Reflections on why I emigrated from the USA and retired overseas

Would I ever consider returning to the USA? I seriously doubt it

The population of the planet has doubled in the last 40 years and is predicted to top 7 billion people by October 31, 2011. We are running out of food, water, and other important resources in many locations on this big blue marble. Many people are very worried about tectonic changes in the world’s power dynamics. However, that is not the reason I left the formerly greatest nation on earth. My leaving it all behind has more to do with what has happened, is happening, and what will happen on a different level.

The United States reminds me more and more of a self-destructive individual, you know, the ones that cut themselves, consume all types of drugs such as crack cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin, alcohol, and tobacco (and there are many more). This is more than a metaphor, and it is transpiring in spite of the fact that the marginal educational system in the nation has spent huge sums of money and resources to educate the young and most impressionable to the dangers of consuming toxic substances. Perhaps we should make drain cleaner and gasoline illegal as well?

My disillusionment started in about 1980, when Ronald Reagan, a B actor, defeated Jimmy Carter for the presidency of the USA. Americans completely ignored Reagan’s non-accomplishments in the Golden State, where he, with the help of some early anti-government and anti-tax enthusiasts, notably Howard Jarvis and Proposition 13, dismantled that which had, until that time, been the shining example of what the United States of America was capable of doing with its fine young minds. The California University system was an institution that was not run as a for-profit enterprise, but was a great experiment in paying it forward. Between the end of WWII and the Reagan War on Education in California, hundreds of thousands of young minds had been educated and shaped to innovate, creating what was to become the eight largest economy in the world. Now, look at the state today: terminally indebted, the tax base eroded by self-serving citizens who apparently forgot that they all received a free education, paid for by their parents and grandparents via property taxes.

Subconsciously, I was already looking for an “escape from America” when, in 1974, I moved my family to Costa Rica and bonded with that lovely but corrupt little country; however it was not what I was seeking. After our return to the USA after a couple of years, we moved to Maui, where we were reasonably isolated from the realities of the mainland and world events in general. We had a big garden, two cows (named Chuck and Roast), five cars, a nice boat, a giant house, and I even managed to score one of the first Apple computers (a big disappointment from which I would not recover until I finally broke down and purchased my next computer, a Dell, in 1999).

So things were really going well, but while I was far away, the stench of corruption started to permeate our capital, with the help of lobbyists and corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Eventually the Evangelicals started to wield their mighty sword of guilt across the nation, starting with the so-called silent majority. The problem with that moniker of course is that they were neither silent nor a majority. But in a nation first settled by the Puritans, where the men subjugated the woman as badly as they are being subjugated by Islam and today’s remnants of the buggy riding Mennonites, wearing your religion on your sleeve as a politician became as important as getting corporate political donations.

Then came 9/11! My wife and I were involved in a lucrative business venture that allowed us to travel in a very comfortable tour bus with our dogs all around the nation, from music festival to music festival to music festival. We were south of Denver, visiting my wife’s family and taking care of business on that fateful day. At about 8 am, the phone rang in our rig, parked at Cherry Creek Reservoir. It was my friend Barry calling me from West Virginia, urging me to turn on the TV. While I did that he stated to me, “We live in a different world now!” As the picture on my set became focused, I realized with growing horror what a huge event this was. The towers had already collapsed, and all the networks just kept playing the various footages of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers with their subsequent collapse into piles of dust and rubble.

What I saw rising out of that cloud of dust and rubble was the loss of freedoms and liberty, along with a strengthening of the US police state, which had already surpassed the percentage of incarcerated citizens of any other nation in the world, the privatization of prisons, and the harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines that robbed the judiciary of its ability to apply moderation in certain cases that got caught up in throwing the book at deserving defendants. What exists in this paradox is a clear violation of the separation of powers, that of the legislative and judicial branches. But it has become a major source of income for the US prison industry, which in turn kicks back millions of dollars to the lobbyists, who distribute those funds to elected officials in return for the favor of allowing them to be the authors of policies that are very favorable to them. And out the window goes justice!

And how did I feel about the actual event? I was horrified of course, and mourned the loss of life in that terrible episode that will forever be etched into the nation’s psyche. But was I surprised? Not at all! My surprise is at how the United States of America, and particularly the brain-dead president and national security advisor (Bush and Rice) completely ignored the Presidential Daily Briefing of one month before, where the intelligence community warned the President of the United States of America, a legacy low C student at Yale, that Bin-Laden was determined to commit a terrorist attack in the United States, possibly preparing for “hijackings or other types of attacks.” And this report was ignored.

