A Growing Trend of Leaving America

By some estimates 3 million citizens become expatriates a year, but most not for political reasons.

American voters at a polling station in Ajijic, Mexico. Expats also voted by fax and Internet.

American voters at a polling station in Ajijic, Mexico. Expats also voted by fax and Internet.

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And America itself is also learning something from those Americans abroad. "We're developing a breed of Americans who won't find it easy to go back home," says Adams, stating a truth that is not as negative as it sounds. Two Americans who exemplify that breed are Coley and Allison Hudgins, a couple with backgrounds in political and corporate consulting who now live in a small Pacific coast community about two hours from Panama City. She and a partner run a small short-term rental agency, while he and an associate head Latin American Venture Partners, locating investors for assorted building proj-ects in the country.

Escaping "sameness." Doing most of their work out of their condo, the Hudginses have two young children whose edu-cation at a local Spanish-language Catholic school is supplemented with materials that their mother downloads from the Internet. Describing themselves as libertarians, the Hudginses went abroad out of discontent, not with American politics but with a dull sameness they found in American suburban life. Even though they did extensive planning for the move, they admit that the challenges of the new life are considerable. (Some of the greater ones are imposed by the U.S. government, which, though it grants an exemption of close to $86,000 of earnings, is the only developed nation that taxes citizens who are living abroad and paying foreign income taxes.) But both are quick to say that the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. In addition to valuing the warm weather, the idyllic setting, a close family life, and a busy social schedule, both are clearly invigorated by days that that are demanding but not stressful in a culture that blends the modern and the traditional in a comfortable way. They appreciate the irony that American know-how and technology (largely the Internet) make it possible for them to enjoy what is in many ways a very un-American lifestyle. But they are doubtful whether they can go home again. "We may decide to pack up and move on one day," Allison says. "But it's more likely that we'd find some new port of call than move back to the States."

Even if they don't return home, though, it is unlikely that what the Hudginses and other creative American relocators do will be lost on their compatriots back home. These relocators are part of a vast, generally benign cultural exchange, channeling different mores, attitudes, and ways of life back to America, even while bringing some distinctively American skills and attitudes to the wider world. Globalization may still seem like a grand abstraction, involving vast, impersonal forces, but the millions of Americans living and working abroad are part of its very human reality.