How to emigrate from the United States? Don’t.

March 15, 2016 By: erik Category: Travel, USA 1,334 views

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Emigration from USSeveral of my American friends have asked me privately about ways or plans to emigrate from the United States should certain political powers assume control. This is an open letter to them.

The truth is that emigration is hard, and for the most part, Europe doesn’t want you, no matter how white and educated you are (and I can really only speak to Europe; maybe the Canucks will have you?). I am a highly sought after computer programmer – I literally get recruiter emails every day – and it was nearly impossible for me to find a company willing to give me a work permit in the UK. The escape chute might be a little better lubricated if you are a college student. It’s easy to live abroad temporarily as a student, and easier – though still almost impossible! – to find a permanent position once you are already temporarily abroad.

Immigration Word Cloud

Marriage is the only surefire grappling hook to fire over the immigration wall, and even then you’ve got to climb up the rope. My friend, Tina, was more or less deported from the UK Border ControlUK back to the US for six (?) months away from her husband – she was already married to a Brit!! – while her spouse residency application was processed. I was once held for several hours in a London immigration interrogation room, with no information given to my future wife (who had gone through the EU immigration line), while they quizzed me about WTF I thought I was doing exiting and entering the UK so often. They let me enter the country with the ultimatum that I would not be allowed back in if I left again.

Oh, and did I mention that the US is the only country on the planet that will tax its citizens, even if they live abroad, work abroad, pay taxes abroad to their country of residence, and have all their finances abroad? Choose a country with a double taxation treaty.

Emigration from US


Your best bet is to stay put and hope that the American system of government has enough checks and balances to protect you. If your worst fears about the government start to take shape, however, then maybe the refugee sphincter might relax in some European countries to let some of you through, but you really don’t want to hope for persecution.

White affluent Americans who have traveled abroad often talk of emigration like it’s just something that they could do at any moment, but it’s not. The rich white privilege card might jump you to the front of some queues, but don’t count on that suit being trump.

  • Miguel

    When you say “should certain political powers assume control”, should I think of a certain man who shares his first name with a Disney character who wears no pants?

    Is it that bad that people are actually thinking about leaving the country?

    • The politics in the US is so polarized that people on either side see the opposing candidate as Absolute Evil. The same rhetoric happens every leap year, and people claim that they will leave, but this is the first time in my memory where a candidate is actually threatening persecution, which makes it scarier. I’d like to believe that it’s just talk, and his bark is bigger than his bite, but there were probably many people in 1930s Germany with the same optimism.

      • Miguel

        Holy S**t!

        I must be really naive, or maybe I haven’t got all of the info, but when I hear the dog barking, all I think is “There’s no way that many people is going to vote for him. He doesn’t stand a chance.”

        I guess you have to be in the other side of “the pond” to see the whole picture.

        • That’s what we all thought, that he would be laughed off the world stage, but his momentum keeps growing and growing.

          • Miguel

            I just read an article about a whole different matter (the infamous apple vs FBI issue), but it briefly touched this matter:

            “[His] entire Presidential campaign this year has been a mixture of reality-show “oh snap” moments and wishful thinking. His plan, for example, to stop illegal immigration by building a wall across the Mexican border ignores the technical challenges, the economic challenges, the ecological consequences, or the reality that walls can be bypassed in a number of ways. The obstacles or impracticality are ignored in favor of a, “wouldn’t it be cool if…” feeling.”

            What worries me is that the wish to keep aliens out of the states is so strong that people are willing to support such politics without further questions.

  • Miguel

    So many MENSA applications rejected because of voting for you-know-who 🙂

  • I just had a terrifying thought.

    You know what walls to keep people out also do? [shudder]

    • Miguel

      Keep people in.

      With HIM.

  • alittleteapot

    Hey Erik,

    I first read your post on Medium proposing Ducks. I was reading about structuring React/redux applications since I’m interested in pulling out my company’s common UI elements to share across our different products; plus I hate having actions and reducers split in different directories; and we’re using forms with redux; and you were addressing all these questions I was having! So I checked out your Twitter, and that’s how I saw that you’re living in Spain. A little more poking, and here’s your blog entry on nearly what I wanted to ask you about, although I’m not politically motivated.

    I lived in Spain for 3 years from 2012-2015, considered marriage to a beautiful man from Málaga, but didn’t want to teach English for the rest of my life. So I moved back to the USA to pursue a career in software engineering with the long-term goal of moving back to Spain independently via work. I’ve been a javascript developer now for 1 year.

    Would you mind having a conversation with me about how you are a software engineer based in Spain? I understand it could be a process years in the making, but I’m ever-so-interested in your first-hand perspective.


    • alittleteapot

      Here’s my old expat blog:

      I’m impressed how long you’ve managed to keep yours up.

    • I am employed by a US company, and “telecommute” to the US. I’ve never been employed in Spain, so I don’t have many insights to give you, I’m afraid. As in other parts of the worlds, the dev jobs are easier to find in big cities, so I’d recommend picking Madrid or Barcelona, depending on how much you like the sea and can stand separatist politics, and send CVs. Wish I could help more. Buena suerte, Teterita!

      • alittleteapot

        Thanks for your response 🙂 I appreciate that you took the time. It’s motivating just to see it really happening for someone.

      • Steve Mohr

        So what steps need to be taken to “telecommute” and live in Spain? If I could work that out as a software developer would there be a problem living in Spain administratively? I’m already telecommuting as much as I want. I would just need to have a good internet connection.

  • JamesD

    Hi Erik,
    It was great coming across your site.

    I live in NC (grew up an Army brat) and am married to someone from Torrelavega. For years we’ve talked about how to do what you’re doing, live in Spain while earning income in the US.

    We’re now forcing a deadline to move next spring but I still don’t have the income part worked out. I’m prepared to take classes/get certifications/moonlight over the next year+ to lay the groundwork to be able to telecommute and I think IT’s the best telecommuting option.

    Any suggestions on the type of IT skills/work to seek out – database/sql/sap, web design, java, etc…. I’m unable to change jobs prior to our move but have plenty of time at night to work on this.

    Look forward to your feedback.

    • That’s pretty exciting, James. I don’t particularly have any direction to give you, though. My area of expertise is web development, with javascript, which feels like a pretty hot industry at the moment. Especially React. I’d recommend you look into that.

      Do let me know if/when you are successful at hopping the pond.

      • JamesD

        Erik. Thanks. I appreciate your feedback. I’ll definitely look into React and will let you know when I’m on my way. Would love to meet you when I visit. I’ll probably come over this Fall to visit family and lay the groundwork for our final move. Best, JD

  • Herbert Fausto Osle

    Erik…my comment is equal to JamesD. By the way, how do I change my name as it appears? I would rather use a name that you can’t immediately identify me with. Thanks

    (old guy will little knowledge)

    • The comments are handled by Disqus. It depends on how you “signed in” to comment.