If I Had to Leave the United States

There is a quote from Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor** that honestly reflects my opinion on the topic of leaving the US  (Redford is Joe Turner, running away from the CIA, while Joubert is an assassin-for-hire):

Turner: I'd like to go back to New York.

Joubert: You have not much future there. It will happen this
way. You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring. And a
car will slow beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know,
maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a
becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to
give you a lift.

Turner: You seem to understand it all so well. What would you suggest?

Joubert: Personally, I prefer Europe.

Turner: Europe?

Joubert: Yes. Well, the fact is, what I do is not a bad occupation. Someone is always willing to pay.

Turner: I would find it"¦ tiring.

Joubert: Oh, no "” it's quite restful. It's"¦ almost peaceful.
No need to believe in either side, or any side. There is no cause.
There's only yourself. The belief is in your own precision.

Turner: I was born in the United States, Joubert. I miss it when I'm away too long.

Joubert: A pity.

Turner: I don't think so.

A great line, particularly in a movie steeped in cold war weariness.  Anyway, I was listening to some rant on NPR about leaving the US if McCain won the election, and I asked myself if I had to leave the US, what would be my rank order of countries to which I might move.  My list is highly influenced by language (at 46 I hardly feel like learning a new language) and by countries of which I am knowledgeable.  Here is what I came up with:

  1. Australia
  2. Bermuda
  3. UK
  4. Canada
  5. Singapore
  6. the Netherlands
  7. Switzerland
  8. Spain
  9. Germany / Austria
  10. Costa Rica

Here are some notes on the list, as well as some explanations of countries left off:

  • I have yet to meet an American who did not enjoy living in Australia (and many long to go back).  I came within about 5 minutes of living in Bermuda about seven years ago.  I have always liked the UK and have spent many summers there.
  • Ireland might belong high on the list, but I have never been there and am not that familiar with it.  But my sense is that if I really were to research it, Ireland would make the top 5.  I could also probably have rattled off a number of other British island colonies, but kept it to Bermuda.
  • Canada ... its like a whole other state   (this is a line I uttered at business school once, echoing the then-current "Texas ... its like a whole other country" advertising campaign.  It was not well-recieved by our northern neighbors.  I still think a few Canadians are trying to hunt me down up there
  • Been to Singapore a few times.  An odd place, but certainly a liveable one.  Last gasp of the English speaking choices on the list.
  • Netherlands and Switzerland are both fairly capitalist-friendly nations with good support for a displaced English speaker.  I have spent more time with the Dutch, so it is a bit higher, but Switzerland is freaking gorgeous.
  • Spain is on the list mostly as a language play.  Not a huge fan of the Spanish government, but I speak the language well enough to pick it up quickly.  Good beaches, and the south coast has many of the appeals of Provence without the prices (and the French).  A couple of years ago this probably would have been Argentina.  I really loved Argentina when I was there, but I am scared a bit by the current political and economic climate.
  • I like Austria, and Germany is OK.  Not America but perfectly reasonable places to live.
  • If I am really running not just form the US but the first world in general, I might pick Costa Rica.  A pretty good government, particularly for Latin America, beautiful, and plenty of places to be secluded (and/or hide, if the need were to arise).
  • I considered the Czech Republic.  Prague seems to be the white-hot destination for American tourists, and they certainly know their beer.  But I suspect that Eastern Europe has several more decades of work before the every day conveniences and creature comforts to which I have become accustomed in the US are prolific there.
  • Scandinavia is too freaking cold.  Maybe if I were single I might find some appealing reasons to reconsider...
  • There may be some country like Monaco that would suit me perfectly but of which I am wholly unfamiliar.

Readers are welcome to propose their own priorities in the comments.

** Postscript: Three Days of the Condor is one of my favorites, for a couple of reasons.  First, I always loved Faye Dunaway.  Second, and more important, I like thrillers that have a more languid pace.  I know that sounds weird to say, and if I were a film critic I might have the right words, but there is something about the music and the editing and the pacing that almost stands in contrast to the urgencies of the plot itself.  Despite being on the run through the movie, Redford never actually runs.  No car chases either.  Sort of the antonym to the shaky rapid-cut camera action of, say, the Bourne movies.  Other movies I would put in this same category are LA Confidential (maybe my favorite movie) and perhaps the newer version of the Thomas Crowne Affair. I might put Chinatown on this list too, but then since 3 of the 4 would include Dunaway, one might think my first rather than my second criteria was driving the list.

By the way, even action movies could learn something from this.  The first Indiana Jones movie was great in part because the action scenes were interspersed with quiet scenes.  The audience gets to rest from time to time, and the action is highlighted by the contrast.  You can even have some token character development.  Later Indiana Jones movies fell into the trap of going for non-stop adrenalin.


  1. Ari:

    I held a better view of Australia before reading about the massive internet censorship they're about to engage in over there.