Almost half of the US voted for this dunce, but worse, they overwhelmingly reelected the formerly AWOL Texas National Guard member. In his own words, he warned the electorate, and they did not listen to him. They thought it was funny. I wonder if they still think its funny, with the country and the world’s economies in shambles.

“I graduated from Yale University with a low C average.”

“I was a cheerleader. Yes, really.”

“We’re going to have the best educated American people in the world.” – Verbatim quote, George W. Bush

“Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children.” – Verbatim quote, Governor George W. Bush

Right after the attacks on the country, Congress convened and rammed through a series of laws, packaged as the misnamed “USA Patriot Act,” giving the authorities unprecedented new powers to spy on their own citizens anywhere in the world. No doubt there are bad people out there who wish to do harm to the United States, but the United States has harmed itself much more that all the criminals who perpetrated the actions of 9/11 ever did. We have lost more US citizens in Iraq, fighting a war based on lies, than we lost in the attacks on 9/11. The USA killed untold numbers of innocent Iraqi civilians to fight that unjustifiable war, creating much hatred toward the nation in that region.

The USA justifiably attacked and invaded a rogue country, Afghanistan, to take out its twisted leaders. And now forces have been there almost ten years, at great cost, not to mention that the two unwinnable and misguided wars, combined with irresponsible tax cuts and rebates, have destroyed the nation’s fiscal health for years to come. Did the terrorists succeed? Beyond a doubt, if, as G.W. Bush so wisely observed, “They hate us for our freedom!”

That hastily passed USA Patriot Act marked the decline of the ideals that the United States and its constitution stand for. But then came the imminent domain case of New London before the US Supreme court, which ruled with an astonishing anti-liberty and anti-constitutional 5:4 majority, this time by the more liberal members of the court, that government could seize private property and turn it over to a for-profit private development company. This decision was rendered over six years ago, and the forces that be wasted no time carrying out the evictions. Let the record reflect that, as of September 11, 2011, nothing has been built there, and the area is an overgrown eyesore.

There was a similar but equally disgusting case of the serial bankruptee, Donald Trump, forcing an old lady out of the home she was born in, in Atlantic City, so he could build a parking structure for his soon to be opened and subsequently closed casino.

Day by day, I lost more and more faith in the establishment known as United States Democracy, and soon found myself looking longingly at Mexico, but quickly acknowledging the disaster that loomed around the corner for the Aztec nation in the form of narco-terrorism.

We soon learned about dozens of lobbyists funding congresspersons, writing their own laws, and having the ever-corrupt public servants introduce the same said bills and fighting for them, making all kinds of backroom deals to pay back for that golf outing to Scotland on private corporate jets. Were enough citizens sufficiently outraged to march in the streets to bring about change? No! They went about their business like sheep, most of them being completely unaware of the cancer that had been eating at the republic, at the concept of “one man, one vote.” Most people in the United States today have no idea who Jack Abramoff was, and I am afraid that they just don’t give enough of a damn to get up from their living room furniture to ever raise the kind of ruckus that is necessary to re-establish Democracy. Even if they did, the paramilitary police forces will be ready for them with machine guns, armored personnel carriers, toxic gases, microwave weapons and hundreds of thousands of jack booted, armored storm troopers, ready to oppress popular dissent. But not to worry, I really don’t think they have it in them to rise up. They are too concerned with their credit ratings and making sure they have the latest and greatest made in China consumer goods.

Now of course comes your obvious question: Why and how can I live in Argentina, a country that is even more corrupt? The very short answer is: It’s not my country! I have no history with any other nation except Switzerland. I only served in the Armed Forces of the USA because I was compelled to do so, and to some extent, I fell for our leader’s proclamation that we had to defend freedom in Vietnam. It was somewhat suspicious to me at the time that we were getting involved in a nation engulfed in a full-fledged civil war, in the end killing over one million “Gooks.” The reality was that they were human beings with mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, and friends, and the USA killed and maimed an astonishing number of innocents there and in the illegal incursions into neighboring countries.

Would I ever consider returning? I seriously doubt it. Every day while scanning the news around the world – financial and otherwise – I lose a little more hope, and at my age, 64, I have absolutely no illusions about the USA ever returning to the days of “The Andy Griffith Show” or to anything close to its former glory. On the contrary, I see a future for the United States that is very bleak indeed. I have serious doubts that President Obama will be reelected. The tragedy of that is not lost on me, even though I am no fan of his. This will allow the next Republican administration to select one to three new Federalist Society judges to the Supreme Court, cementing their majority. It will happen sooner or later, to the further detriment of the educational system, the ideal of Democracy, and the rights to true freedom, liberty, and justice for all.

Every day I wake up, and thank my parents and grandparents for having been Swiss and bestowing that privilege upon me at birth in Zürich, that lovely but expensive city on the lake.

About the author: Jamie Douglas is an Adventurer, Writer and Photographer with an amazing array of Nikon equipment, and a lifetime of experience traveling and documenting. He currently enjoys the great weather and fine wines of Mendoza, Argentina, and edits Expat Daily News and Expat Daily News Latin America.

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  1. george September 30, 2011 at 11:25 am

    A decent read, but spoiled by the political comments. The leftist extreme comments tend to qualify any other comments made.

    It would be nice to see articles that stick to the point. To mention that the author did not agree with the administration at the time is fine, but the numerous comments on the authors leftist agenda was unnecessary in my opinion and detracts from the contents.

  2. Nick Duggan October 1, 2011 at 10:37 am

    This is an excellent focused article. One of the best I have read on this topic and I am not even an American but a British national settled in Thailand since 1989. Corruption is not good but sometimes at least when it is visible and blatant, we don’t fall into the trap of thinking everything is fine. Thank you Jamie.

  3. brett juneau October 1, 2011 at 11:06 am

    At first glance, I was going to call you a Communist-terrorist coward, but after reading the article a little closer, I realize that you are an ex-patriot hippee that can offer no solution to the crisis that looms ahead. Not all of us can cut and run as you did. I would love to hear a non-biased solution from your side to what is happening in the white house today since it seems you are for this regime.

  4. Mark McInerney October 1, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Great article Jamie!

    I see from the bio at the bottom that you are enjoying Mendoza.
    I have a strong interest in moving there myself.
    My travels in Argentina have taken me everywhere but to Mendoza.
    So, my next trip down will be there.

    I really enjoyed your article.
    I am also not a huge fan of obama, or any democrat for that matter.
    Since it looks like you are a liberal, let me take the opportunity to point out the damage done to America by the liberal democrats:
    Carter was a coward–most of the modern problems in the Middle-East can be traced back to his desk.
    Clinton repealed Glass-Steagal Act–which led directly to the derivative disaster which caused this Recession.
    Clinton stole money from Social Security–he used it to balance his budget, then passed a law forcing us to work two more years before we can collect retirement.
    obama, by himself added 42% to the deficit–one administration, in 2 1/2 added more than Bush did in 8 years. I could go on and on, but I think you see the point. It is BOTH PARTIES not just the Republicans.

    Anyway, politics aside, I share your desire for not being in the USA.
    Perhaps, if you have some time, you could share some more contact info with me?
    I am very serious about Mendoza. Currently, I have been learning commercial wine making in Washington State, and I have even worked with Malbec (believe it or not!).

    Right now, I am looking at having a medical procedure which is barring me from working in the wine industry.
    I should be feeling better by January of 2012, if not a little bit sooner.
    A trip to Argentina would be just the thing to get me back on track.

    I would like to talk to you sometime, so here is my number, 206-484-0054.
    I am looking forward to communicating with you in the future!

    Take care,

    Mark McInerney

  5. Tye October 1, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I enjoyed your essay and agree with everything which is unusual for me. I wondered why you mentioned the eminent domain case but not Bush v Gore or Citizens United; these latter cases represent a broader push towards corporate fascism. And now the Supremes will be visiting Obamacare, while Thomas’ wife actively lobbies against its demise. How lucky you have swiss parents.

  6. MVP October 1, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Your illusion that there is one iota difference between the Republicans & Democrats (vis-a-vis your inference that Kerry would have been any better than Dubya or that Obama not being elected is somehow not a good thing…it doesn’t matter who wins – the president is and always will be a paid for corporate bitch) ruins an otherwise salient article. Choosing between Republicans & Democrats has all the difference of choosing between a firing squad or a hanging.

  7. ROBERT N. JOHNSON October 2, 2011 at 1:06 am


  8. Meengla October 2, 2011 at 6:10 am

    Bravo! Thanks for sharing.

  9. ryan collins October 2, 2011 at 8:37 am

    i normally enjoy reading artlcles from this magazine, but to read your “reflection” i really feel that this has become some kind of political point. you failed to mention that a DEMOCRATIC president has killed an american without due process, a trial, or a judge. A president that has ruined the economy of the United States (Bush is partly to blame as well), but BOTH parties have contributed equally to the destruction of this country. But let me ask you, how can you expect that a family (of 4) making $80,000/year pay a property tax bill of $9,000, an income tax to the state for $8,000, federal income tax of say $15,000, Social Security of about $7000? This doesnt even count sales tax, etc etc etc. I agree EVERYONE should pay their fair share. but you must admit the taxes have become outrageous in the country. I have been around the world, where in most countries people contribute to the public schools, even the poor pay something, even if it is $5/month.

