Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 250,000 Americans have investigated moving to New Zealand, according to the New Zealand Herald. In June, for instance, searches were up 160% compared to June 2019.
International Living reports that its “How to Move Out of the U.S.” page has seen a surge of 504.97% in traffic since the end of May 2020.
Firms that help clients get second passports say they’re seeing a significant uptick in interest in their services.
Clearly, Americans are looking at ways to escape.
Some are frustrated with the current political climate in the U.S.. Others want to go where the public-health situation seems more sound. Still others are worried about the dwindling attractiveness of the U.S. passport and curious about how they can gain more travel flexibility through dual citizenship.
With job losses into the millions, some folks are looking for places where they can lower their cost of living. For others, new “remote working” flexibility has them thinking that if they can work from home, home might as well be at a beach. In the right spots overseas, that beach can prove remarkably affordable.
“English-speaking New Zealand, which has been in the news lately for its positive handling of the pandemic, seems an obvious place to start,” says Jennifer Stevens, Executive Editor, International Living. “However—it’s relatively expensive, far away, and has very strict and hard-to-satisfy immigration rules.
“Other options can make more sense—places that are closer, lower cost, and have easier-to-meet visa requirements—but which are also friendly, safe, welcoming locales where it’s pretty easy to settle in as an expat.
“In a place like Costa Rica, for instance, lots of people speak English as it’s taught in the schools from a young age, well-established expat communities make settling in easy, your dollars really stretch (a budget from as low as $1,500 can bankroll a comfortable life for a couple), and three good visa options make it relatively easy to gain residence there.”
International Living’s editors have highlighted countries that make good sense to consider from the perspective of value and ease of settling in: Costa Rica, Belize, Ireland, Uruguay, and Portugal.
A perennial front-runner in International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index, Costa Rica’s political stability and low-key profile are proving to be increasingly strong draws for expats.
Of course, there’s no lack of drama in Costa Rica’s landscape—you’ve got jaw-dropping expanses of coast, jungles rich with everything from spider monkeys and sloths to scarlet macaws and quetzals, gorgeous lakes and volcanic valleys.
Although just the size of West Virginia, the country has two major international airports, typically with daily flights on every North American airline from major gateway cities. With that ease of travel, it is convenient to get back home for special occasions or easily receive visitors.
Ticos (the moniker Costa Ricans give themselves) have established one of the world’s most stable democracies. The country dissolved its standing army in 1949 and the reallocated funds are spent on education, healthcare, and pensions instead of the military.
“I had the travel bug from an early age, from studying overseas to extended vacations with my family, and I really wanted to embrace a new culture,” says Kathleen Evans, IL Costa Rica Correspondent who moved to Tamarindo, Costa Rica. “My husband, Steve, and I, read International Living magazine diligently, and whenever we traveled, we checked out the various countries it mentioned.
“We made a list of criteria about what’s important to us and what we want our new home country to be like—I wanted to hear and see the ocean every day, I never wanted to wear a coat again and we also wanted a country with a stable democracy and an educated population close to home in the U.S. Over time, checking various countries, we kept coming back to Costa Rica and we realized that it checked every possible box for us.”
English is taught in schools in Costa Rica from a young age, so while it’s helpful to know Spanish, lots of expats get by on just the basics, as most locals speak some English—and in tourist towns, there’s a lot spoken. With plenty of well-established expat communities, Costa Rica is a relatively easy place for Americans to settle in.
Tourists can stay for up to 90 days on a tourist visa, and longer stays are easy enough to arrange. If you plan to live in Costa Rica long term it is best to seek residence—The Pensionado Program and The Rentista Program are more popular visa options.
A couple a can live well in Costa Rica’s cooler-weather Central Valley in a town like Atenas, for instance, from $1,518 a month.
Recent figures release but the International Living data-analytics team reveal the company seeing a monstrous 798.01% increase in traffic to its “Move to Belize” page since May 2020.
There are good reasons for the growth of the retirement haven’s popularity, one being is its language. As a British Commonwealth country, English is the primary language, making it easy for expats to transition. In fact, Belize is the only country in Central America with English as its main language, and that goes for its islands, too.