  2. Douglas2:

    Of course, for all of those countries, entering with intention to live there is the big problem. They have these pesky things called immigration laws. With enough portable assets and a good looking business plan you can buy your way into Canada, and that may be the same for some others, but I know I don't have enough set aside to make that cut.

  3. Anonymous:

    How could Canada be on the list? Private healthcare is illegal, and freedom of speech does not exist if you happen to run afoul of the subjective "hate speech" tribunal.

    I did this experiment last week. I took the Heritage foundation's economic freedom index, and cross-checked that with a list of places where Homeschooling is legal. Singapore and Ireland both do quite well according to that metric.

    The tolerance of homeschooling in a society says a lot about to what extent they are interested in indoctrination and thought-conformity.
    Germany is a magnificent place but homeschooling is absolutely illegal.

  4. Matthew Bohnert:

    New Zealand, Warren! Whatever happened to New Zealand? Lived and worked in a few of the others (UK included) and NZ would be far-and-away my number 1.

  5. xpatUSA:

    "many of the appeals of Provence without the prices (and the French)" nicely said!

    I'm English but have lived in Texas for over 20 years. I'll never go back.

    Have traveled to a few places, including our future NAU neighbors to the North (Canada & Alaska) I must agree are too frikkin cold and what about those mosquitoes? On the other hand, much of our future NAU neighbor to the South is way too hot, climatically and politically speaking - e.g. el estado de Chiapas.

    A friend of mine was always going on about Belize which, at the time, was quite welcoming to Ex-pats and their wealth. Plus, IIRC, you could lease a 10-acre piece of jungle for about 10 bucks a year, provided you cleared it and lived there. Perfect for minimalists and such. English and Spanish spoken, asaarrr Jim lad!


  6. Miklos Hollender:

    My 2 cents:

    Australia - heard about their new Internet restrictions? Absolutely outrageous.

    UK - forget it. "One nation under CCTV." Brutally statist. And the worst thing? That while Labour traded freedom for safety, they bought no safety at all. My car gets broken in every month. In a CCTV street. There is footage at the police. And they don't even bother to look at the footage or to do anything. Last time I visited a client, a steel factory, I saw in their budget that they pay "Climate Change Levy" to the state. That's UK, 2008. Forget it, it's just bad.

    Germany? Been there a few times, amazingly boring.

    Austria - my favourite country in Europe. First: Austrians are REALLY not Germans. None of that boring, over-organized, over-disciplined stuff. A relaxed sort of people who enjoy great food and drink. OTOH they are conservative: politeness, religion, quality, tradition. OTOH they are kinda leftist: quite egalitarian. Little income difference, high taxes. A strange combination, and I don't like the leftie parts of it, but nevertheless a really enjoyable place to live. As it's close to my homeland, Hungary, closer than Birmingham is to London, that's where I'll move next year, this way I'm home every weekend.

    Missing from your list: Portugal.

  7. K:

    I suggest Chile but Costa Rica is good. But warmer. Warmer is why Singapore has no appeal for me.

  8. Charlie B:

    You must be big into the Reader's Digest as the movie was based on Six Days of the Condor, James Grady, 1974, W.W. Norton.

  9. Esox Lucius:

    New Zealand ROCKS. But bring your own food, it was terribly bland and positively everything contained sugar. Even their yellow mustard contained sugar, it was the #1 ingredient. And ketchup tasted like ass... 'course I live in Chicago and we do food up pretty well here...

  10. ErikTheRed:

    Interesting. I don't plan on leaving any time soon (I think I'll survive a few years of the Obamessiah), but I've played this thought game a few times.

    From a purely economic / business standpoint, Singapore would be my number one choice. Unfortunately I haven't been there to see for myself, but my understanding is that their culture may be a bit staid for my taste.

    I agree with Miklos that Germany - while full of very nice people - is too boring.

    Luxembourg should be on a short list, assuming you can get in. Beautify city / country, 2nd highest per-capita GDP, low taxes, great people.

    I love Paris, but I'm not sure I could live there.

    Lots of islands are nice, but I get island fever after about 3 or 4 days. I can't imagine living on one. I actually start to twitch when I spend too much time outside of a city of over a million people.

    Really, the more I think about it, the more I think I'll hang around here.

  11. Damon Gentry:

    Another nod for the NZ. Just yesterday, I read an article about 401k plans (http://www.investmentnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081007/REG/810079894) and told my father-in-law that I would consider taking his daughter and grandchildren to New Zealand, and that he would be welcome to join us.

  12. Technomad:

    If I were expatriating, I'd look at Taiwan. I speak Chinese and studied there before, and loved it. Visas wouldn't be much of a problem as long as I was either enrolled at a school learning Chinese, or employed teaching English. It's also in easy distance of most of Southeast Asia.

  13. Dr. T:

    I'm seriously considering emigrating, and my top two candidates are Costa Rica and Switzerland. I vacationed in Costa Rica two years ago, and enjoyed it greatly. My teenage daughters love Costa Rica.