    SO dont sit here and blame one party, because it has been both who have ruined this country. now on the other hand i feel the same as you and have similar viewpoints but write and article about something other than your left wing ranting and complaining. but I give you props (you didnt like it, so you left it). more people (either party) should follow suit.

  10. fuggy October 19, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing why you moved.

  11. linda barber October 24, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Nice to read someone who agrees with me! I live in an ultra conservative small town in the South so I rarely find someone who thinks like I do. I’d love to leave this country but just can’t see how to figure out the medical care issues. We are five years away from retirement (maybe seven now after the “crash”). Moving out of this country is my dream but not sure I can convince my husband! Thanks for writing something that I actually enjoyed reading!!

  12. RW October 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    While I am no fan of over bearing and controlling US federal govt. I might also remind you that the US is NOT a democaracy nor has it ever been it is a republic! In addition you come off as a pissed off retired hippie while its no picnic here in the US and we are over taxed now by a socialist president perhaps you should come back and enjoy our high cost of living un BHO. Remember your idealistic view of AR and Mendoza could change in the blink of an eye with a coup of some sort. Its not all the evil religous folks as you claim.
    stay thirsty my friend,

  13. Karen November 8, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    I don’t like the current president, but anyone who thinks he’s a socialist has no idea what “socialist” means. It’s not just a word that means “politics that I don’t like.”

    I suggest, RW, that you and others of that opinion read up on socialism before making such remarks.

    My beef with Obama is that he came into office promising change but has mostly continued Bush’s policies and compromised with the Republicans when it wasn’t necessary.

    No socialist would have bailed out the banks, continued the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, solidified the hold of private insurance on American health care, appointed a charter school advocate as Secretary of Education, appointed only Republicans and conservative Democrats to his Cabinet, renewed the Bush tax cuts, or extended the Patriot Act.

    I know some real socialists, and not one of them considers Obama a “comrade.”

    That being said, I’d love to move overseas, but all my favorite countries are very hard to get into, especially for older Americans.

  14. Rachel K January 16, 2012 at 2:21 am

    I’m a little late to the party having only just read your piece. Still, I’m grateful to you for taking the time to write and submit this. It’s rare that I’m mostly in total agreement with an editorial.

    I imagine I’m about the same age as your kids, based on reading the part that you moved your family to Costa Rica in 1974 and that you’re pretty much old enough to be my parent. I’m nowhere near retiring but I cannot imagine staying in this country much longer. It’s sold it’s soul to help a few very wealthy people while the rest of us have been sold out. I have a job that I can work from almost anywhere but like so many people right now, good-paying work hasn’t always been regular. I’ve been looking into moving to Uruguay but I don’t know how possible that is, especially with a chronic health condition and unsteady income. I also know that I cannot stay here, with no health insurance in an ever-increasing police state that seems to only be willing “to serve and protect” those who have run this country into the ground.

    I’d love to learn how you went about your move, obstacles you faced and how you overcame adversity. From where I’m standing, things on this end just seem bleak and confusing. Any advice would be helpful.

    Thank you again,

  15. Jim Burke April 5, 2012 at 5:27 am

    Hi Jamie,

    I completely agree with your assessments and sentiments. But i you include the Civil War in your time span, you will observe that America was never perect, and requires continuous liberal struggle.

  16. W.Stanley August 10, 2012 at 7:01 am

    Indeed the US is a bit of a mess.I dont believe Obama will be defeated in 2012.
    After this election will be a time for reassessing where we are in the USA.
    Corporate interests are making a strong big to finalize a takeover of the govt,
    I believe there will be considerable push back against this.
    .The USA was never The Andy Grifith World, and you know it.
    For those with resources relocation is an easier alternative to ponder.
    The question of culture and your place in it is a n important question.
    Being the perpetual tourist is extremely boring.
    Drink up and cheer up.


    • BILL TAYLOR September 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      The original article, by a Swiss expat, rejecting the US because of Ronald Regan is left wing claptrap. The communitarians are now in charge of the US and the next wave of US expats will be conservatives with “individualism” and Lockean ideals who vote with their feet; taking their expertise, work ethic and money with them. BT

      • Corvinus November 17, 2012 at 9:47 pm

        Stop looking at the Punch and Judy show of the left and the right in America. Both parties are the political whores of large, powerful, wealthy interests. It has been that way for decades. Today both Punch and Judy lead schizophrenic lives. Liberal Democrats scream for education reform via Michelle Rhee and her thought police while my local Tea Party berate government and damn public schools and then scream about the loss of Social Security. Blockheads of the left and right fight over scraps, yet manage to piss away billions into redundant defense spending or failed social programs. Reality, the US is a greedy, self absorbed, materialistic society that espouses belief in God and Jesus for assurance of increased wealth. Meanwhile, the society becomes increasingly unintelligent through continued dependence in block learning, regimentation, and pandering to technocrats who profit from compulsory testing, the criterion for dumbed down learning – Obama’s race to the bottom.

