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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: Freestyler on August 17, 2015, 05:12:51 AM

Title: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Freestyler on August 17, 2015, 05:12:51 AM
No trolling here, just an honest and candid question.

I have been living in France for more than two years now. I don’t like neither the country nor the culture here (I am obviously generalizing and hope not to offend anyone). I also see it as a terrible country to get to FI and, on a more general note, attain freedom of any sort.

I have always had a globally positive outlook on the US. I even studied a degree at a US university, spend some (not much) time there and have travelled around a bit. I’ve always enjoyed my time there and have had largely positive experiences. It crossed my mind sometimes to go and live there. I even had some opportunities on that regard, but either my tutors at the time wouldn’t allow me to pursue them or, later, they just did not go through. And I was busy doing other things / didn’t really had the need to move. In later years I came to the thought that maybe it was too difficult and not worth the hassle trying. Also, I had been receiving negative feedback (mainly from liberal sites) on the recent evolution of the US as a country.

However, I have recently learned that it might not be THAT hard or impossible to me to move there and do it in reasonable terms. And when I see, among others, the posts regarding taxation it doesn’t look to me that the US is in such a terrible state as some (marginal in number?) groups imply. Taxation in the US stills looks well below that of places considered like tax havens (with marginal tax rates on income as high as 50%) in Europe.

I know of course that no country is perfect and that it finally boils down to the specific place and circumstances and the fit with one’s personality. I would like, however, to have your input regarding your view of the US as a place to emigrate to with a starting family and during adulthood.

I am originally Spanish (so native in the language) and I have a decent command of English (quite rusty now that I hardly use it) and French, aside from a couple of degrees that I might be able to leverage if needed (probably more thinking about living out of passive-investment income and/or entrepreneurship over the midterm).
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Argyle on August 17, 2015, 05:18:50 AM
I don't think this question has a single answer.  It depends on what you like and what your aims are. 

From a strictly financial point of view, I find that it's an advantage to live in a country with a comprehensive single-payer healthcare system, and also to live in a country that doesn't depend so much on car travel.

It is also statistically more dangerous than most of western Europe, although the risk of crime/murder is reduced if you are an affluent white person.

But maybe other things are most important to you: the abundance of jobs in your field, or scenery, or diversity, or entrepreneurialism, or surfing, or whatever.  Since you're disliking France, it sounds as if a move might be a good change. 
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: jzb11 on August 17, 2015, 05:26:21 AM
Hell yes it is a good country to live in.

I am an American, I've traveled to 26 different countries, and I currently live in Brazil for work on a long term assignment (I've been here for two years now). So I'm speaking as someone who has seen some of the world.

You'll find that Americans are polite, friendly, and not all that concerned with appearance/saving face. Americans are direct - they mean what they say,  and things work as expected (bureaucracy is more direct/easier to work with than spain/france/etc). The quality of life in Suburban America is in my opinion unparalleled, especially if you have a family. You can't get the same kind of housing at similar prices in Europe. The USA is certainly much less expensive as well (for the most part, obviously there are HCOL areas).


University and health care are expensive. If you aren't in a position to pay for university or if you don't have a "middle class" income, you'll find it difficult to pay for those expenses. Also if you live in the suburbs you will need to own a car and drive a lot more than you do in Europe.

Anyway there are pros and cons. I don't think the USA is the "best country in the world", but it is still pretty damn awesome. 
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Bucksandreds on August 17, 2015, 05:41:40 AM
From someone who studied Semesters abroad in Europe and Mexico.

If you are middle class and above, health care is a ripoff.
Higher education is a ripoff.
Slightly less safe than Western Europe or Australia/New Zealand.
Less community involvement
Need for car in most places.

Cheaper than Western Europe
Lower real tax rate than Europe
More comfortable. (Air conditioning, less standing in cramped buses/rail, less cramped house for your money)
Much easier to play sports/outdoors. I live by 10 public soccer fields, tennis courts, basketball courts (impossible to play for free in Spain from my experience)

It depends on what you want. If you value a community/cultural life above savings and comfort then don't move here. If you want a comfortable life with your family where you have more of your gross salary left over at the end of the month then it is a decent place to live.

Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: kvaruni on August 17, 2015, 05:48:51 AM
That is a really tough question. First, as a EU citizen, why immediately think about the US? What's wrong with Germany, UK, Finland, Romania ... ? Living in France is very different from living in Belgium, or Denmark, or Italy. The biggest benefit you have is of course that you can freely move to any one of those countries as a EU resident. They all have more government than the US, but they all come with cheap education, good social safety nets, well-regulated labour, and often easy access to public transportation/bike friendly areas.

That being said, the US is twice the size of the EU. While all areas have some things in common, there are also significant differences. Culturally, there is a difference in behaviour. For example, I could see myself living in the North-East, but you can't get me to go to the South or South-West as the culture is so different. Just like France: it's not the other people, or the country, it is just that it isn't a good match for who you are yourself. A city like New York is perfectly liveable without a car, but many areas in Texas are not. Rain season is on in Seattle from the 2nd of February till the end of January while being quite moderate temperature-wise, while a house in Florida will need a new layer of paint considerably faster due to the searing heat.

Yes, the US is a great country to live in. But so are most countries in EU/Japan/Australia/...
No, the US sucks and has some considerable problems. But so do most countries in EU/Japan/Australia/...

It all boils down to what you like, what you want, and where you can see yourself living. Having moved countries on numerous occasions, I would finally like to warn you not to do it on a whim. If you truly want to live in the US, go for it! Otherwise, really think about all the costs/administration involved as they can be quite the burden. And don't take off thinking it will be the promised land :).
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Seppia on August 17, 2015, 06:31:19 AM
I feel I can give a good perspective on this: I am Italian, I know very well Spain (I have lifetime friends in the Castellon and Valencia area) and its culture (I am fluent in the language and had a Spanish girlfriend for two years). I lived in France for 8 years of my life, in Paris, Lyon and Nice, and I now live in the U.S. (New York) since late 2010 but I travel a lot for work and got to experience the Country better than most immigrants have after 5 years.

Now, while everybody is different bla bla bla, a few general points:
- where do you live in France? There is a HUGE difference between Paris (the worst) and Nice (the best) in terms of cultural fit for a Spanish or Italian person.
If you can move to Nice, Montpellier or those southern towns I am sure you would like it more.
- regarding a move to the U.S.: YES DO IT! But you have to make absolutely sure:
1) you make good money. You will live better in Paris with a salary of 50k euros than in NYC with 75k dollars for example.
The general concept of lower taxation and lower services make it great if you are middle class or above in the U.S., but if your salary is so-so it's significantly better to be in France.
2) in the U.S. it really, really depends WHERE you land.
Personally I love the outdoors and I love museums, history etc, so here's a brief list of OK and Not OK places
NYC, Boston, Washington DC, Miami, Chicago (possibly too cold), New Orleans, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Portland.
Texas except for maybe Austin (I love going to Texas for 1 week work trips but could not live there), pretty much anywhere that is not on the coasts with the exceptions of Chigago, Colorado and Utah.

Minneapolis is also great but probably too cold for a Spanish, and all the area around Yellowstone park (Wyoming, Montana) is nothing short of stunning nature-wise but no major cities, and I assumed you would need to be in or around one for work.
If you can work from home then everything changes.

The bottom line is: I have moved from Europe (France specifically) to the U.S. 5 years ago and have absolutely no intentions of going back in the short term.
I love my Country and my old continent but the U.S. is just so much better on a number of things.
You make more money, life is easier, bureaucracy is non-existent, everything works and (outside of NYC and San Francisco) life is CHEAP.
there's a reason why the U.S. are the leading Country in the world.
Title: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Seppia on August 17, 2015, 06:32:08 AM
Oh and feel free to send me a PM if you have specific questions, it will help me practice my Spanish.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: AlwaysLearningToSave on August 17, 2015, 08:01:19 AM
. . . I have a decent command of English (quite rusty now that I hardly use it) . . . 

I am an American whose international experience consists of studying briefly in the Netherlands and traveling through western Europe.  I recall going on a train ride through western Europe and asking the person sitting next to me whether she spoke English.  She hesitantly replied that she spoke "A little."  We proceeded to have have a three-hour conversation in nearly perfect English and I only had to help her search for a few more obscure words.

I'm betting that your "quite rusty" command of English is better than you realize.  With a little dusting off, I'd bet you have a better command of proper English than most Americans.  Remember, many Americans haven't mastered one language, let alone three.  Whatever you do, don't let language be an excuse for not doing what you want to do.  You will be more than fine. 
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: little_brown_dog on August 17, 2015, 08:12:14 AM
As others mention it depends on what your benchmarks are – for example, the us is very business friendly in many respects, we have varied culture and geography in one nation, and there are many places where cost of living is very reasonable or downright cheap compared to other nations. But we do tend to do poorly on many markers of social welfare such as maternal/child health, access to healthcare, access to affordable higher education, violence/crime, environmental regulation, maternity/paternity policies, etc. compared to other industrialized nations. However, I should note that these issues tend to impact working class and low income workers more than upper middle class and wealthy americans. well-off americans tend to do just fine with their expensive employer based health plans, college savings accounts, safe suburban neighborhoods, etc.

