Many Seek American Dream - Outside America
Whether the reason is business, family ties, or a better lifestyle, leaving the US is getting popular
WASHINGTON — What do Americans want?
Safe streets, good schools, friendly neighbors, rewarding work.
And where are many Americans finding them?
In Canada, New Zealand, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and a growing list of other countries that are attracting record numbers of immigrants from the United States.
America has long been a promised land of opportunity, attracting more than 900,000 immigrants last year from all corners of the globe. But the flow of people isn't exclusively inward.
An increasing number of Americans are looking abroad for the chance to live the kind of life they don't believe is possible in the US. For example:
* Dennis Raphael left his native Brooklyn, N.Y., more than 20 years ago to attend graduate school in Toronto. He was amazed to find an efficient metropolis with safe streets and friendly residents. Mr. Raphael decided to stay. Two years ago, he became a Canadian citizen.
* Barbara Duvoisin moved to Russia to witness history in the making following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Six years later, she runs the Moscow office of a multinational corporation and has a Russian husband and two young sons.
* Paul Rosales, an English teacher, simply felt more at home in the Tokyo suburbs than in southern California where he grew up. He has changed his name to Koji Aoki and taken Japanese citizenship.
Experts estimate that roughly 250,000 to 300,000 Americans move overseas each year. Of these, most are former immigrants returning to their home. But as many as 100,000 are American-born.
Why are they leaving? The globalization of the world's economy and the breaking down of national barriers have facilitated a freer flow of goods, ideas - and people. Analysts view it as a major emerging trend of the 21st century.
Worldwide travel is faster, easier, and cheaper than at any time in human history. Telecommunications are rapidly improving, with advances in satellite technology and the growth of the Internet. Financial networks crisscross the globe. International opportunities for businesses and other endeavors are limited only by the scope of one's imagination. "The land of opportunity has lost its borders," says Bernard Finifter, a sociologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing who has studied Americans who leave the US.
Who is leaving? Students, employees, recent college graduates, businessmen, retirees, teachers, and entrepreneurs. Their ranks include most social categories, but the majority tend to be college-educated professionals.
Why are they leaving? Some are looking for a slower, more peaceful pace of life. Others are seeking economic opportunities, fame, or adventure and believe it will be easier to obtain overseas.
Some just want to get away. A small number of wealthy Americans leave to dodge US taxes. Others hit the road because of what they view as the declining quality of life in the US.
"People applying to foreign embassies cite fear of crime, racial tension, and lack of morality in the US. But the most important thing that all Americans would like to have is a life," says Roger Gallo, author of a new book, "Escape From America." "They feel they've lost control" of their lives.
Mr. Gallo, a former international real estate consultant based in Portland, Ore., says he wrote his self-published book, for sale on the Internet, as a guide for prospective American expatriates. It includes profiles of countries Gallo says are prime destinations for Americans. Among his favorites: New Zealand, Belize, Argentina, and Ireland.
"You can buy a 200-year-old stone cottage in Ireland outside Dublin for $15,000 to $20,000," he says. "In Belize, you can still buy your own five- to six-acre island for under $100,000."
Gallo advises readers to think and act internationally. "There is every reason to go and few reasons to stay. Twenty years from now, all this will be much more apparent than it is today," he says. "Those who buy that ranch in Argentina or that beach house in Belize will be looked at as geniuses by their grandchildren."
They won't be alone. Currently, 3.2 million Americans are living abroad, up by more than 1 million in the 1990s alone, US State Department estimates show.
The most popular destinations are also the closest. There are an estimated 627,000 Americans living in Canada and 550,000 Americans in Mexico.
But American emigration isn't confined to the Western Hemisphere. Countries ranging from Britain to Israel to Japan all boast large and growing numbers of Americans as year-round residents.
The few exceptions to the trend include countries such as Iran and Libya, places where Americans feel less than welcome.
Aside from annual estimates by State Department personnel stationed around the world, there is no systematic US government effort to identify which and how many Americans are leaving the US. The State Department estimates are designed more to identify Americans who may need to be quickly evacuated from a country during an emergency, rather than to track the movements of US citizens. Americans are free to come and go from the US as they please and are not obligated to notify the government of their intentions.
Some observers warn that America may be in danger of losing its most productive and promising citizens in a US-version of the "brain drain" Britain experienced in the 1960s. Thirty years ago, many British scientists quit their homeland in favor of higher paying and better-equipped research jobs in the US. The same kind of economic migration of highly skilled Americans may now be under way, according to some analysts.
"It is the best and brightest, the innovators, who leave," says Bernt Bratsberg, an economist at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.
