Expat Essentials

Expat Essentials: Dispatches’ Top-10 reasons you should move to Europe right now

(Editor’s note: The first version of this post contained an incorrect total for the number of gun homicides in Louisville, Kentucky during the first five months of 2016. The actual number of homicides turned out to be much higher.)

Every expat has a different reason for moving to Europe. Most of the time, they relocate for a job, a romance or a business opportunity.

My reasons for becoming an expatriate have been different at different points of my life. In the old days, it was all about adventure.

These days, it’s quality of life and the safety of my family. Gun violence has taken over the United States, even small cities such as my hometown of Louisville, which has had 47 gun homicides during the first five months of 2016. Overall this year, the United States has had at least 152 mass shootings, with a total of 358 in 2015. There were more than 13,000 people shot and killed last year in the U.S. In Europe, with more than twice the population, the number was about 650.

Somehow, the solution to this American  epidemic of gun violence is alway more violence. The National Rifle Association advocates more Americans packing heat including teachers, school kids and college students.

That’s just one reason – but a compelling one – I’m uprooting my family and moving them to the Netherlands. Setting the personal aside, we as a media company have a bunch more, and some of them will surprise and delight you.

best-universities-in-europe-2016-median-overall-score-smallNo. 10 – Your kids will go to college for a fraction of what you can look forward to paying for tuition in the United States. And in some cases, they’ll go for free. Do European schools measure up to the Ivys, MIT, Stanford or even the Dukes and Vandys? Overall, no. In aggregate, there are opportunities to get a stellar education (in English) in Europe.

In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings of Europe’s Top 200 universities, colleges in the U.K. got the highest marks. English universities take four of the Top 5 rankings. Switzerland’s ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich is the only non-U.K. university at the top of the list. But when you think about free tuition at German universities, for example, and realize your kids can always go off to the U.S. for graduate school, this is a no-brainer.

No. 9 – You’ll be better looking. By that we mean thinner and fitter. There are a lot of reasons most Europeans are slimmer and trimmer than Americans. For one, they eat less processed food and exercise more, though there are exceptions to every rule. The Dutch eat a surprising amount of processed food. But they also go to weekend markets where the offerings are cheaper, fresher and have fewer preservatives and hormones. Also, Europeans – though not Brits – get a lot more exercise than Americans. Europeans in large cities walk to the subway or tram. Europeans in small cities in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and other countries, get out and walk, or ride bicycles to work and school.

No. 8 – It’s getting easier for you to do business here. Europe hasn’t really recovered from the Great Recession. More and more European countries are throwing the doors open to entrepreneurs, making it easy to get long-term residence visas. Sweden is particularly welcoming for those with tech skills. Most of the biggest European economies are cutting bureaucracies and lowering taxes. For example, the corporate tax rate in the Netherlands is 20 percent, far below the 37 percent rate in the U.S. A few weeks ago, KMPG gave the Netherlands a top global ranking as a low-cost business leader.

No. 7 – You’ll breathe easier. More European countries are getting more and more of their energy from non-fossil fuel sources. There have been days recently when Germany cranked so much power from alternative sources – wind, solar, biomass and hydro – that some consumers actually were getting paid to use electricity. More alternative power means less coal and less choking pollution. Stringent environmental protection controls are the rule across most of Europe. That means you can swim in the islands around Stockholm, and Anne Hildago, the mayor Paris, is planning the same for the canals of Paris.

41fcc775-453d-45fe-bcbf-b74eceb5d54bNo. 6. The infrastructure in Europe isn’t falling apart. Bridges are literally in danger of collapsing all over the U.S. Almost every American city can’t fill potholes because state officials revel in cutting taxes. Washington D.C. officials just announced they’ll have to close certain subway lines for months for repairs. Subway systems in Boston and New York are in desperate need of updates and maintenance. The train system in America is pretty much non-existent. In Europe, infrastructure is nothing short of amazing, even in financially tenuous countries such as Greece and Italy. There are plans for billions of euros worth of rail expansions from Sweden to Switzerland.

