It doesn’t take astute powers of observation to recognize that most Americans are discontent with the electoral process this year. It’s felt like a marathon of “can’t look away” of train wreck proportions. From the hard “Bern” of the Sanders campaign, with the flickers of hope some felt, that perhaps, just maybe, we were ready for an anti-establishment candidate, to the merciless snuffing of his campaign by the Democratic establishment, to the carnival sideshow disaster that has become the “What will he say next?” headline on the evening news following candidate Trump. It often feels like he should be behind glass, sandwiched between the bearded lady and the tattooed strongman. Pay a quarter, sneak behind the curtain, and gawk, appalled, at the absurdity of it all.
“Pay a quarter, sneak behind the curtain, and gawk, appalled, at the absurdity of it all.”
And then there’s Clinton, no one I know really wants her either. Not really. For true democrats, it feels like she’s gravitated to “Republican Lite” and those who find themselves on the other side of the aisle can’t imagine how electing someone with her ethics record could ever be a consideration.
Those of us living outside of the USA as Americans are biting our fingernails to their quicks and apologizing to our neighbors; crossing our fingers and toes, praying to what gods may be in fervent hope that as a country we can pull our heads our of our collective asses at the last minute and save the world from the consequences of the imploding political environment of a veritable superpower on the world stage. Contrary to the midwestern Facebook meme argument, this election doesn’t just affect residents and citizens (living at home and abroad).
It’s been happening for months. The snippet of conversation overheard in the Starbucks lineup. A meme that someone’s aunt posted with a picture of a beaver waving a Canadian flag that announces, “If Hillary wins, I’m moving to Canada!” The article I clicked through on that spoke of an island in Ireland that’s inviting Americans asylum if Trump gets elected.
Friends are asking me how tough it is to get permanent residency in Canada. A distant cousin who jokes that she might come pitch a tent on our land if Hillary loses. Expat friends, living in the USA, who aren’t kidding at all, are systematically investigating their options, should the elections swing away from a broad-minded immigration policy. These are people who’ve been legally living, working and paying into the national coffers for a decade or longer. The educated, white collar, economically comfortable movers and shakers, who can’t imagine continuing to support a country that could be so shortsighted as to ban, wholesale, an entire segment of the potential immigrant pool.
“There’s an undercurrent of discontent that runs very deep, so much deeper than just the eye-rolling and hand-wringing…”
There’s an undercurrent of discontent that runs very deep, so much deeper than just the eye-rolling and hand-wringing over the quadra-annual circus show that is the American presidential race. There are people who are very seriously considering their options and thinking through how they might extricate themselves from the consequences if America proves that she cannot be trusted to return to her senses.
Before you respond with the typical American knee-jerk reaction of, “Fine! They don’t like it here? Let ‘em go home!” Let’s remember that, for most of them, this is home. (Foreign nationals who become disenchanted opt out easily, as I did.) These aren’t radical people. Politically, they vote on both sides of the aisle and their concerns are legitimate. And this election they’re understandably worried and wondering what to do next.
Is there a better alternative with good economic options out there? Is there somewhere that they can be sure of decent healthcare, a stable educational system, and significantly less community violence? Is there such a place where the food supply isn’t controlled by Monsanto? Or where they might be able to practice their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with less worrying government interference?
The short answer is of course, Yes. There are many options. Americans remain some of the most free people on earth. A blue-backed passport with a golden eagle emblazoned on the front will still open more doors for you than most others on the planet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other places where Americans and disenchanted foreign nationals can live free and comfortably.
For the Location Independent
If you have a way to make money that doesn’t require you to show up, bodily, to the office, the world, truly, is your oyster. Make your first world money and spend it into economies where it stretches further. Take the 3-6 month visa on arrival that most countries offer American travelers and be-bop around the planet on your own terms. Palau offers one year to Americans, no strings attached, as long as you can demonstrate that you’ve got funding.
Fully furnished houses can be rented, for a song, anywhere you want to be. Expat communities exist everywhere. Co-working and co-housing communities are popping up in all of the major cities of the world making it easy to network and get plugged in, both digitally and practically, wherever you might like to wander. We’ve been on that program for about 8 years now, it’s not complicated.
A Work Visa
If you’re under 30 this is going to be especially easy, as a number of countries offer work-travel visas to young people for extended stays in their countries.
There are places, like New Zealand, that are actively soliciting certain types of workers for industries where they are understaffed. If you fall into one of their categories and you can manage enough “points” through their system, New Zealand is, to my way of thinking, idyllic.
