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You can do better than throwing a dart at itChoosing Which Country to Live in

Increasingly these days people are making a positive choice to live in a different country from that in which they were born. Countries now find themselves in a position like private enterprise companies who try to compete with each other to please and attract customers.

It makes good sense that a country should attract people to migrate and live there. Any country that can get itself a reputation as a tax haven has a good headstart in getting prosperous people to move there, who are good for the economy regardless of whether they pay tax. Tax Havens are Good

From a personal perspective this goes further than the idea of Tax Havens, as there are many aspects to a country, and it's important to make the right decision when choosing a country to move to. Many things have to be considered: the culture, climate, diversity-tolerance, language, etc.

It's always been possible for people to think of escaping from where they started, and some people have succeeded in making the leap from thinking about it to putting it into effect. There were some quite notable cases of this in the 17th Century when some people moved to the Americas and founded some new countries in the New World. However, in the old times it was a much bigger effort, and would have been like space exploration. Now things are easier, with better international communication, widespread knowledge about places, improved transport, and greater average personal wealth. It's easier to up-sticks than at any previous time in history.

Admittedly international migration isn't for everyone, because:

1. Some people are reasonable happy where they started, or at least not so dischuffed that they are willing to emigrate.

2. If you're moving the family, there are questions of how to stay in touch with your dear relatives who aren't moving.

3. The practical difficulty of moving, and the economic merits of relocation, after consideration of the costs.

4. Some people are either unaware that they can move, or they are unable to make decisions on what to do.

It is this last point which I intend to help with here. Yes, you can move, if you are so minded. Plus, the matter of choosing which country to migrate to; there are ways of choosing. You need to get the knowledge so as to make an informed choice.

STEP 1: Making a list!

This is a practical idea, remarkably inexpensive, and very useful in focusing thought on different aspects of the question. Here's what to do:

1. Get a list of all the countries in the world, and then start crossing off those which are a disaster for one reason or another, and for those that are still worth considering, you make notes about the good and bad about them.

This is an interesting turnaround in the balance of power, because instead of governments sitting in judgement over you, you are now the judge of them. Never mind supposed "democracy". Now you get to vote with your feet!

2. As more information comes in, the list becomes a shortlist, and then you can narrow down your choice, and consider visiting the countries! Many adventurous travel companies will be helpful in making your travel arrangements.

STEP 2: Practical Exploration

With your shortlist in mind, you can start making arrangements to visit the countries. You don't need to visit them all, as extra information will come in during your initial visits to places. Although the travelling is more expensive than the making of a list, this is the next logical step in your emigration.

As some of the destinations may be easier to visit than others, it's often best to start with those which are on the travel agents' maps. These are cheaper to visit, and people may assume that you are on holiday. See Travel and arrange something.

Booking a two week stay, or maybe a three week stay, in one of your chosen shortlist destinations, is a good idea. When you're out there, remember that it's not just a holiday. You have to step outside the resort to do research into what the country is really like! You need to talk with expats and locals, and learn what you can. Property agents are often keen to show you places you can buy, as they would like you to move.

The next part of the exploration is this: After visiting a country and finding you like it after a 2-3 week visit, such that you're still considering moving there, you should next book a three month stay. This is something I was told by my tax adviser: You need to live in a country for three months before emigrating there. This makes good sense. It's not as expensive as it sounds. You stay in a hotel for the first week and then live in the community for the rest of the time. That way, you find out what the country is really like.

QUALITIES: When you are evaluating countries, here are a few practical considerations to think about:

* FREEDOM. Is the country in question a place where there is genuine freedom to do whatever you want, or is it more of an authoritarian system where there are too many rules and restrictions?

* TAX. Are you expected to pay tax? Is it a reasonable tax regime, or is there too much tax? You can shop around for tax havens and get the best deal.

* CLIMATE. Do you like it tropically hot?, or more temperate, or cold? You can now have a preference.

* ELEVATION. If you don't like sea level rise, or you are concerned about the risk of a tsunami, you can avoid these things by choosing a country that has some high ground. (some countries have NO high ground. Check the "highest point" data in information sources).

* COST OF LIVING. How much will it cost you to live in the place of your choice? Some places are much more expensive than others for various reasons. Consider the price of food, property, general expenses.

* HEALTHCARE. If you're escaping from the UK, don't forget that you'll have to pay money for your actual healthcare in your country of choice. Remember that if you intend to get old before you die, you have to have enough money to pay for your healthcare in old age. Even the best health insurance may decide not to insure you at some point. It's best to ask in advance: "Will you still insure me, when I'm 64? ... or 84? ... or 104? etc".

* POLITICAL STABILITY. What's the economy like? Are there any risks that the country is going to have a revolution, or be invaded? Is the country based on falseness and might collapse? Has the country got enemies in the world and is in the cross-hairs of anyone else's weapons?

* CRIME. (burglary, theft, mugging, etc). Most countries have crime. The question is whether you can defend yourself against it. It's worth allocating a budget for security, a defence budget.

* CORRUPTION. If you have some freedom and a budget for security, you can defend yourself against crime. What's more difficult is trying to defend yourself against corrupt police. For example, see police corruption in Belize

* MURDER RATE. You can get an objective view of the murder rate by checking how many people are killed (measured in so-many per 100,000 of the population per year).

