Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Q&A with @HalifaxShadow on Emigration

As a follow-up to our correspondent considering emigrating from the US with his family, a CBS reader offered to share his own emigration experience in the form of a Q&A. You may follow him at @HalifaxShadow on the twitter.

How old are you and where did you grow-up?
I'm Generation X.  I grew up in a Midwest suburb - fairly nondescript in the sense it would have been similar to the suburbs of many American cities in the 80's and 90's.  Not very diverse. Crime free. But outside a city that had and still has quite a few problems surrounding the urban core.

How long have you been an American ex-pat? Have you been in Singapore the whole time, or did you do some amount of travelling before settling on Singapore?
I've been abroad for nearly 20 years.  I have lived in several countries across Europe and Asia and traveled to nearly 30 (most for work, with some vacation travel too).  I came to Singapore around 15 years ago for a job.  I had no specific intentions of settling here permanently, but that was a decision that would seem natural after a few years here.

Do you retain your US citizenship, or have you paid the exit tax and broken all ties?
I have renounced my citizenship and resolved my tax obligations, yes.  I did so before it was fashionable.

Being abroad for 20 years, I assume you started for reasons of being young and liking travel and adventure, rather than concerns over woke-progressivism that our correspondent wrote of. On the other hand, political reasons have been with us for a long time. Before woke-progressivism we had the “War on Terror” over which to emigrate. The obvious reason back then would have been the tax reporting & financial burden that came out of the Patriot Act, and perhaps since then the political angle has reinforced the fortuitousness of your decision. But maybe there is more to it?
Yes, my initial foray abroad was youthful adventure, which morphed into tax minimization as I started to earn, and only later became politically-motivated.  I was fed up with leftism by Obama's inauguration which put me a little ahead of the curve on this stuff.  Was reading Moldbug at that point.

As our original correspondent wrote of his children's future being a large part of his motivation, could you share a little of your family situation... married? To a local or bring your wife with you? Any kids?
I am married but for the sake of opsec I won't share much more than that.  However, I can say that I don't think renouncing citizenship is a disadvantage as such. There are trade offs to be mindful of.  For example, in Singapore your boys must serve in the Army (mandatory military service).  This personally doesn't bother me, but for those who have a problem with it, that obligation is probably a deal-breaker.

While I could go on about this, I see the US education system as pretty poisonous, so I wouldn't send kids there for university under any circumstance. I would recommend anyone living in the USA to homeschool your kids or identify a sufficiently dissident boarding and/or religious school that you feel confident is not infiltrated by woke progressivism.

As our original correspondent wrote about eventually needing employment in whichever country he were to move to, are you employed? Local company, multi-national, or remote-work contracting?
For the most part I have been employed in MNC's during my career. Depending on what unique skills someone brings to the table, and where you want to be, you will need to figure out the most practical way to fit in economically and visa-wise.

For example, if you are a great dev and have contacts to freelance/remote, you probably don't need to think too much about visas on day one. You can hit the road in southeast asia if that's what you like (I favor Thailand), and just change countries whenever your visa expires.  Later, you can figure out what you like.  If you are someone like me without specific qualifications, it might be easier to work your way up the ladder a bit at an MNC with an office in one or more of your target destinations, and work out a deal to be relocated.

If you're not married w/ kids yourself, do you think expatriation is practical for a family man with a 6-figure nest egg doing it on his own, ie. does not have a multi-national, NGO, or State dept job? If not, what do you think a viable exit nest-egg would be for someone looking to live modestly, but somewhere safe and with good schools/peer-groups for his children?
I think you can expatriate with a 6 figure nest egg.  I know people who have done so to Thailand and other countries in this region.  I don't think you can do that to Singapore on 6 figures and anyway I don't think there is a route to the visa you'd need unless you are working and have a sponsorship that route.

If I were going to hit Thailand with a 6 figure nest egg I'd say work out what you think your local income could be (do something generic like a real estate broker, perhaps) and then you can back into what you'd need in terms of nest egg with a retirement calculator.

6 figures is a broad range and you can be in Thailand living very well for the long-term with little concerns about monthly income in the upper end of the range and need to economize carefully at the lower end and live pretty much like a local.  There are great international schools there and that's where to send your kids (so plan accordingly in terms of cost).

Conversely, for older and younger CBS readers, what are some of the practical considerations? I assume there is completely different calculus for 20-somethings vs. retirees, and singles vs. couples, and maybe even men vs. women?
So you don't want to pay exit tax if you can avoid it. So, I'd urge the younger readers to get abroad and bottom out whether they want to expatriate before they hit the thresholds for accumulated capital gains etc that put them on the exit tax radar. For older people it is more about whether they want to live abroad for cost and lifestyle reasons but stay in the US tax umbrella, or whether the exit tax is 'worth it' as a one-time hit to be over and done with it. Each person is different but these are the broad considerations.

