10 reasons to quit the U.S. for Europe

2014-10-11

The European economy may be limping along, but Americans living there say there are other reasons why they call Europe home — or maison, casa or zuhause.

More Americans are moving overseas. The Social Security Administration currently sends 613,650 retirement-benefit payments outside the U.S., more than double the 242,128 benefit payments sent abroad in 2002. The number of Americans who actually gave up their citizenship rose to 3,000 in 2013, three times as many as in 2012. Others — like Richard Wise, 54, who moved to London in 2012 — took their passports. Contrary to popular opinion on food in Britain, famous for bangers and mash, Wise says, “the food stopped sucking a long, long time ago.”

Some Americans left for a quieter life. Sarah McCullough Canty, 47, moved to the west of Ireland in 2002. “My husband is from Ballydehob, West Cork, so the choice to go to his homeland was easy,” she says. “It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.” She doesn’t have to worry about shootings and gun crime. “My children are free to roam the streets of the village with no fear,” she says. “They are not exposed to hard drugs.” (Of course, that’s certainly not the case in larger Irish cities like Limerick and Dublin.)

Older people, in particular, seem to fare well in Europe — a potential draw for America’s aging boomers. Norway is the best place to live for over-60s, according to the “Global AgeWatch Index,” released this week by HelpAge International, a London-based nonprofit group. Norway replaced Sweden as the No. 1 place to live, as measured by four key issues: income security, health, personal capability and an enabling environment. Sweden was No. 2, followed by Switzerland, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands and Iceland. The U.S. came in at No. 7. Japan, New Zealand and the U.K. completed the Top 10.

There’s also a brisk business in helping Americans prepare for the big move. Fluent City, a language school with offices across the U.S., is hosting an event, “How to Move Abroad,” on Oct. 14 in Brooklyn, N.Y., on learning a language, looking for work and applying for a visa. Not that all Americans will need language help. J. Thomas Kelly, 24, who works in e-commerce in Berlin, hasn’t contended with a language barrier.

“In Paris, you kind of need to learn French,” Kelly says. “Berlin is so international, you can very easily live here and not speak any German.”

Still, Europe is trailing the U.S. economically and the cost of living is particularly high in northern European countries. Unemployment in the 18-member eurozone countries was 11.5% in August, down just 0.5% from a year earlier, according to Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU. Greece had the highest unemployment rate (27%) of the eurozone, followed by Spain (24%) and Croatia (16.5%). Austria and Germany had the lowest with 4.7% and 4.9%, respectively. In September, U.S. unemployment fell to 5.9% from 6.1% in August, the lowest level since July 2008.

Also see: 5 reasons not to retire in the U.S.

I took a whirlwind trip to Europe last month, taking in Dublin, London, Paris and Milan. During (and after) my trip, I talked with Americans living in Europe about their life there. Here’s what they told me: