I asked people round the world if they’d like to move to America. The answer was a hard no

From Singapore to Sao Paulo, wealthy would-be immigrants and American expats said life in the US had become too violent, too divided and its healthcare system too dysfunctional. They are now choosing other destinations instead

Ali-Asghar Abedi
New York
Friday 26 August 2022 10:18 BST
Related: America’s Mental Health System is in Crisis

It is a truth universally acknowledged that America is the greatest country in the world. But only to Americans. Actually, only to MAGA Americans. Like the rest of the world, sane Americans now take a much broader view.

I’ve been routinely confronted with what the rest of the world thinks of the US this year as I’ve traveled extensively across Europe, Asia and South America. Despite being an empire in decline, the US remains the most powerful and influential country on earth, which means that there’s no shortage of people with strong opinions on its politics and its trajectory.

It’s been remarkable to see non-Americans’ views shift in the decade since I moved to the US from Britain. Early on, non-Americans I knew would ask me about my experiences in the country with interest and curiosity. They often expressed admiration for America’s dynamism and innovation. But over time, this has given way to pity and reactions like, “I don’t know how people live there” and, “I would never live in America.”

In Malaga, Spain, I met a Venezuelan photographer who was keen to find out if American society is as divided in real life as it seems on Twitter these days (sadly I had to respond in the affirmative). Before relocating to Spain for marriage, she had lived in the US for seven years and so has extensive social connections to this country. “My American friends tell me to move back as photographers make so much more money in the US,” she explained, before quickly adding that no payday could convince her to return to the US. Despite the fact that her business isn’t roaring, she’s happy to stay in Spain, where she can afford private school for her child and doesn’t have to worry about school shootings. “Life here is slow and bureaucratic but I’ll take it over American dysfunction,” she concluded. She pointed out that American life can be more exciting than life in Europe, but it’s not worth the risk once you have kids.

In Manchester, in the UK, I spoke to a 19-year-old pharmacy student who is desperate to leave the sinking ship commonly known as Brexit Britain, citing grim economic prospects for the country and low pay for pharmacists. When I suggested that he consider relocating to the US because pharmacy is so well-paid here, he immediately recoiled. “Americans have massive six-figure student debt that they can never pay off — it’s a total scam,” he said, before expressing interest in moving to Canada instead. As someone who has a giant student debt balance from my own graduate studies in the US, I found it hard to argue with his point of view.

In Singapore — a country which in many ways is the antithesis of the US in that it’s densely populated, has serious curtails on freedom of speech and has a ruthlessly efficient government — many middle-class professionals know they can accelerate their career growth by relocating to the US. And yet the yuppies I spoke to harbored no desire to come to America — even the ones who didn’t have or want kids — because of the American healthcare system and the culture of violence. One couple I spoke to told me they’re moving to Amsterdam (to work for American firms), which they described as “far more civilized” than the United States.

In Brazil, where I had to travel around Sao Paulo in an armored vehicle for protection against armed robberies, locals told me they look at mass shootings in the US with shock and disbelief. They pointed out that even criminal gangs in Brazil know not to shoot children. People detailed how in Brazil, you may be robbed for your valuables in order to fund crime — but you can take preventative measures against becoming a victim, such as using an armored car or not leaving the house wearing a Rolex. Conversely, they said, American violence makes no sense — there are no preventative measures that can be taken against mass shootings that could happen at any time at concerts, grocery stores, schools, churches, synagogues, malls, parks or just about any public space that exists. The feeling was that even criminals in Brazil have standards that US Republican politicians do not.

It’s no secret that American culture remains pervasive, powerful and highly popular. American brands — sports teams, fashion brands, movie characters — remain in vogue worldwide. In other words, non-Americans are predisposed to admire the US. That makes it even more sad that they end up pitying Americans because of the clear effects of unfettered capitalism and unhinged politicians.

America has lost its luster. MAGA aficionados may not care what the rest of the world thinks (or be aware that there is a world beyond our borders) but it’s obvious that the US is no longer the destination of choice for well-educated, ambitious immigrants. That’s simply because it’s no longer an appealing place to live. Sure, you can make more money here than anywhere else — but it comes at a massive personal cost. And increasingly, the rest of the world seems to be concluding that the cost of American life just isn’t worth it.

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