Travel

The 12 Best Countries for Americans Who Want to, Y'Know... Live Abroad All of a Sudden

Published On 10/14/2016 Published On 10/14/2016
Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden | Scanrail1/Shutterstock

America's classic shut-down line is "Love it or leave it," which, strictly speaking, is a false choice. You can love your country and leave it. Now might be one of those times.

Where to go, though, is an open question. Americans are much better at welcoming immigrants than emigrating themselves, but the State Department guesses that somewhere between 3 million and 6 million American civilians live abroad -- not a small figure! That's like a Missouri's worth of us, out there roaming the world.

The hurdles to moving can obviously be significant … or they might mean simply applying to college abroad or stringing together tourist visas. Regardless, if you get the itch to try out a different life in a different land, this list will help you shop. In many cases, you might find the price tags to your liking. We've used the price index from the website Expatistan to quantify costs of living in each country's major city -- the global index reaches as high as 295 for Zurich, Switzerland, and as low as 65 for Kiev, Ukraine. But whatever the cost, you might find a spell abroad pays you back in ways you've yet to discover.

Prague, Czech Republic | Luciano Mortula/Shutterstock

Czech Republic

Cost of city living: Prague (price index 100) is half as expensive as San Diego.
Proportion of English speakers: One-fourth
Americans living there: Eurostat tallies about 3,000.

Why you'd want to live there: The Czech capital of Prague is known for a healthy-sized expat scene, but the masses have yet to unlock it -- and drive up prices -- as they have in Berlin or Amsterdam. Newcomers there enjoy the liberal European attitudes, the stunning medieval architecture, a charming Christmas market, and even a few gentrified neighborhoods like Žižkov and Vinohrady. Outside of Prague, the Czech Republic may be one of Europe's most beautiful countries, packed with green countryside and spa escapes.

What's the catch: The hardest part of settling is getting up to speed on the Slavic-descended language. Most rent-controlled apartments are only advertised in Czech, and you'll likely need to hire a translator or Czech-speaking agent for visa appointments.

Red tape can be relentless. Just look at all it takes to get a driver's license. Other European countries will replace an expat's American license for one of their own. But in the Czech Republic, anyone staying over a year is required to get a Czech license. That's right: You'll have to relive 10th grade all over again and the whole shebang of lessons, exams, and practice hours. Only this time, it probably won't be in English. -- Barbara Woolsey, Thrillist contributor

Queenstown, New Zealand | Ruklay Pousajja/Shutterstock

New Zealand

Cost of city living: Auckland and Wellington (price index 218) are as expensive as Los Angeles.
Proportion of English speakers: Virtually everyone
Americans living there: The 2013 New Zealand census found more than 20,000.

Why you'd want to live there: Australia's funkier, more outdoorsy sibling is an entire day's flight away from America -- you can scarcely get further away on the planet. Yet Kiwis also speak English, so you'll feel vaguely at home, especially if you're into hiking, scuba diving, skiing, winemaking, or Lord of the Rings scenery. Maybe you just want to keep exploring, and use it to jump off to Australia, Indonesia, and Oceania, but you can always stick around and work a while. There are a range of obtainable options for work permits and emigration visas, if you're under 56 and ready to relocate.  

What's the catch: You're not going to find the bargains of, say, Southeast Asia. The cost of living in New Zealand is about 9% higher than the United States, which isn't great if you want to keep up your American standards of housing and dining out. Rent and home prices in Auckland are notoriously rising, with The Guardian dubbing the city the "hottest property market in the world." New Zealand. So hot right now. -- Melissa Kravitz, Thrillist contributor

Munich, Germany | Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

Germany

Cost of city living: Berlin (price index 161) is as cheap as Salt Lake City.
Proportion of English speakers: 70%
Americans living there: Eurostat says maybe 110,000.

Why you'd want to live there: Besides cheap beer and wine, schnitzel and the Autobahn, Germany's got much to offer the American expat. Being smack in the middle of the continent, it's prime territory for weekend getaways. From Munich, a four-hour drive will get you to Switzerland, Austria, or Italy. A two-hour flight will take you almost anywhere in Europe. A diverse expat scene is thriving in Berlin, the fatherland's most international city, where a reasonable low cost of living meets a tech startup boom and parties galore. In gentrified neighborhoods like Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg, you'll hear English quite often on the streets -- sometimes even more often than German.

What's the catch: Didn't you hear that ze Germans love bureaucracy? Americans can enter the country on a three-month visa on arrival, but an official move requires multiple visits to various government bureaus, where you'll need to fill out applications and registrations and provide streams of documentation. Simply opening a bank account or getting a mobile phone takes its own paper snail trail.

