Looking to move out of the U.S. --Has anyone here done it?

I'll be honest, I've felt suffocated living in the U.S. long before COVID--COVID, politics, systemic racism and a general climate of rage exasperated it. I've been thinking about leaving the U.S. for Portugal, Switzerland or somewhere in the UK. I've been doing a lot of research on freelancing requirements (I'd apply for a freelance visa since I'm a consultant and I'm not looking for sponsorship). Has anyone here done this? I just would love to be around people who've been through it--especially the visa part. I hope someone responds. A lot of my posts get crickets. :( Thank you!EDIT: To clarify, I've been thinking about a move for the past seven years. This is NOT a rash decision, so please know that before you reply. The past few years have accelerated my plans. Thanks!
Thank you so much! I really appreciate your help.
Hey @feliciacsullivanI moved from the US to the Netherlands about 5 years ago. I’m quite familiar with the processing getting a visa among other logistical items. I can speak for my experiencing the Netherlands specifically which may or may not be similar to Switzerland or the UK. I should preface this by saying that due to COVID most immigration applications are being prioritized at the moment. Meaning, if you don’t have an urgency to convening the country the process for approval is taking much longer unfortunately. I would imagine as the vaccinations role out this should lift by summer. I’d you are looking to be granted a freelancer visa it’s a pretty straightforward process. - filling out the application- providing your business plan (what services you offer, your business model and how you plan to make income)- the Netherlands requires young show proof of €5000 at minimum in your bank account that essentially proves to them government you have some financial means to fall back on , should you need it - that €5000 should remain in said account for the duration of your visa Lastly, it’s helpful to be aware of the tax system here. You’ll be paying much higher taxes. It takes some time getting used to but the trade offs are worth it. Happy to answer any questions you have!
Thanks, Whitney! Yes, I've done my preliminary research and was planning a late 2021, early 2022 move due to COVID. I appreciate the insight.
This is kind of a broad question, but as someone especially interested in the Netherlands, do you have any good resources for learning about the tech industry there? I'm an entry level dev right now, and eyeing up a EU move in 5+ years, but it's hard to gauge where it would be "responsible" (financially/etc.) to move!
@feliciacsullivan I moved to Germany from Colorado 2.5 years ago, and can confirm there are pros (and cons) to living in Europe. My husband had sponsorship for a family visa that lets me work here, which makes my transition easier. Subreddits r/Iwantout and r/expats have lots of useful info. I've learned that the Netherlands has some visa deals to encourage American consultants and founders to come stay (link below). From the other comments, it sounds like @whitneycaneel would also be a great resource on the Dutch. It seems likely you will have to wait for COVID numbers to go down before making a move. I recommend traveling to the places you are considering (back-to-back if you can) to pick what is the best match before committing to a city, if you have the ability and resources.
Thanks so much, Clare! I definitely have a shortlist of places based on where I've visited (pre-COVID, I traveled heavily). I'm willing to bear the cons of living in Europe, for sure.
Love this thread! I have also considered the same, which started as a pre-COVID dream. What would you say the cons are to living in Europe?
Hi @PriyaPatil! Pros and Cons of living anywhere are highly personal. It comes down to the difference between looking up a cost of living adjustment online versus what your actual choices are. Environmentalism/ access to nature, health care, relative social stability and cool travel opportunities are all pros. For me, not speaking the local language and not having an easy time learning it, even after the rest of my family is fluent, is a con. This sometimes makes me feel isolated. Public transport is better, but owning a car and driving are more expensive. Renting can be cheaper, but buying a home costs more (depending on where you are looking). If you've been living in America and move to Europe, there is a different credit system and you have to start building your credit again from zero. If you want a clean slate for your credit history, this can be a pro. If you spent a lifetime building good credit, not being able to get a credit card immediately can be a shock.
Sorry I know I can’t help but I just want to say, good luck!!! Wherever your path takes you, I hope you it makes you happy 😊
Thank you so much, Harriet :)
Hi Felicia - I've been living in Finland for the last 12 years because of family. If you do not come with a job and aren't in tech, you will constantly be unemployed. I've heard of situations where when ex-pats lose a job, they need to leave fairly quickly, so keep that in mind. There has been a culture outside of Helsinki of a low tolerance level for foreigners, even if you're white, so there will be challenges if you are searching for a friend group. An upside has been that there is a better healthcare system if you are a resident, and housing is incredibly expensive. Remember, there is no perfect place on Earth. But with all the problems I've had here, I'm working on coming home to the US.
