Portugal is an increasingly popular destination for Americans. Credit: Liam McKay / Unsplash

Have you ever fantasized about moving abroad? More and more Americans — both professionally active and retired — are doing so, spurred by a variety of factors including the political climate, gun violence, cost of living and work-life balance. They’re frequently relocating to Europe, where countries like Portugal, Italy and Spain have seen significant increases in resident Americans. And while many are doing it, it’s a bit more complicated than simply booking a flight. This week, the Escape Home spoke with Alex Ingrim, a financial advisor at Chase Buchanan based in Florence, Italy, who specializes in helping fellow Americans with financial planning matters associated with moving to Europe. We asked him how to get started, what to expect, and why so many people are doing it.

The following has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

The Escape Home: How did you end up in this niche of advising Americans who want to move to Europe about their finances? 

Ingrim: I studied abroad about 16 years ago in France, and the first week, I met a girl and fell in love —  she’s now my wife. So I started my career in Europe, got into wealth management, and realized over the course of a decade plus that no one was willing to work with Americans who lived abroad. And there weren’t any on-the-ground resources for a U.S. citizen, you as a U.S. tax liability, who might also live in France, Italy or Spain. All the companies I worked for and most of the people I’ve worked with wouldn’t deal with Americans. So there was a lack of resources. I was also tired of building portfolios and doing work that didn’t translate to my own life.

France is one of the most tax efficient places for retirees to move in Europe. Credit: Dimitri Iakymuk / Unsplash

The Escape Home: What trends have you seen regarding Americans moving to Europe over the past few years?

Ingrim: Before Covid, you didn’t see Americans coming in large numbers. There wasn’t enough of a critical mass that word got back to New York or San Francisco or wherever that life’s really good in Portugal or Spain. Instead, you were always the outlier if you were American. And then, post-Covid, a lot of people wanted to work remotely or retire early ended up moving to Europe, in part because of a lower cost of living.

We’ve seen people from all over the political spectrum who were kind of disenchanted with life in the U.S. and what it had become, which I find fascinating. We also saw a lot of interest from marginalized groups, whether it was the LGBTQ community, Latino community, African American community, or Jewish community.  We have heard this from every single person who has worked in the mobility sector. It was like the people that felt most vulnerable in society were the first to move.

The Escape Home: You mentioned that it took a while for word to get back to the U.S. that life in Europe is really good. Can you elaborate on that? 

Ingrim: The cost of living is lower. The cost of what you perceive as a luxury — travel for example — is lower. Things that we naturally assume as Americans are expensive, like really nice food and really nice wine are less expensive. Going out to eat is definitely cheaper. So a lot of things that if you’re on a fixed income and you’re retired, you wouldn’t be able to access in the U.S., you can access in Europe. The walkability is huge. You can just set yourself up in a big city and not have to own a car and not have to think about the hassle that comes with that. There’s also the lack of violence — I never want to send my kids to school and wonder what’s going to happen. You don’t really feel unsafe. I feel more in danger  in a small U.S. town than I do in Rome. 

The Escape Home: What about culturally?

Ingrim:  I always say that Europe is, in a lot of ways, less confrontational. Politics are never in your face. It’s not a discussion that you have money, status, your job — those things aren’t important. It’s ‘where did you go on holiday? What did you have for dinner last night? Are your kids all right?’ That’s the conversation. I feel like that’s the undercurrent that everyone tries to express about the quality of life, but it’s hard to put into words.

Many Americans are drawn to Italy for its low cost of living. Credit: Ali Nuredini / Unsplash

The Escape Home: Let’s say someone is considering retiring to Europe. What are some of the first steps you would advise them to take?

Ingrim: The first thing that we ask someone is where they’re looking to move because the tax laws in that country play a huge role in understanding what they should do in terms of financial planning. Then we look at the double taxation agreement between the U.S. and the country they’re moving to. This agreement outlines which country you pay taxes to. Think of it as the countries calling dibs on who they get to tax. So if Spain has outlined in their double taxation agreement with the U.S. that they get to tax most of your income streams, for example, you end up paying most of your taxes to Spain and you offset that against what you would owe to the U.S. You do usually end up paying more taxes than you would pay if you were just a U.S. tax resident unless you’re somewhere with really high state tax rates like California or New York.

The Escape Home: Which country is the most advantageous tax-wise?

Ingrim: The best double taxation agreement for retirees is actually France. It’s the most tax efficient place to move. If you’re retiring as an American, there’s a bunch of different special clauses in the agreement that make it so you really only pay U.S. taxes on most of your assets. 

The Escape Home: Is it possible to retire comfortably to Europe on Social Security alone?

Ingrim: Yeah, and there’s a lot of people that live in Europe that just live off Social Security due to the lower cost of living. And if you just have a Social Security income stream the taxes aren’t too onerous, they’re not going to offset all of the gain you get from moving to a cheaper place.  You can really live what I would say is a much better lifestyle when you don’t think about dollars and cents.

The Escape Home: Speaking of retirees — what’s the healthcare situation like?

Ingrim: The health care thing is mind blowing to everyone that moves to Europe. You aren’t always covered by the national health system in which case you have to buy health insurance. But even the most crazy plan that you can imagine, gold or platinum level private healthcare plans are about $300 per month.  

The Escape Home: Living in Europe sounds amazing — give me the bad.

Ingrim: Oh, there’s plenty of bad things like anywhere else. Houses are a lot smaller than in the U.S. —  a 2,000-square-foot-house is a mansion in Europe. You don’t always have your own outdoor space.  There’s a lot of bureaucracy and hassle. You frankly just have to work through it and have thick skin in order to be successful. 

The Escape Home: What are some common pitfalls you tell people to avoid before moving?

Ingrim: Some people just assume they can move to another country and play by the same rules. They only want to pay U.S. taxes, assume that the laws are the same,  and don’t acknowledge that they’re in a new country, which sounds weird, but I see it constantly.

The Escape Home: No, that sounds pretty American.

Ingrim: Yeah, it’s super American. Another common thing is that people assume it’s really easy to get a job in Europe. And it’s not. You can’t move to Europe without a job and assume that you’re going to be able to work, that’s not a thing.

The Escape Home: I’m ready to start making moves. What are my next steps? 

Ingrim: One, look at the immigration rules of the country you’re interested in and talk to an immigration lawyer. Step two, speak to a tax lawyer to find out the financial impacts of moving. And the third thing is logistics — where am I going to live? Am I going to drive? Are there schools for my kids? First you need to figure out if you can live there, then the financial impact, then everything else comes after. 

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