Lifestyle & Culture

Clooney, Depp and other celeb expats seek privacy, culture and tax breaks in Europe

We don’t know if Dispatches’ expat readers across Europe feel “special,” but in a way, they very much are.

They – like expats from Lord Byron and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Eduardo Saverin and Lewis Hamilton – are very much part of the tradition of the most adventurous and creative people often being the most restless. For decades, European cities and countrysides have provided a good place for expat artists, movie stars, Formula One drivers and global business tycoons to live, whether for privacy, business opportunities, tax considerations or cultural reasons. Or just because they like – I don’t know – French food, the beauty of the Alps or the climate of the Riviera.

• Perhaps the most famous American expat living in Europe is actor George Clooney, who lives in the Italian lakes region, in the Villa Oleandra mansion. Clooney bought the mansion on Lake Como in 2002 for $10 million from the Heinz ketchup family.


Why? Because he wanted to. And he could.

• Similarly, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie live in the 35-bedroom Château Miraval in Provence with 1,200 acres including a prime vineyard.

Roman Abramovich, billionaire owner of the Chelsea football club, lives in Chateau La Croe on the French Riviera, the former royal home of Edward VIII of Great Britain.

Johnny Depp lived in France with French actress Vanessa Paradis. (He has since become a U.S. resident again because France wanted him to become a permanent resident, which he said would require him to pay income taxes in both countries. Oh, and he broke up with Paradis.)

For others, there were more pragmatic reasons. For some it was a business opportunity.


• Fashion designer Tom Ford moved to Italy in the 1990s when he was creative director of Gucci. While it suited his proximity to Gucci’s production facilities, he also liked the high style and minimal prying of the European life. Gone from Gucci now, Ford still splits his time between Rome, London and Paris.

• American Actor Kevin Spacey moved to London in 2003 as artistic director of the Old Vic theater.

• British pop singer James Blunt moved to Switzerland in 2007 opening a restaurant in Verbier called La Vache.

• Movie director and animator Terry Gilliam moved to England in the 1970s to create animations for Monty Python. So closely associated did he become with that British comedy group that few fans realize he’s not British at all … he’s from Minneapolis. (Similarly, movie director Richard Lester made his reputation in the 1960s with the Beatles films “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” Lester was so associated with the London movie community people were always surprised to learn he was from Philadelphia.)


For countless others it’s the most romantic of reasons: amore! amour! liebe!

• Before they consciously uncoupled, Gwyneth Paltrow lived in London  for 10 years with her British (now-ex) husband Chris Martin for 10 years.

Gwen Stefani moved to London with her British (now-ex) husband Gavin Rossdale.

• American-born director Sofia Coppola lives in France with her French husband Thomas Mars.

• Composer and singer Tori Amos married British engineer Mark Hawley in 1998 and lives primarily in England (but also with a residence in Ireland).

• Great Britain’s Petula Clark settled in Geneva with her publicist husband Claude Wolff in 2007.

Frida Lyngstad of the Swedish pop group Abba moved to Switzerland with her British boyfriend Henry Smith, the fifth Viscount Hambleden.

• British pop star Phil Collins moved to Switzerland in 1997, where he married Orianne Cevey. The marriage is kaput, but Collins stayed.

Madonna moved to London when she married movie director Guy Richie in 2000. Since their divorce, she splits her time between New York, Los Angeles and London.

• Elton John lives officially in Windsor, England with lifelong partner David Furnish and their adopted son, Zachary. But John spends most of his time in a villa in Nice perched on the edge of a cliff edge with stunning views of the Bay.

• Canadian country/pop singer Shania Twain moved to Switzerland with her Swiss husband Frédéric Thiébaud, a Nestlé executive.

Not infrequently, the reason expats choose Europe is a special kind of love … amour de l’argent. Specifically, a irresistible attraction to a certain Alpine nation in Central Europe that offers tax exemptions/reductions to wealthy foreigners residing there.

Tina Turner gave up her U.S. citizenship about 20 years ago to become a citizen of Switzerland. She spends most of her time in a mansion overlooking Lake Zurich.

• Formula One race car driver Michael Schumacher moved to Switzerland because of the Swiss tax breaks for millionaires. His fortune is estimated at $824 million.

• French rock star Johnny Hallyday lives in a Swiss chalet. In 2011, he paid about 10 percent – 575,000 euros – in taxes  on income reported at about 5 million euros compared to 45 percent he would have paid in France.

Ingvar Kamprad, founder of Ikea, is Sweden’s wealthiest businessman … and Switzerland’s wealthiest resident, with a fortune estimated at about $42 billion with a ‘b.”

Well, Ikea is all about being frugal with your money.

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