10 Best Countries for Americans Who Want to Live Abroad
Considering a life abroad? It's a fantasy for many with a sense of wanderlust, and yet, according to the State Department, millions of Americans are actually doing it. The idea of uprooting is far less far-fetched than it used to be, and it's easier than ever to take the plunge with the help of globalization, frequent flier miles, and the increased freedom of working remotely. Moving abroad can appeal to just about anyone with a YOLO mentality, whether you're a Gen Z entrepreneur, a family relocating for a new job, or a future retiree aiming to make the most of those golden years.
While there are many nations to consider for your new home, we've narrowed down this list of the best countries for expats by prioritizing a range of topics including safety, friendliness, quality of life, and access to culture and outdoor activities. Other major aspects to consider in your search include work-life balance and the cost of living.
In such a connected world, you may find yourself putting in longer hours to stay in touch with colleagues and clients in different time zones. This can lead to isolation and exhaustion. You'll want to pick a country that offers a healthy and productive work-life balance. Look into co-working spaces, community events, clubs, gyms, and access to serotonin-inducing activities—like running groups, cooking classes, and language courses—all of which can help you keep the balance and mingle with locals and fellow expats.
Cost of Living
A major factor, if not the most important one, when considering a move abroad is the cost of living. This umbrella term covers the price of housing, of course, but also health care, taxes, and tax incentives, as well as transportation, and prices for things like internet, groceries, shopping, dining, and even your daily cappuccino. If budget is a concern, look beyond the biggest city and capital of the country you are interested in and consider smaller cities and up-and-coming tech hubs where you can find lower prices and, potentially, a better quality of life, depending on your style.
Here are 10 of the best countries for expats to help you get started.
The trendsetting country due west of Spain continues to attract young expats, particularly entrepreneurs, given its cost of living and welcoming business incentives that help stretch your hard-earned dollars. Lisbon is usually the first choice, but also consider Porto, buzzing with creative energy as a manufacturing and textile hub. On a day off, take advantage of the city's hilly, cobbled streets with cool cafes, historic churches, and port distilleries. You can also ride your bike to a string of beaches, or take a boat ride through the Douro Valley, the oldest wine region in Europe.
Less than an hour from Porto is Portugal's third city, Braga, which, for its part, offers a reduced tax rate for start-ups. Nicknamed the "Rome of Portugal" thanks to its Baroque architecture, Braga also offers attractive green spaces, international schools, and high-tech companies for qualified candidates. Further south is seaside Comporta, with plenty of chic expat families, and the Algarve coast with around 330 sunny days per year. You can also check out the affordable nine islands in the Azores — some may offer incentives to attract businesses and start-ups. No matter where you choose in Portugal, you'll be hard-pressed to find a kinder, more English-speaking nation to call home.
Relocating to well-trodden Costa Rica isn't a novel idea for anyone who has ever visited the country (and likely met a few friendly expats along the way), but there's a reason for its persisting popularity. Situated between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, this utopic Central American nation wins people over with its exotic volcanoes, cloud forests, and wildlife, like sloths, capuchin monkeys, and toucans. More than that, it's the Pura Vida ("Pure Life") philosophy for good living, which sums up this peaceful Spanish-speaking gem. Sweetening the deal, the country offers a straightforward residence program, affordable dental and healthcare, a stable democracy, and easy flights to the U.S. from two international airports. While the capital of San Jose has a notable food and arts scene, expats can head to either coast for long stretches of undeveloped beaches, seaside villages, surfing and yoga classes, neighborly expat communities, and business ventures often tied to eco-tourism. If you prioritize a healthy, laid-back lifestyle surrounded by natural beauty with an evergreen cool factor that is hard to imitate anywhere else, then this might be the place for you.
The country that invented K-Pop, K-barbeque, K-beauty, and 24-hour jjimjilbangs (Korean bathhouses) draws expats wanting to take part in this living and breathing epicenter of popular culture. The sleek city of Seoul, Asia's third-largest economy, will surround you with killer restaurants, shopping, entertainment, night markets, and a high-tech scene with international workers who partake in the work-hard, play-hard mentality. Professionals based here will find tight-knit social groups and regular networking events for those looking to hob-nob over soju cocktails.
But don't overlook Busan, South Korea's edgy second city with beaches, fresh fish, and an international film festival. (Fun fact: You can take a ferry to Japan from here.) No matter where you decide to live on the peninsula, enjoy access to rugged mountains and thousands of islands offering plenty of outdoor adventures like winter skiing and treks to 7th-century temples. Despite its neighbor to the north, South Korea has a low crime rate and is a safe place to live—similar to Japan and Singapore—but stay cognizant of the situation.
Not only is it easy to get to, but Canada also remains a top contender for American expats for a number of reasons that may include affordable education, cultural diversity, stability, and countless adventures in the unspoiled natural wilderness. If seeking a big-city environment, consider Toronto, often compared to the Big Apple, where the majority of Canada's work opportunities are located along with a sophisticated dining and shopping scene. Vancouver, to the west, is surrounded by sea and mountains and may include weekend trips to Whistler for skiing or Tofino, a year-round surf town on the edge of the continent.