Also, the secret about Berlin is out. The job market for foreigners is very competitive these days, and the struggle is especially real when it comes to finding a place to call your own. Showing up at apartment viewings against 20-some other hopefuls is just the name of the game. -- B.W.

Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica | Michael G Smith/Shutterstock

Costa Rica

Cost of city living: San Jose (price index 128) is cheaper than Boise.
Proportion of English speakers: Low, but you can use it to get around
Americans living there: The State Department guesses it could be 100,000.

Why you'd want to live there: Because it feels like California broke off from North America, headed south, and grew a rainforest. A steady democracy that spends its money on education instead of a military, Costa Rica has been chummy with the US for more than 150 years, making any culture shock minimal. A million Americans a year visit the country, and the Ticos have put those dollars back into infrastructure -- reliable airports, deluxe highways, huge conservation districts -- that make the country easy to get around and easy to enjoy. It has volcanoes, mountains, beaches, and oodles of badass animals. The literacy rate is one of the world's highest. If you have a full-time job you get Aguinaldo, a law where at Christmas you get an extra month's salary. People here seem, overall, pretty dang happy.

What's the catch: Food costs more than you'd expect. Property crime is a thing; if you have nice stuff, or even the appearance of nice stuff, someone may try to steal it. There are no addresses, so if you need something mailed down, you might have to wait for a friend to bring it in a suitcase. Tourist visas are a cinch but residency can be slow in coming for anyone who's not working for a big company, and foreigners have already snatched up most property bargains. If you're really into looking at the next up-and-coming American-friendly isthmus? Keep driving till you hit Panama. -- Sam Eifling, Thrillist Travel editor

Thai street food | noBorders - Brayden Howie/Shutterstock

Thailand

Cost of city living: Bangkok (price index 112) is half the price of Boston.
Proportion of English speakers: One-fourth
Americans living there: Educated guess? Maybe 30,000.

Why you'd want to live there: Thailand is the most livable of tropical paradises, with a storied history of friendliness to outsiders, strong infrastructure, and incredibly low living costs. Bangkok, the capital, is a vibrant, thrumming metropolis where $600 a month will get you a furnished apartment in a high-rise complex, with a pool, sauna, and on-site gym. Good thing rents are cheap, because foreigners aren't allowed to own land in Thailand (though you could buy yourself a condo).

Perks like taxis, massages, and street food are all inexpensive here. And if you can do without city life and go for a little more simplicity, there are even better deals on island bungalows. Being rather centrally located in Southeast Asia also makes Thailand a great hub for exploring other countries (and with the budget airline AirAsia, you can do it for cheap). No wonder so many digital nomads call it home base.

What's the catch: Tight visa rules make long stays in Thailand tricky. Every expat's nightmare is something called a "visa run" -- a 10-hour bus ride to a border and back just for a fresh passport stamp. Long-term work visas are unicorns. Companies are hesitant to give them because of a law stating four Thais must be employed for every foreign worker. The Land of Smiles has also been racking up military coups and violent protests in recent years, and that was before the king of 70 years died. Thailand has been under army rule since 2014, stabilizing the country for the time being, but worrying many about the long-term state of human rights. -- B.W.

Paris, France | gianni triggiani/shutterstock

France

Cost of city living: Paris (price index 215) is Seattle plus change.
Proportion of English speakers: More than a third
Americans living there: Eurostat found almost 50,000 in 2005.

Why you'd want to live there: Here's the norm in France: 35-hour workweek, 90-minute lunch breaks, wine at pretty much every meal, no open-container laws, unpasteurized cheese, great soccer... living the dream, in short. Recent terror attacks have the politics in a jumble, but if you want calm, simply grab a coffee by the Seine to pass all the time you have off. In addition to the short workweek, French employees are given five weeks of paid leave along with 12 federal holidays a year. Prowl the restaurants of Lyon, the museums of Paris, the beaches of Cannes, the vineyards of Champagne. As you work less in France, you'll live more.

What's the catch: The French aren't renowned for their embrace of foreigners. And no, high school French and an admiration for Amelie aren't going to help you cozy up to the cool Parisian crowd. If you don't have a French-born significant other, expect some serious social isolation. You'll most likely find your social circles among other expats, but hey, Jazz Age Americans in Paris essentially invented expat cool. Also, getting a work visa is notoriously difficult, so if you don't have full-time employment in France, expect to live below the law. -- M.K.