Thank you, Nancy. Yes, I'm definitely aware that there isn't a perfect place. I've thought about this decision for 7 years so it's not made out of capriciousness. Finland wasn't on my list, but I appreciate the insight. Thank you!
Following the discussion because I empathize with you! Although my situation is a bit different - I've recently enrolled in an MBA program here and planning to recruit in Europe afterwards. Wishing you success in your search!
Thank you!
Hi Felicia! First, I'm really sorry. The decision to leave the place we live is not easy, and it hurts to leave for the reasons you listed, even when they're the right reasons to leave. (*internet hug*)I have dual US/UK citizenship, so I'm not too helpful with the Visa piece of things other than navigating UK Immigration sites for information (I've looked into it extensively for my husband's spousal visa, since we had concrete plans to move to the UK immediately if Trump was re-elected.) I'm assuming you've already spent a lot of time on this site, but just in case it's useful: you're more exploring UK cities and neighborhoods within those cities from an expat perspective; taxes & earning in the UK (generally it's a lower pay scale and higher taxes, with a tougher hiring climate); and what that means for housing budget, etc., I'm happy to help there - I'd be most useful with regards to Edinburgh & London/Greater London. Half my family and several close friends live there, and I did a lot of research in preparation for relocation to one of those two cities. Just send me a message and we can chat!
Thank you so much, Katherine. I've definitely done some preliminary research--more on the Netherlands and Portugal, which have easier visa requirements for freelancers. I think if I wanted to go the UK route, I'd do Edinburgh or Wales. I've got a ways ahead of me, and it's frustrating because I literally can't leave because COVID is such a mess in the U.S., but I'll definitely write should I go the UK route. Now, I'm trying to narrow it down to countries that don't require me to be rich to live there :)
I have had this desire to move out of the US for a while now too. I have dual US/EU citizenship which would make it much easier, but the one thing that holds me back is the earning potential. Europe has much lower salaries and a high cost of living, I'm not sure how anyone gets by out there!I've wondered if I could work for a US-based company and still get that US salary living in Europe, but the problem with that is the double tax! In order to participate in the social offerings of the EU (healthcare etc) you have to pay into it, so I'd be paying income tax in both countries. The other way around, being a US citizen and working for a foreign company, the US will still want a cut of your income tax no matter where you live/work (some countries have tax reciprocity). This is all assuming the US company agrees to let you work abroad for them because I know there is some drama there too.This is at least how I understand it from my research, but please tell me I'm wrong if I am! If anyone has other experiences or hacks please reply, I've been dreaming of living in Portugal for over a decade now, it's heaven on earth. They also have a huge tech scene, it's the Silicon Valley of Europe. I'm also not open to freelance or contract work, too much anxiety.
Even if you work for a European company, you will have to at least file, if not pay, American taxes. Some American companies have European entities you can work for with an internal transfer, which will give you European benefits and protections, but also a more European salary level.
@avvinue is an amazing app (founded by a fellow Elpha) that helps people figure out the in's and out's of moving to a new country. I highly recommend it.
Thanks so much for sharing!! ♥️
Hey Felicia! I’m an American living in France, and the founder of Avvinue ( — the app to help you move down the block or around the world. 🌍We’ve been helping people move for the past 1.5 years (many Americans wanting out!!), and are now launching our app.’d be more than happy to assist you on your journey abroad or discover where your path leads.
Looks like a great tool for expats. I wish something like this existed when I made my decision. Just wanted to let you know Croatia just passed our digital nomad visa and they started approving applications last month :)
My experience may be a bit outdated so do double check, but I explored staying in London after studying there for 2 years and graduating with my MA in 2015. It was pretty much impossible. The only visa options at the time were:-being offered a job from a UK-based company willing to sponsor your visa. the possibility of this depends on your industry and the type of work you do. I was offered 2 jobs but neither company was able to sponsor (creative marketing agencies)-the talent visa where you have to prove extraordinary talent-having UK/EU dual citizenship or a spouse etc. From my knowledge, other European countries have way more options than the UK. Specifically, I believe Portugal is very open / encouraging to expats. Also an amazing place in many ways!