At the end of the day, I’d say the US can be a great place to call home – if you are solidly middle class or wealthier. However, if you are a lower wage worker, there might be other countries whose systems will be more beneficial to you in terms of healthcare, college, and worker protections.

We are also a bit isolated from the rest of the world, so if you are used to living in Europe and just popping around to different countries for weekends away, our long distance from many other nations might be a drag.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: FLBiker on August 17, 2015, 09:23:42 AM
I'm interested in seeing where this thread goes.  I've gone back and forth on this question (multiple times) myself.

I'm American, currently living in FL.  I left this US when I was 21 (open to it being permanent) and lived in Taiwan for 5 years.  Came back to the US (HI) for grad school, then went to China.  I've also done a fair bit of travelling, mostly in Asia, but also a bit in Europe.  And I lived in the UK for a year while an undergrad.

For me, the big pro of the US is our wilderness.  Our national park / state park system is really great.  Large natural expanses are something you can't make for yourself.

Unlike, for example, culture.  Culturally, I find mainstream US to be pretty unrelatable.  At the same time, even in Florida, I've found great connections in my neighborhood, my community garden, my Buddhist group, etc.  It did take some digging, though.  It wasn't necessarily different in Taiwan or China, but as an expat I didn't expect to feel a part of the mainstream culture, so it didn't feel so alienating.  Still, this alienation (which was really behind my initial relocation overseas) has really improved as I've built my own local community.

Re: healthcare, the system is screwed.  Personally, though, my wife and I both work at a university, and their spouse program provides insurance for me, my wife and my baby for $30 per month.  The benefits are good (because it's a state school) so we really can't complain.  If our work situation changes, though, healthcare would be a definite strike against the US.

The other big strike, for me, is public transit.  Here in FL, I can bike commute to work / errands, but it is DEFINITELY a car culture.  If we stay in the US long term, I'd really like to relocate somewhere with functional public transit (which really limits our options -- though I'm also open to a bike friendly college town). 

As a new parent, I find myself wondering what the US will be like in 30 / 50 / 80 years.  Personally, I'm not so optimistic.  I don't think we're on the upward trajectory, and when empires fall it can be unpleasant.  We're much further removed from self-sufficiency than many other countries, which worries me as we transition to whatever comes after consumer capitalism.  I'm also troubled by the racism / xenophobia, which could certainly get worse (as it did during difficult times in other counties).

Currently, though, I like living in the US.  I was afraid (as a teacher) that I'd feel quite poor in the US.  As others have said, though, it's actually a decent place to earn / save money.  We'll see what the future holds!
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: AZDude on August 17, 2015, 10:00:32 AM
The US is a big place with lots of different cultures. Hard to answer without lots more info.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: HazelStone on August 17, 2015, 11:55:13 AM
*grabs can opener*
*opens Costco-sized can of worms*

Long story short, it's a question of individualist/vs. community-minded, and money vs. quality of life. Of course, money DOES have an impact on quality of life, if only to buy you freedom that much sooner. ;)

I've done some traveling, mostly to poorer countries, haven't had the chance to hit Europe yet... but I have been the "tour guide" for other Europeans coming to the area. From a dollars and cents perspective, it depends on the manner in which you want to live. If you want to live like an upper middle class American, this country is probably the cheapest place to do so. If you are used to a simpler life, you might live cheaper, but you will find fewer protections here. On the whole, our core attitudes are different on what should be up to "society" to cover and what should be left for the individual to handle. Neither is entirely right, neither is entirely wrong, it's just a cultural difference. The bitch about cultural differences is that little wrench in your mind when you realize that another society's setup is actually preferable to them, chosen by them even, rather than something they do only because they can't be like YOUR culture! ;)

US vs other bits of the industrialized world? It depends a lot on the location of the jobs you would be able to get. If you can manage to get/keep a good paying job in a rural/suburban area, the US is great. I grew up in a relatively rural area of the Rust Belt. It was a region ranking in the lowest real estate costs in many national rankings. No jobs there, so I moved near D.C. when my husband got a job there. Now I'm on a decent career track, but am stuck in the land of sky-high housing prices and commuter hell.

Mind you, I'm not a fan of city life and that will color my comments. I hear comments that US worker protections generally suck compared to its peers. I would love to see better maternity leave policies in this country but that will be a while in coming, if ever. However, all those extra worker protections in Europe can make it that much harder to get on the career ladder. There are also numerous articles about how European women find themselves shut out of advancement due to those "benefits." Pick your poison.

I DO envy the more generous paid time off that our friends across the pond get. That probably fuels a lot of the "early retirement" desires here. How many Europeans to we find wandering around here, vs. vice versa, especially for those older than college age? We, collectively, are a very workaholic culture. You have to fight that tendency in almost any well-paid job. But at least you have the *chance* to make that money, and you don't have to spend it all on dreck.

If you rent, tenant protections can be rather hit-or-miss depending on your region. Parts of Europe/UK also seem to have more housing subsidy options that extend help beyond the poorest folk.

Food and clothes tend to be cheaper here. The gap narrows with good quality food/clothes. Visitors here love our restaurants, thinking them a great deal even after accounting for tipping. But, again, worker protections.

Fewer options for Internet service/slower speeds/not available at all, depending on where you are located. This is the downside of low population density.

Greater weather extremes, depending on your location- it's easier to take the moral high road on air conditioning if your region rarely tops 80 degrees.

Cars- running them is relatively cheap here. The downside is that they are needed far MORE here. In so many places here you are taking your life in your hands if you try to walk/bike somewhere. The roads are just not designed for it.

Housing- outside of a few very expensive markets, renting an apartment puts you a notch or two lower on social standing. The build quality of our apartments is also worse, and therefore noisier. Since our rental housing tends to include more people who are not, er, "career minded" the noise can be an issue.

Education- hoo boy, what a can of worms. Since our education system is mostly locally-funded, your neighborhood/town matters a lot. "Europe" doesn't have as wide a disparity of school quality as here. There is a 30% disparity in housing prices between the "nice" school districts and the more marginal ones- and the nice school districts have higher property taxes rates on top of that. I will withhold comment on the various idiotic fads at play in our education system. While US scholars have thought up great ideas in education theory, no one listens to them here. Instead, they've implemented the theories in Japan or other countries, to *their* benefit.

College- you've heard the rants before, I am sure. I think we shoot ourselves in the foot by making it so costly to get the training needed to make a living (which doesn't necessarily mean the university system).

Crime rate- again, if you manage to live in the suburbs or the nicer city neighborhoods it is less of an issue. Depending on your region of residence, the judicial system may have very different views in terms of defining the allowable threshold and means of self-defense. Michigan is not Maryland in SO many ways...

Culture- Everyone is a product of their own culture and that colors their views regarding any particular aspects of it. I grew up in small town Midwest, then came to the East Coast and hit some culture shock. Most of the US is very open and friendly in attitude- to the point where we unsettle various kinds of Europeans. In the less populated areas this attitude is even more so, but the urbanized areas have people more standoffish- it's the nature of the environment.

More people here are openly religious than in western Europe, and being openly, "aggressively" atheist might be a social liability in some quarters. Most of us figure "live and let live"- the shrill people of both sides are over-represented in public discourse.

Another aspect of culture is time-sense. Basically, how many minutes past posted time is considered late/tardy? Southern Europe and Northern Europe have very different answers to that question. While the US has more of an Anglo/German attitude on that front, the west coast seems a bit more relaxed on it. Different attitudes on this fuel the "$nationality drives me nuts" statements.

But it boils down to your own risk tolerance, and some serious introspection on your cultural assumptions. The US offers a greater range of risk vs. reward, but there are several gaping cracks in our social support system. One of the biggest is work/family balance. The "starting a family" phase is one of the worst scenarios for being in the US, if the wife needs to/wants to work after having a child. There is little financial subsidy and even less working accommodations for families with small children. Subsidized childcare is rare, and daycare in many places is as much or more than tuition at the state university would be (and this is at inflated US tuition rates).

I am at the start a family point myself, and am scared sh*tless about falling into the career black hole that is motherhood. Daycare in my region is around $1100-$1200/month, in other places even more. Unless you and your spouse could afford a full time nanny here, or have one parent stay home for years, I'd consider waiting until you have children and have them past infancy before making a move. Especially if both parents expect to work. And I hope the college tuition spiral breaks at some point in the next 10-15 years, else you'll want to start saving for the kid's tuition while they're still in diapers.*

*others here argue that it isn't necessary to fund a kid's higher education. Fine. But if we're comparing quality of life/options in Europe vs. the US, though, this is a very big detail to include in comparison.

Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: forummm on August 17, 2015, 12:34:58 PM
There's a lot wrong with the US--but the same can be said of much/all of the world. I have no plans to ever live elsewhere, even though it's cheaper elsewhere. I'll do some intl traveling in the future. But the US has a lot of good things going for it. I'm also biased because I'm a citizen and lived here my whole life, so I'm used to the way things are. There are many parts of the country I'd be happy to live in.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Freestyler on August 17, 2015, 02:22:08 PM
Thanks to you all for your useful and detailed answers and your encouragement. You all are awesome as usual. 

For the most part you confirmed (for good) that my knowledge and assumptions where more or less accurate. You also provided me with additional food for thought.

I currently live in Strasbourg (just moved from a tiny town in the region). Strasbourg is a very nice city with a truly high quality of life. With a lot of expats and an international feel (home to the European Parliament and next to several frontiers with Germany at its doorstep: could  even walk to it from my place when I first arrived) you have almost anything you and your family may need (including bilingual day care for toddlers and public international schools) in a not so big and not so expensive (compared to Paris, Switzerland, Luxembourg etc) city. The problem is the country, though, and also some portions of the culture.

I will provide more info in case it helps. I am a 37 yo MD with a coveted (surgical) specialization. I also hold an "international" (we basically toured the world while in the program) MBA from Duke University with concentrations in Finance and Health Sector Management. My wife, soon 38, is a nurse and a psychologist (both of them are graduate studies in Europe). Most of our certifications will be somewhat between useless to difficultly usable, at least with regards to direct patient care. There are ways though and also domains other than direct patient care where they could be useful and in demand. I am open to doing a number of different possible things, also provided it could be said I have attained a "certain degree" of financial independence. We have a 2.5 yo and a second one coming in the following weeks. I had thought about a third one but right now that's out of the question.

If we ever make the leap I am guessing it would take at the very least one year from now and more probably something like three. The goal would be to enjoy the quality of life, have a shot at realizing some of my wildest dreams (in terms of personal and professional realization) while enjoying the adventure and providing my offspring with the opportunity of being exposed to (and eventually form part of) the dominant culture and language in the world. On the other hand I had not so much thought about making the leap after they have grown up. Though it might be simpler in regard to child rearing I think I would see less value on doing so that late. On a similar note, I don't want to keep moving them for too long and would like to settle for at least fifteen years to provide them with a stable upbringing. This is also why I am trying hard to find the good place for the competing priorities that we will have in that period.

There is also the tension between a big city and a more calmed down, "easy" setting. Though I like the outdoors and I thought I could adapt to a less vibrant location the truth is that my experience in the French little town has showed me that I need a bigger and more energetic place. With its drawbacks, I also find it more stimulating for the kids. So I guess that condemns me to higher cost of life areas.

I sure have considered and continue to consider some other nearer locations in Europe. It's only that the US, which had been ruled out mainly for practical reasons, has revived lately as an option with its advantages and drawbacks. When I see my whole situation, plans and values it might make sense after all.

Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Seppia on August 17, 2015, 03:02:20 PM
After these new details I'll keep it simpler vs my prior post: NYC, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.
In this order.
You will love it, and will not look back.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Argyle on August 17, 2015, 03:22:32 PM
If you settle in a city like New York, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C., also factor in the expense of private schooling.  Tuition all the way from age 5 through university.

I know that you're thinking that living in the U.S. is a way of 'seeing the world,' but for kids raised there, it's a monolith and they don't see much of the rest of the world.  Yours may have something more of an international frame of mind because you and your wife (I assume) are European.  But remember that the majority of Americans do not have a passport.  Those who do typically think of the rest of the world as a place for a nice two-week vacation or a place for a short study-abroad program where you go wild because other countries have a lower drinking age.  So while you in the U.S. may be being international, your kids in the U.S. will probably grow up as more provincial.  At the very least many of the kids they know will be of that mindset. 
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: vhalros on August 17, 2015, 04:21:12 PM
The Boston area is also pretty great. Housing costs are kind of ridiculous, but not as bad as San Francisco or New York. Density is high, public transit is pretty good for an American city, it is walkable and bikeable. People have to me it has a somewhat European character, but I think they mostly mean that the roads don't make any damn sense. Many jobs available in the specialties of both yourself and your spouse. There are public schools in the area that are pretty good.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Sailor Sam on August 17, 2015, 05:09:45 PM
I like America, and I think it’s a fine place to live.

