from c. 15,500 to 24,000; and in Spain it rose from c. 20,000 to nearly 34,000.
Polling company Gallup found in 2018 that the percentage of Americans who said they would like to emigrate had risen from 11% under Barack Obama to 16% under Trump; and by 2022 it was 17%.
The Economist newspaper found that many recent expats say they left partly out of despair at where the United States is heading.
Caroline Behringer is a former aide to Nancy Pelosi, and left in 2017 joining her partner in Amsterdam after Trump’s victory. She says, “I do a phone call once a month with Americans asking me how to come over here,” explaining that for most expats, politics was not so much the reason they left as a reason not to go back: “Not just the election, but the continued divisiveness.”
Lisbon-based writer Heather Caldwell Urquhart, had a clerical job in Massachusetts up until 2021 simply to get health insurance. In Portugal she and her family pay for coverage a fraction of what an equivalent American plan would cost. “We didn’t realise how shredded the United States’ social fabric was until we got here,” she says.
Psychiatrist Sylvia Johnson agrees, “We felt the tension lift within weeks of leaving America.” For Ms Johnson and her family, who are black, the central issues were racism and violence. Lawyer husband Stanley admitted the strife after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 persuaded him to emigrate. He recalls saying: “‘I think we need to get a gun.’ When I said that out loud, I was like, if I have to live in a country where I need a gun to protect my family, then this is not the country for me.”
Stanley had a cross burned on his lawn while growing up in Virginia. Several of Sylvia’s relatives were killed by guns. Now they are relaxing some of the wariness that black Americans develop for detecting prejudice and coping with police. Though there is some racism in Portugal, they say, they do not worry about violence.
Other factors are more prosaic. The huge increase in remote working during the pandemic made living abroad more feasible. And the European countries that lure the most Americans have set up tempting deals for foreigners. Spain’s “Beckham law” offers a 24% flat tax for income earned in the country. Several countries are introducing “digital nomad” visas for tech freelancers.
Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels of the University of Kent, studies population movement. She says, “Many travel for education or work, some fall in love and settle down overseas. But, she claims the Americans that once felt their country was the ultimate destination nation; are now they are aware that Europe has its advantages: “Good health care, better transportation, and less gun violence.”
In response to the Economist article, many other movers commentsed on social media. Sara Arditti said of Valencia, “We moved from Maryland to Spain in early 2023, we absolutely love it here! Clean, safe, beautiful cities, lovely people, no gun violence, lively nightlife every night of the week, outdoor cafes everywhere, beautiful clean beaches, clean cheap plentiful public transport, great food, museums, fairs, festivals, art, music. Excellent low cost healthcare. Everything is about 30% cheaper than it was in the USA. Better lifestyle for less money!
Barcelona resident, Marvin Malone (originally from Fenton, Missouri), admits, “Moving to Spain is the best decision we have ever made. My family is truly happy here.”
Sentiments shared by Lynn Irwin in Madrid, “Moved to Spain 25 years ago and haven’t looked back. Best decision ever.”
Roberto de la Canal revealed, “I run a law firm in Madrid representing foreigners seeking residence and citizenship in Spain. The number of Americans who’ve asked us to do everything possible to keep them from having to return to the US is staggering.”
The Economist summarises by stating, “Americans are still richer than Europeans. But when they come, they no longer arrive as egalitarians in lands of aristocracy and prejudice. Instead they admire Europe’s universal health care, efficient public transport, lower crime and lower income inequality. In a way, they envy the Europeans’ liberty.”