In the 21st century, countries will increasingly compete for the world's top talent. But many analysts argue the US has cornered the market and will continue to attract enough talented immigrants to more than compensate for any loss of American citizens. Other analysts point out that global migration will have another benefit - as a catalyst for international unity and peace. "The kind of world we are moving toward is going to be shaped by a number of economic and political forces that will lead to a diminution of national borders," says Arnold Dashefsky, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. "It is likely to offer more for the good than the bad."
Professor Dashefsky says it "will reduce hostilities and lessen the possibility of conflicts to have people of other societies enriching the society in which they move. This is the vanguard for the trend of the 21st century in the developed world."
Who's going abroad? Here's a sampling:
Becoming a 'Strange Japanese'
IN 1995, when Paul Rosales took Japanese citizenship and changed his name to Koji Aoki, he underwent a transformation. A hen na gaijin ("strange foreigner") became a hen na nihonjin ("strange Japanese"). Even for as committed an expatriate as Mr. Aoki, who carries his new passport at all times, fitting into Japan is not easy.
Raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Mr. Aoki made his first trip to Japan in 1976 between high school and college. That led to a two-year stint as an English teacher in the suburbs of Tokyo during the early 1980s. "That's when I decided I wanted to live in Japan," he recalls. "The motivating factor was just feeling comfortable here - not having to strive to be the rugged individualist" that life in the US seemed to demand.
Aoki returned to Japan in 1986 and has been here ever since. He lives in a Tokyo bedroom community called Higashi Matsuyama, where he teaches English at a private school.
Having taken Japanese citizenship, Aoki plans to take a job in the public school system next year. Then he will enjoy the job security afforded many workers in this country, a status he never quite achieved in the private school. "In some ways, my career is only beginning," he says.
In other ways, too, Aoki remains on the cusp of Japaneseness. His spoken Japanese is fluent, but Aoki says he still has to get ready to read a newspaper by lining up dictionaries.
He isn't inclined to join in the three activities that facilitate socializing here: drinking, smoking, and singing karaoke. "If I had one of those three vices, although I'm not sure if karaoke is a vice, it would be a lot easier to meet people," he says.
- Cameron W. Barr, Tokyo
Putting Down Roots in Russia
BARBARA DUVOISIN did not so much leave America as find herself drawn to Russia. For a woman who studied Russian history, Soviet-era economics, and international finance, running the Moscow office of a multinational corporation is a lot more logical than working in the US.
Ms. Duvoisin does not think of herself as an "expatriate." She has lived in Russia for six years now and expects to be here for another six before she thinks of moving anywhere else. But with a Rus-sian husband and two small sons, Afanasi and Fyodr, she has put down roots that could hold her here for a long time.
Her reasons for coming, like most of the American businesspeople who moved here when the Soviet Union collapsed, were part personal, part professional. She wanted to witness close up the momentous changes in Russia, and at the same time she knew she could never get a job at home that would rival the excitement of working here.
"There is no doubt in any 35-to-45-year-old's mind that in Russia you are given more responsibility and more exposure within your organization than anyplace else in the world," she says.
The downsides of life so far from home are sometimes trivial (Duvoisin confesses to receiving "Care" packages containing video recordings of popular American TV shows such as "Murphy Brown" and "E.R.") and sometimes terrifying: The family has had two cars stolen at gunpoint, and Duvoisin's husband regularly runs up against the Russian mafia in his business dealings.
She makes her decision about where to live without much sentiment. "It's a question of which quality of life we want, how much that costs, and what we have to do to make that money," she says. "That calculation comes out here."
- Peter Ford, Moscow
He Just Feels Like a Canadian
DENNIS RAPHAEL was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the same tough neighborhood where the movie "The French Connection," based on a real-life drug-trafficking case, was filmed. He grew up looking over his shoulder.
But when he arrived in Toronto in 1973 to attend graduate school, Dr. Raphael was beside himself at the difference in quality of life. He became a Canadian citizen two years ago. "I thought I had died and gone to heaven," he says. "I just couldn't believe a city could be like this: safe, clean, polite. After I had been up here for two years and received my doctorate, I just didn't want to leave."
Raphael soon took the plunge and applied to become a permanent resident. Now after more than two decades of living in Canada, he feels more like a Canadian than an American. "I decided to become a Canadian citizen when it reached the point where names like Saskatchewan and Alberta - which initially are very foreign sounding - just start sounding very normal to me," he says.
"After being here a while, you just don't feel American anymore."
When Raphael first came to Canada, many young Americans had fled here to avoid the draft and the Vietnam War. He had a medical deferral and was under no pressure, yet Canada held a mystique for him.
He married a Canadian and now works as an associate professor at the University of Toronto.
What attracts him to Canada? "Americans are concerned with individualism and the pursuit of happiness," he says. "Canadians are concerned with peace, order, and good government. It's very much a ... European approach. I like that."