Meanwhile, the more affordable city of Calgary offers cool eateries, hip neighborhoods, and proximity to the best trails in the Canadian Rockies (Banff National Park is an hour away). Then there are the French-infused cities of Montreal and Quebec City in the east for those who want a slice of European living without the long flights. Depending on your circumstances, there are several ways to start the residence process; start by checking for eligibility if one of your parents or grandparents was born there.
This highly livable Central European country can have you hiking in the Alps in the morning and enjoying a performance in a famous opera house later that evening. Austria's capital, Vienna, has been recognized often for its quality of life and low crime rates, as well as an exciting food and wine scene, focused on organic, local ingredients. It's also a good choice for those looking for affordability, healthcare, and superb international schools.
Further south is the youthful city of Graz, which offers its own version of Renaissance and Baroque architecture as well abundant parks and upbeat nightlife. Beyond all of the aforementioned pleasures of living in Austria, including work opportunities in various high-level sectors, if the idea of being surrounded by Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia gets your heart pumping, then you may have found your place.
This West African nation's diverse expat community continues to grow each year with access to friendly locals and a laid-back culture. In 2019, the country celebrated the Year of Return, 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to America, kicking off a multiyear program to welcome American expats who seek booming business opportunities, low crime rates, and stable democracy. The program includes a fast-track citizenship for African Americans planning to leave the U.S., and a program that entices residents to keep their talents in the country for at least 10 years. The vibrant capital of Accra offers a great quality of life for skilled workers, while job hunters and digital nomads will have their pick of social support groups, networking events, and associations to join. On weekends, take your pick between the country's beautiful beaches, national parks, and waterfalls, as well as one of the many UNESCO-listed forts and castles on the Atlantic. An additional plus: Ghana uses English as its official language.
The upscale city-state of Singapore often ranks among the best countries for expats to live and work, thanks to job security, high-quality schools, and one of the world's most efficient public transport systems that can get you all over the city in a jiffy. There's no doubt that this is an exciting place to live and work. Add to that an incredible food scene, thanks to its melting pot of cultures, from night markets to hawker centers to Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as incredible shopping malls, sustainable skyscrapers, and endless walks in the remarkable botanical gardens, the best in Southeast Asia. When you're ready to travel (Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali are a hop, skip, and jump away), you'll fly through Changi Airport and see the "Rain Vortex," the world's tallest indoor waterfall and five-story garden featuring thousands of tropical plants, trees, and shrubs. With this abundance of lush greenery injected into new buildings and terminals, Singapore's "City in a Garden" moniker is coming to life in a new, big way. Now let's be clear: Singapore is not cheap. If the cost of living is an issue, you can also consider Thailand and Vietnam—both excellent alternatives for Americans who want to live in Southeast Asia.
Scandi-fans in search of constant fresh air and a sense of space might want to consider moving to Sweden, with one of the lowest population densities in the world. The design-forward capital of Stockholm offers walkable access to the enchanting historic center, world-class museums, and impeccably stylish cafes. Those on a budget can check out Sweden's more affordable second city of Gothenburg, which has been called the world's most sustainable destination by the Global Destination Sustainability Index, for several consecutive years. Here you can browse ethical fashion shops and dine at zero-waste restaurants. Plus, all meat served in the city must be organically raised.
Summer months offer lively Midsummer festivals, swimming, and kayaking, while winters above the Arctic Circle offer the northern lights, reindeer feedings, dog sledding, and Sami culture—plus, quick access to Denmark, Norway, and Finland. Overall, there's a natural ease to the work-life balance in Sweden; for starters, most employees begin with around five weeks of paid vacation and new parents will benefit from months-long paid maternity and paternity leaves.
Americans looking to fine-tune their mental well-being and work-life balance will be drawn to New Zealand's safety, friendliness, and high quality of life. The adventure capital of the world's huge variety of activities should be enough of a draw, but those seeking peaceful surroundings will find plenty of calm with fresh seafood and wine tastings. Auckland is the modern hub of commerce and culture, but future residents might also want to consider the capital of Wellington (with its charming Victorian timber architecture) or the adrenaline-filled Queenstown as their home. It doesn't really matter which you choose since the North and South Islands are just a three-hour ferry ride apart, leaving residents free to explore the impressive list of mountains, glaciers, hot springs, lakes, beaches, and ski slopes. Your paycheck will be well spent on experiencing the good life.
Sunny Spain is always a convincing choice for those who wish to live a sophisticated working life or retirement amongst passionate and tolerant locals. For starters, Spain has one of the lowest costs of living in Western Europe, so you can find both affordable housing and quality bottles of Rioja costing only a few euros. Spain also has great public healthcare (and health care reimbursements), international schools, and self-employment visas that appeal to entrepreneurs, freelancers, and digital nomads. You can gravitate towards one of the big cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Seville, or consider a slower pace on one of two archipelagos in the Mediterranean (Balearic) or Atlantic (Canaries). Then there's Andalusia's stunning citrus coast with Moorish history and architecture, beautiful beaches, and English-speaking expat communities. Gay expats will want to consider open-minded Malaga, the birthplace of Picasso, with over 30 museums—the highest concentration of museums per square mile in Europe.