After enduring the unique challenges of 2020, packing up and moving to another country may not seem like such a far-fetched idea. At present, there are more than nine million American expats living abroad, according to the State Department, and that number is growing, especially given the new freedoms and flexibility many of us have been awarded and grown accustomed to in terms of working and learning remotely. There’s also a decision to be made for future retirees who want to make the most of their later years.
We’ve narrowed down this list of the best countries for American expats by prioritizing safety, economic and political stability, quality of life, and access to culture and the great outdoors. To clarify, an expatriate is someone who moves to another country and pays taxes there (and no longer pays taxes at home). Of course, repatriation is always an option if and when you decide to head back, but that’s a conversation for a later date. (Tip: With constantly changing rules and regulations in each country, consider hiring an expat-friendly immigration lawyer for a smooth transition abroad.)
Related: More travel tips
The fashionable country due west of Spain is attracting young expats in recent years, particularly entrepreneurs, given its incredible value and welcoming business incentives that help stretch your hard-earned dollars. Take the second city of Porto, buzzing with modern and creative energy as a manufacturing and textile hub, with a slew of new designers who have made the city their home. Following decades of decline in the late 20th century, Porto’s cobbled streets today are filled with cool cafes, restaurants, and boutiques selling goods from local weavers and ceramists. On a day off, take advantage of the city’s art district, historic churches, and palaces, as well as the Douro River that leads to the oldest wine region in Europe (Alto Douro). Less than an hour from Porto is Portugal’s third city, called Braga, which, for its part, offers a reduced tax rate for start-ups. Nicknamed the “Rome of Portugal” thanks to its Baroque architecture, Braga also offers attractive green spaces, international schools, and high-tech companies for qualified candidates. Further south is the Algarve coast with more than 300 sunny days per year for digital nomads, families, and retirees who enjoy life at the beach. You can also check out the nine islands in the Azores — some offer incentives to attract businesses and start-ups. No matter where you choose, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a kinder nation to call home.
2. Costa Rica
Relocating to well-trodden Costa Rica isn’t a novel idea for anyone who has ever visited the country (and likely met a few friendly expats along the way), but there’s a reason for its persisting popularity. Situated between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, this utopic Central American nation wins people over with volcanoes, cloud forests, and exotic wildlife in the form of sloths, capuchin monkeys, and toucans. More than that, it’s the Pura Vida (“Pure Life”) philosophy for good living, which sums up this peaceful Spanish-speaking gem. Sweetening the deal, the country offers expats a straightforward residence program, affordable dental and healthcare, a stable democracy, and easy flights to the U.S. from two international airports. While the capital of San Jose has a notable food and arts scene, expats can head for either coast for long stretches of undeveloped beaches, seaside villages, surfing and yoga classes, neighborly expat communities, and business ventures often tied to eco-tourism. If you prioritize a healthy, laid-back lifestyle surrounded by natural beauty with an evergreen cool factor that is hard to imitate anywhere else, then this might be the place for you.
3. South Korea
The country that invented K-Pop, K-barbeque, K-beauty, and 24-hour jjimjilbangs (Korean bathhouses), draws expats wanting to be a part of this living and breathing epicenter for popular culture. The sleek city of Seoul, Asia’s third-largest economy, will surround you with killer restaurants, shopping, entertainment, night markets, and a high-tech scene with international workers who partake in the work-hard, play-hard mentality. Professionals based here will find tight-knit social groups and regular networking events for those looking to hob-nob over soju cocktails. But don’t overlook Busan, South Korea’s edgy second city with beaches, fresh fish, and an international film festival. (Fun fact: You can take a ferry to Japan from here.) No matter where you decide to live on the peninsula, enjoy access to rugged mountains and thousands of islands offering plenty of outdoor adventures like winter skiing and treks to 7th-century temples. South Korea is a safe place to live despite its close proximity to North Korea, but stay cognizant of the situation.
As President Biden recently put it to Prime Minister Trudeau, there is no closer friend to the United States than Canada. Regardless of who is — or isn’t — in office, Canada remains a top contender for American expats for a number of reasons that may include affordable education, cultural diversity, stability, and countless adventures in the unspoiled natural wilderness. If seeking a job, consider the largest city of Toronto, often compared to the Big Apple, where the majority of Canada’s work opportunities are located. There are plenty of other livable cities to choose from like Vancouver, surrounded by sea and mountains, which may include weekend trips to Tofino, a year-round surf town on the edge of the continent. Or Calgary, which is experiencing a renaissance with cool eateries, hip neighborhoods, and proximity to the best trails in the Canadian Rockies (Banff National Park is an hour away). Then there are the French-infused cities of Montreal and Quebec City in the east for those who want a slice of European living without the long flights. Depending on your circumstances, you can take your pick between several different ways to make the move; start by checking for eligibility if one of your parents or grandparents was born there.