Will he ever return to the US?
"I'll never move back," he says, then waffles, saying he might return if he lost his job and was forced to look for work.
"To me its inconceivable moving back to the States," he says. "I came up here because I wanted to be up here. This is a great country. I'm staying."
- Mark Clayton, Toronto
Charmed by Prague's Beauty
FOR Julie Hnsel, it began as an escape from the "brown and beige, horizontal and vertical" of her hometown Phoenix and the Arizona desert. After stops in Amsterdam, Boston, Chicago, and Barcelona, Spain, Ms. Hnsel's search for visual stimuli landed her in the Czech Republic's capital, Prague, in 1992.
Just three years earlier, the Iron Curtain had parted, exposing one of Europe's best-preserved architectural treasures. Serpentine cobblestone streets wind through Prague past hundreds of centuries-old Gothic, Renaissance, and Art Nouveau buildings, churches, and fountains.
While much of urban America lacks "a heart, a center, a history," says the jovial woman, Central Europe offers "old, crumbly buildings with character and personality to them. I love that stuff."
Thousands of others have also taken to Prague's medieval charm. The US Embassy claims 10,000 Americans reside here; unofficial estimates suggest the number is closer to 30,000.
They are typically described as either ladder-climbing "suits" who are here for the job to reap profits in a developing market; or goateed, black turtlenecked Ernest Hemingway wannabes, who flock here to sample "the Left Bank of the '90s," an inflated comparison with 1920s Paris.
Hnsel falls in between. A graphic artist by training, she had grown restless with corporate graphic design in the US. She looked to Europe for a more laid-back place to hone her art.
Prague was brimming with irresistible work opportunities. Sixty-hour weeks became the norm. They paid off: Today Hnsel and her American partner, Alex Marculewicz, run a growing design business out of Hnsel's home.
Socially, Hnsel finds herself in a cultural "cocoon" - the result of failing to learn to speak Czech - and is surrounded almost exclusively by other "expats." And the logistics of work (such as erratic phone service and low printing standards) can be maddening. "You often wonder 'Is it worth it to be here?' " Hnsel says. "As one friend in a band told me, 'Yeah, we're big. But we're big here. So who cares?' "
- Michael J. Jordan, Prague
An American in Paris
COMPOSER and pianist Nol Lee could be the ultimate American in Paris. Next year will be his 50th in a city that has always had a place in its heart for American artists.
Mr. Lee arrived in Paris in 1948 to study music composition with Nadia Boulanger, whose student roster (Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass) reads like a who's who of modern music.
The GI bill paid the tab, as it did for hundreds of other former GIs who came to Paris or stayed on after the war to study literature, philosophy, painting, or music. But unlike many of his expatriate contemporaries, Mr. Lee never left.
"It was a marvelous time in 1948. There were no cars in Paris; everyone walked or took bicycles. No one considered themselves expatriates then, because everyone had just arrived. No one had money, but it didn't matter because it wasn't disgraceful then not to have money.
"The French respect their artists, and subsidies are a part of their heritage," he adds. "In the US, the attitude was: It's fine to be a musician, but how do you plan to make a living?"
He's had offers to teach in the US, but prefers France. Over the years, he has won commissions from the French Culture Ministry and French national radio, making 188 records and CDs, including many of his own compositions. Thirteen of his recordings received a Grand Prix du Disque, France's top honor for records and CDs.
"It used to be that if you could get along in the French language, you could move in official music circles. Now, many Americans are beginning to request French citizenship to be more eligible for subsidies and commissions," he says.
- Gail Russell Chaddock, Paris
Life Slows Down in Mexico
THE chance to say goodbye to both their air conditioners and American materialism attracted Jo and Dan Chappell to retire in Guadalajara, Mexico. "We were both just so tired of the concrete jungle ... the life in the fast lane," says Mrs. Chappell, who retired from real estate work in Dallas six years ago and moved to Guadalajara. There she met Dan, who retired from Houston six years earlier.
Both were drawn to a place that offers almost year-round outdoor living without the need for either air-conditioning or a furnace. The same might be possible in some places in the US, Mrs. Chappell acknowledges. "But there's something about life in Mexico that gives you more time to enjoy your garden, the flowers," she says. "It's not so rushed."
The Chappells are among the more than 25,000 Americans estimated to have retired in the Guadalajara-Lake Chapala area, the largest community of such Americans outside the US. The area is thought to be home to nearly half the US retired population in Mexico, which also has established communities in San Miguel de Allende and Ensenada, and a blooming presence even in such remote Mexican states as Michoacan and Oaxaca.