And it may come as a surprise, but moving to Belize is easy—U.S. currency is accepted, credit cards are widely used, and well-known U.S. brands are available too; they’re expensive, but substitutes are easy to find.
Belize is a barefoot nirvana. It’s hard to put its charm into words, but the best description might include the phrase “rustic paradise.”
From its secluded beaches to its steamy rain forests, Belize is a country of diverse natural beauty. Its slow pace of life makes it a popular tourist destination, and the cost of living remains low. For the more adventurous traveler, activities can include a trek into the jungle in search of Maya ruins, spotting parrots, toucans, and maybe even a jaguar along the way.
Laura Diffendal, IL Belize Correspondent, moved to Belize in 2014 from Cleveland, Ohio. “The Belizean culture, I found, is somewhat like the Midwest culture that I came from,” she says. “There’s a lot of value placed on hard work, modesty, grit, resilience, and leaving things better than you found it. I spend most of my time right now on the island of Ambergris Caye, which is known as the very fun, energetic Jimmy Buffett Island. And I also spend time in Placencia which is sort of a quieter, bohemian place, much calmer and much less crowded, a lot more like tranquil, open beaches.”
Belize requires visitors to have sufficient funds to support themselves, a return ticket, and a passport valid for at least three months beyond the date of arrival. As a citizen of the U.S. or Canada you can stay in Belize for up to one month without a visa. If you want to stay longer you’ll need to go to the Immigration office for an updated visitor’s permit or tourist stamp. If you can show proof of long-term renting or other documents showing why you are staying in the country, you can be granted a 60 day or a 90 day permit.
Many expats apply for permanent residence in Belize. The primary reason is that as a resident you can work in Belize without needing a work permit. Having your residence also makes it easy to travel in and out of the country.
You must live in Belize for 50 consecutive weeks before you can apply for permanent residence. To do this, enter the country on a tourist visa and then renew your visa every 30 days until you reach 50 weeks. At that point, you can submit your application for permanent residence. It can take a few years to receive approval and your residence card.
A couple living and renting on Ambergris Caye can live well on a monthly budget from $2,875.
The island of Ireland sits in the north Atlantic Ocean. Even if you have no familial ties to Ireland, you’ve likely heard plenty about what this small island nation has to offer: the stunning beauty of its dramatic coastlines, crumbling castles…a rich culture of music, dance, and literature…and warm, witty, friendly people.
The whole nation—but particularly the countryside—takes a small-town approach to life. Everyone in Ireland speaks English (even in the few Irish-speaking areas). The Irish are friendly, hospitable people. It may be a cliché, but it’s true—the literal translation of “hello” in Irish is “a hundred thousand welcomes to you.”
Living here, you don’t have to make a hard choice between seascapes and mountains, between tranquil lake lands or verdant river valleys. Ireland has them all.
Ireland is small. In most towns and villages, you’re never too far from the ocean, from golden beaches swept clean by rolling Atlantic waves, the views of mysterious smaller islands shimmering offshore, and quaint harbor towns with their hand-painted shop fronts and color-washed cottages.
And Ireland is a key player for folks who want to explore Europe, thanks to the island being outside the Schengen Zone. That means that a trip to the Emerald Isle (or another country outside the Schengen Zone, such as Cyprus or Croatia) for under 90 days, stops the clock on their EU tourist visa—allowing travelers to pick up where they left off when they return to the Zone.
On a monthly budget of $2,762 to $2,806 a couple can enjoy a coastal retirement in a community like Waterford.
Uruguay is a small country on the east coast of South America. It is also among the top countries in the region when it comes to infrastructure. Here, you’ll find the best overall road system, the most reliable electrical grid, and one of the fastest overall internet speeds in Latin America. You’ll also find quality medical care, safe drinking water, and good public transportation.
The country’s interior is part of the South American Pampas used for cattle grazing and farming. On Uruguay’s coast, you find beautiful sand beaches popular with vacationers. Most expats are attracted to Uruguay for its tranquilo (calm) lifestyle—a healthy, stress-free approach to living.
