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?
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.
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.