Where in the world should we live if we value equality and healthcare?

Guest post by fategreengrl
By: Kate Ter Haar - CC BY 2.0
By: Kate Ter HaarCC BY 2.0
Hello Offbeat Home and Lifers!

My fiance and I live in the US, and are talking about whether or not this is the best place to raise our future children. So we have been trying to find out about other countries that might be a better fit for us.

The countries we have considered most are Canada, Sweden, Norway (and that general vicinity), France and the U.K. We both value equality very highly, we don’t want to raise our children with strict gender norms, want good healthcare and pay (who doesn’t?), and are looking for a culture that is generally very accepting and friendly.

I know that no country is perfect, but there’s got to be a place better suited for us than here. But the websites I’ve looked up either give really vague information about each country — like something I’d get out of a tourist pamphlet — or it’s a website with a quiz which asks “who I would want to marry” as a measurement of which country I should live in.

I want to hear from people who live in these different countries (it doesn’t have to be the countries listed above, just countries in general). What are your country’s values, social norms, government and financial systems like? What are the pros and cons about living in your country? -fategreengrl

Comments on Where in the world should we live if we value equality and healthcare?

  1. I am living in Austria and I worked for a human rights/democracy research NGO.
    Values: Mostly Roman Catholic, believes in handling problems without outside influence, generally in favor of equality
    Social norms: Resistant to change, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, allows civil unions that are similar to marriage but same-sex partners can’t adopt, not very multicultural or socially diverse
    Government: Generally socially liberal, but there is a large and loud (for Europe) conservative party
    Financial systems: Socialized and private healthcare; free ATMs if you have an Austrian bank account; generally a wealthy country and prefers to support local products and companies
    Other pros & cons: Every city feels like a small town, everywhere is absolutely beautiful, gets 4 seasons, amazing local produce and vineyards, Red Bull, cafe culture;
    Everything is closed on Sundays, stores are closed by 7PM, very little infrastructure/support for people with disabilities, non-Europeans don’t know anything about the country (or think you mean Australia).

    • I read a really interesting article in Utne about Vienna’s progressive subsidized housing – that they are meant to be attractive, functional spaces for a broad range of people. It sounded great.

      • While I haven’t been inside any subsidized housing (I’m here on a temporary visa, showing enough money for basic living expenses is required) I have heard stories of the amazing apartments that you can get subsidized. I live in Graz, the 2nd largest city, so this isn’t unique to Vienna. There are several ways to get money for housing, including getting a cash payment to put towards your residence.
        And now that I’m thinking about government payments – university is free in Austria. Low income students can also get money to live on while in school. And through the ERASMUS program, all students can also study abroad for free.

        • Cass, I’m delighted anyone on the Empire actually knows my home town, let alone lives there!! πŸ˜‰ I actually think I know which organisation you work for, it might be one I have worked for as well ;-)We should have an Austrian Offbeat-Empire-meetup!

          Back to the topic, I would add the following:
          Families: There’s something called Familienbeihilfe in Austria: every family is entitled to money from the state for each child as long as they are still in schooling (this includes university up to the age of 23), Schools and school books are free. Maternity leave is very long (some argue too long, it can diminish women’s ability to regain a place in the working world) – up to two years. Fathers, too, can take a portion of this leave. University is free right now (that might change again, but the last time they charged fees they amounted to about 700 € per YEAR), and yes, there are grants for studying if you have low income or very good grades (think straight As), and these are non-repayable, so education can be a very nice gift. πŸ˜€

          Health insurance is mandatory, and every employee is automatically insured, and so are their families (again, this goes for children who are still in the education system, and partners, wedded or not!) There’s a tendency among the more wealthy set to invest in optional secondary insurance that buys you access to a more private room in hospital or something like homeopathy, but the health insurance covers all treatments that are standard and scientifically accepted. The upside is that the state insurance HAS to accept you and CANNOT kick you out. Come to Austria with a preexisting condition and your husband starts working here? You are insured through him, and covered.

          Subsidized housing is actually very common, and the new policy is to try and mix it socially, so these housing estates do not become ghettos of the less-well-off.

          There is indeed a very vocal conservative party, and I would argue that Vienna is much more culturally diverse than Graz. However, much of the existing cultural diversity is hard to fathom, because there is a large population of people who fled the war in Ex-Yugoslavia. They definitely have a different culture, but are not visibly different from the pre-existing Austrian population since they are just as white.

          • Vienna is much more culturally diverse than Graz. There’s even a saying among Austrians that “There is Vienna, and then there is the rest of Austria” meaning that Vienna holds ideals and culture that is mostly separate from other areas of the country to the point of not being relatable to the average citizen.
            I find that I am looking forward to my return the USA because I miss the diversity. Graz has a large Turkish minority, but everyone else seems to be a white, Catholic Austrian. Whereas my hometown in the US is 50% Mexican, 15% East Asian, a few other small minorities, and then non-hispanic whites are between 20-30%.

          • I was looking into moving from the US to Vienna but it looked like getting a visa for work was hard for someone to do. My fiance and I have skills ( he welds and I am finishing cosmotology school in October before we move) but nothing like working in an office type job. Is this probably true or am I just looking at the wrong websites?

    • I also live in Graz! Hello there. I’ve got two kids and have so far been overwhelmed by how fantastic the financial help and childcare possibilities have been. My three-year old gets a heavily subsidized place at daycare. The facility is wonderful, very multicultural, with almost a surfeit of staff and a huge garden. Meanwhile, I get paid pretty generously by the state to stay at home with the baby. All this is great, BUT it is a very conservative country, and the assumption is that you WILL stay at home for those first two years, and women I know who wanted to go back to their jobs earlier very much fall through the gaps in the system. Also, the bureaucracy is a bitch, and the people who are supposed to help you seem to delight in putting obstacles in your path. As an EU citizen, the best they can do is ruin my day, but if your visa depends on them, they can really fuck up your plans.

  2. Ooh, I like this question! I live in the Netherlands. Here goes.

    Values and social norms
    The Netherlands are generally known as a tolerant, left wing country. We were the first to legalise same sex marriage back in 2001, abortion is legal, etcetera etcetera. So legally we’re pretty decent, even though I personally feel we’ve started lagging behind these past few years (non-biological mothers in lesbian relationships have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops to get their parenthood legally recognized, up until recently trans* people were required to get their sterilized before their gender identity was legally recognized, etc). Socially, the norms really depend on the neighborhood and social group. There are still a LOT of people who are like “I’ve got nothing against gay people personally BUT” and don’t even see what’s wrong with that. But there are also pockets of very progressive people around. So um, it depends?

    Government
    Fairly centralist to right-leaning (but never extremely right wing). Probably crazy left wing by American standards, at least in social/value issues. Seriously, even our crazy populist right wingers are generally pro same sex marriage and abortion rights (there are two very small Christian parties that oppose this, but they generally get about 7 seats in a parliament with 150 seats and thus have little power). Dutch governments are ALWAYS coalitions of multiple parties, usually two to four, and for the last decade or so, none have made it through a four year term so the elections are pretty frequent.

    Fiscally, our current government is pretty conservative and working on some very extensive cutbacks because of the euro crisis and shit. And of course they mostly target the vulnerable rather than the millionaires, because obviously people on welfare just need a little more incentive to work, despite the fact that there is a crisis going on and even university educated people have a tough time getting a job. No, I’m not bitter, why do you ask? πŸ˜‰

    Health insurance
    I don’t know what the deal would be for immigrants/expats, but for Dutch citizens, health insurance is mandatory. You sign up with one of several health insurance firms and pay a monthly premium for insurance. How high that premium is depends on several factors; whether you just get the basic insurance (mandatory for everyone) or additional insurance for things like dental care, alternative medicine, natal care, etc. Every firm will have different packages for additional insurance, with different price tags. There is also an ‘own risk’ amount, which is an amount you have to pay out of pocket if you need any care, before the insurance starts paying up (some things, like visits to your GP, are exempt from this own risk). Currently it’s about 350 euro’s, but it goes up every year (sometimes quite steeply). You can also lower your monthly premium by getting a higher ‘own risk’, if you think you won’t need much care anyway.

    General pros and cons
    Pro: tiny. Good public transport and short distances for nearly everything. Most people speak fairly decent English (could also be a con if you want to learn the local language, because a lot of Dutch people JUMP at the chance to speak English and thus will never let you practice your Dutch). Also, most of the city centres are quite pretty. For example, the centre of Utrecht, where I live, is mostly medieval, with canals and even a few castles. πŸ™‚

    Okay, that’s a general overview and this is already pretty long… Let me know if you have any additional questions!

    • Utrecht represent!

      I agree with Lydia. In comparison to the US, we are lefty’s. However, if you decide to move here, expect a big cultural shock. The Dutch are very direct. We don’t say ‘I’m going to try and do my very best’ then not do it, we’ll tell you ‘no’ in your face. Our humor is very direct as well, no veils. You can participate in a lively cultural and social life or keep to yourself.

      It is mandatory to enroll your child in Basic School (‘basis school’) when she/he is five, but most children have their first day of school on their 4th birthday, which is encouraged. After finishing Basic School pre-teen has to go to secondary school/high school (‘middelbare school’). There are three levels of high school: VMBO, Havo and VWO and depending on your level of intelligence you go to a different type. Switching between the types is possible in certain cases and someone who has finished Havo and wishes to go to University can try and finish VWO (the highest level) first. Alternatively, after finishing Havo one can enroll in college, recieve their propaedeutic (finishing all the classes in first college year) and go on to universitity. VMBO is a largely skill-based school system and is followed up by MBO, which in turn can be followed up by college if a person would like to pursue a highter degree of education.

      So, basically kids of all types are being given education in Basic School and after a thorough series of tests and based on the teachers’ findings they go to different types of higher education which can then be followed up final education. Our universities and colleges are generally considered to be of high standard. Also: a years’ worth of tuition is 1750 euros for a European citizen you a child won’t be left with 100.000 worth of debt.

      I’m very fond of my country. We are direct, dinner is served at six, the LGTBQ atmosphere is generally positive (right now a bill is in our First Chamber for lesbian parents to not have to go trough expensive adoption procedures but rather an easy recognition for the non-biological mother). We have long, annoying winters and mild, short summers but our weather is okay-ish.

      Let me know if you want some info.

  3. I’m from Canada, thought I’ve spent the majority of my life living in the United States. My younger brother returned to Ontario for university and is now living in Toronto.

    I think that like the US, the Canadian school system has its ups and downs. I know that when we move from poor, rural Canada to Rochester, NY, my older brother (who was in 5th grade) was pretty behind in math and needed tutoring to stay at his correct grade level. The university system is top notch and VERY inexpensive to citizens and residents. My little brother was at the 2nd most expensive university in Canada and was paying only about $7000 a year in tuition (compared to my US school which was $36,000 at the same time).

    Health care is pretty awesome up there. Don’t pay attention to the naysayers from US who say that it takes forever to get medical treatment–I know a LOT of people in Canada and none of them have ever had an issue with getting treatment. In fact, when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, she considered moving back to Canada because her insurance was refusing to cover one of her breasts (luckily her cancer was much less severe than predicted and this was unnecessary and she is now fine).

    When we first moved to the US, my parents didn’t really understand “health insurance” and we ended up visiting a welfare doctor! It was a real eye opener and a fairly traumatic experience for all of us.

    According to my brother, Canadians have a more progressive way of viewing gender and sexuality as far as terminology and rights. As I was 8 when I left, I don’t have any direct experience with this.

    Canada is BIG and the differences between living in British Columbia or Nova Scotia are as large as the differences between California and Georgia.

    I like my life in the US and am proud to have dual-citizenship (and have no plans to move back to Canada). I think that my Canadian heritage has greatly influenced the way that I see the world, but more than that I think it is the way that my parents raised me and the people that they are. While sometimes I think “oh man, I’ll just move back to Canada where things are great!” that that’s giving up and it’s better to promote change where I am.

    • I live in Kitchener-Waterloo in Canada, which is two cities that in many ways function as one. The population of both is around 400 000, I think.

      I had a really solid math and science education at some great schools. I think it depends on where you live. Because it’s a university town with one of the universities (University of Waterloo) being a pretty prestigious engineering and math school, the elementary and high schools in the area don’t slack off in that respect. I also had some great teachers for humanities and arts classes, although most schools tend to emphasize the hard sciences.

      As for health care, I’ve never had any problem with the system. The one time I needed surgery it wasn’t urgent and the issue wasn’t causing me any pain, and they could still have given me the surgery within 2 months. I ended up scheduling it for 2 months later than that so I didn’t have to take time off my summer job. The only problem I would say is that there’s a shortage of family doctors, but there’s a new medical centre opening up which should relieve the problem a bit. If you don’t have a family doctor, you can still go to walk-in clinics and get the care you need.

      As for social issues, there could definitely be some improvement, but we have same-sex marriage, and the general attitude is very positive towards non-hetero identified people. There is a lot of work to be done for trans* rights and awareness, but we’re definitely headed in the right direction.

      • Also from K-W and love it here! If you’re considering Canada please keep in mind that every province is hugely different. Alberta for instance is much more conservative than the rest of the country. Quebec has language laws that may prevent you from easily finding work unless you speak French. Ontario is the most US-like province in my mind as far as landscape and population density, but the mid to big cities are fairly progressive. The east coast is lovely but more rural and thus perhaps not as forward thinking as you might like.

        Of course these are all generalizations and there is plenty of room for exceptions. It’s a big beautiful country, the health care is free, the schools are okay and the people are kind.

        • Yay for KW! I love this area!

          I grew up in the states (in Rochester, NY, actually!), raised (and homeschooled) by Canadian parents. Since I’m a dual citizen, moving back to Canada (I’m using “back” loosely, given I was born in the states β€” but still, pretty much all of our extended family is in Canada) when I started university made a lot of sense, cost-wise. As Heather mentioned, university education here is a lot cheaper than in the States. I’ve since gotten married, and it looks like we’re here for the long haul.

          Kristine pretty much hit the nail on the head as far as inclusivity issues β€” we’re making progress, but have a long way to go. Environmental issues-wise, well, it’d help if we could get Harper out of office. For now, we seem to be kind of going backwards (probably mostly because of the amount of oil in Alberta…) In general, though, the “Conservative Party” tends to be maybe a little right of the American “Democrats”, whereas the “Liberal Party”, is going to be further left, the “New Democratic Party” even possibly a little more so on social issues at least (not so much on environmental ones), and the “Green Party” (which sometimes actually gets a seat or two in parliament) is going to be the most, well, green β€” environmentally friendly.

          Advantages to moving “north of the border” are that you don’t need to learn a new language unless you move to Quebec (although people may sometimes laugh at your spelling of words such as “colour”, “cheque”, and “centre”), and you’ll be relatively close to any US-based family and friends you might have. The weather here in Southern Ontario is pretty good, too β€” sure, it gets cold in winter, but nothing like Northern Ontario, or Winnipeg. It sometimes gets a little hot in summer, but nothing like the southern US. We have the occasional extreme weather event (major snowstorm, ice storm, tornado, or tail end of a hurricane), but nothing like many parts of the U.S., and we don’t have volcanoes, tsunamis, or frequent/major earthquakes.

        • This is true, but even conservative Alberta is far more liberal then a lot of the US. Because so much of the hate in America comes from the Federal level, not the state. In Canada, everything is nation wide for things like health care and equality. So if it’s in effect in 1 province, it’s in effect in all.

          I lived in Calgary, AB from 2-19 years old. I lived in Seattle for 3 years in my 20’s. I would say Seattle and Calgary have about the same level of open mindedness. Remember, a lot of Alberta’s constructiveness comes from the rural areas. So unless they plan to move to Fort McMurry, they should be just fine.

    • Just wanted to second the comment that Canada is really big and culturally very different. I’m from BC and it’s known for being very laid back, liberal, and outdoorsy (well, in all of Canada, the outdoors are close at hand). However, even BC is very culturally diverse. I grew up in a sort of Northern city (Prince George) and now live in Victoria. PG was much more conservative and red-necky, but hardier and more DIY while Victoria has less diversity but is more progressive and liberal.

      As for the medical system, when my tumor was discovered, I had surgery less than a week later. Yes, someone got bumped, but I would have died had they not removed it as soon as physically possible, and the person they bumped wasn’t in a life threatening situation (I checked). So, yes, waitlists for things like hip surgery get pretty crazy, but I have never ever ever met of heard of someone who died because of lack of care.

  4. I’m an American expat currently living in the UK, England specifically. My partner is English, and we’ve had quite a few talks about which of our home countries we would prefer (if his job gives us a choice), especially when kids come into the picture in 5-10 years.

    I’ve lived here a year, and I’m pretty solid in wanting to stay here for kids if we can. Part of it is personal (wanting to be near his mum), and a good deal is due to the country itself.

    Yeah, there is a ton of stuff wrong with the NHS and everyone I know has heard a few horror stories, but it’s *nothing* compared to the fear I had five years ago, living without health insurance and being afraid of getting something serious like appendicitis or whatever. That would have ended my life, I wouldn’t have been able to handle the debt, and I would have had to face the decision of the street or moving back in with my emotionally abusive father, and I was hyper aware of this anytime I had the slightest twinge. Here, I’ve had my eczema taken care of, and IUD inserted, and other care…if we don’t stay, I’m planning on sending checks back when I’m out of uni and have a ‘real’ job again because I am insanely grateful for this service.

    The conservatives here are so much less scary than some of the bible-thumping conservatives back home.

    We probably won’t make as much here as we could in the US, and house prices across the board are pretty high, though I don’t have much of a finger on that pulse since we’re only renting in an admittedly posh town.

    There is surprisingly culture shock moving over here, and I’ve heard of a few Americans who couldn’t make friends and couldn’t handle it. I had help in having an English boyfriend with a big English family who adopted me and helped me settle in, and I think culturally, ‘English polite’ matches well with ‘Minnesota nice’ so in some ways I mesh a little better than say when I lived in Boston, so that helped as well.

    I’ve heard of some Americans getting hassled back when Bush was in office, but I haven’t stumbled across that personally, I think enough time has gone by and Obama hasn’t seemed to severely piss anyone off in a way they want to take it out on me. I was surprised around American election time the number of Brits I overheard discussing Obama and Romney, what the two would mean for Britain, etc.

    As a lower-middle class white woman who grew up in rural America with some friends’ parents who were sheriffs and the like (that is, not in a group that would be hassled by the police), I was surprised by how…happy and friendly the police here are. Again, there are horror stories and problems, but it is always startling how many of them seem so damn chipper and helpful.

    There are problems with xenophobia and the like, but it feels slightly muted compared to some of the problems back in the states. Fun fact, all children apparently have to go through a class about religions, where they spend chunks learning about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and a handful of others. From what my course mates have told me, it was in their required curriculum. How cool and unlikely in the US is that?

    • I’d want my kids to experience a class like that. That’s for sure. Thanks for sharing that tidbit!

    • Having gone through the English education system, I can confirm we have to learn about all the main religions pretty much throughout the entire mandatory school system (ages 5-18). We also have to be taught drugs and sex education including information on contraception and it’s pretty balanced (ie same sex relationships and sex outside of marriage are discussed in a normal, not negative way.

    • I’m a UK native and it’s great to hear that you’ve had a mostly positive experience. I was talking to someone a while back about experiences of moving from the U.S.A. to U.K. and resources they used were (I think):

      http://www.uk-yankee.com/
      and
      http://www.americanexpats.co.uk/

      A few thoughts of mine:

      Tolerance of gender and sexuality variation has a couple of cultural roots, the first being that despite having an official religion, the UK is as you may be aware very secular, so there isn’t much concern over people deviating from God’s plan or anything like that. The second is that there is a strong tradition of eccentricity; if you’re a bit weird but you own it and hold your head high people do seem to respect that, even in the most traditional communities. There is definitely social pressure regarding gender, but I think the fact that nonconformity doesn’t really violate any explicit social/religious rules helps take some of it off. Also there is decent (not great, but ok) representation of gender-nonconformists in the media, which speaking as one myself has helped a lot.

      Having said that, I think tolerance might not be so high if we were a bigger country, but somehow everyone being squashed together means that a certain amount of acceptance is necessary. Other consequences of the size of the country are that it’s easier to get involved in political activity if you’re so inclined, because you will have a political representative of some kind living quite close by, there will probably be a group of likeminded people in your nearest city which is most likely be an hour away or less unless you’re somewhere very remote, and if you want to go to any national events or conferences they’re never that far away just because they can’t be! (Source: I’ve lived in Scotland all my life and even London events are fairly accessible, though not cheap to get to since rail travel is very expensive.)

      Finally I note Bex’s point downthread about healthcare going downhill a bit, and it is slowly being privatised which is what has ballsed up our transport system and utility provision, but still (obligatory positive stories): I am on antihistemines, stomach acid-suppressants, the contraceptive pill and two types of inhaler and other than paying tax and ticking boxes on my repeat prescription order form I haven’t had to do or pay a damn thing towards getting them. My Dad’s prostate problems were investigated immediately and thoroughly and for free and my aunt survived breast cancer without it costing her a penny, so while there is the occasional bad experience as there is in any system I’d say overall the NHS deserves the hype. Also if you tell a British person how much you admire it, 9 times out of 10 they will glow and think you’re wonderful, so it’s a social lubricant as well :).

      • I’d also like to add about the UK, since Jan mentioned expensive trains…

        Transport: There are quite a few places you can live in the UK where the majority of people do not own a car (mainly London, Cambridge, Oxford – also other university cities like Edinburgh and Bristol, as far as I know). Owning a car is not a complete given like in the US. Taking buses/trains is normal for people from all walks of life.

        Public transport in smaller towns and in the countryside can be terrible, and can often be expensive. Trains between cities can be cheap when bought in advance, but trains into London from the surrounding area rarely have any discounts.

        But it’s nice to know that there are places with very good public transport (London) or places where people tend to walk or cycle (Oxford, Cambridge). I have friends who grew up in London who are now in their late 20s and still don’t have a driving licence.

        Thought it might be something the OP was interested in!

        • Oh, also want to add some comments about education:

          School is from age 4(ish) to 18 (some people still leave around 16, but they are changing that at the moment). School is free to all. There are private schools, which can cost a lot – but 93% of people go to a free school (called “state schools”). There are public exams at 16 (GCSEs, about 8-12 subjects) and 18 (A-levels, about 4 subjects). So you specialise in certain subjects earlier than in the US, which suits some people but not others, I guess.

          University is (currently) paid on a student debt system. Students receive a loan to pay their fees and to cover some of their living costs, and the loan is paid back only when they are earning a certain amount. The cost has recently gone up to Β£9000 a year, a lot more than before – but the plus side is that this is currently the maximum the universities can charge, so they all cost the same (Oxford and Cambridge cost the same as anywhere else, and you can basically go to any uni in the country for the same price). All universities are funded by the state (except 1 or 2) and so all give you the same deal. If you are resident in the UK, you also have access to brilliant universities across the EU, which can be very cheap (sometimes only 1000 euros a year or so – and many of them in, e.g. the Netherlands, now teach in English).

          In general, it’s a very good education system. I’m proud to work in it and be a part of it, and I think people really have the chance to reach their potential here. That said, I have no idea how things like university costs will be in the future! There are obviously things I would change to try to make it fairer for everyone, but compared to the US system, and many other places in the world, I think it’s great.

      • Seconding these acceptance vibes regarding the UK. I live in Liverpool, and whilst there are some people who are staunchly opposed to change and Muslims and gays, most people literally couldn’t give a crap.

        I’ve found here that people have a really easygoing sense of humour. They will joke about things that other folks wouldn’t, such as your appearance and relationships, but it is in no way malicious. People will laugh about your hair, piercings, tattoos, alcohol problems, career, whatever, but they won’t be laughing AT you, and they’ll probably slap you on the shoulder or give you a hug afterwards and say “good on ya girl”. I’ve found that this is a pretty northern thing and it doesn’t tend to happen in London, and definitely isn’t a thing in the States (from my limited experience).

        Liverpool University have also added questions regarding issues surrounding sexuality and sexual identity to their OSCEs (practical exams for medical students), which is pretty awesome! There is also a church near where I work that provides breakfast every morning for anyone who wants it. They also had a pamper day recently where they gave manicures and pedicures to local prostitutes.

        Other cool things to remember about the UK is the living wage (all people over 21 have to be paid Β£6.19p/h by law, Β£4.98p/h if you’re over 18 and a bit less for under 18s), maternity leave (guaranteed 52 weeks regardless of length of time at job, 90% pay throughout, support if you suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth, guaranteed return to work, up to 26 weeks paternity leave and 52 weeks adoption pay/leave), statutory sick pay, jobseekers allowance, milk tokens, school uniform support, state pension, the fact that the NHS exists.

        People whinge about our government every day, but I think compared to the US this is a pretty cool place to be.

        • Oooo, say, do you have any more local comparisons of the north versus the south? We currently live near London, but Liverpool is one of the locations my partner will be applying for when his post doc here is over.

          • I can’t speak for the whole of the North because I hate Manchester as much as I do London, but I can certainly tell you about Liverpool.

            The biggest thing I’ve found is the friendliness of people. In London people don’t make eye contact. They’ll move away from you on public transport if at all possible. Here, people chat easily to strangers about anything. People are also really generous, like if you’re in a shop and you’re just short of change chances are someone behind you will give you it. If you need to use a phone or a lighter, just ask anyone.

            There’s still a big sense of community. Everyone knows everyone else. It’s great though, because you know someone’s got your back. I work in a little family run shop and my boss got attacked once, and at least 10 guys who lived on the road came running to help her. You feel really safe here, because you know if anything bad does happen, someone will come and help.

            It’s a great place to be because there’s literally something for everyone. There’s amazing shopping and amazing nightlife. There’s tons of art galleries and exhibitions. There’s a bombed out church where they show old films. Really into the great outdoors? The Lake District is an hours drive. History? Get a train to Chester and see the Roman ruins.

            You do have to have a fairly thick skin – people are incredibly accepting of any walk of life but banter is pretty much the accepted form of communication. Its not meant in a malicious way. Please don’t take it that way!

            Also, it’s really really cheap. You can buy a 3 bed house for less than Β£100k. You’ve also got surrounding areas like the Wirral and Southport where property prices along with stuff like car insurance is cheaper.

          • Hello! I moved over to England from Canada when I was eight. I’ve been through the school system, have used the NHS and am currently working/studying at uni. I have to say that England is a pretty awesome country to live in. In my oppinion the north of England is a lot friendlier and easy going than the south. Most brits are lovely but I found a huge difference when I moved from Somerset to Lancashire. The north, I find, are very relaxed and open about a lot of things and as said before mostly aren’t bothered about your sexuality, political views etc. so long as you argue them nicely over a pint.

          • Hey,
            I live as Far North in England as is possible – in Cumbria on the west coast – its beautiful here, and all the benefits listed above aply. My family however are from the far far south in Devon, so i have a pretty broad experience of the fabled north/south divide. Rental and house prices tend to be cheaper up north, as do general living costs, but transport and access to some services is easier in the south.

            It may be helpful to check out local council websites to find out more about your chosen locations such as: http://www.cumbria.gov.uk etc (usually ending in gov.uk which indicates it is the official local website)

            Happy to help if I can. I love it here!!!!

          • As a general (very general) rule, the north is considered to be friendlier, quieter and cheaper. A consequence of this is that sometimes public services like transport are not as good, but in the cities it’s generally great. Accents are wilder the further from London you get, but life is slower and less stressful too. The weather can be crap all over the UK but it’s often worse in the north. The scenery, however, is amazing.

            People are more welcoming in the north, but at the same time in more rural areas they can be much, much less tolerant. In parts of London you can basically walk down the street wearing only a pink wig and body paint and no one will give much of a toss. The same applies to parts of Glasgow and Manchester and other big cities, but in the more countrified areas you should ideally wear clothes.

            Everything is more expensive in the south, particularly London. Pay is higher, but from what my friends say it does not compensate.

        • Hi,
          Just to clarify re maternity pay it’s 90% for the first 6 weeks thrn statutory for another er 7 ish months? (around Β£140 a week) thrn the last 3 months are unpaid. Employer policies can improve on this but that’s your minimum.

        • Not sure where you’re getting that about maternity pay, because you only get 90% for six weeks and then either a set amount(~Β£130 pw) or 90% (whichever is lower) for 33 weeks. You can take up to 52 weeks off but you’re not going to get paid all the way through.

          Edit: oops, already said! Sorry.

      • Just to clarify a few things, I thought I’d put my oar in.

        The NHS is wonderful most of the time, the staff work DAMN hard for very little and although things go wrong, in general they will always try their best to make sure you’re OK.

        The UK is pretty diverse and actually tends to be very different area to area.

        So for example if you call Scotland “England” you will not get happy looks from the Scots. Scotland is part of the UK but is different in a number of ways. Prescriptions, dental and eye tests are generally free, whereas in England they are not. In Scotland those children born there (or maybe have lived there for over 2 years…) will get free education/university. In comparison those in England, Wales and N/Ireland will pay a fee (although this is MUCH less then many countries – particularly USA). Rental fees and house prices are significantly lower than England, with the exception of Edinburgh and bits of the other large cities. There are also fewer people in Scotland and other than a little anti-English fever once in awhile they are an incredibly friendly bunch of people and I have loved my time in Scotland. You may pick up bits of Scots, Gaelic and a few other languages/dialects, but in general everyone speaks english day to day. It is also unbelievably beautiful – and not just the tourist bits! Religion is possibly a little stronger in Scotland than England and rules in some areas will still have everything closed on a Sunday. In other places you’ll find 24/7 opening hours. In certain areas there is also a tightening on binge drinking and so shops will not be allowed to sell alcohol past a certain time in the evening.

        Northern Ireland is technically across the water, as originally Ireland was part of the UK. Northern Ireland is now the bit still connected to the UK, whilst Ireland has their independence. Ireland is also worth looking into by the way despite the economic difficulties. The Northern Irish often get a little ignored and the media is filled with the violence still happening. However, they are a great bunch of people and a passionate lot at that. Trying to keep up with the speed of conversations could be tricky though especially with more than 1 in a room. They also have a little bit of an anti-English tilt once in a while but it doesn’t cause too much of an issue. Because of the connection with Ireland, children their can still (as far as I’m aware) gain free education by claiming an Irish passport and getting free education as part of the EU if going to university in England/Scotland/Wales, etc. Again it’s a beautiful place with a diverse and amazing culture of the Arts specifically. Start to mix them up with English or Great Britain however, and again they’ll be issues.

        Wales is different again. The Welsh government have decided to pay the university fees for their kids and all education includes Welsh language lessons as they are passionate about keeping this part of their culture. Road signs will have both english and welsh translations and people do speak Welsh pre-dominantly in some areas but are often still happy to speak in English. House prices are again much lower than across the border in England, excluding places like Cardiff and the more beautiful seaside – and therefore sought after – locations. The main church is the Church of Wales and it probably has more cultural significance than the church in England. Rugby is a well-loved sport (as it is in Ireland & Scotland – whereas England is mainly football-fans). It has some GORGEOUS parts of the country and fewer people than England.

        England is diverse in itself but we all have to pay prescriptions, dental and eye tests although they are pretty cheap. University fees have also gone up and we have student loans to cover it. There is a big difference between the north and the south, although the stereotypes are not always fair or appropriate. The south is generally far more expensive and things tend to be more focused on London. North (I’d say around Birmingham up although that’s up for debate as well) cities are smaller, but are growing and evolving rapidly giving some amazing cultural areas to be a part of. It is true that you are more likely to be accepted in starting a conversation the further North you go. On London’s tube talking seems to be seen as suspicious which I find sad. The coastal areas vary from being beautiful english towns and villages to busy towns full of tourist attractions, theatres etc. Our countryside also varies from massive hilly regions to flats and floodplains. The dialects will confuse a number of travellers as language is slightly different although all still English. Education is pretty good but you have to watch in some areas (sadly urban) as the government continues to mess around with it all. We are in general happy to accept people although there are still those who complain about “foreigners/gays” etc, but they mainly get ignored. Even the religious communities will rarely mean anyone harm even when they disagree with your point of view.

        I hope this is useful and not just boring. Having grown up in England, lived in Scotland, and married into a Welsh family, and knowing a number of amazing N.Irish I have learnt a lot about our differences and I’m so thankful that such diversity belongs in the UK.

    • You don’t have religious education in America? Wow.

      One more interesting point about the UK – we seem to be much more sweary than the US. Your kids will probably learn the word fuck when they are six. However they will also hopefully learn not to say it in front of you.

      • LOL! That was me, right here in the states. To clarify on the religious education, it depends on the area. I had a course in World Religions my senior year of high school (Grade 12), but it was an elective to fill a credit requirement, not a course required by everyone to take.

  5. OBH&L I’d love to see a follow-up post on tips for becoming an expat. Or, if we already have one, could you link it here in the comments?

        • I would love to see more of this! Most of the expat transitions we’ve come across have been missionaries/volunteers or academics, both of which come with a support structure to get you over and set up. We talk about expatriation not infrequently, but aren’t sure how to do it as young professionals (tech sector & physician). Also, we’ve heard things like “such-and-such country won’t let anyone older than 30 move in,” and have no gauge for how realistic such statements are. I’d love to see more on this topic coming up on OBH&L!

  6. I live in the UK. Our health services used to be great but not so much any more. The quality is slipping and more and more people are opting for private health care than before. It does totally depend on the area you live in though I used to live in a city and now live in an affluent little town and my local GP service is greatly improved from the city.

    I feel the UK is a very accepting country on the whole. Again it depends on where you live but I’ve grown up among gay and transgender folk and other than the odd comments they’ve never had a lot of trouble here. I think this only seems to be getting better as old fashioned believes die with older generations. We also have brilliant cities like Brighton and Bristol that are very cool and forward thinking.

    I do have to say I think we are one of the more grumpy nations. We like a proper queue and we don’t like to complain.

    If I had to move anywhere I’d pick Canada or New Zeland but I know they have their issues too.

  7. Good question! I live in Canada, specifically just outside the capital, Ottawa.
    In terms of general values – like HeatherB said above me – the cultural norms and values are going to vary pretty widely from place to place. The values in rural Alberta will be very different than the values in larger communities in coastal BC, which will be very different from the values in urban Ontario and small town maritime communities.

    That being said, in a general sense, you will probably find Canadians to be generally more liberal than Americans (these are broad generalizations based on averages, not individual assessments) – higher percentages of the population support same-sex marriage (which as you know, has been legal here for quite some time now) than in the US, a significantly higher percentage of the population doesn’t identify with any religion, and religion is less influential in day-to-day life than in the US. People are generally pretty open-minded and accepting of alternative lifestyles and beliefs, especially in larger urban centres. Many of the stereotypes about Canadian traits are true – Canadians do tend to be fairly nice and fairly polite, although of course, that varies widely from person-to-person.

    Our current federal government is Conservative, but even our most Conservative party is pretty tame by American standards. There is no dominant party in Canada that has views that are as right-wing as the Republicans in the States, so even with a conservative politician in power, you’d likely still find government policies more left-leaning than you would in a Republican presidency in the States. There’s a strong sense that our next Prime Minister will be from the Liberal Party too, which means there will be a more liberal shift coming. People do often joke here though that there isn’t a significant difference from party to party, and there may be some truth to that.

    Economically, Canada has experienced some hard times following the recession, but it’s nothing compared to what happened to the US. Canadian banks were not heavily involved in the same schemes that US banks were that led to the catastrophic recession, and as a result, Canada was only impacted on a small scale by the recession.

    Like HeatherB said, the US horror stories about the Canadian health care system are largely propaganda. I’ve lived in various parts of Canada, and I have a chronic illness, and I’ve never had trouble accessing medical care. There may be a wait time for certain services, but if you have a health problem that is seriously impacting your quality of life, or is potentially life threatening, they will get you in to see a specialist ASAP, and in most cases, you won’t pay a dime for it. If they don’t make an effort to get you care quickly, get a new doctor. I have received high-quality care my entire life. Once you’re covered under your provincial health care system, there is very little that you have to pay for out of pocket in terms of assessments and critical care. I never pay to see my family doctor for anything (from checkups to illness to injury), I don’t pay for x-rays or treatment at the hospital, and I wouldn’t pay if I required care for something like cancer. They only thing I typically pay out of pocket for is medicine, but that’s only because I happen to be in a contract job. Most full-time jobs (especially in professional fields) offer health insurance which would cover a large percentage of your additional medical expenses (drugs, physical therapy, massage, mental health treatment, etc). The one caveat – I don’t know what the coverage is like for new immigrants. I know you’d be covered as a permanent resident, but there may be some hoops you have to jump through when you first arrive.

    In general, like I said, you’re going to find significant variations from place to place. Based on what you described as your ideal – I think you’d be very happy on the West Coast. Somewhere like Victoria or Vancouver/Vancouver Island would give you the open-minded, liberal, culture you’re looking for, along with a friendly, fairly laid-back population. If you’re not a city person, there’s lots of smaller communities on the coast that are very liberal as well. The lifestyle there is amazing, there’s tons to do, the pay is high (although so is the cost of living, so factor that in!), the region is culturally diverse, and it’s beautiful as a bonus.

    Good luck! If you do decide on Canada and have any further questions, feel free to message me.

    • I live in Quebec. I just want to tag onto what the other Canadians have said but explain the differences if you choose to live in Quebec. I grew up in California and went to university in Connecticut. I married a Canadian who was originally from Alberta, although his whole family is from and now again situated in Ottawa region (with a few exceptions). We live in Quebec for two reasons 1) because my husband was in the Canadian Forces (army) and was posted north of Quebec city 2) I am a grad student at McGill (now we both live in Montreal.

      That background was important so you can understand my perspective. All of the provinces in Canada have a very different flavor.
      Quebec is interesting because it technically is a nation within the nation of Canada. Here the dominant language is French but in Montreal you can get by in English (but it would be nearly impossible to get a job without French even at a fast food restaurant). There are intense language politics here and some tension within some sectors between the english and french populations (as the current party in power is the Bloc Quebecois which is a separtist party that wants Quebec to be separate from Canada). In northern Quebec you have to use french for everything- but in some ways that is easier because in Montreal you are always switching back and forth between the two.

      Quebec has certain benefits other provinces don’t have. We have 7 dollar a day daycare. Also tuition is about 1,200 dollars a semester. Shockingly cheap! If you raise your kids in Montreal as immigrants it is mandatory that they are part of the french school system (you are not legally allowed to put them into the english school system if you are an immigrant)– but even if you had a choice I think it makes sense to put them in the French system as they have more funding and then your children will be perfect at both languages.

      Cost of living in Montreal is really cheap. Food is more expensive than in Cali (since a lot of the food is actually imported from Cali (like much of North America)). Rent is sooooo cheap. To live in the nicest parts of the city for a 1 bedroom apartment you are looking at 500-800 dollars a month. However if you live in neighborhoods like NDG which are further from downtown you can have a three bedroom for 900 dollars a month.

      It gets really cold. If you aren’t used to it you might get S.A.D. This past year we had our first snow early October/late september and our last snow in May. It is a longggg winter.

      Healthcare is good. The hospitals are excellent. In Quebec you won’t be able to get a family doctor though due to waiting lists but my experience with all of the clinics has been good. Care is really done in a triage way. Medical drugs are a lot cheaper too here even in the pharmacy.

      The public transit is great and inexpensive. You are looking at 50-70 dollars a month and can get everywhere you need quickly. Don’t own a car here since there is no parking.

      I would say that if you aren’t comfortable in French moving to English Canada is probably going to be easier and less of a culture shock.

      Canada is an amazing country and is considered the most immigrant friendly. As I am sure you know with all of these countries you can’t just move to them. However if you are willing to move to a really rural spot in Canada for 2-3 years a town can sponsor you as immigrants.

      • Alex – I would love to hear more about living with the Quebec politics in Montreal. My husband is a francophone Quebecer and we talk a lot about moving to Montreal (I am American). He says that I would find the corruption, politics, and separatist tensions to be really exhausting and unpleasant. Do you find it bad enough to interfere with your daily life?

        • Hey! I’m an ex-Montrealer. I was fiercely loyal to my old stomping grounds and moved out only with the reassurance that it would only be for 2 years while my boyfriend got experience in his field. Six years later, the boyfriend is gone, but I’m still living in Toronto with no plans to move back.

          I grew up Anglophone, but my mother put me in the French school system… through the referendum of 95. Let’s just say my school experience was difficult. I don’t know how to put in words the uncertainty and tension that I felt every day. There was a lot of bullying and exclusion. I wasn’t French enough for the Francophones at school or English enough for some Anglos (although the worst name calling came from adults). And to be fair, both sides act like idiots. If you have/are planning on having kids, it’s important to know that you’ll have to put your kids in French school. Only people who have been through the English school system can put their kids in it (which rules me out).

          As for the politics themselves, well the above-mentioned ex-boyfriend did move to Montreal for a year. He found it really, really stressful even though we lived in a predominantly English neighbourhood. Ex. He was spat on for wearing a Canadian flag pin on his coat. I honestly think trouble can be avoided fairly easily. I hate to say that he was trolling for trouble (because that seems very victim-blamey and it shouldn’t matter what he wore), but I suppose you do have to be cognizant that there are tensions.

          On the other hand, Montreal does have alot going for it: $7/day daycare, affordable tuition, cheap public transit, great festivals etc. There are plenty of things I miss. Montreal is a city with a rich history and so much to offer, but after years of living elsewhere, HC, I’d say that it would take some drastic culture changes to get me to move back. Sure I have to “explain” the Seperatist movement every now and again, but for the most part Toronto has been less stress and drama. Expensive but worth it. =)

          • Canuck — thanks for the insight! That is terrible to hear – and way more extreme than I had imagined. Adults bullying kids? Spitting on someone for wearing the national flag? We are not planning on kids, but I want to live somewhere that is tolerant of different cultures and perspectives. As a multicultural person who grew up with a lot of bullying from white suburbia, it’s really important for me to be among diversity…part of the reason I’m struggling with Boston.

