One of the questions we’re asked most often is “why do you want to live outside the U.S.?” At first, we answered that we love travel and want to pursue our dream careers in countries with a low cost of living.
While this answer still holds true, there is a second question we have to answer now that we’ve been traveling for a year: “When are you coming back to the U.S.?” After having lived outside the U.S. for five years in six different countries around the world, our answer is a definitive “Never.”
I want to preface this post by saying that though we feel very strongly about our living outside the states, we do not mean any of these opinions to be an attack or judgment about anyone living there. I realize that some of these points are forcefully worded, and I apologize if any cause offense. There are many many things I miss about the states. I miss autumn in New England, and pine trees in the Pacific Northwest. I miss our friends and family, and being able to drive for hours and hours in any direction. I miss the space, and the belief in bootstrapping, which we’ve found is not as common outside the U.S. However, our reasons for living outside the U.S. outweigh what we miss about it.
The question “why do you want to live outside the U.S.?” is based on an underlying assumption that our standard of living is the best, our democracy is the best, our doctors are the best, and that the U.S. is the safest place to be.
After five years as expats, we have to tell you: these assumptions are patently false.
If you live in the States, here a few things that probably sound “normal” to you: your town has at least one fast food boulevard. You have to think before you can name the last store you patronized that wasn’t a national chain, and your answer will probably be a restaurant. The idea of a family-owned butcher, or grocery store, or auto garage, probably sounds to you like a thing of the past.
You’re used to violence on the news 24×7, and violent TV shows and movies. You know that your government feels free to co-opt your data from private companies. You may know that the level of gun violence in the U.S. dwarfs that of every other developed country, and you may know that institutionalized racism is so deadly that a popular activist movement had to remind everyone that black lives matter.
Here are a few things you may not know, things we didn’t know until we left: no other country has a corporate culture like the U.S.–a fast food boulevard and a sedentary lifestyle are not “normal,” globally. You may not know what your convenience and selection costs other people around the world by poisoning their environments and relegating them to poverty. (This isn’t necessarily your fault–the chains that sell to you would do anything to keep you from thinking about the ramifications of our Convenience is King culture). You may not know that while Russia is bombing children and hospitals in Aleppo, the U.S. is supplying weapons, intelligence and providing logistical support for the bombing and starving of children in Yemen.
After five years as expats, we’ve heard the opinions of the rest of the world about the U.S. We’ve seen the news being withheld from you by your media. We’ve seen what it looks like when countries refuse to kowtow to corporations and instead actually encourage small business. We’ve seen what it looks like when healthcare is considered a basic human right. In the U.S., your politicians would have you believe that a different life is impossible. They’re wrong.
1. Personal Safety in the U.S.
Not once in our entire travel experience have we ever felt ourselves to be in personal danger. This is a combination of luck and awareness, but we U.S. citizens need to stop assuming that the U.S. is the safest place to live. Ignoring for the moment that this assumption is completely false if you happen to be a person of color, (HuffPost keeps a running total of the number of black people killed by police), consider that the U.S. dwarfs other countries in terms of gun violence.
When we announced that we were moving to Mexico, some well-meaning friends asked about the local crime rates. Mexico City, the city with the worst reputation for violence in the country, is safer than many U.S. cities. This is often the case when we travel–we have to remind our friends and family at home that citizens of other countries are generally as peace-loving as anyone, and in some cases, much safer than in the U.S. if we stay away from areas of armed conflict.
2. Health in the U.S.
Before we assume that the U.S. is the healthiest country in the world, we should consider this ranking of countries by life expectancy. #31 is not a great score. The U.S. has the worst quality healthcare we’ve ever experienced, even when we were using our employers’ insurance. Having lived in Luxembourg, a social democracy, we saw what efficiency looks like. Having a baby there was an absolute pleasure, and everything went like clockwork (and cost about $800). We were incredibly relieved to be working outside the U.S., which is the only country in the world who doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, other than Papua New Guinea. It’s also the most expensive country to give lllrth in the world, and has the least insurance to help offset the costs.
Having lived in South Africa, we saw what it’s like to live outside of the lawsuit culture. Doctor appointments were more affordable in S.A. out of pocket than our U.S. appointments with insurance.
Many would have you believe that assuming healthcare as a basic human right will promote corruption. Not only was this not the case in countries with universal healthcare, but many people forget the implicit conflict of interest in the broken U.S. pharmaceutical industry.
3. Death of Small Business, Death of Culture in the U.S.
There is no U.S. culture, unless you consider supreme convenience and washed-out chain stores a culture. If you live in the U.S., it’s a gargantuan effort to support small business, because the truth is that the U.S. hasn’t cared about small business for a long time. This corporate culture is complicit in the increasing wealth gap. We employ millions of citizens at mega corporations for rates that put them below the poverty line, remove money from the local economies, and continue to make the corporate magnates richer and richer.
It doesn’t have to be like this. In fact, nowhere in the world have we seen such a bland, washed out, mega-corporation culture. If you live in the U.S., you assume that this is the global norm. It’s not. Both Hungary and Croatia surprised us with strong small business cultures among western countries where multinational corporations generally control everything. Every single country we’ve visited has had a more vibrant small business community.
