So, You Want to Leave America

March 14, 2016

Many people (more people than ever before, apparently) are declaring their intention to move away from America permanently if Candidate X wins the election for President of the United States in November.

I won't lie, I was one of those. But then I started digging into what that meant.

See, I've done it before. In 2000, my parents, sister, and I all moved together to New Zealand when George W. Bush won the election. It was more than a little bit of a political decision.

Don't get me wrong, New Zealand was amazing. Most of the best memories of my entire life happened in the four years I lived there. But I also acutely remember the cost.

New Zealand was a relatively safe choice. The primary language was English. The legal system was fairly similar to the United States'. Most of the culture was familiar, if a little different. But it was really expensive, and not just in the material cost of goods. New Zealand is a remote island nation at the end of the world. Internet usage at the time was far more expensive than in the USA. My family lost touch with almost everyone we had known. I experienced my first real sense of profound loss as a result.

If you choose to leave the United States for political reasons, you need to seriously consider a few things. All of the following assumes that you and yours are leaving because you're appalled at the political situation, and not in immediate physical danger because of the election's result. If you fall into the latter category, this post doesn't apply to you, and you should get your family to safety as soon as possible.

If you are leaving because you disagree with the country's choice of leader, then you need to make damn sure that the country you're choosing to emigrate to follows your own political beliefs. If you pick a country that's MORE extreme than the president apparent, then you may as well have just saved yourself the trouble and stayed home, because you're in for a world of hurt.

On the other hand, if your host country of choice is politically favorable, you have a ton of other considerations to keep in mind. If you've spent your entire life in one part of the USA, then you're basically f***ed, in terms of culture shock. It will hurt, and it will hurt bad, to discover that everything you're familiar with is either A) extremely different, B) absent, or worse, C) slightly different. Let me elaborate.

My sister was brought to tears by all pickles in New Zealand being basically sweet miniature-as-in-quark-sized pickles. The straw that shattered the camel's back, as it were. I saw the same kind of reaction by most of the American ex-pats I met in NZ. Not to pickles, mind you, but to the little things.

A relatively small portion of the world has English as its mother tongue. Sure, it's spoken just about everywhere, and you'll get on OK in most developed or even developing nations. But there is a marked difference in communicating with someone in identical preferred languages and in your preferred language but the other person's second language. This is particularly true in countries where English is recognized as a business necessity but not a cultural one, such as eastern Asian countries.

Let's say you're able to adapt to the language barrier, and to the availability barrier. Congratulations on defying the two biggest hurdles. Now how are you going to deal with the fact that people in your host country don't understand your pet peeves, or your quirks that you thought were common, or your personal passions that have no support locally? How about the prejudice that the locals feel towards Americans, which is basically universal in all countries that are aware of the USA? Are you ready for that? Are you willing to subject your family to that?

OK, so you're still ready to go. You've got your passports, and you've secured your visas. You understand the financial and cultural pitfalls. You still think that leaving the USA is the best choice, given the alternative. OK, that's fine. Before you commit to a particular country, then you better damn well visit each of your prospective host countries for at least a month each (you DO have multiple options, right?) before making the big move.

Because I will tell you, as someone who has done it and is considering doing it again, leaving your home country is one of the hardest goddamn things you can do to yourself or your family.

On the other hand, you might be of the YOLO type, in which case ignore everything I've warned you about above. It might be the most amazing adventure of your entire life.