Should You Move to Europe?
We left America because it seemed like a country in rapid decline. What are the pros and cons of your doing it too?
Things look pretty bleak in America right now. Has anyone noticed?
Sorry. Too soon?
In fact, things are so bleak that record numbers of Americans are thinking about leaving the country. Europe is a very popular destination.
And I totally empathize. Michael and I decided to leave America the night that Donald Trump was elected president. We’ve spent the last five years as nomads, living in Europe about half that time.
(Important caveats: just because we left America, that doesn’t mean we’ve given up “the fight.” And, yes, leaving America requires some degree of privilege.)
Americans seem to have two views on Europe, depending on their political beliefs.
Europe is a perfect paradise with no social problems, and where Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s views would make her a moderate conservative.
Europe is an over-regulated, dysfunctional hell-hole where innovation is discouraged and ambition goes to die.
In fact, there’s some truth to both these statements — except for the bit about Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, which is complete nonsense. She has very liberal views even over here in Europe, and she’s really liberal on social issues.
Obviously, Europe is a massive area — slightly larger than the United States, with more than twice the total population — and it’s made up of somewhere between forty-four and fifty different countries (depending on how you define “Europe”).
In short, generalizations are kind of silly.
And yet, “Europe” is different enough from America that some generalizations are possible. And Europe is different in ways that have surprised me: it’s not just America-except-with-free-college-and-universal-health-care.
From Michael’s and my point of view, the pluses of Europe massively outweigh the minuses. This area of the world, especially Western Europe, is much more in sync with our personal values and priorities than the United States.
Meanwhile, the cost of living in Southern and Eastern Europe is so low that we find these are very attractive destinations too.
Whether a move to Europe is right for you obviously depends on, yes, how bad you think things are going to get in America — but also on your personal values and priorities.
Here are the pros and cons of such a move, as least as this American expat sees them.
Pro: The quality of life is better.
Most Americans have heard how people in Europe work fewer hours, get far more vacation, and have much stronger government safety nets, making it easier for people to raise kids, retire comfortably, and get, you know, health care.
Well, it’s all true, especially in Western Europe.
Not long ago, the Atlantic Magazine put it bluntly: The Best Parenting Advice is Go Live in Europe.
This isn’t just a question of government policies; it’s also a question of culture, which really is different in Europe, and which will affect every aspect of your life.
When Michael and I first moved to Italy, I was surprised how the whole coworking area would break for lunch every day — and how that lunch would stretch out into a long and lively shared meal that sometimes lasted hours.
The first week, I thought, “Is lunch going to last two hours every day? Am I just supposed to accept that I’m going to get less work done in Italy?”
The answer to both questions turned out to be, “Yes!” And after that first wary week, I never regretted it for a second.
Con: Taxes are higher, and wages and productivity are lower.
I love the European lifestyle, but it all comes at a cost — literally. Taxes are higher and wages are lower, compared to the United States.
There is a longstanding, raging debate about economic comparisons between the two areas: “American salaries are much higher!” “Yeah, but Europeans don’t have to pay for things like health care!” “Just admit the European economy isn’t nearly as dynamic as the American one!” “You admit that all your fancy numbers don’t take into account lifestyle factors!”
This guy makes a pretty convincing case that the average American keeps somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 more per person per year than the average European — and that’s controlled for cost of living (and not skewed by the mega-rich).
Does all that extra cash make up for America’s insane health care system, crazy work hours, expensive colleges, dysfunctional government, and daily mass shootings?
Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?
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