  17. Mike October 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    You’ve definitely laid out all your reasons for your exit strategy. I just feel bad for the folks that are going to be reamed over the next decade or so and can’t make that exit strategy. I’m 48 and I started my exit strategy in 2005 and will finally be moving at the end of the year to the Philippines. I’m considered many countries including Argentina, Brazil, Thailand, Philippines, Ecuador, and Panama having done some research over the last three years online. Malaysia also has a “Second Home” retirement program. I’ve visited all those places except Ecuador and Panama.

    The reasons for leaving are myriad, political and economic.I got lucky by selling two properties in San Francisco bay area back in 2005 right before the housing bubble collapse not because of any economic foresight but just because I wanted to move eventually and started buying condos in Manila which are now free and clear. They only have three year mortgages for foreign buyers in Manila and mainly condos and townhouses but you can always refinance if you have a balance at the end of the three years and do in house financing but will run like a credit card so better to pay off in three years if you can. I now rent two of the condos to expat multinational executives in the central business district of Makati in metro Manila. Try to buy in the central business district of the country where many multinational offices are located and the most expensive condo you can afford because the renters will all be expats paid by their corporations so they usually pay you one year advance rental every year.

    It took me some courage to finally walk off my teaching jobs at the local colleges this year despite having job security. I just couldn’t stand having to wait until 55 to get out of this country. My advise to the young people since their future might be bleak is just to live with parents as long as they can and save 5-10 thousand a year from 18 to 30 years old. That should give them enough head start to have some money to start their lives in the country of your choosing and still be able to start some kind of business to support themselves in many countries including teaching English or being a call center supervisor as an American.

    So my move has been more measured. I bought three condos from 2005 to 2012 first now all paid off(well the third one at the end of the year). I just bought an older car for personal use and a cargo truck for future business from an online site in Manila just to get me around. You don’t really need a new car since the mechanics are cheap in the Philippines. I had an exhaust leak on this classic 1971 Mercedes 230 I bought and it only cost 90 pesos to have fixed or about two dollars. I’ve also started two businesses run by friends just this year at the farmer’s market. One is a juice and coffee booth and the other is a recycled art booth selling garden art out of recycled materials. Booth fees at this nice outdoor farmers market is about 15 dollars per Sunday. They both make about 600 to 800 bucks a month..not alot but you need to keep yourself busy even if you “retired.” The other business that seems to be working is buying alot of sale items from Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Ross stores and shipping them by boat to the Philippines and then I sell the items via an online store for full price since developing countries and the new middle class are still enamored with all these “has been” labels in the west like Guess, Polo, Kenneth Cole, etc. So I ship about one box a month of about 40 items to Manila(purses, bags, men’s belts, watches) as personal items and then resell them. For example, a Kenneth Cole watch I buy for 49 dollars I will resell for $120 or the original retail price they have on the tag and just cut off the sale price tag on the bottom of the tag. When I leave, I will just pay my sister a commission of five bucks per item to shop and send the items just to motivate her to help me out but you can still make money this way. Anyway, these are just some of the ways you can make money if you need to keep busy. You can always try to teach business English informally for 10-15 bucks an hour if you really like to teach.

    Having said all this, you don’t have to be this measured and calculative in your move to your retirement destination. Home is really where you’re comfortable with yourself and you are more content. Asia is good because they respect elders and you can get by with your English in Philippines(former US colony), Malaysia, and Thailand(the young people speak more English). South America and Panama are also good bets. Don’t let not having enough money scare you. There have been people with lesser means making “border crossings” and have been able to make a go of it. I’m afraid with the devaluating US dollar with quantitative easing by the Feds, all these high taxes here in the US, crumbling infrastructure(our subway system here in the bay area is over 40 years old and the seat upholstery are also that old) are enough reasons to jump the Titanic before things really get ugly in the US. It doesn’t really matter who wins in a few weeks. The political economic elite on both sides are one and the same, and they have their exit strategies, so why shouldn’t you.

    Do some research. Visit some countries if you can and try to stay for a little while each time. Plant some roots there while you are still here and then make a go of it. I hope this helps for some people contemplating the move.

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