Thank you!
One great network to check out on FB/ Instagram etc is Girl Gone International. It’s a group for women who live abroad, and they have tons of local groups too. And it’s free!
Portugal is great because there is a general welcoming attitude and tolerance of English speakers. The language is hard but English is prevalent. The UK is not better than the US and not Europe. Many of the same problems. Many foreigners and rampant xenophobia. Especially leading up to and after the Brexit debate and outside of London. London is overcrowded and even on a good income you will feel poor. Your standard of living will be lower. Wales is quiet. If you’re ok with village or small town feel and that will not drive you crazy it might be an option. Not a lot of activity in Wales. Edinburgh is great and welcoming to Americans. I would not live in the uk again unless I were independently wealthy. The healthcare is a shock. There is quite a bit of American mocking which they somehow don’t see as xenophobic whereas they’d never say some things about other cultures, Americans are fair game. They’ll say it to your face. This wears on you as you hear it from friends, openly from colleagues, at the pub, etc. it’s harder to make local friends than in any other culture. If you don’t drink alcohol don’t go. They drink much more than Americans and you will find it hard to socialize. The upshot is the culture is much less histrionic with regard to alcohol so if you like to socially drink even daily you will not be made to feel like an alcoholic. A lot of social lubrications via alcohol. They’re closed off, socialize in tight circles, etc. one way is to meet a partner and join his/her circle. You’ll have to pay US tax on foreign earned income but there is a threshold before you have to start that is quite high. Many US or foreign companies will not want to employ because it is complicated for them due to tax and some other matters. Local companies will not want to sponsor so be sure your freelancing visa options are viable. Outside of London and Edinburgh a car is required so learn to drive manual if you haven’t yet. You will lose your mind without in the suburbs or the country even if the transport networks are ok. I lived in London for many years after college. Great travel opportunities (flights are cheap, trains are not). You make way less money but spend less and buy less and have less stuff. America is full of stuff you think you need but you don’t. Think places like the Container Store and racks for your Tupperware or box organizers for your gift wrap. The rest of the world doesn’t have any of that. UK comes the closest but not really. Less choice at the supermarket but this is not a bad thing either. Much better tasting dairy. I found third half the pleasure of being there for so long. It’s that good.
This was incredibly helpful, thank you! I actually love quiet. I'm going to investigate more on Portugal, Wales, and Edinburgh.
Hi Felicia,I moved to Prague in 2016 and lived there for 3 and a half years! They had a very attainable freelance visa (živnostenský list). I still know a large community of people there who work and are on živnos. It can definitely be a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare, but there are plenty of companies to help with getting your visa and the cost of living overall is incredibly low. Plus, it is just such a beautiful, fun city to live in, perfectly situated for weekend (or longer) travel in Europe. There's also a huge expat community who can help with any possible homesickness. If you're still considering your options, definitely check out Prague!
Love Prague!
I can't speak to Portugal, Switzerland or the UK but I relocated to Germany from the United States and I can say that as someone working in tech the visa application is relatively smooth. I had secured a job in Berlin before I moved, so the company helped me with my blue card application, but Germany also offers freelancers visas, with certain conditions. One benefit of the blue card is that after 21 months, if you can pass a German language test with an intermediate level (B2 I believe) you then get a German settlement visa. Good luck!
Thank you!
I've been hearing good things about Taiwan's "Gold Card" skilled visa - particularly as a freelancer it might be a good option for you.
I haven't heard of that. I loved Taiwan when I visited many years ago. I'll have to look into that. Thank you!
You're super welcome! As a Canadian I also have to advocate for coming here if you don't mind the cold :)
I LOVE CANADA. I'm not sure they'll have Americans right about now though ;)
It’s definitely a bit harder right now just logistically, but Canada is definitely still issuing visas - here’s one friend’s story:
Thank you so much :)
Most countries borders are closed. Who knows when they will open up. But I left almost 5 years ago to mourn my mother and decided to stay.
Yep, I know. This is more of a late 2020, 2021-plan.
FWIW at least for Canada, relocating for work with a valid visa counts as “essential” travel so the border isn’t exactly closed :)
Hi Felicia, you should also have an idea of what your short/long-term plans are. Depending on where you go, I'm not sure if being on a work visa will lead to a blue card. Best to understand for yourself how long you intend to move for and, if it is permanently, then figure out the best way to design a path to a blue card or even citizenship.