No. 5. You’ll be happier. When we used to return to the U.S. from Germany in the 2000s, we were always struck by how the suburbs, and even some cities, looked like movie sets. There were buildings, but no people. In Europe, it’s the opposite. Everyone isn’t just out, they’re in the cafes drinking wine and beer and actually living life. It’s no coincidence World Happiness Index 2016 finds Europeans are happy. Really happy. Pharrell Williams happy, especially Danes.

1a824693-b169-42e0-b49e-a3c62bbb8954Denmark is ranked the happiest country in the world, closely followed by Switzerland and Iceland. European countries nabbed seven of the Top 10 rankings, and 12 of the Top 20 for 2016. What’s that tell you?

No. 4. You’ll have more travel opportunities. The wonderful world of discount flights is now fully established in Europe. I went to Stockholm from the Netherlands recently for about 100 euros on Air Berlin out of Dusseldorf Airport.

Train trips can be more expensive, but also a lot more relaxing. If you have to drive, you can do that too. No matter where you live in Europe, another country, another culture and a completely different experience are only a couple of hours away.

No. 3. You’ll be less prejudiced. I’m not making this up. The Far Right in the U.S. rails against Europe. Their narrative is that spineless socialists have let the Muslim hordes set up no-go zones where Sharia law rules. The reality is, people in most European countries get along. The Netherlands and Sweden, for example, are far more integrated than the U.S. People of all races and religions are integrated into the economy and social networks. That’s not true everywhere, and there are immigrant ghettos in cities such as Berlin, Brussels, and Paris where radical Islam is festering. But again, the Molenbeeks are the exceptions, not the rules.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 2.43.15 PMNo. 2. You’ll be healthier. As we reported back in February, Euro Health Consumer Index 2015 rates the Netherlands as having the highest quality of health care in the world. And almost every other European country is at the top of the list.

Here’s the Top 10 from the EHCI rankings from our original post:

  1. Netherlands, 916 points out of 1,000 possible.
  2. Switzerland, 894 points
  3. Norway, 854 points
  4. Finland, 845 points
  5. Belgium, 836 points
  6. Luxembourg, 832 points
  7. Germany, 828 points
  8. Iceland, 825 points
  9. Denmark, 793 points
  10. Sweden, 786 points

Bottom line: You’re going to get better healthcare anywhere in Europe for much less money, and much faster, than in the United States.

No. 1 – You saw this one coming … you’ll be a lot safer. A lot of European countries allow (regulated) gun ownership including Switzerland, Finland and Great Britain. The difference is, there isn’t the same NRA-inspired gun culture. In the U.S., I got weary worrying if the person in front of me at the grocery was carrying a gun. I get depressed reading about 4-year-olds shooting themselves, their siblings or their parents, who left guns just lying around. I got weary of choosing seats in the movie theater based on how close it was to the exit in case some gunslinger came in shooting. I got weary of worrying that someone would walk into my daughters’ schools, bent on killing as many people as possible.

urlHere in the Netherlands, gun violence is – aside from organized crime – non-existent. Other countries have higher rates of gun violence. But get this … Louisville – a city of about 800,000 people – has had 47 murders as of yesterday. (I’m sure that’s gone up over-night.) The total number of deaths involving guns in the Netherlands last year was about 50 … for a country of 17 million.

The crime rate is so low in the Netherlands the government will have to contract with Denmark and other countries to take their criminals, or close prisons and cut staffing.

Is Europe perfect? Ah, no …. Taxes are higher than in the U.S. Bureaucracy is more entrenched. There are a lot of things that drive me crazy here including the fact that you basically have to catch people on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday because a lot of people don’t work five-day weeks. Same in a lot of countries, though not Germany, where they tend to work a full week, and at least 40 hours. In the European mind, quality of life trumps quantity of work.

If you actually decide to come here, you’ll find you’re trading American “freedoms” for a greater sense of well-being. And in the end, everyone gets what they want, don’t they?

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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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