            Toronto is sounding kinda nice…

        • I’m a Canadian who has lived all over Canada and moved to Montreal two years ago. Since I married a Montrealer, it looks like I’ll be here for a while, so I guess I’m in a good space to comment.

          I see where your husband is coming from. There is a LOT of corruption here (we’ve been through three mayors in one year) and it seems like every day you open the newspaper and there’s another story about someone being arrested for kickbacks or handouts. I find this especially frustrating because our roads and bridges are in extremely bad shape (as in, I expect them to collapse or cave any day now) and I know that it wouldn’t be that way if not for the corruption.

          What I find most frustrating about life in Montreal is not actually the language issue, but the fact that the Quebec government, which is pretty freaking racist and xenophobic, sees multilingual, multicultural Montreal as a “problem” to be legislated out of existence. Their latest tactic is to introduce a “Charter of Quebec Values” that will ban the wearing of any religious symbols by public servants: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/marois-blasts-multiculturalism-promises-gradual-phase-in-of-quebec-secular-values-charter/article14158590/.

          That said, the language issue can have its problems too. I do all right for myself because I’m functionally bilingual and so I’m able to carry out my day-to-day business in French and can work in French. But I went to grad school here with some Americans who didn’t speak a word of French, and they really struggled. If you do not speak French, it will be extremely difficult to find even minimum wage work. If you cannot even manage basic things like buying a subway ticket or ordering in a restaurant, you can expect subtle hostility. Nor are Quebecers especially encouraging of people who are attempting to learn French – an attitude I found maddening in a society that demands it. They seem to have trouble with the concept that languages aren’t learned overnight. To be fair, though, now that my French has improved enough to stop this from happening, my anglophone accent does not seem to be a problem for anyone.

          So overall, yes, it can be really exhausting. Some days I feel pretty cynical. But there are a lot of aspects to life in Montreal that offset it enough for me to be content to stay. Like the availability of every type of food you could possibly imagine, the different character of each and every neighbourhood, the diversity, the outstanding public transit, bike share, and car share. The city parks and free outdoor swimming pools. Oh, and the cheese. Did I mention the cheese? (Regarding Alex’s statement about the cost of rent in Montreal, though, I think his estimates were a little conservative. Montreal is definitely cheaper than Toronto, for example, but I don’t know of ANY neighbourhood where you could rent a one bedroom apartment for $500. $700 is a better estimate, and that would be for neighbourhoods like Verdun, not N.D.G.)

          Altogether, to live successfully in Montreal you need to have a thick skin to tolerate the political bullshit, and if you don’t speak French you need to make a SERIOUS commitment to learn it so that you can integrate into Quebec society. But if you’re willing to do that, Montreal is a great place to live!

          • “Nor are Quebecers especially encouraging of people who are attempting to learn French – an attitude I found maddening in a society that demands it. ”

            I don’t agree with this. I’m a native Quebecer and my first language is French. Most people will be very happy to help anyone trying to learn French. However, as in all experiences, people mostly remember and identify the instances where things go wrong. There are many douches, everywhere, and those are the people that unfortunately get remembered. Parents bullying kids? So not the norm. But yes, it will always be better recieved if you try to start interacting in French (and fail, and switch back to English, because let’s face it, it will happen a lot when first starting to learn), than showing no interest in learning the language. Also, it is always possible you’ll run into people that simply do not speak English at all.

            Many people are saying that “you will really struggle if you don’t learn French”, well…yes. You will. That being said, you’ll also struggle quite a bit moving to a European country and not learning that country’s language. Quebec’s official language is French (there is one officially bilingual province and the rest have English as an official language). It’s like saying you’ll really struggle moving to Alberta and not speak English. Well, duh!

            I say choose Quebec if you want a rich cultural experience that will challenge you, while staying in North America (so maybe closer to people you’d like to visit back in the US). If you want something as close to your US experience as possible (and I’m not saying it’s the same, just closer than anywhere else) while adhering to your criteria, go with any province West of Quebec (they vary wildly too though). And for something completely different, there are a lot of comments from people outside of America πŸ˜‰

          • @Laura and @Aldebrana

            Thanks for these additional perspectives! I’ve been following all the Montreal comments and discussing them with my husband. (We’ve also been talking about this Charter of Quebec Values…)

            I am trying to learn French, but am really not gifted with languages… I expect to be struggling for a while!

          • @Aldebrana: I was glad to hear your response that francophone QuΓ©becois are glad to help people learn to speak French. I love Quebec and I love living here, but I am saying that francophones are not always accommodating simply because that has been my experience. Perhaps I have been dealing with people who are the exception rather than the rule, but it has happened to me frequently enough for me to feel that it is not an anomaly. It is not that people in Quebec are unfriendly to me — not at all! But I speak in French to my coworkers – they reply in English. My francophone husband and I go to a party with his friends – they switch to English. Even with my husband I often have to say “FranΓ§ais! FranΓ§ais!” or he would speak English with me 100% of the time. Since I am quite capable of conducting daily life in French I am not sure why people are so unwilling to speak French to me. Unfortunately, the only francophones who speak French to me regularly are the ones who don’t speak English and have no choice. I wish that there were more people who feel as you do about this, but I don’t encounter it often.

            Regarding the comment about struggling, I wanted to explain myself a bit more. I agree with you fully that if you are living in a place that speaks a certain language, you should learn that language. But I have travelled in many countries that I have found that anglophone expats can be…well, lazy about learning the local language. Since English is one of the dominant global languages, anglophones have become very accustomed to being catered to in English wherever they go. Unfortunately many of us have a rather colonial sense of entitlement about it. For example, I lived in South Korea for four years among many fellow expats who, after years in the country, could not even order at a restaurant in Korean. Now, this is not true of every anglophone expat – a lot of them do make solid efforts to speak the local language and integrate into the society – but it is unfortunately a common attitude.

            Many anglophones are attracted to Quebec because of its history, language, and culture. I am often asked about it by well-travelled friends who want to try living here. But they are often operating under the assumption that they will be catered to in English in the same way as if they were travelling in Asia or Europe. I think the Quebecois are perfectly right to expect newcomers to speak French. In fact, I wish more places would follow their lead in this and expect more of English-speaking visitors or expats. But that is why I always try to stress that if you are anglophone and want to live here, you have to be willing to make French more than a recreational activity. And as much as I wish this wasn’t the case, to a lot of anglophones it comes as a huge shock that they are expected to learn French fluently to live here, especially if they’ve never been to Quebec before. That’s why I try to stress this so that people who aren’t familiar with Quebec’s political situation can make a more informed decision about whether or not to move here.

      • I was really surprised at the figures you quoted for rents… My parents live in a duplex in NDG and they and their neighbours rent out their 3-bedroom units for $1200-1300. $500 for a one-bedroom in “the nicest parts of the city” seems unrealistic to me, unless they’re terrible apartments. I have a friend who does pay $500 a month but for a basement one-bedroom in a not-terribly-central part of NDG.

        Doing a quick check for apartments for rent on Craigslist, all the 3 1/2s I’ve seen in the Plateau/Old Montreal/downtown are quite a bit higher than the price ranges you mention.

    • I live on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. If you are looking for a liberal place to live, Vancouver Island and the smaller gulf islands around it are about as liberal as you are going to get in North America.
      I do have to comment on the idea that the pay is high on the west coast though, the cost of living here is VERY high versus wages. Whether you are looking at buying or renting a place on the coast, the price of housing is at a premium because everyone wants to move to the coast for the weather. Winter on the west coast is very mild compared to the rest of the country, we get very little snow and not a lot days that are even below freezing.
      I love our medical system, as an artist that does not currently make a lot of money, I pay nothing for seeing my doctor and I recently had to see a specialist and I paid NOTHING. My husband’s job has extended dental coverage as well so we only pay 20% of the dental bill, insurance covers the rest.
      Even though it is expensive to live here, I love it. All of my extended family live in the USA, my parents moved here in the 70’s, I can not imagine living any place else. I have been to the US many times to visit, and it is a fun place to visit but I am always happy to come back to the laid back, super liberal Canadian west coast. If you have any questions about life on the west coast of Canada message me and I will answer them if I can.

      • Good point Katherine and I should have been clearer in my original comment. I meant more that income is fairly high in general (on par with most major cities in Canada), but you’re right, compared to the cost of living, it’s not proportionately higher. Vancouver has one of the highest costs of living in the world, and that’s something to consider when looking at it as an option.

      • I’m also on Vancouver island and just moved here from Calgary, AB and I just want to confirm there is a huge difference in life from area to area.
        Calgary has a very big city mindset and can feel very money and possession driven and while pockets are leaning towards being more liberal there still is a strong conservative backbone. Which is very common to most of southern Alberta.

        Vancouver island was a breath of fresh air for myself and my man. We found out very quickly that the cost of living vs incomes don’t quite match what we’re used to but without the social expectation of “bigger and better” we’ve settled in quite happily.

        The arts and culture on the islands are amazing and available to all from street concerts and community Yoga in Duncan, weekly beach concerts in Ladysmith, and a Fringe Festival (going on right now) in Nanaimo. The summer is packed full of amazing both up and down island!!
        Oh and at this time of year there are blackberries EVERYWHERE!!!!

        • Calgary is the city I chose to live in, coming originally from Germany / Switzerland.
          I love it here – despite the fact that it’s considered money driven, and AB in general as conservative, I have 95% great experiences here. And let’s not forget our awesome mayor, a gay muslim (with roots in Pakistan) who does a GREAT job!
          The multiculturalism is lived here. In my group at work, Canadians are a vast minority and no three people are from the same country. I thoroughly enjoy that. Most of my life in Europe people were talking about integrative concepts and such, but it was a pretty homogeneous society after all compared to here.

          I have also lived in France. Yes, gay marriage is legal there (under protests), but I would not describe it as an overly liberal society. Don’t get me wrong, it is a lovely, lovely country in many ways, but the maghreb and black population has a very clear disadvantage. In many of the big cities, there are ghetto-like neighborhoods with predominantly maghreb inhabitants.

          I’ve never actually lived in Scandinavia, but travelled there extensively, and have found a similar attitude. Yes, people are very very friendly and you feel so welcome. Their policies on environmental issues, animal welfare and gay rights, their schools and health system, are very progressive. But if you’re not white and well-educated, I think you would have a hard time fully integrating. Denmark especially stands out for its suppressive immigration rules. For myself, I would always choose Canada again. It’s not perfect. The health care is lacking in some areas. The environmental destruction in some parts of the country (read: oil sands) is second to none. True, rural AB is very conservative. But still, I love living, working and building a family here.

        • Off topic but Hi Stephanie, it was so great to meet you on the weekend in Ladysmith, BC. Loved meet a fellow fan of Off Beat, thanks for coming by my booth.
          And that is another reason Vancouver Island ROCKS! So many summer events so many people to meet and the blackberries are wild and everywhere. I just went picking today and filled three buckets, outdoor life here is fantastic.

      • I live in Vancouver (specifically in East Vancouver) and I absolutely LOVE it here. Yes, the cost of living is high, but for me, the community, lifestyle, and general laid-back-ness of the West Coast are amazing. My neighbourhood in particular is very multicultural, with a lot of open-minded left-leaning folks. You really do see ALL kinds of people (different socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, gender presentations, sexualities) every day and it makes for a very rich living experience.

        It does rain a lot, but you never have to shovel snow (ok, maybe once a year).

        Not much else I can add about Canada that hasn’t already been said. I’m frustrated with our current conservative federal government (and neo-liberal provincial government… which is almost worse because things like education and health care are administered on a provincial level). But I still don’t think I’d want to live anywhere else!!

      • I live in the city of Vancouver, BC and yep, it is very expensive here. Rent for a one bedroom, in a decent building can easily go from $900 to $1500 a month – yes for a one bedroom, depending on area of the city.

        I was extremely ill a few years ago and had no problem getting access to all the medical care I needed. I did have to wait 5 weeks to see a cardiologist for a non-urgent procedure.

        Also to be noted, the US has no general policy on maternity leave and most of my US friends go back to work at 6 weeks from birth. My friends up here have all taken their one year mat leave and loved getting it.

        Jobs can be hard to come by up here, at least good paying ones. But minimum wage is $10.25 and if you have two full-time starting positions, it is survivable.

        We have warm(ish) winters here, last winter we had a tiny bit of snow on the ground for 2 days. This summer has been 80+F in the days, going down to mid-sixties at night.

        I think what I love most about Vancouver, is the accessibility. I don’t have a car and have very little problem getting where I need to go on the bus. Also, a very walkable city, depending on your neighbourhood.

        BC is a highly unionized province as well.With a good contract like mine, I have extended health coverage – chiro, physio, naturopath, acupuncture, massage, I get a certain allotment of money for each every year. Also, paid glasses and 100% prescription coverage. I love my contract.

        To buy a house in my neighbourhood – ha ha ha – a 1,000 sq ft carriage house (tiny, no yard, barely a driveway) will cost you a cool million+ . . . Kitsilano, if you want to buy a house here, win the lottery!

      • The whole West Coast has mild winters? I’ve been dying to move to Canada for as long as I can remember but my partner absolutely HATES snow and freezing temperatures. He wants to move somewhere in California but the cost of living is high and (most importantly) they don’t get the beauty of autumn and I simply cannot live without fall. I’ve been hoping to find some middle ground and find a place in Canada that isn’t quite so snowy. Thanks so much for the pointers!

  8. This is a great question, and something my husband and I also discuss quite a bit. But I think there’s another important factor to consider: the feasibility of getting a visa/permit to live/work in these countries. I know that for an American, getting a work visa/permit isn’t easy. (And I know it goes both ways – it’s not easy for Europeans wanting to live/work in the USA at all.)

    So I’d be very curious to hear not only what countries are most ideal but also how feasible it would be for an American to pick up and move there.

    Thanks!

    • I live in Norway, and while the equality is, well, equal, and the healthcare is wonderful, it took me years to immigrate. I’m still dealing with bureaucracy after five years of living here. It was also quite difficult as a foreigner to get my first job in the country. I had to start from the absolute bottom, but I now have my dream job, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

  9. I’ve lived in Canada (Alberta) my entire life, and as mentioned above it is a really big country. How things are viewed on the prairies can be very different than how it viewed on the interior, or the east coast etc. If you are considering a move I recommend doing a bunch of research- look for sites aimed at school aged children if you want the technical explainations of how the election system works, or the division of responsibility between the federal and provincial governments etc.