Yes, I've been thinking about this for seven years, so I'm pretty sure I know what I want. I've done research, but I wanted to hear from people's experiences, which can often inspire. Hope that clarifies.
Hi Felicia,I'm an American that lived and worked in three continents between 2008-2016. I went the corporate route and was fortunate to be sponsored on all three visas, so I do not have the freelancer perspective to share but I follow the space. Keep your eye out for more freelance/digital nomad visa options, as these are becoming more common: to chat in case it would be helpful to learn from my experience. I worked in Kenya, India and Germany.All the best to you!Jen
Thanks! Yes, I saw the WSJ article. It was a good one.
Hi Felicia,I moved abroad when I was 23. While I opted to work locally for the first five years, I moved to Mexico in May 2020 and shifted to freelancing w/US and LatAm based clients. My thoughts about pros and cons are:Pros:- Flexible schedule/lots of time to explore means that you can easily organize yourself to have lots of fun. - If you have US-based clients, it can be really financially freeing to move abroad—especially if you're considering a place like Portugal where the cost of living is low. Spain also has many programs for expats looking to relocated.- Depending on the country, it's very easy to "prototype" living abroad by renting an AirBnB for a few weeks. Visa processes are usually onerous, overwhelming, and often unnecessary at the beginning. I would strongly recommend trying a country out before taking the full plunge!Cons:- Especially now with COVID, it can be really lonely to consult abroad. It's not a possibility to go to a co-working space or a coffee shop, so it's hard to meet new people. - It's challenging to stay emotionally connected with projects when you're physically far away and putting roots down in a new country. I found that this year, my #1 challenge was staying engaged in my work while trying to adapt to a new context.Good luck with your decision!
I'm a full-time freelancer along with my partner and we've been traveling full time since June 2017! It's been almost entirely out of the country, and was in large part spurred by a similar feeling of suffocation after Trump was elected and wanting to get out and widen our perspective. We've very easily managed by staying in places as long as the tourist visa is allowed — in most places we traveled, that would be 3-6 months — and then moving on. We have applied for a permanent residency visa in Canada. As someone mentioned here, it's virtually frozen because of COVID-19 unfortunately. I've also seen some great visa programs for freelancers or people looking to work remotely. For example, in Croatia, which was one of my favorite places I ever "lived" in: hope this helps!
I'm in the same boat as you, Felicia! I have my heart set on moving from the US to Portugal sometime next year. I've also been doing a ton of visa research, and the files/discussions in the Facebook group "Americans & FriendsPT" are by far the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and helpful that I've found so far.
Thanks, Lisa! I got off FB a few years ago, but I'm so happy you found a resource. Good luck to you!
Hey Felicia, congrats on the decision to move. That is a big step and honestly, certainty makes the process of moving a lot easier. I came here mostly to second the Reddit resources already suggested. But also just as a heads up, Swiss visas are becoming more difficult to get since about 2015, and a lot of them are going to EU citizens before they go to Americans. I have lived abroad in Germany, near the Swiss border, for about 7 years. There is a lot of xenophobia and sexism in CH. Women were not able to vote there until the '70s, and in one canton, women weren't able to vote until the '90s. It just granted paternity leave (10 days!), which went into effect this year. For contrast, Germany has paternity leave of up to 2 years. I know you said you had done a lot of thinking around this, but I thought it would be worth mentioning, as I find the more I learn about CH, the more similar to the U.S. it seems. Feel free to DM me with any questions. A lot of people where I live commute to CH for work, so I have some second-hand experience/knowledge on the topic.
Hi Felicia,You may want to check out Estonia, they have visas for digital nomads. I'm not too sure about their long term PR type of process of work visas. I subscribe to their newsletters and it leaves a good impression, on the lifestyle, cost of living, city as well as countryside, settling down process, especially if one is in tech. No first hand information though.Good luck!