    Costa Rica has the second oldest constitutional democracy (ours is the oldest). It leans leftward politically, but it currently is more libertarian than the U.S. It's a small country with plenty of climate choices (cool mountains, warm hills, hot jungles, and beaches. It also has a good mix of rural, small town, and urban environments. It's very open to immigration and has allowed over one million war and poverty-stricken Nicaraguans to enter. (Most of them perform manual agricultural labor until they, or, more realistically, their children, become educated enough to enter Costa Rica's technically advanced society.) Intel and other technology companies have built factories near Costa Rica's cities. The literacy rate of native Costa Ricans is 95%. I estimate that 10% of Costa Ricans know enough English for simple conversations. The costs of living in Costa Rica (except for the capital and the coastal resort areas) are low.

    I haven't visited Switzerland yet. (I'll do that next year.) It has a very high economic freedom rating. It's more libertarian than other European countries. (No need for a second amendment: each adult male citizen must keep a working rifle in his home.) An advantage for me is that German is spoken throughout Switzerland, but so are French and Italian. Many residents also speak English. Switzerland is cold, so desert-lovers might have a tough time. I don't know about costs of living, but I expect them to be high.

  14. Jon:

    You've got to add northern Europe or Scandinavia to that list. I spent a year in Denmark and almost everyone speaks English and the people are so great. Sweden and Norway are great too.

  15. ElamBend:

    I love seventies political thrillers and Three Days is probably the best. Parallax View is an interesting one, too.

    If you'd like to see a good languid political thriller, check out "The Dancer Upstairs". It stars Javier Bardem, was directed by Malkovich and is based upon a book about the capture of the leader of the Shining Path in Peru. Great stuff.

    Warren, I agree on Argentina. It used to be great place to visit (and cheap) but things seem really unstable anymore. A beautiful country with beautiful people, it's decades long decline is heartbreaking.

    I could do Chile or just about any of the major English speaking countries. However, unless it was just for a short time, it would take disaster of epic scale to get me to leave North America. If it came to be, I would just take the attitude that America is where I place my feet and go homesteading.

  16. Stan:


    Seriously, if freedom were a guide, examining gun laws reveals a lot. Of course, that may disqualify 99% of your options.

  17. Brad Warbiany:

    How about Hong Kong? It may become the new center of the financial universe in the next few decades.

    You may remember this line from the movie "The Family Man":

    This is the center of the universe. If I were living in Roman times, I would live in Rome, where else. And today, America is the Roman Empire and New York is Rome itself.

    Hong Kong has the ever-present worry that China will actually start being a lot more heavy-handed, but I think even the Chinese government knows that you don't kill the goose laying the golden egg.

  18. Speedmaster:

    Great quote! ;-)

    One of my fav. movies, rented it from netflix about a month ago.

  19. GreggB:

    'Seriously, if freedom were a guide, examining gun laws reveals a lot.'
    Beware of that measure. VT has some of the best/least gun laws and we are basically a failed socialist state. Gun rights were put into the VT state constitution way back when. Our congressional delegation have been bigtime gun grabbers nationally.

  20. wws:

    The carribean, in general, seems like a pretty accomodating place. If you have some knowledge of Spanish, Columbia has calmed down a lot under Uribe, and Cartagena (the old capital of the Spanish Main) has a lot of charm. Mexico's legal system is still a bit too random with regard to foreigner's property to be comfortable on anything other than short visits.

    A comment on movies - as a Dunaway fan, how could you not appreciate the ORIGINAL Thomas Crown affair, the sexiest movie she was ever in? The newer version was a pale and disapointing copy. 2 words for the high point of Dunaway's movie career - "Chess Scene".

  21. mishu:

    I lived in Switzerland for two years. It is freaking gorgeous. I had to leave because the company transferred my department to Germany. Miklos is right. Germany is boring. I would go back to Switzerland in a heart beat if I had the opportunity. The cost of living is expensive but the low taxes offset that quite well. If you speak English, you can get by ok but if you can speak German (or better yet, Schweitzer Deutsche), you'll have more social opportunities.

  22. Craig:

    Germany, the UK, and especially the Netherlands are headed for caliphate status before too long. Singapore would be a good choice for law and order. You could probably find a fairly good standard of living in parts of India, and costs would be low, although there's always the threat of sectarian violence.

  23. Bobby L:

    New Zealand FTW!! My girlfriend and I were discussing this the other day, and what really drew us in was their culture towards their economy. Ever since they abandoned farm subsidies, they have really embraced the free market-, be competitive-, business environment.

    And the landscape is very pretty. :)

  24. rxc:

    I am an American, and I have actually recently moved to France(!), to live here in retirement. All you have to do is prove a steady income and healthcare coverage, with no desire to take work away from the locals, and they have no problem with immigrants as retirees. The food and wine are great, and the country(Europe, actually) is one big amusement park for adults.

    And the French - they can be amusing...