    What are your country’s values, social norms?
    In general Canada is fairly progressive becoming more left wing as you move east (except BC…BC is very liberal as well). Same sex marriage is legal, as is same sex adoption, which work just like heteronormative adoption. Our health care also covers surgeries for transgendered people. Abortion is legal across the country (though hotly contested in some prairie provinces still).

    government and financial systems like?
    We have managed to weather the current world financial crisis well and still have a fairly strong economy. Our current federal government is conservative but if you were to put it on a chart Harper is still more left wing than Obama. On the provincial level there is more variety and I would consider doing some research before choosing a place to live. Most provinces tend to vote the same way every time (more liberal, or more conservative). Alberta for example has voted conservative for over a decade. Our election system is also different with a multi-party, first past the post system.

    What are the pros and cons about living in your country?
    Most of the pros could also be cons: “free” health care (though at times it can take longer to see a medical specialist), liberal/left wing social policies on the federal level, but huge regional differences on social values (though that being said I’m wildly liberal and I grew up in one of the most outwardly conservative provinces in Canada).

  10. I’m living in Manitoba, Canada so I can chime in from here.

    HEALTH CARE. It is free (with exceptions). You can see a doctor at no cost. You can see specialists at no cost as well (gynos, pediatricians, etc). Medical emergencies are covered – if you have a preemie baby or dismember your arm, you are not going to be stuck with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical costs. That’s amazing and we are so blessed to have this. When my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, just one drug alone would have cost us thousands of dollars per vial. So emergency brain surgery, 3 weeks in hospital, 6 weeks of chemotherapy, 6 weeks of radiation and multiple, ongoing MRIs (we have one every three months) and not once through that have we had to worry about whether or not our insurance will cover it or how we’re going to pay the bills at the end of the month.

    However, the quality of care, at times, is questionable (although I would feel safe assuming this is across the board – you always have those who just don’t give a rat’s ass about their job). Some waitlists can be quite lengthy, especially if your problem isn’t considered life threatening. Finally, politically there’s been more and more pressure to get rid of the system all together, and some provinces do have private health clinics.

    There are things that are not covered by our health care system – dental appointments, optometrists, chiropractors are at our cost generally. Most prescription drugs are not covered (or, if you’re low income, can be covered up to a certain limit). I’m not sure how it changes by province, but here in Manitoba, a child’s first appointment with both an optometrist and a dentist is free. After that, you have to pay. Because most companies have benefits packages for their employees, a good portion of this can be covered. My benefits package through work covers 80% of normal dental work for my family, 80% of presciptions, and and up to $250 for glasses every two years as well as well as one eye exam annually, for example.

    Ultimately, you can tell the system is suffering but for all the issues, we truly are so very lucky to have it.

    EDUCATION – For K – 12, the education quality varies by school, as I would assume it does in any country. We have both public (free aside from basic school fees varying, in my area, from $15-$50/year) and private (couldn’t tell you the costs because my kids are all in public schools). Basic research about a specific school will give you a relatively decent idea on the quality of the education. In general, most schools have a standardized curriculum and, for the most part, children get a fairly solid education.

    When it comes to university or college, the costs vary across the country – a typical full-time year can run you anywhere from $2-$7,000 per term, depending on the degree (i.e. bio-chem will likely carry bigger fees due to lab costs than an English major). Our student loan program isn’t bad, it has its own little kinks to work out, but for the most part, it allows pretty much anyone who wants to go to university or college to do so with a little hard work.

    PAY – I’m not sure where we fall in comparison to other countries when considering income compared to cost-of-living. Where I live, I’m in administration, I make just over $40,000 per year. I rent (at $620 per month which is SUPER low for our area) basic utilities cost me about $100 per month, car insurance is $90 per month and groceries for a family of four (my son lives with his father now because he’s closer to the university) run us around $450 per month (but we’re big eaters – most of our friends are shocked when they see my food budget). We could purchase a decent house in a decent area for $150-$300,000.

    I believe our minimum wage here in Manitoba is now $10.45/hour. This varies by province as well and keep in mind, we have taxes taken directly off our income so you actually take home less than you make. Minimum wage would be very difficult to support a family on – at a take-home of about $1,400, rent of $800 (a simple 2 bedroom suite – I seriously lucked out on my apartment), basic utilities of $120 plus car insurance of app $80 per month (you HAVE to have car insurance here – if you don’t you will be ticketed and your car will be impounded), leaves you with just $400 per month for food, clothing, gas, etc.

    EQUALITY…In my opinion, generally we’re a fairly open-minded group (keep in mind, I have only ever lived in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, two provinces that, to me, have more of a ‘country’ attitude towards life in general). My husband is trans-gender and, despite my worries, we have run into very few people who have any sort of negative attitude. There are definitely gender norms, and, like anywhere, anything outside the norm raises eyebrows, but in my experience (as first a lesbian and now…well… a lesbian married to a transman) I can say that at no point have I ever feared for my life or safety (or my husband’s).

    There are definitely race issues. The First Nations people are over-represented in the prisons and under-represented in professional employment. This is an on-going problem. I believe that the majority of the issues stem from political idiocy – treaties and reservations and the residential school history are all used by leaders on both sides (politicians and band chiefs) as platforms for their own political agendas. What this means is that the voice of all the ‘little’ people who fall under the scope of these leaders is muted and nothing ever really happens. Until politics is removed, racial tension and profiling will continue to be an issue.

    Like other Canadians have said before me, this is a vast country and regionally can be so incredibly different that my opinions may have absolutely nothing in common with someone, say, from the Maritimes or Nunavut.

    Overall, I love being Canadian. It’s a big, beautiful country with big, beautiful people.

  11. TAIWAAAAAANNNNNNNNN!!!

    Seriously, Taiwan is the BESTEST BEST BESTEREST BEST EVER. People just don’t know, because they think it’s a part of China (wrong) or that it’s Thailand (wrong) or they know it, but they think it’s all factories making iPhones and stuff (no – the ODM and design offices tend to be in Taiwan but the factories are all in China).

    I don’t even know where to start with how great Taiwan is, especially if you live in Taipei (although there are people who prefer a small town or even smaller settlement on an outlying area – those have their good points too).

    First, it’s a democracy with pretty good protected freedoms and generally good human rights (they do have the death penalty but rarely exercise it, and there is a movement to get rid of it). Protests happen, and they’re big (the last one was 250,000 people) and people generally have the right to express themselves. Politics is a bit fucked (ask me about Taiwan independence sometime), but that’s true around the world, no? And at least it’s entertaining.

    It’s got a lot of other stuff going for it – ridiculously cool folk beliefs and traditions (and it’s not disrespectful to call them “totally cool” – people are super laid back about these things and nobody has a problem with it if you enjoy attending festivals even if you don’t believe – most of the locals who participate don’t really believe either, it’s just a social thing they do). Very friendly people – there are times when you feel there are some cultural hurdles but as Asia goes, it’s a pretty progressive society that is open to cultural exchange and intercultural friendships. Most of my friends here are Taiwanese (I have expat friends too). The downside is you may not see them as much as people work longer hours and are expected to be more devoted to family. There is a good local sense of humor about life and you get a lot of creatives and eccentrics. But I do feel it’s pretty open for foreigners – I’ve become close to friends here in a way I never managed to in China and friends I know haven’t managed to in Japan or Korea. Taiwan has a strong ‘design’ and ‘handmade’ culture and really values local products, small, cottage and family industries, DIY/handmade, small vendors, local fresh food, and original design products. That’s why in technology the R&D and ODM offices tend to be located here. Cost of living is about 2/3 that of the USA, less if you live even more locally.

    Taiwan is developed – there are things that will give you culture shock (buildings are “midcentury Asian Tiger concrete” and generally ugly, massive numbers of scooters and mopeds, legal beer drinking in the street, betel nut chewing) but generally you can live a comfortable life here for a lot less money. We rent a three-bedroom apartment downtown near the MRT (did I mention the public transportation in Taipei is among the best in the world, and taxis are super cheap – about $6 to cross the entire city – if you get lazy?) with a washer/dryer, elevator, very good wifi, in-built water filter and tatami tea room (NOT INCLUDED in the three bedrooms – it’s a whole bonus mini-room!) for about $900 USD/month. Salaries are lower but generally your standard of living will still be higher.

    If you’re willing to teach English it’s easy to get a job and visa, although getting started and settled here will mean a few months of tight budgeting. After five years you can get permanent residency – just like citizenship except you can’t vote, really – and do whatever you want. Sadly that industry is kind of screwed up, but if you’re talented or have in-demand skills there are ways to get away from it (or ways to thrive in it if you decide you want to make a serious go of becoming a credentialed, qualified teacher). Point is, unlike in much of the world, it’s possible to land here, find a job and get a visa without too much hassle.

    AND you can learn Chinese, although in Taipei you don’t need to.

    Because Taiwan is developed, you can get most things here that you may want. Many different kinds of cuisines in Taipei (Ethiopian is notably lacking though), and some good fancy imported goods stores. The only ingredients I’ve never been able to source in Taiwan have been exotic (pomegranate molasses, cherry pit powder, grape leaves) with the exception of bulghur (I use pearl barley or couscous as a substitute). Japanese items and food are popular so you can get quality stuff, too (although “Made in Taiwan” stuff is consistently high quality these days – not like it used to be).

    The food is consistently excellent (it’s not all duck tongues and chicken uteruses, although if you want that stuff you can get it, and yes deer penis wine is a real thing and it’s surprisingly good) and you haven’t lived until you’ve explored a big night market. There are a lot of practicing Buddhists, so vegetarian options are surprisingly easy to find – way easier than China or Korea. If you’re vegetarian this is the best place in East Asia for you.

    Taiwan does not have marriage equality unfortunately, but in Asia this is the best country I’ve visited or lived in in terms of LGBT tolerance. There’s a swinging and quite open gay scene (a bit harder for lesbians who locally tend to segregate into femme and butch just like they’re genders, and femmes only date butches and vice-versa, it’s not very relaxed or open). People are generally OK with it: it’s very much a “well it doesn’t concern me, they’re living their lives and anyway you can’t choose to be gay or not, so it’s fine” society, which is about as tolerant as you are going to get in Asia. This tolerance may not be extended to their own children (the movement is working on that) but is generally extended to friends, acquaintances, relatives and coworkers as well as strangers.

    Feminism is one issue – as Asia goes it is about as progressive as it gets. Which is still not great – I mean, Taiwanese women (and men) still have gendered expectations foisted upon them by family and society. Parents and in-laws have way more say in their kids’ lives than I think is healthy or functional (but I try not to judge – it’s not my culture). You meet well-meaning intelligent people who do have sexist beliefs, although generally they are openminded about hearing other perspectives and I have definitely changed some minds. It’s considered OK to be feminist, and if you don’t conform to social norms, your grandma may give you trouble if you’re Taiwanese, but there will be a place for you in society. It is not that rare for Taiwanese women to eschew marriage and/or having kids, especially in Taipei.

    Racism, however, is another issue. Sigh. That could take forever to get into, but suffice it to say that I am quite aware that I may not have had such a great experience if I were not white. There is definitely a lot of racist crap thrown at non-white foreigners and SE Asians here. It’s a big problem and there are people working to change it.

    I won’t lie and say I’ve never felt culture shock: I definitely have. People can be indirect to the point where it seems passive-aggressive. Harmony is valued over individuality, so while creative expression is great, it’s really a bad idea to make a scene or cause someone to lose face, and it’s common for people to feel that what they want is not important in the face of what’s best for everyone. This has its advantages and its disadvantages. It means that the society values its democracy, identity and general kindness towards others (it is a very ‘civic’ society) but it also means, well…people won’t necessarily be on your side even if you’re right, rank is more important than justice, relationships/networks are everything, and face is a big deal. And people won’t always say what they mean or give you bad news directly.

    But…we have universal healthcare and all foreign employees and students are able to get it. It’s not free and it’s not perfect but it’s super cheap and really affordable. The setup is basically that insurance is communal but care may be privatized, so you get affordable coverage and because private care options are everywhere, there are no long waits or lines for treatment, especially if you go to a clinic rather than the hospital. The downside is that not everything that should be covered is (birth control for one – but it’s cheaper here, about $20 US/month) and sometimes you may feel that doctors don’t spend enough time with you to discuss your condition in detail. This is fine if you just need some sinus meds or a skin cream (dermatology is mostly covered, as is dental, and vision is cheap), but not so fine if you have a more complex issue (you wait a bit longer and see a doctor in a hospital, basically).

    Oh, the hiking and cycling is fantastic (Taiwan has a strong community of passionate hikers, mountain climbers and long distance cyclists), the scenery FUCKING KILLS, I mean there’s a reason why the Portuguese called this “Ilha Formosa” (the Beautiful Island), and while it is East Asia, and it can get a little polluted in the cities, generally it’s cleaner than, say, China. You can breathe here, and you need not fear that your food supply is contaminated.

    I won’t lie – some people don’t love it here as much as I do. But I LOVE LOVE LOVE it, from the creative design culture to the emphasis on traditional industry to the festivals to the quality of life to the healthcare to the public transportation. I’ve considered writing a piece on what it’s like to live here for Offbeat Home (and doing a home tour) but I’m in the middle of getting my Delta certification for English teaching and I just don’t have time. Someday…

    If I’ve piqued your interest about Taiwan, my blog (which covers a lot of this “life in Taiwan” stuff if you care to peruse) is linked to through my username.

    • Other pro: super easy and cheap to explore the rest of Asia. In our time here we’ve affordably visited Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, China/Hong Kong/Macau, Sri Lanka, India and Singapore (one or both of us had previously been to Thailand, Laos, inland China, Korea, India, Nepal, Malaysia and Bangladesh). Even outside of Asia we’ve been able to travel: 5 out of 7 countries in Central America (it was our honeymoon), Egypt and Turkey.