Vancouver, Canada | Pete Spiro/Shutterstock

Canada

Cost of city living: Montreal (price index 153) is cheaper than Tulsa.
Proportion of English speakers: Most everyone
Americans living there: 300,000+

Why you'd want to live there: Because it's like Alaska mated with Vermont. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a gorgeous face and progressive politics. You'll already know the language and can skip the culture shock in favor of cultural immersion: get into fringe theater and circus arts in Montreal, or become a gypsy tree planter in British Columbia. The US dollar is strong against the loonie right now, so your lower cost of living also comes with eco-consciousness, diversity, amazing food, low crime rates, excellent public education, healthcare, a stable economy, and most importantly, more nature than you can even bother to care about. (Canadians are so obsessed with nature that their version of The New Yorker is named after a sea mammal.) Wander around Canada's mountains and glaciers and beaches and islands to ski, surf, kayak, dive, hunt, hike, or just hibernate in a house on the prairie.

What's the catch: Canada's notoriously livable cities are getting silly expensive. Foreign investors have made real estate prices rocket in the likes of Toronto and Vancouver, despite limited job opportunities. Canadians are oddly cliquish when it comes to hiring. They tend to value "Canadian experience," whatever that is, over the skills you bring from abroad, especially if you want to be in the forefront of the tech, business, or arts sectors. All that wilderness can get lonely in the long, harsh, gray winters. -- Laura Yan, Thrillist contributor

Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul, South Korea | Vincent St. Thomas/Shutterstock

South Korea

Cost of city living: Seoul (price index 169) is less expensive than Orlando.
Proportion of English speakers: Half of younger Koreans say they understand some English.
Americans living there: 130,000

Why you'd want to live there: Between the enduring popularity of K-pop, K-dramas, and Korean cuisine, South Korea is having a pop-culture moment. But expats love it there for the metropolitan behemoth that is Seoul, which holds home-grown treasures of the entertainment, culinary, and cultural varieties, as well as pleasures from home (Shake Shack, anyone?). This mountainous, low-crime nation is crazy modern, with some of the fastest Wi-Fi speeds in the world. Public transit is a breeze, with most signs in English, and you can get from Seoul in the north to the beachy Busan in the south in fewer than three hours. Baseball and boozing are pastimes, with open-container laws allowing for soju in the streets. Housing can be pricey sans roommate, but, otherwise, the cost of living is surprisingly low.

What's the catch: Unless you're in English education, visa-sponsored jobs for expats can be hard to come by. Vegans will find this pork-obsessed place tough. Weather is extreme here, with long, frigid winters and blazing, humid summers. If you're WWIII paranoid, updates about Kim Jong-un's nuclear aspirations may not sit well. It's 12 hours to the westernmost point in the US, so forget weekend jaunts home. Finally, online censorship is real, so have a virtual private network (VPN) handy. -- Farah Fleurima, Thrillist contributor

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY | DFLC Prints/Shutterstock

Uruguay

Cost of city living: Montevideo (price index 152) is comparable to Indianapolis.
Proportion of English speakers: Very low
Americans living there: Just a smattering -- maybe 3,000

Why you'd want to live there: It's the rare land in the Americas with a stable economy and almost no inequality or violent crime. It has a functional political system with little corruption, a highly educated population, and progressive LGBTQ laws and attitudes. Marijuana is legal to grow and to possess for personal use, and public transit in the culturally rich capital city is good enough you won't need a car. The wine, the beef, and the national soccer team are all world-class, the Atlantic beaches are among the best in the world, and the temps in the winter never fall below freezing.

A nation the size of Washington State, Uruguay has maintained its even keel during the political and economic turmoil of its neighbors Argentina and Brazil. Particularly since the 2010-2015 tenure of former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who famously spent his presidency living in a humble farmhouse on a dirt road, the country has become the darling of the liberal first world. Native Uruguayans will be the first to tell you that their country is far from perfect, but they're an incredibly welcoming lot, so they'll tell you in the most friendly and helpful of ways.

What's the catch: The cost of living, while not as high as many places in Europe, definitely ain't free. Food's cheap and rent won't bankrupt you if you have a roommate. But if you want to own a car (and unless you're living in Montevideo along with half of the country’s population, you'll need one) you'll pay double what it would cost in the States. Bring your smartphone from the States because electronics are expensive as hell. And while violent crime is quite low, the common thefts and muggings in Montevideo require constant vigilance. Still, it's not overly burdensome for foreigners to buy property in Uruguay, and there's a path to residency -- and a nice social safety net that comes with it -- that does'’t require bribery. But to navigate the bureaucracy -- and daily life in Uruguay -- you'll need near-fluency in Spanish, because almost no one speaks English. -- Bison Messink, Thrillist deputy editor

Stockholm, Sweden | Scanrail1/Shutterstock

Sweden

Cost of city living: Stockholm (price index 197) is more expensive than Portland but cheaper than Chicago.
Proportion of English speakers: 90%, and with excellent proficiency
Americans living there: Eurostat says 15,000 or so.