I’m assuming the liberal websites you’ve been reading are critical of the political actions my country has indulged in lately. I was in college in 2001, and I have witness the following 14 years from inside the US military machine. When viewed sequentially the atrocities are horrific and terrifying - aggression, torture, spying. Our leaders have a marked lack of compassion towards people who seek the same stability and prosperity we take for granted. We have a long way to go on race relations. Our heath care system is a confusing morass that fails a lot of people.

Despite all this I have great hope in America, mostly because of that military experience. I've responded to natural disasters (Katrina, Haiti, Deepwater Horizon) where I witness how admirably people act when something big surpasses the political, racial, problem-of-the-day divide. I’ve had a chance to live in 10 different cities across the nation. In each place the community has been kind, inclusive, and remarkably free from cynicism.

I believe we will find better leaders, and rediscover the spirit of true negotiation, and that we will continue to strive towards the ideals listed on the Statue of Liberty. I understand America isn’t the greatest nation in the world, but I do think it has great potential. I would say please, come live here and help make all of us better.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: russianswinga on August 17, 2015, 05:18:49 PM
I was born in Russia, have lived in the US for 23 years of my life, and will likely retire in the EU:
So to each their own. Make sure you research choices outside the US as well that may fulfill your retirement needs.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: john c on August 18, 2015, 03:16:24 AM
Depending on your medical specialty, you can make $300k to $500k per year, maybe more.  Your Spanish language skills make you even more valuable in the US.  After US taxes, you're still clearing $200k-$325k NET.

Surprisingly physicians/surgeons make the same or more money in remote places as in the desirable cities (SF, LA, Boston, NYC).  If you're even moderately frugal (ie, not living large like a Doctor) your wife can stay home with the kids, or go into private practice herself. 

If you like the outdoors, there are many cities to try that have LCOL.  Again, you'll make MORE money there than the HCOL cities.  This is because doctors want to live in LA/SF/NYC rather than Salt Lake City, Boise, or any number of 2nd or 3rd tier cities.

Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Ozapftis on August 18, 2015, 05:24:23 AM
Being from Germany and having lived in the US for several years, I've noticed that although there are substantial differences in many aspects, they eventually cancel each other out in the long run.
Also, I've noticed the same among countries in Europe, because I've also wondered in the past which countries might be most suitable for a FIRE-type lifestyle and frugal mentality, and whether it might make sense to relocate. So, over the past 5-10 years I have looked at a number of countries and looked into detail with respect to how their tax systems work, health care systems, education, etc. and how it would suit our FIRE and family needs.

The result: You always end up paying just about the same price. The only difference is HOW you will end up paying for it, but you'll always have to pay eventually.

For example, you have pointed out that the US taxes income -be it from capital gains or other- more moderately than Europe does. Keep in mind, though, that in many US states your income is taxed twice. First time on the federal level, then another time on the state level. Also, note that although Europe has some steep income tax rates, they exempt you from having to pay for various types of services that you will have to pay for extra in the US. If you consider all the healthcare cost and college education expenses your two kids will require over the next 18-20 years, then you might even end up paying much more than you would have in a European country where health care and education is often provided for next to free.
Then you have countries like Switzerland with a low tax rate AND a next-to-free health care and education system, but with house prices and an expense level for everyday things that is so grossly out of proportion compared to virtually all other places that again you wouldn't have achieved anything.

Thus, unfortunately, there is no free lunch. I really did a lot of number crunching over the years. The differences among countries in the western world simply aren't striking enough to really justify a move in most cases. Last but not least, the future is uncertain; what exists today may not exist tomorrow. For example, today the US charges a very moderate tax rate on income from work and capital gains. In the 1970s this was A LOT different. So, even if you could clearly tell that place A is more favorable to live in than place B, always be prepared to be disappointed just 10 years down the road.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Left on August 18, 2015, 05:31:51 AM
I prefer the US, it's just plain cheaper for the quality of life...

Where in Europe can I pass along my healthcare insurance to my employer? Sure they get "free" healthcare, but they pay for it through taxes. In the US, I split that cost with the employer so I "pay" less than if I footed the entire bill through taxes

Same with college costs... I can split that cost with scholarships/grants/employer

And it's a lot easier for me to earn money in a job in US (granted I haven't tried a professional job in EU/Asia) but the ones that friends do don't pay as well (teaching english mostly). But the entry cost into investing (any forms) is lower in the US too (at least more options to pick from)

pretty much the only ones I hear about whining on how the US costs too much are the same ones that would have overspent their money in foreign countries anyways, then they would be back where they started, broke. That is unless they bring US dollars to a cheap 3rd world country... and well, they just want to be part of the 1% that they whine about in the US anyways. They don't mind if they get to play in someone else's back yard but when they aren't the ones playing, it suddenly changes?
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: I'm a red panda on August 18, 2015, 07:13:54 AM
[quote author=Freestyler link=topic=42272.msg771605#msg771605 date=143984292

There is also the tension between a big city and a more calmed down, "easy" setting. Though I like the outdoors and I thought I could adapt to a less vibrant location the truth is that my experience in the French little town has showed me that I need a bigger and more energetic place. With its drawbacks, I also find it more stimulating for the kids. So I guess that condemns me to higher cost of life areas.