There are always pros and cons to moving to a new country, and I can share some of my experiences (as this will apply regardless of which country you are moving from or two).I have made two cross-country moves - the first as a fresh-faced young adult from India to the United States (where I did my MS and stayed there for several years). Just yesterday, I made my second cross-country move: this time from the US to Canada! I just landed in Toronto! Yoohoo!The first and most advantage of moving: your mind will expand tremendously! It's only when you leave your homeland will you understand the limitations of your culture (and this is true again regardless of where you are from and where you are heading to as every country has good and not-so-good things). It is impossible to know those when you are in your native country as everyone thinks the same way (or mostly the same way, when it comes to similar demographics).Many people who migrate make the mistake of sticking to making friends from their own country. I would recommend avoiding this pitfall as your adopted country's people will not go out of their way to make you feel included so transplants automatically gravitate towards what is familiar. As an immigrant to the US, I had gone out of my way to ensure I make friends with Americans. Did I form close friendships? No, but there are other reasons for that as well, so be mindful of this. It is possible that you will constantly deal with your adopted country's stereotypical notions of what they think they know about your native culture - this was very exhausting for me (about certain perceptions that Americans have about India and Indian customs in spite of me being fully integrated in American society, including the way I dressed up and the hobbies I had and foods that I ate etc), but in the end, I simply started shrugging things off. Think long-term - I would go beyond the visa thing and think about citizenship. If you don't like it in your chosen country, you can always go back or go somewhere else, but if you do, the restrictions due to the lack of permanent residency/citizenship will become very stifling. Ultimately, it's not just about a temporary job, it's about a career and more importantly freedom. It's also about financial independence; if you are dependent on a visa you literally can't have multiple streams of serious income. Related to this, I don't know if you have a partner currently, but an important feeling of settling down also comes with having a partner in your adopted country. Also, many people don't realize this, but uprooting yourself from your adopted country once again is not easy and also expensive. For example, I chose to move to Canada, but after thinking a really long time (similar to your thinking for a long period).Hope this helps! Good luck!
Hi Felicia,I moved from San Francisco to Croatia about 2.5 years ago. Now is the perfect time to try out being an expat because many countries are implementing digital nomad visa's that let you move easily for about a year. Then if you like it you could switch to an alternative kind if available. I'd be happy to tell you about my experience. It's not for everyone but it's totally doable and there are thousands of us all over the world. You'll never regret it and you can always go back home if things don't work out but life from my experience can be much better outside the U.S.Good luck!
Also, I forgot to mention - Croatia is one of the few - if only EU country still allowing and welcoming Americans to move here during COVID. They just processed their first digital nomad visa for an American last month.
Best of luck. This sounds really exciting. I am also considering moving out of the US but more towards Asia.
I’ve been abroad for 11 years. I am more than happy to answer any questions you have. I have built and bought houses, worked abroad, online for 7 years, and had 2 kids in different counties. What do you need to know? I will try to find out if I don’t know.
Following up to ask where you are now @feliciacsullivan
Hi Felicia, I hear great things about Portugal. Switzerland is beautiful, but has always been very expensive, so make sure you can have the lifestyle you want there before you choose to make that move. Given your reasons for moving, I suggest you not move to the UK. Brexit was a trial run for the 2016 election here and they have been a mess ever since. I don't think going there will be an improvement over the US.There are expat communities everywhere, so search for them on the Internet. If you can, rent a place in the city/country you think you want to live in for a month or so and connect with the expat community there to find resources. I went to Beijing during a career break in 2009 without knowing anyone and ended up remaining based there for 10 years. Once I was there, I found various expat networks. But a lot of them are online now. Also, you can join Internations - a social group (similar to Meetup, if you are familiar with that) for expats around the world. Events are local, but I think you can search for and connect with expats in other countries and they have boards you can post on (I was active in it some years ago, so I don't know exactly what is offered there now). Also, when you visit other countries, you can join Internations events there to meet both expats and locals who want to meet expats. Now that I think about it, Meetup is everywhere, so you can also join Meetup groups in other countries to connect with expats and natives who are on the ground in them.I love traveling, volunteering, and living abroad, so I have no interest in discouraging you from moving to another country. However, I do want to tell you that the same things are happening all over the world - everything is connected. So I don't think there is anywhere one can escape, but the good news is that I think we are headed for a collapse of our current civilization and something much better is going to emerge. I'm talking about the world as a whole, not only the US. The people in power now are desperately trying to cling to what they have, but remember that it is always darkest before dawn. Better days are ahead for all of us.