      Other other pro: you can buy the craziest stuff here, from lighters that look like crab claws to pencil sharpeners that look like adorable emoji-faced pink poo curls to leggings with neon pasta noodle patterns. Trolling the night markets for the weirdest stuff is a hobby of mine.

      Other other other pro: very ‘tech’. OK, they still use fax machines. But otherwise, being a major technology center means any tech you may want is available, generally affordable, and you can get all sorts of cool after-market gadgets for cheap. And there is always some geek who knows how to fix things if it all goes tits-up.

      Other con: the weather sucks. Taipei is hot except when it’s cold, humid all the time and rainier than I’d like. Outside of Taipei it’s not as rainy but the south is tropical, which means hot and humid. I put up with it because I love the place, but I sure would like to not have to always be checking my leather goods for mold.

    • I don’t have much time just now, but I’ll say quickly that our public heathcare, while not perfect, is almost totally free for Australian citzens, I used to chat to an American guy when I was in my teens and could never understand why he just woudn’t go to the doctor when he was sick…. It’s cuz you all guys have to pay for that shit…. we don’t.

      There’s always a few bad apples that spoil the bunch, but as a general rule you’ll find us accepting of all races, religions, and cultures…

      It’s illegal here to descriminate based on gender or sexual orientation, (you mostly won’t find any need to take it to court though) but we’re still working on marriage equality…. we have an election comming up next month, we’ll see how we go on that after that happens, but if K.Rudd get’s in, we should be sweet.

      • we also have great weather, great beaches, and we’re all incredibly good looking.

        Come live in Aussie-land!

    • I’m Australian and live in the capital, Canberra. This city is great in terms of equality and attitudes to gender, LGBTQ and the environment (although it is not very diverse and has a largely white population), although the country as a whole is probably not quite as accepting as Canberra in this respect, we’re not the bible belt. The inner city of major cities Sydney or Melbourne tend to attract liberal types as well. Canberra has excellent schools in most districts, and the year 12/leaving year system (unlike the rest of the country) doesn’t rely solely on exams and has great scope for kids who are into more creative or vocational subjects. Most employment here is government-related, so you would probably need to get citizenship to get really good jobs, but there is also plenty of scope for running your own business or working in professional services. It’s also quite an extreme climate here surrounded by mountains (it can get as low as -10C in winter and up to 40C in summer and it’s dry and windy).

      As a country, Australia is a lot more secular than the US, although there is a noisy minority of right-wing conservatives, some Christian, some not. Television and radio is still dominated by white, middle-aged men accompanied by attractive non-threatening women, but most young people under 40 don’t actually watch TV from Australia (we have one of the highest rates of illegal downloading for a reason). Accessing good TV is an ordeal if you want to get it legally.

      Internet access is really good in the inner suburbs of major cities, and generally okay in the outer suburbs but extremely patchy in rural areas. Something I didn’t understand until I travelled overseas for the first time in my 20s is that we are EXTREMELY isolated from the rest of the world, so even a visit to a ‘neighbouring’ country like Indonesia or Singapore is a good seven hours. Flying to Europe is an ordeal in economy class (22 hours in two stages), and the US is 14 hours non-stop itself, which is no picnic either.

      Our health system is a hybrid which means that for ‘elective’ things like dentistry, you pay a lot even with private insurance, but for any thing requiring hospital admission, like cancer or pregnancy, there is a public system that treats you without payment for the most part. Out of hospital, visits to general practitioners, diagnostic and pathology tests are partially covered by Medicare. There’s a requirement that if you are over 30 or earn over ~$140K as a family (earning that amount would not be unrealistic if you are both working full time in professional jobs and have 5-10 years of experience behind you) that you purchase private insurance, which at a basic level costs around $130 a month going up to $600/month if you want to have the top level of cover (not worth it for most people IMO).

      The other thing is I’m not sure about the visa situation. I know that my husband and I are really keen to live in the US for a while but it’s basically impossible without an employer to sponsor you.

      • CANBERRAAAAA. For curious Americans: I moved here to take a gov’t job (3-year postdoc research contract), so at least some of those are definitely available to non-citizens. You DO need a work (457, etc) visa to move here and get sponsored for permanent residency. They seem to be very welcoming of “skilled labor,” which can be anything from medicine to hairdressing.

        Once you’ve applied for permanent residency, you can get a “bridging visa” which gives you that sweet, sweet healthcare until your perm. res. comes through. We waited until we had this before havin’ a baby, and it was a great decision. Medical care (in both Canberra and Sydney) has been super, and they got that baby out of my uterus FOR. FREE. (in fact, they pay you to have a baby; don’t know if the “baby bonus” is getting phased out, though)

        Sydney is just beautiful but also crazy expensive to live in. It’s like Warm Vancouver. Melbourne is hip and caffeinated and intermittently on fire; Brisbane is sweet and laid-back but also intermittently flooded. Canberra is wretchedly boring if you move here not knowing anyone; once you make friends, it’s not so bad.

        Bonus: cockatoos, parrots, kangaroos, etc just all over everywhere.

        Non-bonus: brown snakes living in the garden outside my kid’s daycare. Well, whatever. WORTH IT.

    • Australia is worth a consideration but don’t just limit the country to the major metropolitan areas there are plenty of regional areas which offer great opportunities for families, particularly if they want to try something different.

      There are different areas which attract different types of people. I am based on the north coast of NSW whilst we have amazing beaches on the east we also have plenty of bushland surrounding. There are a variety of educational options for children from private schools, public schools and even Steiner schools. The community on the whole is pretty accepting, like most Australian people. We tend be a very easy going type of people.

      We have a government funded health care system. Which may not be perfect but is much better than other people have the opportunity to experience.

      We are not as religiously focused as other cultures but there are always the vocal few.

      In regional areas you will find the smaller communities which are often welcoming to new families to town and there are often job opportunities available for people who are bringing skills.

      Australians may have a hilarious stereotype but in reality we are just laid back, hardworking, and usually pretty accepting.

  12. I live in Finland and I have lived in Denmark as well. I love the Nordic countries and would definitely recommend them, but there are of course some important things to consider: finding job if you don’t know the language or are a trained professional in fields like economics and engineering can be quite challenging. Permit of residence is not automatically granted (you have to show you have income) and access to free health care if you are not a undergraduate student or don’t work can be hard to attain (I have been living in Finland one year and a half and still have to pay for anything medical related). Plus, these countries are very expensive, and if you have kids it is gonna be expected of you that you work. Another aspect to consider is that the weather can be quite unforgiving, winters in Finland last six months and temperature drops to -30 easily. Summer is short and you are definitely gonna feel the lack of sun. For Americans one of the biggest challenges is that Nordic countries are community-oriented rather than based on individualism: you are supposed to uniform and are praised for being part of the group and being competitive is seen as detrimental. Finland has the best education system in the world and it’s a beautiful country, but its beauty lies more in the great nature than in the lively cultural life (Helsinki is different but poses another series of issues, of course). Plus, you need money before moving in. Life is not cheap, it may take a long time before you find a job, so I would strongly advise against moving without a plan and savings. The upsides are a safe country, less people, respect for privacy, beautiful nature, great welfare (if you get access to it), lots of attention to gender issues and feminism (but don’t be fooled, there is still lots of sexism and racism going on in all the North), great place to have kids and lovely people (in my experience, many complain how hard it is to make friends here). The whole dimension of social interactions is completely different, while in the U.S. it tends to be easy but superficial, here it can be much harder but once you get a friend is forever. However, most expats keep staying among themselves and not many manage to gain a circle of Finnish friends. Life as an expat can be frustating and difficult at the beginning, after the charms of novelty have worn off, but rewarding and fulfilling in the long run. But to live here and not be a social recluse you have to learn the language and work at getting to know people while respecting their differences. Not many people would ever ring your door to welcome you in the building or interact with you at the park but it’s definitely possible to make friends. I’d say the North is the place for you if you don’t mind the cold, love your privacy, are ok with paying high taxes, have some money set aside (or a fantastic job offer) and prefer smaller, quieter and harder to more chaotic, easier and more exciting. Good luck, I plan to soon try Norway and Sweden as well, but in the meanwhile I can recommend http://joannagoddard.blogspot.fi/2013/07/10-surprising-things-about-parenting-in_15.html

    • The advice on job preparation and cost of living is fantastic. That’s my number 1 hurdle to moving overseas. How do I find work? What is the cost of living? Do the awesome benefits I hear about ever apply to me? If so, what do I need to do to qualify? And so on.

      Thanks to everyone who addressed those questions!

    • Hello!
      I lived in Norway for a year. I finished my PhD in the US and was offered a post-doc in Norway. Some quick reactions based on my experience:
      – Quality of life is the best I’ve seen so far. Public transportation (people used to complain the train was 4 minutes late!), public health service (each person is assigned a family doctor for any general health issues who then passes you on to a specialist if needed), work ethics (having moved from the US I asked my boss what the work hours were. His answer: well, we start at 8am, but no one really gets here until 8:30am. Then in the Summer we leave at 3pm and in the Winter at 3:45pm. But, you know, we are in academia, so we are expeted to work long hours, so sometimes we leave at 4:30pm).
      – It is COLD! And actually, worse than the cold is the darkness. For me, having the mid day sun cast 5pm shadows was dreary.
      – It is a place where social groups are very closed and people are too. While I made great friends in Norway most are expats. This may be due to language barriers (although everyone speaks English they did not like “having” to speak English with me) but I think it is also very much a way of life.
      – While Norway has a great track record of accepting immigrants on humanitarian grounds, I think that the integration or amalgamation of cultures is still very lacking. There are neighborhoods of immigrants and considerable economic differences (in earnings, training, ets) which can lead to racism (as experienced by my Indian husband by being expelled from a bar in Oslo).
      Overall an amazing anthropological experience! πŸ™‚

  13. Hallo! Canadian here! I’ve lived in Alberta (considered the most rednecked of the provinces) my whole life. And I LOOOOVE Canada, and my province…even if it feels a little backwatered sometimes.

    I live in Edmonton, Alberta…which is hilariously enough, considered to be the Austin, Texas of Alberta. Edmonton is considered to be the most liberal, while Calgary, and the south of Alberta is considered to be ultra-conservative. Our city has the only NDP federal MLA in the province…and Calgary was the the birthplace of the Wildrose party (which is unfortunately often compared to the Tea Party of the US).

    Politically…I’m at a crossroads with Canada. Right now we have a Conservative majority government…whom I HATE. They are effing up a lot of good things right now in Canada (cuts to education, cuts to environmental stuff, MAJOR scandals involving fraud, and so much more), and they’re super shifty. But we do have an election coming up in 2015, so hopefully they’ll be ousted. We have a young up-and-coming politician from the Liberal Party (Justin Trudeau…son of the famous Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau), and the new NDP leader to replace the country’s beloved Jack Layton (Thomas Mulcair…whom I don’t know how I feel about yet…but I’m an avid NDP’er). There’s also the Green Party and Bloc Quebecois. So there’s hope on the horizon.

    Education…I have no qualms with our education system. Yes it has it’s up’s and down’s…but I think overall it’s fairly good. Our post-secondary is very good I think. There are many world-class universities across the country. McGill, University of Alberta, etc. And a good chunk is paid for, so tuition is much more affordable.

    Healthcare…I do not have a problem with our healthcare system. I’ve never run into these “horror stories” that the US likes to propegate about our system. I can always get into a doctor quickly, same with specialists, and our system pays for almost everything. Then your insurance (provided by your employer, or if you’re un/self-employed, paid by yourself…but I think it’s like $50/month…or at least it was when I was unemployed for a few months) tops up everything else (prescription costs, dental visits, ambulance rides, vision, travel coverage, etc).

    The only thing I will say is if you go into a mediclinic because you need to see a doctor ASAP, and can’t wait a week to see your physician, the wait times can be long. I went to see a doctor at a mediclinic because I had a UTI and just needed some antibiotics…I waited about 1 hour. But I went another time when I came down with a bad cough (what turned out to be strep throat), I was waiting for about 3 hours. So those can vary. I’ve also heard some of the “horror stories” through other people actually happening. Yes, sometimes you are scheduled for a knee replacement surgery and it takes 2 months to get it done.

    Financial system…is okay. It depends where you live. We have a higher cost of living in Canada for sure. I just bought a house for $385,000, and that’s considered average…most homes in my city cost from $350-$700. But then you get cities like Vancouver and it’s almost double! But your wages seem to adjusted for that…sort of. Taxes also vary from province to province. Alberta is the cheapest place to live. We have a 5% federal tax and THAT’S IT. Other provinces also have a provincal tax on top of that or sometimes it’s combined…making costs much, much more.

    Values…I think the majority of Canadians are fairly laid back and very liberal. No one bats a eye at same-sex couples or families, no one cares what religion you are, abortion isn’t contested (although I did walk past a terrible protest in Calgary from some anti-abortion group and I almost tore them a new one), etc. However, you definitely will still find prejudices across the country. There is still a long way to go we find. Yes, a same sex-couple can walk down the street just fine and have equal rights…but some people are still hateful. There are hate crimes (rare) against LGBT peoples, but they are taken extremely seriously, and we are making lots of progress. In my city, schools are imposing anti-LGBT bullying procedures and the like for a wider acceptance. But, like anywhere in the world…there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t agree with it.

    Social Norms…We really do say “sorry” all the time. I’ve gotten into “sorry” battles with other people. I’ll bump into someone and say “sorry!” then they’ll say “sorry” right back, and it continues. It’s kind of funny, even our buses have apology messages when they’re not in service. Many people do say “eh”, and on the sports networks…hockey gets at least 10-20min in the offseason and practically the full hour during the season (which is awesome…I was down in Chicago for a vacation and I was like, “Where the hell is the hockey talk? I DON’T CARE ABOUT COLLEGE SPORTS!”). I like to think we’re polite on the whole, but there are assholes everywhere. Poutine is delicious, we drink caesars NOT bloody marys (ew), and our beer is generally stronger than US beer…so head’s up on that before you go and order a pint (my US cousins always get tanked before I do…because they forget about the strength difference). We do complain about the weather, but it’s almost a point of pride. But just be prepared for like…a 6 month winter. Spring doesn’t exist. And we constantly have news reports about getting your vitamin D quota and avoiding SAD during the winter months. A double-double is a coffee with 2 cream and 2 sugar. But I think our national coffee chain sucks (Tim Horton’s). Thanksgiving happens in October, and no one really cares about it…just an excuse to get fat…we go bananas for Christmas though. OH! And make sure children have a Halloween costume that can be worn OVER a snowsuit. It’s usually snowed by mid- October.