I think there is a lot of middle ground between city life and rural life in the United States.  Consider looking at small cities, especially college towns.  I live in the highest cost of living area in my state, but it would be absolutely laughable to anyone in a HCOL area to call this one.  We have parks, museums, live theater of varying quality (the traveling theater is obviously best, but there are community theaters that can be very good, especially for children), ice skating rinks, arenas that host hockey teams and concerts, tons of places to shop and eat (many offering a variety of ethnic food due to international students who eventually made the city home).   But we also have camping, hiking, boating, cross country skiing, bike trails, etc that more rural life can bring.

It's a happy medium.  I could never live somewhere rural, I need to be around people and I don't want to commute to work- but there is NO WAY I could live in a big city. Way too many people, too many buildings. When work sends me to NYC I appreciate Broadway, but my anxiety levels working in a skyscraper just go through the roof.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Argyle on August 18, 2015, 10:43:35 AM
As an addendum to what someone said about the cost of health care - one thing is that health care costs are 17.1% of GDP in the U.S., where they're around 9% of GPD in most of Europe.  (  This is partly because it's largely a for-profit system, and also because of the extra bureaucracy in having many dozens of insurance companies etc.  So whether out of pocket or in reduced salary or wherever, in an absolute sense you'll be paying more for health care.  (Also remember that American insurance companies, unlike for instance the British NHS, only pay a percentage of the charges — which is why most Americans who declare bankruptcy because of a health care crisis actually had insurance.)  This may be compensated for by higher salaries in your field or whatever, but it's another piece of the puzzle.

Another thing you might look into before deciding is the cost of malpractice insurance. I'm not a physician but I know many people say the American system of medical malpractice laws and insurance is formidably expensive.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Abe on August 18, 2015, 05:17:59 PM
If you did not go to a US medical school, you will have to pass the USMLE Steps 1-3, a process that takes 1-2 years and then apply for licensure (6 months - 1 year depending on the state). What is your subspecialty specifically? Depending on what it is, you may have a hard time finding a high-paying position. Salaries in the large cities (NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, LA, Boston) tend to be lower than in smaller cities. Also, it is very difficult for foreign medical graduates in coveted specialties to be hired in California and New York.  The best chances are in rural or (less desirable) suburban areas. In these settings, the hospital may reimburse the costs of the USMLE testing. Depending on the subspecialty, income ranges from $250k (low end, starting) to $500k. Regarding malpractice - the costs are quite variable depending on the state, but for private practice surgeons greater than $25k/year is the norm. You will end up with $180-$350k after all taxes and insurance are considered. This is far above the median family income and you can live very well anywhere. If you are in a large medical group or other self-insured entity, you won't pay this directly (thus avoiding taxes on income that'll immediately be spent). If you have further questions about specifics, feel free to message me. Good luck to you!
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Freestyler on August 19, 2015, 03:56:16 AM
More great answers. Thank you!

Though I would definitely enjoy to live in NYC, San Francisco and the likes were I to be a billionaire (OK, even with a mid 7 or 8 eight figures net worth, which I don't have) they might be a bit too expensive in my circumstances. Although they are not totally ruled out (specially if I'd be able to get a nice job there) as others said I find nice 2nd tier cities (or maybe just about every other city but those two) could be a good compromise. I just would like to avoid a too rural and isolated environment. Regarding place choice once I am further into the process and have a clearer picture of my options I'll perform due diligence on that also.

I have researched all type of locations around the world (even Botswana and other "exotic" ones...). I have also taken a look at Montenegro in the past. Though, officially, there is no one specialist in my field in the country, they still seem to have important issues as a nation and society. Also, and concerning any switch of countries as kvurani said cost and administration are not negligible as I already had the opportunity to experience.

Regarding benefits and savings that may cancel out I had also realized that. Even thought there are clear tendencies in that regard I still think there are places that tend to be better for certain people-situations than others. And that's also the reason we can see different types of people with different values and objectives accumulating in different countries and regions. I agree that due diligence is always needed. And even with that, I have first hand experience that there are always things that you had not factored in and surprises that arise.