* NATURAL HAZARDS. Volcanoes (extinct for how long?), tsunami (check elevation), earthquakes (see historical record), wind (hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, and tornadoes), wildfire, flood, and the effects of mass panic if any of those things happened, and government mismanagement making things worse. See survival for more about this.

* POPULATION DENSITY. Some countries are more overcrowded than others. Check population per square area of country, not simply the number of people. Generally the more sparsely-populated a place is, the more land you can afford to buy.

* LANGUAGE. If you're moving to a country, you should learn the language. Some languages are easier to learn than others, and some have a wider usability than others. With practice, you can learn another language.

* CONNECTIONS AND INFRASTRUCTURE. Can you get Internet easily? Are the phones sensible prices? Is VoIP available or are they trying to ban it still? Can you get in and out of the country easily enough? How well is it connected up with the rest of the world?

* ANY STICKING-POINT RULES. Check to make sure there are no rules of a type which would cross the country off the list. Expats know about these things. (for example if you want to be cryonically frozen in liquid nitrogen, make sure the country hasn't got an oldfashioned religious dogma banning it).

* DO THEY LIKE FOREIGNERS? Some countries make you welcome, but some countries put you off. Check in advance.

CAUTION: It is typical for any publicity for a country to be all about what's GOOD about the place. Tourist brochures are notable for this. This isn't what you want. Instead, you need to find ABSENCE OF BAD. There are ways of finding the truth, which I'll explain.

The reason for the quest being about absence of bad things is because we are more interested in the reality, not in the talk. It's very easy for a country to have glorious reviews written by publicity-experts, cunningly ignoring the downsides, and yet if you moved there you'd discover the problems at your cost. I know about what's wrong with Belize, but I know that the Belize Tourist Board's publicity bumf makes the place to look like paradise, ignoring all its problems. To illustrate this, supposing there was a brochure by the Antarctica Tourist Board?! It might say: "Migrate and live in Antarctica! Enjoy the freedom of not having an over-controlling government. Vast areas of property available. No income tax! Excellent scenery! Free airconditioning. No noisy neighbours. The country isn't at war with anyone, has no foreign debt, and has a clean record on human rights". Sounds good, but then when you found out the weather is a bit cold, it might not seem quite such a good idea.

How to find absence of bad: It sounds a bit like proving the non-existence of God. However, there's a practical approach. Do searches for things, and not find them. For countries, this can be done practically, by doing a search on a search engine for things like "police corruption in the Philippines", "too many stupid laws in Singapore", "homophobia in Jamaica", etc. You can nominate problems, and then search for them. (with any international search, you may need to put a negative term in to eliminate results that contain all countries and are irrelevant for a country-specific search. This is explained on the page: How to find stuff, in the paragraph about half-way down). After a few reworded searches, you will start to find reviews people have written about their own stories in such places. You can then look into these and verify the truth or otherwise. Also, if several people talk about human rights problems in a country, it starts to look as if it's not an isolated incident. No country can hush-up its problems, and people will write about them. This is in stark contrast to countries' own publicity attempts which start by the naming of the country. If a place has "democratic" in the country name, that's usually a bad sign.

By reading a variety of different viewpoints about a place, you can get a more three-dimensional view, rather than just believing someone or other. ARUBA is an interesting case in point, because there are a few people who hate the place so badly that if there's anything bad about it they'll say. So, any unmentioned ills are reasonably safe to discount. You need to consider the different views of different people, and to make your own mind up about who's right, if anyone is. Evidence is open to scientific analysis.

Checklist of Problems to search for:

It's easy to check on objective facts such as the country's land area, highest point elevation, population density, etc. When you're searching for instances of hidden problem in a country, you need to search for the type of things which people cry out in alert about, such as:

* Police corruption and dishonesty.

* Tyranny and overbearing authority.

* Homophobia, over-religious attitudes, persecution of the minority, etc.

* Kidnapping, torture.

* Innocent people in jail.

* Extremism (of various types - specify).

* Extraordinary rendition.

* Bad laws, prohibition, etc.

* Organised crime and racketeering.

* Seizure of property.

With any of these bad things to check for in a search, the type of thing to search for is <problem> in <country> (with an optional -<unrelated country> to eliminate catch-all country-listing).

You can also get an idea of the cultural diversity of a country by searching for things like: goth nightspots in <country>, etc. The wider the range of minority interests that are catered for in a country (per population) the better the cultural diversity. It's also worth checking to see if there are plenty of different and diverse religions, not just your own, and not just the state-enforced religion.

Discovering for Yourself

When you start visiting countries and exploring for yourself, you are exploring yourself as well as the places. You start to discover things about yourself; things you need to factor into the decision.

There are many good and bad things about the UK, but I decided a while ago that it was no longer a good idea for me to remain there because the government was expecting to claim 40% of my international income while I was alive and then a further 40% (of all the money I'd already paid tax on) after I died. I was also unhappy with the government's increasingly oppressive clampdown on personal freedom in the UK. Plus, I knew that some places had warmer weather.

I have visited five tax havens so far, for two weeks each, and two of them for three months each. I've always tested places for cultural toleration of the eccentric, as well as the obvious tax advantages.

After the Belize incident, extra emphasis went on the matter of police integrity, for obvious reasons. At the time of writing this page, I am in Panama, which seems good so far. However, it wouldn't be everyone's choice. I have now made a list of Countries of the World for you to use as a starting checklist. You make a copy of the list for your own use, cross off places that have problems, and then do further research on the rest.

Update: I have now emigrated from the UK to Panama. More about Panama here.