Expat Preppers – Living Abroad for Survival and Security

Today I’m building off my last blog post on increasing American political violence and the lack level civil discourse in this country. Today I want, from a prepper’s perspective, to pose the question: If not America—where?

There seems to be an increasing level of interest (based solely on anecdotal comments and articles I’ve read online) among Americans expressing interest in living abroad. This is not just the political left having the “I’m moving to Canada” knee-jerk reaction to Trump’s election and then doing nothing about it. I’m talking about people making real decisions to leave the United States for countries they perceive as safer, more affordable, or more free. The trend to move abroad, it seems, used to be one of wanting a warmer climate and/or a slower pace of life. Now, given the political climate, preppers on both sides of the political aisle seem to be speaking about it more. It’s not uncommon for me to read—on prepper sites—of writers discussing Americans renouncing their U.S. citizenship (lower taxes is a primary reason) and seeking a different life elsewhere.

If you look at the top countries for expats based on quality of life you’ll find countries like Taiwan ranking as number one due to affordability and quality of medical care. Austria comes in at #2 and Japan comes in at #3. That is a list built on people from all over the world, however, and often the leading factor to a move for many people is better job opportunities. Better job opportunities, I assume, are not reasons that the “typical” prepper would consider a move. If you look at best countries for American expats you will find slight differences. Still, there are consistencies in countries like Germany, Portugal, Costa Rica, and Thailand. Smarter Travel lists the nine best countries for Americans to move to. The analysis is not very in-depth, but I doubt when they’re listing countries like Israel and South Korea that they had preppers in mind when writing it.

Let me say from the outset that no, I’m not a nomad who has traveled the world four times over. I have traveled enough to have a good feeling for the world outside U.S. borders, however. I have traveled to Europe a few times, Central America, Canada numerous times, and a few trips to the Caribbean. I am not an expat expert, but I have an interest in travel, prepping, and writing. Those combined equal this piece.

So let’s say you’re pondering a permanent or semi-permanent move. Where do you go? There are immediate questions of safety, affordability, and freedom.

A Question of Safety

You can get travel advisories from the U.S. Department of State, but it’s important to remember that this is the U.S. government’s take on travelling abroad. They are going to list the most dire warnings for each country. Take, for example, Iceland. It is hands down one of the safest countries in the world (though read my Iceland comments on freedom below). I have felt much safer in Iceland than anywhere else I have traveled. That said, the State Department warns travelers to be careful in Iceland, to not put valuables and purses on the floor in bars or nightclubs, to leave valuable locked in cars, and to be aware that downtown Reykjavik can become disorderly late at night as people leave bars and clubs. Really? <sarcasm> My point is, while they state that Iceland has a low crime rate they focus on the worst. So when you read a country’s travel advisory, keep that in mind.

I have had enough safety conversations with locals abroad to know that they have an entirely different view on the safety of their country (and of the United States). In southern Puerto Rico I spoke with a coffee plantation owner about safety in Puerto Rico and his views on American travel warnings. His response was “Versus what? Detroit? Chicago?” In Jalisco, Mexico I spoke with a bartender about drug cartel violence. He rolled his eyes and said, “They had a turf war. They blocked some streets one night and then it was over.” That is not to say I’m advocating everyone disregard caution and walk the evening streets of Acapulco, Mexico’s murder capital. I’m saying each country and each part of each country is different the same as rural Maine is different than South Central Los Angeles.

Imagine if the State Department was writing travel advisories on itself. We have had increased levels of violent political protests where a white supremacist takes a car and plows into a crowd. In 2016 Chicago had 762 murders—more than two per day! There were 3,550 shooting incidents and 4,331 shooting victims (source). What about gunmen going into schools and shooting up children? Or disgruntled workers going on shooting rampages at their workplace? My point is safety, while quantifiable, is also a matter of perspective.

I’m not suggesting you discount reports on safety entirely. While the bartender in Mexico dismissed cartel violence, I also witnessed firsthand a man eyeing my wife’s backpack very closely to the point other tourists were watching it for us as we swam in the waves. I had a Mexican restaurant owner obviously high on cocaine asking to trade my watch for the restaurant check. I said no, paid in pesos, and later heard other travelers arguing with him over the charges placed on their credit card. In San Juan, Puerto Rico the property owner of our AirBnB rental asked us to make sure the windows were locked when we left as they had men working on the roof. Every place in the world is different and requires a bit of experience, research, and a heavy dose of common sense.