Having visited some of the countries where manufacturing takes place, we’ve also been forced to see what you can conveniently forget when you live in the states: your ultra-convenient lifestyle is built on the backs of impoverished nations. It requires the degradation of the environment. It requires the continued war-mongering of our government to ensure that the U.S. commands the resources to fuel our consumer-driven economy and materialistic culture.
4. The Death of Ideals in the U.S.
We both went to public schools and pledged our allegiance to the flag. We both love democracy. We love the ideals of our founding fathers. These ideals, and the vision embodied in the Constitution are the reasons that the U.S. constitution has lasted so long, and why our country became a superpower.
Like many millennials, our induction to adulthood has been a gradual education, an inexorable reversal of the biased textbooks we were given as children. We’ve learned that the U.S. does not go to war because our leaders value democracy. We go to war to feed the military-industrial complex, which lines the pockets of the rich and increases the wealth gap, while meting death and destruction in far-flung places we don’t have to think about.
You may say that every country has problems, and you’d be right. But few countries are as hypocritical as the U.S. Few countries succeed so well at convincing their citizens that the nation is actually doing good in the world. Not only is the U.S. an isolated dream-world, but it continues to be one at the expense of the rest of the world’s citizens.
The U.S. has a time-honored tradition of wreaking havoc and promoting violence by installing and ousting puppet governments around the world, and switching sides whenever it becomes expedient, leaving power vacuums that pave the way for more violence against innocents. We go to war ostensibly to promote democracy, but the list of authoritarian regimes we’ve supported or directly installed belies this argument. Here’s a list if you’re interested, but to take the most recent example: Yemen.
Unless you live under a rock, you have seen and been horrified by pictures of the victims of Russian bombing in Aleppo. It’s hard to sleep after seeing these pictures. What you may not know if you live in the U.S. is that we are financing, via our tax dollars, the exact same horror in Yemen. Here is the BBC article detailing the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
The Senate just passed a $1.15 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia. This is in addition to the over $100 billion of arms already supplied to Saudi Arabia. Within weeks, bombs made in the U.S. were killing civilians in Yemen.
From antimedia.org: “Yemen is the poorest, most impoverished nation in the Arab world. The Saudi led coalition has been striking refugee camps, schools, wedding parties, and well over a hundred hospitals to date. The country now has more than half a million children at serious risk of malnutrition. 21 million out of 25 are in need of basic humanitarian assistance.”
Simply put–our foreign policy is that war is good. In nearly every instance of U.S. involvement in war, the government spreads propaganda about why the war is necessary, and proceeds to slaughter civilians in the interest of major U.S. politicians and corporations, but not in the interest of our own citizens.
5. Death by Taxes in the U.S.
Let me say first that I have always believed in paying taxes to support public institutions. While David is a bit of a libertarian, I am *definitely not*. We both agree that the U.S. tax system is broken.
The U.S. military budget accounts for 37% of the entire world’s military spending. Our military expenditures are more than the next seven countries combined. This means that if you live in the U.S., your taxes are going toward intel gathering and sharing, air refueling, weapons training and logistical planning with regimes committing war crimes, a broken prison system, a militarized police institution who doesn’t understand the basic principle of service, toward the NSA spying on its own citizens, and toward bank bailouts. If I think of public institutions as education, health care, infrastructure, etc, a slim percentage of my taxes are going toward these things.
Moreover, the U.S. is one of two countries in the world who taxes its citizens no matter where they live in the world. Our son, who was born in Luxembourg, and may never be a resident of the U.S., will still have to pay U.S. taxes when he turns 18, despite the fact that he is reaping none of the benefits of these taxes, and even if he never sets foot inside the U.S.
6. Stay and Fight?
One common response to the problems in the U.S. is that nothing will change if people like David and I give up and defect. Unfortunately, this belief is misguided. Because every problem we’ve listed above is now completely endemic and institutionalized, everyday activism changes nothing.
If you’re doing your best to live an ethical life in the states, you’re exhausted. It would be exhausting to buy all your food from a local farm, to ensure that all of your clothing is ethically sourced, to lobby your company for maternity leave, etc. It’s exhausting because you’re going against the grain–the status quo in the U.S. is blind consumption. And even when you’re doing your best, or being an activist, your tax dollars are still funding war and destruction. And your activism is accomplishing very little.
We saw this when Ed Snowden’s revelations changed nothing about NSA policy, when Occupy Wall Street didn’t result in a single criminal charge, when Donald Trump became a serious contender for the U.S. presidency, when death after death after death of black people in America have incited mass activist movements, and our people of color continue to die in the streets.
The only solution is also the only inevitable future for any empire thoroughly rotted from the inside out: collapse. There are some signs that this is happening already.
The Roman empire fell because of an overextended military and devaluation of currency. The Medici banking collapse in renaissance Italy was caused by low liquidity (then 10%, compared to 0-10% at banks today) and high taxation in the name of military defense. Sound familiar? The United States government has simultaneously repeated two of the worst economic blunders in history.
The government has amassed nearly $20 trillion in debt and created an economy that depends on creating more debt. It’s not a conspiracy to believe this can’t end well.
It’s true that every country has its problems, but the U.S., given its incredible influence in the world, is doing more harm on a global scale than any other country in the world. We find that we can’t sleep at night without doing everything we can to stop supporting such a great force of destruction in the world.
So when people ask us why we want to live outside the states, we want to ask them how they can stand to live inside it.