    Canadians are very proud to be Canadians, and if we’re mistaken for Americans…many take offense. We’re a little quieter about our patriotic-ness, but many Canadians are starting to believe that we shouldn’t be so quiet anymore (ever since the Olympics in Vancouver)…which I think it awesome.

  14. Hi! Let me chime in for France πŸ™‚
    I’m a French citizen/candidate immigrant to Canada.

    Country’s values:
    Roman Catholic background. Same-sex marriage was made legal this year (yay) though a lot of people are still opposed to it. We believe that the State should provide a lot of things (healthcare, unemployment relief, school if you have children and so on).
    We pay a lot of taxes (though I don’t have any other experience to compare with) but we can get a lot from the State in return.
    Tolerance really depends on where you live (big city vs. small town) but there is generally casual racism against North Africans/Muslims.
    People judge you more by your educational attainment than by what you have achieved, at least until your 30s.
    We’re not really into doing sports, but a lot into watching sports (soccer and rugby). We love to complain (be prepared for it), there is no culture of success: if you did right, it’s normal, no one will praise you. If you did wrong, everybody will complain about it.
    Not really proud to be French, but really proud of our country’s former grandeur.
    People are not fluent in English, and expect you to at least try and speak French. At least try and say “Bonjour”, this will mollify people πŸ™‚

    Pay: there is a minimum wage which is rougly 1,200 euros/month for full-time employment. Half the people make that much. It not enough to live in Paris and really tight for other places. Executives/managers earn from 2,000 euros or 2,500 euros depending on where they live.

    Public transportations are good in cities, inexistent in small towns. There is a quite extensive rail network, whose efficiency is relative πŸ™‚

    Healthcare:
    though it may seem kind of complex at first (you have to choose a referent GP and visit them before visiting any other specialist, even if it’s obvious you need a specialist – dermatologist, cardiologist, etc.), it is efficient and generally reimbursed bu the national health system. You still want to have a complementary health insurance to cover for some stuff (specifically opticals) or complement the NHS.

    Government
    Currently left-wing, though our former right-wing government might seem left-wing to you πŸ˜‰ It is good when it comes to the social system (aids, subsidies, relief of sorts) but not so much for employment. Free trade and entrepreneurship are sadly not encouraged.

    General pros and cons
    Pros: quality of life can be awesome, with people loving to enjoy life, awesome food, “free” healthcare, “free” studies from primary to tertiary

    Cons: if you’re a manager or an executive, people expect you to work overtime for free, i.e. from 9 to 7 instead of 9 to 7:30. If you keep to your scheduled hours, you’ll be considered lazy.
    Right now, entrepreneurship is not encouraged. The European crisis has set a suffocatingly pessimist mood on the country. This is why my husband and I are candidate to immigration to Canada. I’m sorry if my account is a bit negative but I feel my country is not on the right tracks at the moment. Maybe someone will counterbalance it πŸ™‚

    • Also, France is….not great on gender. I don’t know about trans* issues, but I can say that I have never gotten harassed on the street so much as when I was living in France. Wearing a tank top to the grocery store got me called “putain” (whore) damn near every time.

      And there’s a lot of casual antisemitism, too.

      There is a lot I love about France, but there’s a lot that is really, really not awesome.

      • I hear they’re not very crunchy mom friendly in France either. That’s not a big deal if you’re not a crunchy mom, but if you are (or think you might be one) it might be rough.

      • I second the casual antisemitism and casual sexism, though I’m really surprised that someone called you a putain just for wearing a tank top.
        Trans issues are non-existent, and by that I mean that except in Paris or maybe Lyon, trans issues are not part of the social debate.

        @Jessica: I’ve just discovered what a “crunchy mom” is. Though I’m childfree, I’m definitely a crunchy person πŸ™‚ There is not hostility towards that but I’m definitely the oddball right here!

    • And I meant working from 9 to 7 instead of working from 9 to 5:30 (though if you live in Paris, you can casually work from 9 to 9, 10, 11…).

  15. Another Canuck chiming in! πŸ™‚

    I live in Nova Scotia, and lived in Ontario before that, and agree with the other Canadian commenters here. I’m not overly plussed by our Conservative government, for many reasons, but it seems at times (not right now with all the senate BS going on) a little less melodramatic than some other countries.

    The culture in different areas in the country will vary. When I moved to NS, I was amazed at how forward-thinking it is in some ways, leading other provinces in some things like recycling programs, social programming, and other things that I can’t think of right now. But I was also shocked that the population can be quite conservative and “Not In My Back Yard,” and shockingly racist in areas. But all in all, Maritimers are some of the friendliest, loveliest people you could ever meet. It’s fun to get into random conversations in a Tim Horton’s line-up, and get smiles when you walk downtown.

    The cost of living here is a little higher in some aspects. Groceries and alcohol are more expensive than other provinces (some of the highest taxes in the country, including income taxes I believe), but housing prices aren’t too bad.

    Health care: I’ve never had any issues with wait times for the most part. Referrals to specialists have been for the most part glitch-free for me, but I know friends whose family doctors have messed up referrals and things have taken longer than they should.

    Education: I’m a bit biased because family members are teachers in the public system in Ontario. For the most part it’s a good education, although some schools are better than others. University tuition in NS is some of the highest in the country (Dalhousie, MSVU, St Mary’s, Cape Breton U, Acadia, and St FX) but each school is known for different specializations.

    Finding work: That depends on what you do. Minimum wage jobs are out there. Trades, I think certain ones do better than others, although many go to Alberta to make better money (work out there for a month, come home for a month kind of schedule). Professional jobs, it depends. CareerBeacon.com will give you an idea of what’s out there.

    Public transportation is hit and miss in the Maritimes. It’s not overly reliable in some areas of Halifax, and not always on schedule. And the inter-provincial bus line that was running for decades closed down at the end of November, with a new company operating now. Last I heard, they had worked out a lot of bugs and I think things are going smoothly. Kings County has its own bus system as well, but have never taken it. Most small rural areas don’t have transit, though, so a vehicle of some sort is necessary at times. And Via Rail has been cut back to three trains a week, which sucks.

    Me, I’m happy to be living on the East Coast, even with some of the cons. It’s one of the few places I’ve lived in over the years that felt like home within two weeks. I agree with what Lauren said about long winters, weather talk, Tim Horton’s and the double-double, but I don’t say “eh” that much myself. πŸ˜‰ And most of my friends don’t pronounce “aboot.” πŸ˜‰

    Hope you find a great place to call home!

    • I’m from Nova Scotia, too! I was hoping I wasn’t going to be the only one! I live in a small town on the boarder of New Brunswick, and I really love Canada. I’ve never lived anywheres else, but I’m content. Obviously we have free basic health care, but for things like the dentist and eye care you have to be covered by some plan or pay in full. Also some medications. My friends baby has cystic fibrosis and I was worried how they were going to pay for everything, but in Nova Scotia a least everything she needs from prescriptions to equipment for treatment is all free!
      We are over the top friendly and caring people (obviously there’s exceptions) and we all really pull together to help out in any situation.
      It’s really beautiful here on the easy coast! I kind of forget how beautiful it is because I see it everyday, but everything is green and oceans.
      I’m not huge into a lot of politics, I wish I was but it just puts me to sleep. I’m also passionate about equality like you, and I think Canada’s a good place to be. You’ll have better luck in bigger cities of course, because my small town isn’t as into gay rights as say Halifax, they’re just not as exposed to it.
      The inter proviencial bus system on the east coast is good, gets you to most places every day. I’ve only taken metro Halifax a handful of times but it was good, we were going to and from busy places so we had no problem. The kings county transit is AWFUL though. Last time I took it it was $2 more than Halifax, and it isn’t a normal bus route… It’s just a big circle going though the four towns in one order, so to get the opposite way you have to transfer a few times… Not that they make that very clear. Maybe I just had bad luck, but it was more confusing than it was worth.
      Public education was fine, I know know Much about it anywhere else to compare it to. We have excellent post secondary, though. NSCC is great for trades and nursing but other courses are a bust. Our universities are excellent though, there’s always so many people from across Canada who came here for school.
      Also… We have food that’s too die for here! Poutine, real maple syrup, GARLIC FINGERS! I don’t know how the rest of the world lives without garlic fingers!

  16. I’m American but I’ve lived in the UK, France, Hong Kong, Belgium, and Germany. I currently live in Indonesia (and am moving back to Hong Kong in a few months).

    I think you’re making a good first step in doing research. Visas are a pain in the ass and can be extremely difficult to get. Make sure you also think about things like your future children’s legal status.

    What languages do you speak? Although not impossible to live abroad without speaking the local language, it makes things like fabulous healthcare an almost moot point because you may encounter a lot of access problems. If you are considering raising children abroad, this takes on a whole new level of importance. Of course there are many expat families where the children speak the language but the parents do not, but if you are wanting to move somewhere permanently I think you want to be able to provide your children with a good language foundation in both English and the local language.

    Another thing I think is important is to keep your expectations in check. When I first moved to the UK I was all ‘wooo hoo healthcare!’ and was in shock when I had some problems with the NHS. I also find that when it comes to social issues, there are always groups that are against things like equality, and they may be much more vocal or present than you hear about from abroad.

    If you’re looking for information, I think forums for specific countries are the way to go. They’re pretty easy to find and you might be able to connect with American expats who can give you more specific information.

    I was born and raised in the US, but neither of my parents are American and they are from different countries (which are really far apart) … I think something else to consider if the relationship you’d like your children to have with your family/close friends. My parents both left their home countries because the quality of life in the US is much higher, and I am very grateful to have grown up where I did. However, I barely know some of my family (but have a great relationship with others!) and holidays always had a little sad undertone in my house (American holidays like Thanksgiving because we had no family to visit and celebrate with, and holidays from my parents’ cultures because we were far from the celebrations and alone in ours). Holidays when we get to travel to go back though, are freaking awesome!

    I love being a first-gen American, and I love being an ex-pat. Both come with their fair share of heartache, and being an ex-pat can be a bureaucratic nightmare but it’s worth it!

  17. I’m from Australia! Here is my best answer (although other Australian’s may disagree)

    Values and social norms
    Australians like to think of ourselves as tolerant but… I think as a country we give ourselves a little too much credit.

    – In all Australian states and territories, cohabiting same-sex couples are recognised as “de facto” couples, and have the same rights as cohabiting heterosexual couples under state law. From 2009 onwards a new section in the Family Law Act limits jurisdiction over de facto relationships that have a geographical connection (i.e., doesn’t apply to long-distance couples or couples living apart from each other for whatever reason).
    – In 2004 our Marriage Act was amended in federal parliament to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and that any existing same-sex marriage from a foreign country is not to be recognised as a marriage in Australia (Boooo!).
    – Polling shows that approx. 60ish% of the population supports gay marriage but, unfortunately it seems as though it might take some more time. The current government has amended its official policy platform to advocate same-sex marriage, but the party’s MPs will be allowed a conscience vote on the issue in the federal parliaments AND we’re having a Federal Election in about a month so who knows whether that means anything.
    – We are currently VERY inhospitable to refugees and asylum seekers, such that we have been condemned by the UN (although our journalists rarely report this). Our current policies have all refugees/asylum seekers arriving by boat deported to Papua New Guinea to be “processed and resettled” which is in direct opposition to our UN obligations.

    Government
    – We currently have a fairly centralist to left-leaning government in power (i.e., fiscally left but morally central) and our opposition party are centralist to right-leaning (i.e., fiscally right and morally right-ish).
    – Our government is based on the British model, we have a Prime Minister who is the elected leader of whichever party has secured government. Members of Parliment are voted in by their electorate and secure a “seat”, whichever party has the most seats wins government. Voting is compulsory and those who do not enroll to vote or who are enrolled and do not vote are fined (although this is hard to police and the fine is ~$20).
    – At our last Federal Election (held every 3-4 years) we had/have a Marginal government meaning that no on party secured enough seats to become the Majority party. Instead the current Government struck deals with several independent members to secure government – meaning that it has been very difficult to get much done in this last term and a lot of things are up in the air, both socially and economically. We also recently had two party leader coups (our original Prime Minster was ousted, the new Prime Minister was our first female Prime Minister and then in the last few months she was ousted again by the guy that she first ousted – messy I know!)

    Health insurance
    – I’m a little sketchy on the details of this one but here is what I can gather. Health care in Australia is provided by both private and government institutions. The Minister for Health and Ageing administers national health policy, elements of which (such as the operation of hospitals) are overseen by individual states (there are 5 states and 2 territories).
    – Our current public healthcare system is known as Medicare and it coexists with a private health system. Medicare is funded partly by a 1.5% income tax Medicare levy (with exceptions for low-income earners), but mostly out of general revenue. An additional levy of 1% is imposed on high-income earners without private health insurance. As well as Medicare, there is a separate Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) that considerably subsidises a range of prescription medications. Basically if a medicine is on the PBS you never pay more than $35 for it. If the medicine is more than $35 and you are covered by private health insurance, your insurance company will cover the difference. However if you do not, you’re out of pocket. Although doctors and hospitals always preference PBS medicine over non-PBS and most treatments are available on the PBS scheme.

    General pros and cons
    Pro: Beautiful weather, beaches, mountains & rainforests. Very friendly people, most people will smile if you catch their eye in the street and shop keepers always say hello and ask if they can help.
    Cons: HUGE country – takes approx. 10 days to drive from the north to the south and weeks to cover east to west. Although planes are relatively cheap domestically.
    I’m sure there are more but none come to mind.

