Expat Essentials

Aspiring American expats: Dispatches’ 2020 guide to getting out while the gettin’s good

This is not America with a buzz on

Americans tend to equate the Netherlands with the “coffee” shops and the Red Light District in Amsterdam and there is some of that.

The Netherlands is probably the country most like the U.S. with the exception of Canada. Everyone speaks English. Much of the marketing is in English as are a fair number of ads on TV. And it’s more than that … the attitude here is American up to a point. Dutch people love Harleys, burger joints and American music and movies. They dream of California vacations and many have worked in the U.S. or studied there.

The truth is, this is a conservative, hierarchical and collectivist society with lots of subtle social rules even down to which neighbors on your block are obliged to welcome you with decorations at your front door you when you move in. Dutch culture is strong and based on trust.

Never, ever abuse that trust.

Here’s a more nuanced and granular comparison of the U.S. and the Netherlands.

Each society across Europe is different, but all are far older and structured than the U.S. and, yeah, are far more conservative than you imagine. Get ready to deal with that.

Don’t bring your car

We did because ours was almost new. But if you move to any major city, you can get by with using masstran or ride-sharing. Or a bike or a scooter. Gas is expensive in Europe and parking is at a premium. Plus driving here is difficult. Cheryl says it’s like being in a video game, with cars, bikes, pedestrians, tractors, horses and farm animals popping up during every trip.

Finally, you likely will have to fork out thousands of euros for driving schools to get your driver’s license. If you really need a car, you can rent them fairly inexpensively or buy one second-hand.

The European work culture can be a major adjustment for Americans

As I’ve written many times before, Americans expats have to adjust to the pace – or lack of – when it comes to work life in Europe. Very few people in Europe really live to work, and family time is inviolable.

Nothing happens quickly and while “maybe” means “no” in the U.S., it actually means “maybe” here. We’ve pitched clients only to hear crickets for months. Then boom! We’re in …. you just have to get used to being patient.

Check out my post at the one year mark as an expat in the Netherlands.

Retirees welcome

Several countries in Europe including Switzerland, Spain and Greece actively seek retirees.

Switzerland is particularly attractive to retired billionaire CEOs, Formula 1 drivers and movie stars. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more welcoming to people from the EU and European Free Trade Association countries. American retirees must apply through the Swiss consulate nearest them and as part of the deal, prove they have a “close relationship” with the Alpine paradise. That can mean anything from family connections to frequent trips to Zurich or Geneva to spend quality time with your money.

Greece has a lower barrier to entry, requiring that you have income from savings, pensions, investments, social security and other sources.

Okay, we saved the best for last … taxes. In most European countries, taxes are higher than in the U.S. But that’s because governments do more, from maintaining subway systems in all the major cities to providing that social safety net we talked about earlier.

For American expats, moving to Europe is a tradeoff. If you’re one of those MAGA types who values personal freedom above all, you’re going to be so miserable. If you’re looking for stability and sanity, this is the place.

For a comparison of costs of living, housing and other aspects of expat life, here’s our archive of our “Best cities in Europe for expats” lists dating back to 2017.

Here are some more expat resources we’ve published recently:

Krystal Kenney in Paris: Easy visas for Americans dreaming of moving to France

Dispatches’ debut 2020 list of Europe’s five best under-the-radar cities for expats (updated)

Expat Essentials: 1 euro deals on homes are attracting people back to Europe’s abandoned villages (updated)

New Digital Nomad visas (updated): More countries see restless internationals as key to prosperity


About the author:

Terry Boyd is co-founder of Dispatches Media, based in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Boyd has been a military reporter, business reporter and an entrepreneur, selling Insider Louisville, a pure-play digital news platform, in 2010.

Boyd & Family are long-time expats and have lived in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

 | Website

Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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