I am an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon. Itīs my understanding that to get a "full" license to practice in the US I would have to pass the UMSLE Steps AND also redo residency training, which I have mostly been (and mostly continue to be) unwilling to do. I know some people that seem to have only completed a part of the process and gotten what I believe to be "ad hoc" or limited licensing to work in specific positions (wouldn't, by default, be allowed to work outside of those). I am going to get more information about that, but itīs true my circumstances and willingness limit somehow my options in that regard.

I have a midterm plan to continue to explore all these options and will probably contact some of you to continue to have your kind help.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Ipodius on August 19, 2015, 04:22:15 AM
Lots of interesting info, but I will disagree with one assertion made by a few people - I don't think you will end up paying as much in healthcare in the US, as you would have in taxes. Because you earn far above the norm, in a European country you would be subsidizing others' health care due to your taxes being a percentage of income (no judgement, just a fact). In the US, if you earn $150k or you earn $300k, your private health insurance will be very similar - so the more you earn, the smaller a percentage of your income it is.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: Freestyler on August 19, 2015, 04:49:26 AM
Lots of interesting info, but I will disagree with one assertion made by a few people - I don't think you will end up paying as much in healthcare in the US, as you would have in taxes. Because you earn far above the norm, in a European country you would be subsidizing others' health care due to your taxes being a percentage of income (no judgement, just a fact). In the US, if you earn $150k or you earn $300k, your private health insurance will be very similar - so the more you earn, the smaller a percentage of your income it is.

Thatīs totally it and one of the main (though not the only one) reasons why I'am considering moving. Didnīt want to develop a lot and get in a (heated and sterile?) debate about it, but one of the problems is that I pay truly outrageous (mainly unthinkable) amounts here in exchange for very little to almost nothing. Though that may change in the future I have many years ahead of me where I will pay easily between 10x and more like 100x what I may contribute. As an example, and even with the great amounts I pay I donīt have neither unemployment rights nor even professional accidents cover. Even if much cheaper than in the US healthcare is not free (paid 600 euros out of pocket for pretty basic care for a gastroenteritis for my toddler) unless you manage to convince the administration that you are truly poor. Retirement pensions are ridiculous (in the event they will still be there in the future once the system is completely bankrupt).  Individually it will be useless to pay all that money and surrender my freedom to the French government and, even worse, I donīt think thatīs finally very beneficial to anyone but too often to people with hardly legitimate goals (and I am not only or even mainly talking here about the allegedly final recipients of the subsidies). I am all in for solidarity and opportunities for everyone but I donīt see the system here working and, additionally, it doesnīt fit myself and my situation at all.

But again and trying to avoid that lengthy and futile moral, social and political debate, from a merely financial standpoint I also think moving would most likely get myself ahead. And, also, from a cultural and values standpoint I prefer another kind of environment and incentives for me and my kids growing up.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: aspiringnomad on August 19, 2015, 09:44:35 PM
As others have said, the US has pros and cons, many of which apply only to some situations and some parts of the country. I've lived and traveled abroad quite a bit and married a foreigner, so I have a decent amount of exposure to other economic/political systems. From what I've seen, overall quality of life is better in a few other countries (including many parts of France), but there is almost certainly no better place for a well-educated person to accumulate wealth and achieve FIRE than in the US. Even more so for those in the medical field, since you do not need to live in a large and expensive city to find a well-paying job. So if FIRE is your goal, come on over. You can always move back home in retirement.
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: pdxvandal on August 19, 2015, 10:42:16 PM
Rain season is on in Seattle from the 2nd of February till the end of January while being quite moderate temperature-wise,

I guess you've never been to Seattle. Rainy season typically lasts from November through June. Except this year, when it lasted from November through February.

I love Seattle, but wouldn't recommend it unless you make good money (75k-100k+) and live within 5 miles from work. It's turning into a poor-man's San Francisco ... which means it's still expensive!
Title: Re: Is the US still a good country to live in?
Post by: lizzzi on August 20, 2015, 06:50:07 AM
Take a look at the Mid-Hudson valley, somewhere between NYC and Albany. You could live in a pleasant small city or village, with access by train (Dutchess county) or bus (Ulster county) to Manhattan. The best of both worlds, I think. The Adirondacks (Lake George etc.) are an easy long weekend, as is Montreal, if you get homesick for something more continental. Google something like "Dutchess county tourism" or "Ulster county tourism" and see what you think.