This Central European country can have you hiking in the Alps in the morning and enjoying a performance in a famous opera house later that evening. Austria’s capital, Vienna, has been recognized in Europe for its high quality of life and low crime rates, as well as an exciting food and wine scene, focused on organic, local ingredients. It’s also a good choice for those looking for affordability, healthcare, and international schools. Further south is the youthful city of Graz, which offers its own version of Renaissance and Baroque architecture as well abundant parks and upbeat nightlife. Beyond all of the aforementioned pleasures of living in Austria, if the idea of being surrounded by Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia gets your heart pumping, then you may have found your place.
This quick-paced country in West Africa is rolling out the welcome mat for American expats seeking the affordable cost of living, booming business opportunities, low crime rates, and stable democracy. There’s a program to fast-track citizenship for African Americans planning to leave the U.S., and a new program to entice residents to keep their talents in the country for at least 10 years. The cosmopolitan capital of Accra offers reasonable rents, while job hunters will have their pick of social support groups, networking events, and associations to join. Outside of the city, you can explore the country’s tropical beaches, national parks, and waterfalls, as well as one of the many UNESCO-listed forts and castles. An additional plus: Ghana uses English as its official language.
The diverse city-state of Singapore often ranks among the best countries for expats to live and work, thanks to job security, high-quality schools, and one of the world’s most efficient public transport systems that can get you all over the city in a jiff. There’s no doubt that this is an exciting place to live and work. Add to that an incredible food scene, thanks to its melting pot of cultures, from night markets to hawker centers to Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as incredible shopping malls, new sustainable skyscrapers, and endless walks in the remarkable botanical gardens, the best in Southeast Asia. In other words, there’s plenty to keep you busy. When you’re ready to travel (Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali are a hop, skip, and jump away), you’ll fly through Changi Airport and see the “Rain Vortex,” the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and five-story garden featuring thousands of tropical plants, trees, and shrubs. With this abundance of lush greenery injected into new buildings and terminals, Singapore’s “City in a Garden” moniker is coming to life in a new, big way.
Nordic lovers in search of fresh air and a sense of space should consider moving to Sweden, with one of the lowest population densities in the world. Expensive, yes, but this design-forward and practical country is one of the best places to live abroad for those who can afford it. If you live in the walkable capital of Stockholm, you’ll have access to the enchanting historic center, world-class museums, and impeccably stylish cafes. Meanwhile, Sweden’s second city of Gothenburg is often considered the world’s most sustainable destination with ethical fashion shops and zero-waste restaurants. Summers offer lively Midsummer festivals, swimming, and kayaking, while winters above the Arctic Circle offer the northern lights, reindeer feedings, dog sledding, and Sami culture. Overall, there’s a natural ease to the work-life balance in Sweden; for starters, most employees begin with around five weeks of paid vacation and months-long paid maternity/paternity leaves for new parents.
9. New Zealand
Americans looking to escape stress and fine-tune their mental well-being and work-life balance will be drawn to New Zealand’s political stability and epic sheep-strewn landscapes where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The adventure capital of the world’s huge variety of activities should be enough of a draw, but those seeking peaceful surroundings will find plenty of calm while enjoying fresh seafood and wine tastings. Auckland is the modern hub of commerce and culture, but future residents might also want to consider the capital of Wellington (with its charming Victorian timber architecture) or the adrenaline-filled Queenstown as their home. It doesn’t really matter which you choose since the North and South Islands are just a three-hour ferry ride apart, leaving residents free to explore the impressive list of mountains, glaciers, hot springs, lakes, beaches, and ski slopes. Your Kiwi paycheck will be well spent on experiencing the good life.
Sunny Spain is always a convincing choice for those who wish to live a sophisticated working life or retirement amongst passionate and tolerant locals. For starters, Spain has one of the lowest costs of living in Western Europe, so you can find both affordable housing and quality bottles of Rioja costing only a few euros. Spain also has great health care reimbursements, international schools, and self-employment visas that appeal to entrepreneurs, freelancers, and digital nomads. You can gravitate towards one of the big cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Seville, or consider one of two archipelagos in the Mediterranean (Balearic) or Atlantic (Canaries). Then there’s Andalusia’s stunning citrus coast with Moorish history and architecture, beautiful beaches, and English-speaking expat communities. Keep in mind Malaga, the birthplace of Picasso, with the highest concentration of museums per square mile in Europe (30 in total). Perhaps your biggest problem with a country as diverse as Spain is figuring out which place to call home.