The safest countries in the world include Iceland at the top, followed by Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, Portugal, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Canada, and Japan. The United States is not even in the top twenty-five! Safety is important to preppers but I’m certain it’s not the sole determinant for people looking to move abroad. Iceland and Japan, for example, have very expensive costs of living.

A Question of Affordability

Odds are high that if you have a full-time job in the United States that you will not find a job that pays the same somewhere else. Do people find life more affordable abroad? Yes, but those are often people that have telecommuting jobs or they are retired and their fixed income goes further somewhere else. For example, going out to dinner with my wife in Mexico we ordered a large pizza, one drink, and a salad. The total cost was $15 USD and that included tip! In Thailand you can get a plate of Thai curry for around $2.50 USD. By comparison, a dinner out with my wife in super safe Iceland would easily approach $90 USD for two plates and drinks at a mediocre restaurant—often more! Food was expensive and lodging was expensive. But if you’re able to make $50,000 a year in a telecommuting job and you’re living in an urban center struggling to pay rent let alone eat, it’s pretty easy to see how life could be much more enjoyable elsewhere. San Jose, Costa Rica, for example, has a lower cost-of-living price index than Boise, Idaho. Now imagine making Boise pay and living in Costa Rica. If you can buy an off the grid home in Costa Rica with enough land to garden for the same price it’s costing you to rent in Boise, where are you more secure in a collapse?

A Question of Freedom

I remember as a child my aunt, a German immigrant, telling me how fortunate I was to live in the United States. She said it was the freest nation in the world. I don’t discount that good fortune. That said, I now question how free it is. I see Berkeley inviting speakers to a “Free Speech Week” only to face the threat of protesters trying to shut it down. I see in my home state of Maine that there will be a new law changing the legal smoking age to 21. So when you turn 18 you are free to vote for politicians who will determine laws for everyone, you are able to join the military and face possible death in defense of the country, but you are not free to make a choice to buy a pack of cigarettes. Meanwhile, also in Maine, we have to wear seat belts in cars while motorcyclists are free to go without a helmet. How much sense does that make? Freedom?

I remember as a kid riding in the back of a pickup truck. That’s illegal now. People do it all the time in Mexico. After a long flight to Mexico I can go to the pharmacy to buy a Valium over the counter to ease body aches from sitting for so long. In the U.S. I need a prescription for migraine medicine. We can’t take our dogs to many public beaches in Maine because it’s forbidden. In Puerto Rico people are free to do it as they please. In Maine’s Acadia National Park you can’t get too close to Thunder Hole because fencing prevents you – for your safety. In Iceland you are free to get as close to dangerous cliffs as your ignorance allows. In the U.S. you need to be 21 in order to buy a six pack of Miller Lite. In Germany you can buy beer at 16. “Freedom” has different meanings to different people. How free are we?

The author standing on a narrow strip of land in Iceland on a wet windy day. Freedom to take risk.

Where would I go?

If I had to live somewhere else, I’d base the decision on affordability, warmth (I endure Maine winters after all), a slow pace of life, healthy food, and beautiful surroundings. I’d consider Costa Rica or Panama. They’re warm. They’re beautiful. They have warm climate very suitable to growing your own food. Airfare to/from the U.S. is also far more realistic than traveling back and forth from Thailand. But don’t just listen to me. Ask A Prepper suggests Costa Rica, Sweden, Malaysia, Chile, and Tasmania. There are others in the prepper community discussing Panama, Belize, and Nicaragua. Super rich preppers are buying up real estate in New Zealand.

As a reminder, you can check out the BDS guide to the best off grid locations for Preppers here. It mainly includes US locations, but a few international recommendations too.

What about you? Would you consider a move? And if so, to where?

Derrick Grant is a freelance writer and fan of all things post-apocalyptic. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

  1. Great article. This is exactly what I thought was missing from the article on increasing violence in America. There is a lot that probably cannot be said in a blog. So I will say it. First of all, it is not rioting, looting or regional violence that concerns me. My biggest concern is violence from the government. Rioting could eventually be used as an excuse for the government to implement a police state. And for that reason I believe the government, starting with the previous administration is fomenting violence.