In terms of men and women, I think the thought process is probably similar. That said, if you are single, you will both be more open to which location to end up and also need to think about where you can meet your future spouse.  If you aren't into asian women, you probably don't want to move to Vietnam.  In theory you could move to Singapore where there are single western women, but the pool will be pretty small.  Not every place is filled with people who will be your cup of tea, so you may want to start off with a destination you already know a bit, and move on from there if you get the urge.

The original correspondent wrote he wanted to choose a place with good marriage prospects for his children. In your estimation, what are the marriage prospects for young people of European descent in Singapore?
Europeans are prized on the marriage market throughout Asia. You probably won't see your kids date or marry into the wealthiest Chinese families here, but your kids will have the pick of the strivers / nouveau riche types, and there is nothing wrong with that.  If they attend one of the international schools, they will also become friends with amazing people from all over Europe and the USA and have the chance to marry a fellow European too.

To step back a little, is there anything more fundamental you think the original correspondent is missing. In other words, is he even expressing the right concerns? Are these questions even the right ones for me to be asking?
These are the right questions. I would add that the most important factor is actually "whether you want to live in the USA again?"  You can't reverse course on renunciation. So if you renounce it is a one way ticket. We missed the USA greatly in my early years abroad and still do, sometimes. However, we ultimately decided we have no desire to live and work there again, and that's the moment at which we were able to proceed with renunciation with no doubts.

Perhaps I will leave with you with a list of countries in this region that I think are interesting for both short/medium term expat living as well as permanent residence:

Thailand - great people , moderate cost, great weather
Vietnam - cheap in the right areas, amazing western food
Singapore - career opportunities and low tax
Hong Kong - like Singapore but better for singles
Laos - have only been once but wow it was cheap, vibe is vaguely like Thailand but a little more closed

Thank you, @HalifaxShadow, for taking the time to share your experience with us. I would say your experience comes across as fairly typical. Emigration is not the same as going on an extended vacation by any means, but it seems to be a viable option for sufficiently motivated individuals and even families. The real difficulty appears to be selecting a destination, something that can probably only be solved by visiting a country (or a few countries) and deciding for oneself if it is a place one would wish to permanently reside.


Anonymous said...

we spent 10 days in Santiago, Chile.

before visiting we read some outdated blog posts about Santiago, claiming the city was "one of the safest in South America." but when our Uber dropped us off in front of our Airbnb at 1am, our reaction was "umm, what?"

although it was a Friday night, nobody was on the street. there was grafitti everywhere, a Starbucks with its windows boarded up by cardboard, barricades in front of apartment buildings, and a heavy stench of urine.

as groggy as we were from traveling on little sleep, we were suddenly on high alert. after triple checking with our driver that we were at the right address, we meandered around looking for an address that didn't seem to exist.

eventually, a young couple came walking down the street and helped us determine that our Airbnb was in fact behind a 20-ft wide metal barrier that we had previously thought was a wall.

after dropping off our bags, we looked up a McDonald's less than a mile away. but as we walked closer to downtown we thought we'd entered a war zone. concrete barriers in disarray, dilapidated buildings with more grafitti and broken windows, and shattered glass everywhere. we saw gatherings of people chanting and waving flags around bonfires. almost immediately after noticing their face bandanas and gas masks, our eyes started to itch and we realized there was tear gas in the air.

no, the McDonald's was boarded up or did not seem to exist. and yes, we immediately turned around and speed-walked back to the Airbnb.

as we've said in previous posts, we don't do much research on our trips beforehand. we probably should have been better equipped for the rioting and government-instituted curfew beforehand.

that said, Santiago seems perfectly pleasant in select neighborhoods before dusk.


J.P. said...

I'm surprised that Halifax thinks the exit tax is a large burden. The descriptions of it that I've read claim that it just marks all your assets to market upon renunciation of citizenship, so that you have to pay capital gains tax as if you had sold everything when you renounced. I'd guess that CBS readers tend to have most of their assets in liquid securities, and in that case it doesn't seem like a big problem.

Anonymous said...

The story about Santiago reminds me of the concept of feral cities:

Basically the expat opted to become Asian. I've met several white guys who live in Singapore. Usually they're from Oz. Usually they're bankers. What is their plan when their MNC goes woke? Kiss the ring and affirm all the new pronouns? What if China or Malaysia decides to annex it?

I recommend all Westerners repent and call upon the Almighty for help. A foreign nation-state won't save you. I think the whole Westphalian world order is coming down. One spot's as good as the next. Maybe join the new Hanseatic League if you can stomach the MNC policies. Maybe not.