Why you'd want to live there: You already know Sweden, so you might as well go. It's the home of ABBA, IKEA, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and brilliant design, and residents will converse with you in English comfortably. While the cost of living in this magnificent northern land isn't cheap, compared to New York City and other major American metropolises, Stockholm is a bargain. The nation has a strong economy with plenty of industries hiring and your native English may actually be an asset in finding work. The Scandinavian country with the most Americans living there is also absorbing immigrants -- many of them Syrian refugees -- at a truly heroic clip. And unlike the weak-kneed nationalists in places like France and the United States, the Swedes are making every effort to assimilate newcomers into a country that offers some of the finest education, healthcare, and public services in the world.

What's the catch: Winter's not just seriously cold (January and February temperatures hover between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit), it's bleakly dark. Also, the Swedish language is tricky (try and pronounce the names of your IKEA furniture, then conjugate that Hemnes bed into a past-tense verb) and learning Swedish really isn't going to help you anywhere but in Sweden. -- M.K.

Lima, Peru | Fotos593/Shutterstock

Peru

Cost of city living: Lima (price index 104) is half as expensive as Philadelphia.
Proportion of English speakers: Very low
Americans living there: Indeterminant; about 450,000 a year visit

Why you'd want to live there: You'll eat like a king every meal of every day. Lima, Peru's capital, rocks a food scene among the finest anywhere, a mix of Chinese, Andean, Japanese, and even lasting Incan influence. Put it this way: No country that cultivates 5,000 different varieties of potatoes is anything but deadly serious about its eats. When you stand up from the table and head out into the country, you'll find a beautiful and incredibly diverse land, and one that is dotted with incredible history as seen in the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, and Nazca Lines, as well as plenty of Pacific beach towns.

Under President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a mild-mannered centrist who comes off as kind of a joker, the relatively stable democratic republic has invited business investment and tourism dollars. Dentistry and medical care are bargains, and quite good, especially in Lima. If you want to go kick the tires for six months, you can: Your tourist visa is good for 183 days, more than enough time to stumble into the Amazon to try ayahuasca. And above all, Peruvians seem to genuinely like Americans, which you won't always find in many other countries.

What's the catch: You'll be unemployable if you don't speak Spanish, though there is a need for people who can teach English. Some parts of Lima are not terribly safe. Society at large is more socially conservative and traditionally macho than you might find strictly comfortable, especially if you're not, you know, a man. And despite its status as a world destination, Peru doesn't feel pressure to run on time. Of course, depending on your disposition, this might be a huge plus. -- Tim Ebner, Thrillist contributor

Thessaloniki, Greece | Kiev.Victor

Greece

Cost of city living: Athens (price index 129) is slightly cheaper than Memphis.
Proportion of English speakers: Roughly half speak some
Americans living there: Estimates run as high as 100,000.

Why you'd want to live there: If you are a prospective expat with some money in the bank, or have a steady, work-from-anywhere income, then you should go directly to Greece and live far, far beyond your means. The cradle of Western civilization happens to be a bargain these days, which is bad news for the Greeks, but good news for long-term visitors. You'll be rolling in fresh feta and tzatziki -- maybe even literally, if that sort of thing gets you going, 'cause that’s how affordable fresh feta and tzatziki are in Greece these days. "Greece" is so expansive and vague; I am thinking specifically of Thessaloniki, the nation's gorgeous cultural capital, set on the Aegean Sea in the country's northeast with Mount Olympus looming on the horizon. Go there, now, and burn through your savings like a pirate. English is widely spoken, beauty abounds, and memorable meals at brilliant restaurants like Omikron and Nea Folia can be had for a song.

What's the catch: Greece is cheap because of an epochal debt crisis that has sapped the nation's spirit and left a million people out of work. The destructive austerity measures imposed on Greece by the troika -- the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund; if you move to Greece, you will hear a lot about the troika -- have had disastrous and destabilizing consequences. The coffee shops are crowded with unemployed Greeks who will linger over a single cup all day. You probably won't be able to find a job there, but if you go with money in the bank, you won't need to. -- Justin Peters, Thrillist contributor



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