Americans are increasingly attracted to these countries

  • couple walking on a beach in Portugal
Published on 2022-11-23 at 07:00 by Ameerah Arjanee
Driven by a thirst for adventure, the lower cost of living abroad, and political dissatisfaction, Americans are moving abroad in rising numbers again in 2022, when most of the world's border restrictions have been lifted. Mexico and Portugal, in particular, have recently gained a lot of popularity as expat destinations for Americans, especially digital nomads. 

The number of American expats is bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels

The relocation company Hire a Helper compiled immigration data from various countries to see how Americans are moving abroad. Before the pandemic, slightly over 100,000 Americans relocated abroad each year. In both 2018 and 2019, the last two years before the pandemic, around 105,000 Americans moved abroad per year. However, when the pandemic hit, this number dropped drastically to about 75,000 – a drop of nearly 30%. Borders around the world were fully or partially closed, and people's plans were disrupted by the fear of disease. 

However, once global border and sanitary restrictions started being eased in 2021, the numbers picked up once again. Hire a Helper reports that 97,000 Americans relocated abroad in 2021. The projected number for the whole of 2022 is slightly above 100,000, quasi the same as the pre-pandemic number. 

Americans' choice of destination has, however, changed a bit since 2019. Relatively fewer Americans are now moving to Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, the UK, Japan and South Korea than in 2019 – even if purely in terms of numbers, many are still relocating there (nearly 15,000 to the UK in 2021, for instance). Meanwhile, there has been a striking increase in the percentage of Americans relocating to Mexico and Portugal. Even if the overall number of American expats in New Zealand, Costa Rica and Israel is relatively small, there has also been an increase in the percentage of Americans moving there post-pandemic. 

Bloomberg and Entrepreneur Magazine report that an increasing number of Americans are moving abroad to be able to afford house ownership. Political issues, such as the overturning of Roe v/s Wade (constitutional right to abortion) and the school shooting at Uvalde, also increased the internet traffic of Americans looking for information about expatriation. This has been documented by relocation specialists such as Where Can I Live.

Mexico is the fastest-growing destination for American expats

Mexico is the destination for American expats that has seen the biggest surge from 2019 to 2021. Over 16,000 Americans moved to Mexico in 2021, a 38% increase from 2019, reports Hire a Helper. In 2022, up till August, about 10,500 Americans relocated to Mexico. For the first time, new American expats in Mexico are more numerous than those choosing Canada and the United Kingdom.

In “Here's why a growing number of Americans are moving to Mexico,” David Culver of CNN interviewed American expats who arrived in Mexico City after the pandemic to work remotely. For many, the principal motivating factor is the lower cost of living, especially if they come from US cities with a very high one. The expat Eric Rodriguez, for instance, is frank that he hasn't moved from San Diego to the Mexican capital in order to reconnect with his roots or learn Spanish. He relocated for affordable housing: his rent for a one-bedroom apartment has gone down from $2,500 to $800. 

Another common reason, as cited on the website Mexperience, is to enjoy the great climate the country offers. After all, this climate has long made Mexico a popular short-term vacation spot for Americans. Many American expats use the Temporary Resident Visa combined with a work permit to live in the country for less than 4 years. Others are also using a tourist visa, which, legally speaking, doesn't allow any lucrative activity in the country. However, CNN says that they often manage to do this illegally as the Mexican government doesn't track them meticulously. 

Portugal rises among the top European destinations for American expats

Many Americans are choosing to opt for a European lifestyle. Hire a Helper shows that the number of expats moving to Portugal has increased by a whopping 122% from 2019 to 2021. This translates to about 2,500 expats in 2021. Even if Spain, Germany, France and Ireland still get more American expats overall, the number of expats moving to these countries has actually decreased by 20-40% as compared to 2019.

Young Millennial expats talked to CNBC about why they had moved to Portugal. Like expats in Mexico, these expats wanted a place with a lower cost of living, especially with more affordable housing. A 34-year-old expat by the name of Alexandra Ryan-Yavaşca tells CNBC that back in the US, she would struggle to buy a house with a middle-class salary. She decided to relocate to Lisbon in the summer of 2021 to both fulfill her dream of being a homeowner as well as enjoy a more laid-back lifestyle. 

Portugal makes itself attractive to such expats by offering multiple visa options. On October 30, it started accepting applications for its new Digital Nomad Visa. This visa allows remote workers with an income of at least €2,836 to live and work remotely in the country for a year. It can be renewed for up to 5 years.

The sudden influx of American digital nomads into both Portugal and Mexico has faced its fair share of criticism. The newly arrived have been accused of gentrifying neighborhoods and not integrating into the local culture. A recent study by CIA Landlord Insurance found that Lisbon has become the world's third least-liveable city for local citizens. Rent went up for everyone when expats with higher purchasing power started leasing short-term rentals (e.g., Airbnbs) and opening hip coffee shops, bars, etc.

The UK, Canada and Australia remain top destinations by virtue of being English-speaking

After Mexico, the United Kingdom and Canada are the countries that have attracted the most American expats in 2021 and 2022. This is despite how the UK's number of new expats has declined by 20% as compared to 2019 (Hire a Helper). Around 14,500 Americans moved to the UK in 2021, and around 12,000 relocated to Canada the same year. The fourth top destination is Australia, with about 8000 new American expats in 2021. 

This year, until August 2022, around 8000 Americans moved to the United Kingdom and 6000 to Canada. The numbers are clearly on a downward trend, especially as compared to the rising number of American expats in Mexico. While the UK, Canada and Australia remain popular among Americans because they are all English-speaking countries with strong cultural ties to each other, the cost of living there isn't significantly lower than in the US. As has been seen in the case of Mexico and Portugal, a lower cost of living, especially at a time of rampant inflation, seems like the biggest driver of American expatriation at the moment.