Only you can decide, in participation with everyone else in your life who will be affected - spouse and children especially, of course, but also family and close friends who think as you do. I have written my own essay on why I made the decision to go through with it, and I would suggest that you read it. If you agree with my reasoning, I think you will agree that this is something you need to go through with, in spite of the difficulty and disruption it will cause in your life.
If you are having difficulty discerning whether or not you feel you could survive exile emotionally and culturally, I would recommend some books to you. The first is an enduring classic American novel, first published in 1958, when it became a best seller. "The Ugly American" by William Lederer probably offers some of the clearest insights into the cultural problems Americans face when living abroad that one could hope to find. Its author, a career diplomat, was horrified by the behavior, inspired mostly by ignorance, he saw among Americans and the consequences they faced and American foreign policy faced, as a result. You can find it linked at the bottom of the page, along with another book I recommend, a book that will help you decode the mysteries of foreign cultures generally. It is "Beautifying The Ugly American," and it was written by a psychologist who has lived abroad for most of his life. And there is a search box where you can search for the "Culture Shock" guide book for specific countries. I would recommend all three, as together, they will give you a pretty good feel for what you are getting into. The links and the search box will take you to the Amazon.com web site where you can purchase the books online and have them in a few days. I recommend the investment. If it prevents you from making a serious mistake, it would be easily worth ten times the cost.
Those who move abroad to engage in corrupt, questionable or illegal business practices, or who are seeking a paradise of cheap and readily available sex, booze, partying, drugs and generally wild behavior usually end up regretting the decision, because they discover that any place worth living in is not a place where such vices are well-tolerated. If that is your style, you will also discover that you will be less liked or appreciated abroad than you are appreciated and respected at home. Here in Costa Rica, I know several Americans who came here for those reasons, and none of them can seem to understand why the locals dislike them and view them with considerable disdain, going so far as to avoid them and not even talk to them. It is no surprise to me - and as an American, I am paying for their rather juvenile behavior - I have to deal with bureaucrats and businesspeople who hate Americans generally because of what those fellows have been doing here for a lot of years before I arrived. So do yourself, the foreigners and the Americans already living abroad a favor - save your money, stay home and have your fun and make your money in your own country. Don't inflict yourself on responsible, respectable foreigners or the Americans who are trying to be responsible and respectable guests in their home. You won't be truly respected or appreciated by either group, I guarantee.
If you are a tax protester or are in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, your destination options are growing increasingly limited. You would be best advised to check with a certified public accountant and get a list of the countries that currently have tax treaties with the U.S. and avoid any of them as an expatriation venue. The U.S. has already signed or is signing tax treaties with most countries where American tax protesters traditionally seek havens, and many, if not most of those treaties (including Costa Rica - traditionally a favored destination for tax protesters) now have an annex that provides the Internal Revenue Service the right to investigate you and arrest you in the foreign country, just the same as if you were in the U.S. The IRS maintains a large number of investigators abroad looking for you - last I heard, eleven working full time here in Costa Rica alone, a country with a population about the size of Phoenix. If they have a particular distaste for you, they don't actually arrest you themselves. Instead, they ask the local authorities to do the deed - so you will cool your heels in a horrible foreign jail under inhumane circumstances for weeks or months in "preventative detention" while the IRS takes its own sweet time about getting around to processing your extradition request papers and the local government gets around to acting on them. You have far more rights at home, so don't even think about expatriation if you are in trouble with the IRS for whatever reason. You are much better off where you are, staying at home and bucking up to what is coming. And don't get the idea that you can just disappear into the woodwork into a foreign country. Doesn't happen anymore - one of the responsibilities of the police in most countries is to keep track of expatriates and, in my experience, they usually do a pretty good job of it, even in countries you are not required to check in with them. So if the IRS wants you and knows you are in the country, in most cases all they have to do is ask - and you're toast. Also, be aware that the "taxpatriate" issue is heating up in Congress, and there are serious proposals being made to a href="http://www.escapeartist.com/passports/passport_facts1.html">prevent tax protesters who leave the United States, who obtain foreign citizenships, from returning to the U.S. I know of no nation on the planet that offers political asylum on the basis of tax protest, so that is not an option that is open to you, either. And don't expect even a minute's sympathy or help from the locals, either officials or the civilian population. Most, in my experience, view tax protest, no matter how principled, as simple, ordinary tax evasion, and so in their minds, that makes you are a simple, ordinary criminal.
A somewhat different situation applies if you are AWOL from the U.S. military. If you land in a country that has an extradition treaty with the U.S. (and that's just about all but the most backward African countries nowadays), if asked, the host country will have no choice but to arrest you and hand you over, if what you are accused of is a crime in the host country (and I guarantee in most countries it is). It is best to seek out and go to a liberal country like Sweden, Finland or the Netherlands, and, on arrival, immediately ask for political asylum - and hope and fervently pray they grant it. Canada is considering this for Iraq AWOLs, but has not yet arrived at a decision as to whether they will allow it - the decision is in the courts as this is being written.
When is the best time to do it? The short answer - as soon as you can arrange it, after you have come to a firm decision to expatriate. Executing the move is going to take months at best, even a year or more at worst, so the sooner you start, the better off you will be. From what I have observed, those planning the tyranny in the U.S. already know that there is likely to be a flood of people seeking to leave, and already slowly, subtly, they have begun raising the barriers - a sort of paper Berlin Wall - to keep Americans in, the same way the Communists kept in the Germans in East Germany. For example, in the last three years, it has become much more difficult and much more time-consuming to get a U.S. passport - figure on the process taking as long as three months and costing as much as $400 (and possible legal fees) if you are on any kind of watch list; this is one of the ways that the U.S. government is now harassing dissidents and activists, and if you are one (or are even suspected of being one), the feds are going to make the process very difficult and frustrating for you. Once you get it, guard it with your life, and know where it is at all times. Replacements can be very difficult and frustrating to obtain, especially when you are living abroad and most especially if you are someone they don't like. Additionally, they have been leaning on Caribbean and Latin American governments to make it more difficult for average Americans to move there and settle. So far, this has been tried in Bermuda, the Bahamas, Panama, and Costa Rica - and they have been successful in raising the barrier in all but Panama. They now have plans to try in other countries as well. So it is best to get with the program and get your butt out of the States while the getting is good.
back to the main page
Beautifying the Ugly American: How to Understand the Culturally Different -- Arabs to Zulus by Don E. Post, is as good a general antidote to the "Ugly American" syndrome as you can find in one single book - it is enormously helpful in decoding the mysteries of any foreign culture, particularly for those trying live or do business abroad.
To get the "Culture Shock" guide for the country you need, type the phrase, "Culture Shock +CountryX" in the search window above, without the quotes, and the name of the country you want to search for replacing CountryX, of course.
Copyright © 2004 by Scott Bidstrup. All rights reserved.