Even though Uruguay is a small country, it offers a variety of lifestyle options. Choose among places like Punta del Este, the continent’s most sophisticated beach resort; La Paloma, a small beach town on the Atlantic coast; a small farm or rural town in Uruguay’s countryside or Montevideo, the capital city with an active cultural scene.
Montevideo, a coastal city on the Rio de la Plata, is a place where the traditional and the modern weave together to form a sophisticated European-style regime. It is one of the most diverse and sophisticated cities in South America. From its Old World theaters and opera houses, to its jazz festivals and exquisite restaurants, Montevideo looks and feels like modern Europe.
The city has many large parks, plazas, tree-lined streets, sandy beaches, and wide avenues. The “rambla”—the promenade that runs the full length of Montevideo’s seven-mile coastline—provides a long-paved strip ideal for walking, running, and bicycling.
“The people in Montevideo take their leisure fishing from the rambla, chatting with friends in plazas and cafés, and browsing in outdoor markets,” says David Hammond, IL Uruguay Correspondent. “The Uruguayan people are generally calm, laidback and tend to show patience, which adds to the relaxed feeling of the country.”
You can stay in the country for 90 days at a time as often as you like. And for a small fee, a tourist visa can often be renewed, for stays of 180 days at a time. However, if you are thinking longer-term, becoming a permanent resident enables you to live in Uruguay full time, make Uruguay your home country, get a job, or start a business in Uruguay. One of the benefits of Uruguay residency is the ability to import your home furnishings and household goods duty free during the residency approval process.
Two people can live in Montevideo on $3,200 a month, renting a one-bedroom, furnished apartment in Pocitos, the most popular expat neighborhood in the city.
“Safety, quality affordable healthcare, a relaxing lifestyle, a rich history and culture, savory cuisine, geographic diversity—you’ll discover all these elements in Portugal—on about a third of your current budget,” says expat Tricia Pimental. “I know. It’s where I’ve spent the past seven years and I love it.
“Portugal offers so much to retirees. Expats typically find their expenses in Portugal run about one-third of what they were in the States. Even with a fluctuating exchange rate, we still live a comfortable, although not extravagant, lifestyle for about $2,500 a month,” Tricia says. “If you choose to live in Porto in the north, Lisbon, or in the expat havens of Cascais or the Algarve, you probably want to bump that up to $3,000.
“Rental and housing markets offer fairly diverse options. Naturally it is more expensive in prime areas like Lisbon and its environs and in the southern region of the Algarve. But by simply searching within 20 minutes of a specific town, you can find a gem that fits your budget,” says Tricia. “If you’re looking for land and a ‘get away from it all’ lifestyle, there are plenty of opportunities to invest and enjoy the breathtaking countryside Portugal is famous for.”
As a retirement destination, Portugal is simply fantastic—but it is also a top destination for digital nomads.
“Since the late 2000’s, Portugal has been implementing a plan to develop a preeminent, state-of-the-art infrastructure,” says Tricia. “That’s evidenced by one of the highest per capita fiber optic networks in Europe, and also what is arguably the most modern highway system, per mile driven, in all of Europe. The speed of this development has attracted international high-tech firms, even luring the Web Summit a few years ago from its home in Ireland to a ten-year contract in Lisbon.”
A visa is not required for tourist visits to Portugal for a period of up to 90 days for U.S. and Canadian citizens. However, note that your passport should be valid for at least six months from the date of your entry into Portugal. If you wish to stay in Portugal for longer than the tourist limit of 90 days out of every 180 days, then you should look into getting a residence visa. There are several types of visas available, including visas for students, the self-employed, and investors. Portugal also offers a so-called Golden Visa for high net-worth individuals.
Since 1979, InternationalLiving.com has been the leading authority for anyone looking for global retirement or relocation opportunities. Through its monthly magazine and related e-letters, extensive website, podcasts, online bookstore, and events held around the world, InternationalLiving.comprovides information and services to help its readers live better, travel farther, have more fun, save more money, and find better business opportunities when they expand their world beyond their own shores. InternationalLiving.com has contributors traveling the globe, investigating the best opportunities for travel, retirement, real estate, and investment.