    So my biggest fear, the disaster for which I prep, is a police state. This is tricky, because preps cannot be visable or easy to find in my home.

    For the first time ever, I’ve considered moving abroad as an answer to political safety questions here in the US.

    I don’t want to give away my choice. So I will simply address the decision making process. This would be different for everyone depending on how they want to earn a living abroad.

    First I ranked countries according to cheapest cost of living. I looked at whether or not they require a visa to enter. Then I looked at the ability to drive there, even if it is an arduous drive. I looked at the number of expats residing in each country. Then the ease of becoming a resident and finally a citizen. Does the country allow dual citizenship. Finally, and this can be tedious, I researched the political and military history of my chosen country and all the surrounding countries. The only reason for reading the history last is because it is really disheartening. Most of the cheapest countries have a very short run on peace, and many had been at war and or living under dictatorship for a very long time. So my final question. Is it worth it, in terms of safty, to move to a country that has only recently gotten out from under the political and military conditions I fear in the US?

  2. I will stay in the US. Most of the southern hemisphere countries continue to have problems and corruption, and have their international airports targeted for seizure for “rescuing Americans”; no airports in the US are that I know of.

    Most of those other countries are vulnerable to the Russians, and, have been occupied by them.

    I have lived in Europe for many years and have traveled extensively throughout the world… I hope that those who “bug-out” abroad give up their American passports so the Embassy doesn’t call and request a rescue for “boo-hoo” others.

    Additionally, the irony here is that we accept the refugees who are not willing to fight for their rights/countries and now exported Americans will wimp out elsewhere and expect rescue when ________ happens to them.

    Get a clue America – most of the rest of the world – and to a certain extent Europe – is third world with completely different cultures.

    The grass is always greener on the other side.

    Dave

  3. You mention that Japan has a high cost of living. This is only true in the large cities (much like the U.S..). in the small town where my daughter lives, a 2br apartment rents for $400 or less. Used cars are cheap. Gas is not but distances are shorter. Eating out is reasonable – 2people can eat very well for $20-25. Groceries are more expensive, especially if you want to eat an American diet but not unreasonable if you eat Japanese style (less meat, more vegetables)

  4. USA is where i was born. It is where I will die. I will support the constitution and support it against all enemies foreign and domestic.. THERE IS NO BETTER OR MORE FREE PLACE IN THE WORLD FOR LAST 200 YEARS. I and others like me will see to it.
    Freedom is never free, the air is not free we get our O2 from plants,they get carbon dioxide from us. There is a price for everything and among Humans Everything is a business Model. Marriage, government,war. Freedom has been under attack since the continental congress finished their work and regular sessions of congress started. Freedom requires a price. are you willing to pay it?? are you a sunshine patriot? Will you pledge your wealth your life and sacred honor to protect and defend it? I have, I still can and will.

  5. I did notice that natural disasters were not mentioned such as Hurricanes and Earthquakes, Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico, and the Mexico City earthquake are only two examples. Then Oklahoma pasted California as the most earthquake prone state, their just not as large as California earthquakes. This makes the Midwest Redoubt less safe.
    The US Government war on Iraq and Afghanistan has made our citizens less safe all over the world and made Americans more vulnerable to both individual and group attacks. The gifting of military equipment to local police departments has increased the “police state mentality” and its effect on police v. us and since they only deal with ‘bad guys’ everybody becomes a ‘bad guy’ and gets treated as such.
    I believe that it may be past the time to move to a safer place because most if not all of them have been poisoned by the powers to be. Small towns and rural farms still look very inviting as a retreat if you know at least a few of the people in the area.

  6. What I find interesting is no one ever writes about another I think alternative to being in just one country is , how about having a larger 40+ foot cabin cruiser and just living aboard it full time and cruising to some of these countries ?

  7. I find it sad that we need to have this discussion. We aren’t in a position to be able to make such a move, but don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind. I will stand my ground.

  8. This article, while an interesting discussion fails in one very big area for preppers. What country besides the good ole’ US of A will allow you to be armed?

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