Anyone who grew up in the South knows the manifestation of good intentions gone bad.
One word: kudzu.
The Japanese vine that the Soil Conservation Service planted by the millions in the 1930s to address soil erosion has, today, all but swallowed the entirety of the South in a sea of unstoppable green that swarms over telephone poles, trees, bushes, houses—pretty much everything that isn’t mobile.
Which brings me to Travel + Leisure magazine—a fine publication with good intentions that, if you follow, could very well lead you down the wrong path.
See, T+L recently ran a story that popped up in my newsfeed. It was titled: The 10 Best Countries for Americans Who Want to Live Abroad.
To collect these 10, the travel mag noted that it “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.”
That’s great. That makes (some) sense.
Alas, T+L is making a massive—and erroneous—assumption: That you can just pick up and head overseas and live in whichever one of these 10 countries twirls your Twinkie.
And that just ain’t so.
The crux of the problem here is that dreamy stories about alighting overseas to some fantabulous destination are too often just that—dreamy. They rank countries based on this criterion and that, but most of those criteria aren’t relevant to actually obtaining permission to live somewhere (I’m looking at you, “access to culture and the great outdoors”).
These stories, in short, don’t address the single, biggest monkey in the expat jungle: the visa!
No matter where you want to go, if your plan is to live there longer than three to six months, you will need a long-term residence visa in most cases. And in most cases long-term residence visas require that you show proof of income.
If you’re not retired, that means a job—either as a freelancer or as someone investing a substantial sum in the country to create a business. (Even if you are retired, that still doesn’t mean you can obtain a visa.)
Singapore is a good example of what I am talking about.
T+L ranks the Southeast Asian city-state among the top 10 places for Americans to pursue an expat life.
Singapore’s on the list for good reason—at least superficially. It is a fabulous city, without question. I love the place. One of the best foodie cultures on the planet, particularly for street food, my favorite.
But you’re not gonna just be-bop into the customs hall at Changi Airport and declare your desire to live and work in Singapore and be welcomed with open arms.
You must have a work visa to gain residence status in Singapore. And for the most part that’s only going to happen if a Singaporean company is hiring you, or a multinational with operations in Singapore is moving you there.
Singapore offers no freelance visa (nor a retirement visa). The only visa that comes close is the so-called EntrePass. But that’s for seasoned entrepreneurs, established innovators, or investors who can prove their track record at starting new businesses. You also must meet one of a number of requirements such as raising at least SG$100,000 (US$75,000) from known organizations, collaborating with a Singaporean research institute, or other such options that require a lot more than just saying “I want to live and work in Singapore.”
Same goes for Austria—a country also on the T+L Top 10 list. Again, Austria is gorgeous. Been there many times. It’s easy to see why it consistently ranks near the very top of the league tables when it comes to lifestyle.
But, again, immigrating to Austria as an expat isn’t so easy if a local company isn’t hiring you.
Austrian self-employment visas go to “key workers” who “create macroeconomic benefits.” Your intended occupation must involve “a sustained transfer of investment capital to Austria amounting to €100,000 ($120,000) minimum…or your intended occupation creates new jobs or secures existing jobs in Austria…or your establishment involves the transfer of know-how, respectively the introduction of new technologies…or your business is of considerable significance for the entire region.”
Some people will certainly meet one or more of those criteria. Many who read the T+L story and dream of a life packed with schnitzel, opera, and Viennese pastries will not.
I tell anyone who asks me about living overseas that the game always—always!—starts with the list of countries that will have you: the countries where you can obtain the necessary documents to actually live there.
To be sure, that’s a fairly big sandbox to play in and it encompasses a goodly number of countries across various continents. But it doesn’t encompass all countries, and it specifically excludes many countries that are otherwise highly desirable, such as the U.K., Austria, Switzerland,
Singapore, Japan, and several others.
So, I guess the moral of the story is: Beware of kudzu!
It’s a good intention gone bad—just as so much media coverage is well-intended but ultimately takes you down a primrose path that dead-ends in the middle of nowhere.