Not only are retired Americans heading south of the border in growing numbers, they are doing so at a younger age. "One of the big changes we're seeing is that as companies [in the US] cut back on work forces and encourage early retirement, people are coming down younger than before," says Don Merwin, co-author of "Choose Mexico," a guide to retiring in Mexico. "They discover they can retire earlier than they thought and maintain a very attractive lifestyle."
Mr. Merwin says his book, published in 1994 before Mexico's steep peso devaluation, trumpeted Mexico as a place a retired couple could live comfortably on $800 a month. The next edition will claim only $600 a month is enough for that same lifestyle.
But Mrs. Chappell adds there are other reasons for the building boom she sees going on around her community. "It's not so much the money," she says. "I think people have just figured out it's a pretty good life."
- Howard LaFranchi, Mexico City
Into the Internet in Israel
WHEN Avi Moskowitz was setting up shop in Jerusalem three years ago, getting e-mail for nonacademic use was nearly impossible and required filling out a 10-page government form.
Since then, the rapid growth of Internet-related industries and the loosening of bureaucratic restraints - as well as Mr. Moskowitz's sentiments as a religious Zionist - have lured him here to stay. Last year, he kicked off Virtual Jerusalem, an Internet company that is the world's largest Web site for Israeli- and Jewish-related material.
Moskowitz, a native of New York City, had visited Israel in the 1970s and '80s. But he had seen Israel as technologically lagging and as a place hampered by socialistic red tape.
That climate has changed dramatically.
"Israel's now a haven for embryonic high-tech companies," Moskowitz says amid the din of a packed office that is growing so quickly he will move to bigger quarters in a few weeks.
With many new American immigrants here seeking work in multimedia and high-tech industries, Moskowitz easily attracted a young, English-speaking staff who look as though they could be working at a computer enterprise in San Francisco.
Moskowitz has made Virtual Jerusalem a place that gives a voice to a wide range of groups - from the left-leaning Jerusalem Report magazine to right-wing groups opposed to the peace accords. "The Internet City with a 3,000-Year Tradition," as he calls it, is home to news and analysis on Israel, original features, and links to 4,500 Jewish-related Web sites.
Moskowitz came in search of more than just a cyber-dream when he decided to move halfway around the world. As the son of Holocaust survivors, he had a hard time understanding how his parents and others like them could "really feel comfortable" living anywhere but Israel. Most of all, he and his wife say that their four children will find a more meaningful life here.
"There's a frame of reference to the time line of Jewish history and where they fit into that time line," Moskowitz says. "New York hasn't been around for more than [a few hundred] years."
- Ilene R. Prusher, Jerusalem
Sand, Oil, and Experiences
BILL TRACY knows about living overseas. In 1946, when he was 11 years old, his father, who worked for Texaco, was assigned to one of the world's largest oil refineries. It was half a world away on a sandy, wind-swept peninsula on the eastern edge of Saudi Arabia.
"That was a real adventure," recalls Mr. Tracy, who now lives in Houston. After college in the US and a stint in the Army, Tracy went to Beirut to teach at an American school. Then he joined Aramco World magazine, a publication of the consortium of oil companies working in Saudi Arabia.
Tracy says that many children who grow up in expatriate families get the travel bug, and it never goes away. "What kept me overseas? An openness to new experience. There is so much to see and learn," he says.
Some of the attraction of living overseas is lifestyle choices. "People who live overseas for a while come back to the States and the whole idea of the commute and the mall and two-job families just drives them crazy," he says. "They talk about their years overseas as the good old days."
Most expatriates share another characteristic, Tracy says: They return with a better understanding of what the US is all about.
"What I appreciate No. 1 is freedom of speech, and No. 2, freedom of religion, with the separation of church and state - because I've lived in a lot of places where you don't have either one," he says.
- Warren Richey, Washington
Thinking about living overseas? Some tips from the experts:
'Be flexible. Take your time researching and finding the best place for your particular skills or interests.... If overseas is where you want to be, hold onto your dream and get as much information as you can. Nothing is impossible.'
- Ruth Halcomb, director of The Network for Living Abroad
'I recommend that people not buy foreign real estate after looking at a glossy brochure. They should go [to the country] and live for at least 12 months and learn the language, understand the culture, and then buy the property.'
- Roger Gallo, author of "Escape From America"
'Speak with someone who has done it before, as well as competent accountants, attorneys, and other consultants. You definitely have to be prepared or else you will come back crying.'
- Shannon Roxborough, publisher of The Internationalist newsletter, based in Detroit
'Understand your own culture's underlying values - some of the qualities and characteristics which shape our ... sense of right and wrong. If we understand where we are coming from, then the next step is to understand where the other people are coming from.'
- Neal Goodman, president of Global Dynamics, a New Jersey consulting firm