Basically, you buy your way into many of these places; through property purchase, your skill set, or an adequate bank account in a national bank.
Marry Your Way In
Before you sign up for Maple Match, with the tagline, “Make dating great again,” which aims to help Americans opposed to Trump escape the “unfathomable horror” of his presidency by hooking up with a nice, polite, Canadian partner, consider the many cautionary tales (I know of three personally) in which hearts have been broken, bank accounts pillaged, and long term commitments (financial, not marital) were made to the federal government for the support of a spouse who disappears leaving destruction in his or her wake. It happens people. Not to mention, deportation. It’s illegal to marry for a green card, people.
That said, this one’s working out well for my husband and lots of other couples hailing from different homelands. Of course, we’re 23 years in, have four kids (all of whom are also Canadian) assets in two countries, and we both make actual money. Even with all of that, it’s not a simple process for him to get permanent residency, never mind the citizenship that he’s eventually angling for. Expect the process to take years, even if you’re legit.
Study Your Way In
Student visas are a time-honored way to sneak your way into a country you’d like to call home. Go there, study, maybe fall in love, start a family, have some national children to tie you there, get a job with a local company that greases the wheels on the work visa front for you, and before you know it, you’re twenty years in, expatting happily away. Nicely done.
It might sound hypocritical coming from someone who has spent virtually her entire adult life as an expat, but the other obvious option here is not to bail on your country, but instead to stay home and do your part of the hard work of making real political change for a large nation.
“There are lots of reasons to travel. The world is a beautiful place. But it’s not a simple place, anywhere.”
There are lots of reasons to travel. The world is a beautiful place. But it’s not a simple place, anywhere. And I say this as a dual citizen, who is plenty glad not to be trapped within a single set of options at this moment, and who is actively extricating her husband from the clutches of Lady Liberty.
The political process isn’t going to be “better” somewhere else, necessarily. And to the person who asked me, privately, where their family could move that would allow them to “homeschool without regulation, keep their guns and plenty of ammunition, homestead off the grid without government involvement and would have a community that still provided the comforts of home, oh, and spoke English?” (that last part was important) the answer is a resounding one: America. At present, the U.S. is the only place that will support all of the above without your having to extend yourself in grammar and vocabulary lessons.
“Yes, there will always be places you could go, but none that will solve the problems at home.”
Yes, there will always be places you could go, but none that will solve the problems at home. My encouragement is for you to stay where you are, dig in, and “Make America Great Again;” which has almost nothing to do with who we elect, and everything to do with how we build communities from the ground up.
“Stay where you are, dig in, and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
But if all of the smart people, the thoughtful people, the intentional people, the creative people, those who are hip enough to the world groove to realize that they have options in other places jump ship, America will be left in a very precarious place indeed. Whether you’re a Sanders supporter or not, you have to see the wisdom in his admonition to his supporters, upon his formal exit from the campaign, to dig in at the local level, run for offices, and affect grassroots change.
If you have a heart for travel, I encourage you, without hesitation, to get out there in the world and swim hard. It’s a beautiful way to both lose and find yourself, simultaneously. Nothing will give you an appreciation for the first world fabulousness of Minneapolis quite like rush hour in Jakarta, a month of cold showers across the less traveled sections of Central America, or that damned night bus between Hanoi and Hue. You can trust me on that.
Proudly introduce yourself as an American, be an ambassador to the world. Live in it. Listen to it. Learn from it. Demonstrate that we’re something other than the stereotype we’re painted as. Maybe you’ll find a place that’s even more home than New Hampshire ever was. I have. If you end up the newest member of the digital nomad club in Ubud, Bali, I’ll hook you up with my friends. I get it. Me too.
But if you don’t, then come home. America needs you. Enjoy the free refills, the perfectly smooth highways that criss-cross the continent and are still a marvel to me. Rejoice in a Starbucks on every corner, truly free and truly universal education for everyone, and the jaw-dropping level of freedom of speech tolerated in this country.
Find a way to create the thing you are looking for within walking distance of your white picket fence or in your urban center. Campaign vociferously. Vote relentlessly. Show up, in the big and the small ways. Then, instead of pinning your hopes on a candidate that’s already bought and paid for, raise your own ethical bar, refuse to be bought yourself, by candidates, or advertising.
Embrace all of the things that are already great about America, and cultivate greatness around you. America is a singular place. She’s worth investing in. Worth fighting for. And she’s worth returning to regardless of who wins the election this November.