    So that’s crazy long, sorry! But feel free to ask questions πŸ™‚

    • If I drove from Albany to Kununurra, it would take approx. 4 days of hard-core driving. Less than 10 days.
      Having made the Nullabor trip a few times in my life, it takes about 3-4 days of hard-core driving to get from Perth to Sydney. Less than weeks.
      But everything else Siobhan said is about right πŸ™‚

      Generally “over east” (as everyone in Western Australia calls it) is the more populated, pretty part of the country. Over east are snow fields, the Great Barrier Reef, rain forests, many cities (Melbourne – pronounced “Mel-bin”, Sydney, Canberra – pronounced “Can-bra”, Brisbane – pronounced “Bris-band” etc), all the international-touristy things. Western Australia and the middle states have various things of charm but tend to the desert, sparse, harsh, mining, remote, Indigenous type things. WA is also a bit sour at all the other states because we’ve got the mining resource boom that produces heaps of money for the country, yet doesn’t see a fair amount of federal funding for health, education, etc. Which, as a West Aussie, I’m kinda on board with. Particularly as I work in a remote Indigenous school that desperately needs more funding.

      But anyway. I think we’re pretty progressive as a nation. I really like being an Aussie citizen (not that I’ve been anything else). I typify the classic, ironic Aussie attitude of hating anything patriotic, while being quite proud to be an Aussie.
      /2c

    • Yay for Australia!

      Your info is awesome Siobhan, although I disagree with one small point – “…takes approx. 10 days to drive from the north to the south and weeks to cover east to west.”
      I found that when we were pressed for time we got across West to East in a little over 3 days and would estimate it would only take 3 days to get from North to South. Although if you want to actually take in some of the country (which I highly recommend) I would definitely recommend going with your time frame πŸ˜€

      One of my favourite things about living in Australia is definitely the health care! I am currently pregnant with our third baby and have had virtually no medical expenses during any of my pregnancies as we have gone through the public system, even with medical issues towards the end of each pregnancy. The care I have received each time has been awesome. My first daughter was born with a hearing loss that was picked up at birth due to the thorough routine health checks on babies. We have been able to access Early Intervention Therapy and equipment such as hearing aids and fm sound systems, with very little cost, and have even been reimbursed for products such as an IPad to help with her therapy. It gives me so much peace of mind to know that I can take care of my families health without having to worry about the financial cost.

      • Good point on the driving guys! I was thinking more of a “slow, enjoy the drive” way – rather than “no stops get from a to b” way. Also I’m from Brisbane πŸ˜€ and it’s pronounced more like “Bris-bin” than “Bris-band”. I’ve never heard anyone put a d on the end.

        But couldn’t agree more on the healthcare! My mum had was diagnosed with cancer last year and is thankfully in remission now recently and was only a few hundred dollars out of pocket. The idea of not going to the doctor when you were sick never made sense to me either Kathryn! But I guess I just didn’t appreciate how good we have it πŸ™‚

        • I’m from Adelaide, I think we say Bris-ben, I’ve never heard anyone put a D on the end either, personally, but I imagine people that say “think” instead of “thing” and “would of” instead of “would have” might…

          Re: Assylum seekers. I know this is going off-topic a bit…. My initial reaction to K.Rudd’s recent policy was shock and disgust, but, we’re going to be pouring a lot of money into PNG to fix up the facilities, so I felt a little better about that.

          Then I was listening to TripleJ’s Hack program when they covered it, and a caller-inner said something along the lines of “I think it’s a great idea, Australia was built into the great country it is by immigrants and convicts, hopefully the same thing can happen for PNG”…. personally I wouldn’t go so far as to say “great idea” but I think he had a point, and with a little help from us, hopefully it will have that effect.

    • I agree with most of this except for the beautiful weather – I’m from Perth Western Australia and it is freaking HOT most of the time. For at least four months of the year it is hot to the point that you don’t want to move away from the air-conditioner, with weeks of 105 degrees (F) and over a common thing. Even now in winter I’m in shorts and a singlet and it’s too hot to sit in the sun.

      The other downside to Australia is that it’s not a place to be if you care about the environment. We have one of the highest levels of carbon emissions per capita in the world. Climate change skeptics are everywhere. Even those who believe in it don’t really give a shit. We have beautiful forests and beaches, etc, as was mentioned, but they are being methodically destroyed at an alarming rate. It’s practically impossible to get anywhere without a car and most people drive massive SUVs. “Greenies” are a small minority to be sneered at. The general attitude towards the environment is one of apathy.

      This is specific to WA, I believe the other states are quite different both in terms of climate and people.

      • I love hot weather actually, but that sounds a bit much πŸ™ My other option was Brisbane.

        I’ve heard great things about water conservation and positive results in WA though, with huge steps being taken in climate control directions. It was one of the higher draws for me as I’ve my M.Arch. and want to design ‘real’ green buildings, not this LEED crap they push on us here. πŸ™

        • I’m in Brisbane! The weather is mostly nice. I love our winter the best, it’s changed a little in recent years but it’s mostly dry and windy with averages of 20 degrees (68F) max and 10 degrees minimum (50F). Our summers are hot and humid (average max = 30 degrees, 86F & min = 20 degrees, 68F), and recently we’re going through particularly wet summers with LOTS of rain and flooding. Although the flood in 2011 is a once in a generation thing.

          BUT having said that, it’s a beautiful place – very sunny and friendly. It’s really starting to get a more cultural scene with fantastic restaurants and trendy bars opening up. I love it here πŸ˜€

    • My eventual plan is to move to the Oz. I’m looking at Perth specifically. Thanks for all the information, I get such a wide range of information, but the asylum seekers, that is pretty dreadful… The equality is a struggle, but I hold out hope for you guys!

      Another interesting point to be brought up is credit and how it works in other countries. It is very different than the U.S., and informative. A lot of people mentioned first and secondary schooling, but what about at university levels?

      • We don’t have a split college-university system. Undergraduate 3-4 year degrees are common for most disciplines (eg. Bachelor of arts, sciences, engineering), with an additional year for honours. Some courses like Medicine and Law are a year or two extra. Most university graduates will be employable with a 3-4 year degree though some choose to undertake further study with a Masters or PHD (either directly following their undergraduate or after a few years in the workforce).

        We have a self-styled group of elite universities known as the Group of 8, however, Australia has many strongly performing regional universities if you choose to live in an area outside the expensive major cities.

        For Australian citizens undergraduate degrees are highly subsidised by the government (around $5000-$9000 per year depending on the course chosen) while international students will pay the “full cost” of the degree ($25,000/yr or more although I’m less clear on these amounts ). Masters and PHDs are not subsidised, however, the government offers loans to assist with meeting these costs. Also, if you are an Australian citizen you don’t have to pay the bulk of your tuition upfront. The government will just deduct payments to repay the debt once your future income in the workforce reaches a certain threshold.

        Other qualifications are available from local training institutions known as TAFEs. Students who wish to become tradespeople are more likely to obtain their qualifications here and some students who drop out of high school early (at 16 rather than 18) will instead continue their education at a TAFE.

      • I’m a NZ born Aussie who lived most of her life in Perth and then moved to Melbourne 8 years ago.

        Great things:

        The health system may not be perfect but it’s pretty good if you have a serious illness or accident. It’s affordable. If you arrive in a public hospital following a serious car accident – you will be treated immediately and at no cost. You won’t be able to choose your doctor but then again, you’re not paying for it (other than through your taxes). A good friend came down with serious pneumonia recently and spent 5 days in hospital at no cost to her (she’s a full-time mum and works part-time – earning very little).

        The public education system is pretty good – our local primary schools are fantastic and progressive.

        Lifestyle – lots of options.

        There’s a healthy separation of church and state – mostly.

        The down side:

        The prospect of a conservative government being elected in September.

        Still struggling to get marriage equality across the line.

        Our appalling treatment of refugees and asylum seekers coming here by boat.

        We’re a long way from Europe!

        Perth is an interesting place to grow up in. It’s both really redneck and incredibly progressive at the same time. If you come from Western Australia, you tend to be a bit cynical about those from the “eastern states”. But there’s fabulous wine, great food, amazing beaches and an outdoor lifestyle.

        Melbourne reminds me more of Paris and Sydney reminds me of New York. And yes, there is, for some reason, a degree of competitiveness between Melbourne and Sydney. I live in the inner north of Melbourne right on the train line. Lots of interesting small communities around but housing is expensive here.

  18. I don’t have much to weigh in on, as I’ve only lived in the US, but I’m very interested in this. I’ve heard good things about New Zealand and would love to go there someday. Does anyone have experience with it’s politics/financial/job status?

    • I’m a New Zealander – have lived here for all of my 22 years. I’m a woman, and am white, and upper-middle class, so bear in mind that my experience of life here isn’t totally consistent with what everyone else here experiences.

      Politics:
      We have a multi-party parliament. The majority party, who has the Prime Minister is Centre-Right. They are more centrist than the US though, the democrats sit in about the same spot as this party (the National party) on a political compass type thing. The Labour party is the main centre-left party. There are a number of other smaller parties also. The country is pretty liberal – same sex marriage became legal this week but civil unions have been available for about 10 years, prostutition is legal, everyone has sex ed in schools etc. There is a long legacy of a welfare state, although it has been damaged over the last 20 yrs. Permanent Residents and Citizens get cheap healthcare, free hospital stays, and there is a no-fault compensation system for accidents and workplace injuries.

      The job status varies a lot depending on where you are in the country. In rural areas jobs are fairly scarce I believe, which is difficult for young people. I think our unemployment rate is about 6%. For professionals in urban areas, things aren’t too bad. I’m a recent graduate with an arts degree, and I got a job pretty quickly after graduating.

      Minimum wage is about $13.50 per hour.
      The cost of living is high though. A tank of petrol is about $80 for my car, rent for my 2 bedroom unit is $1500/month in Auckland. Food is expensive too, compared to the US.

      It’s a pretty great country to live in, in my opinion. Getting a work visa or permanent residency for here is quite difficult, as far as I have heard. You have to have quite specific skills, and have a fair amount of money, or be intending and able to open a business employing NZers. This is all based on what I’ve heard from others, I’ve been a citizen since birth and my family came here about 100 years ago.

      • Another Kiwi here. Just wanted to agree with what Lena has said, especially about the fact that it can be REALLY difficult to get a visa here, but as I have known a few people to put up with a lot of rubbish to get one, people obviously still think that it’s worth it.

        Cost of living is definitely higher than in a lot of places, but food in particular is of a pretty high standard, even the stuff you buy at the supermarket. We pay a lot for clothes which makes me a bit sad and I miss the UK for that (I lived there for 5 months last year).

        I think the culture and the style of living is pretty awesome though. People tend to be pretty inclusive and most places, even smaller cities, have a diverse population of Maori, European, Polynesian and Asian people, as well as other smaller communities. Wellington (the capital) in particular is known for alternative culture and is a really great, compact city with good public transport. Pretty much everywhere else in NZ you will need a car to get around, and as Lena said that can get really expensive.

        We are a laid-back country, and people generally don’t take life too seriously. Sport and the outdoors are pretty important, workplaces tend to be pretty casual.

        It’s really hard to sum up actually, why I missed NZ so much when I left, but I know I always feel relieved when I get back, and the food always tastes better here!

      • I live in Auckland, and yes, the cost of living here can be high, but it’s much lower in other parts of the country!

        Where I’m from (in Dunedin, NZ) the general population is a lot more Centre-Left, with a huge number of people who have a strong Green focus, which I love!
        It’s a bit of a white-wash, ethnicity wise, but it’s getting a lot better, and there are a large number of great community-focused events and things that totally celebrate diversity.
        It’s also a student town, with some fantastic schools, and it’s a really safe city to live in!

        I’ve also lived in both Sydney and Brisbane (AUS) and loved both of them, but NZ seems to have a better grasp of how to treat people? Not that people in Australia were unkind, far from that, I’ve just found that people find unconditional acceptance here, rather than being accepted ‘despite’ their different beliefs etc.

        Also, it’s really fucking beautiful here. I’ve driven the length of the country several times (About 3 days driving, once or twice a year to see my family) and I’ll never get sick of the landscape. It’s gorgeous.

  19. I’m kind of sad you guys are leaving the US. If we had more people like you here maybe we could make this a place that values equality and justice.
    But I guess if I were going to leave, I’d make a short list of countries I liked and see which one I could find the best job in. Sounds like you have a short list (Finland would be on mine, their schools are amazing), so start job searching.

    • Seconding this. I completely understand the urge to mover somewhere that seems better for you, but there’s something to be said for staying and trying to improve the country you live in. Some issues that you discuss are a problem in the whole country, but other of the issues could be addressed by moving to a more liberal part of the US (if you don’t live in one already).

      If you’re set on moving to another country, do some very thorough research into the immigration laws in your target countries. See what it takes to get residency, what conditions there are for getting covered by their national healthcare (if applicable), how common it is for foreigners to find jobs in your field, etc.

      For example, it is very difficult for academics from the US to get jobs as college professors in Canada as Canadians are required to be given priority over foreigners for such positions.

      • I’m an American but I live fairly close to the Canadian border(about 1.5 hours) I will second that it’s hard to become a professor as an American and some other fields are hard to get into as well. I was a Communications major at University and many of our profs had worked in television, radio, and advertising and it’s hard to break into that field because Canada is all about using Canadian citizens for Canadian works. I wish that America was more like Canada in that respect but instead our wonderful PBS is constantly being threatened by the conservative party. From what I’ve seen Canada is all about nurturing it’s own talent which is absolutely wonderful and the reason why we’ve had so many great Canadian entertainers.

  20. I’m not sure if anyone else may have mentioned this already (there are a lot of long really great informative posts here already) but as a dual citizen of US/Canada I feel the need to chime in here. I was born in Canada, raised in the US, and currently living in Canada as I came for university (cheap cheap cheap!) and stayed.

    If you are considering leaving the US permanently make sure you consider the tax laws that the US has for it’s citizens. I am constantly dealing with this and trying to remain compliant with new laws. Basically the gist is that the US works on a citizen-based taxation policy, therefore if you are a US citizen you are required to pay US taxes….forever. It doesn’t matter if you move, reside in another country, pay taxes in that country, and become a citizen of that country, as long as you hold citizenship you must report your income to the US government. They have also have require that you report your banking information as well (to try to catch those jerks with offshore accounts). Now unless you make something over $90k a year you can file an exclusion that exempts you from paying but you still must file and deal with a lot of paperwork. The only way to stop filing is to renounce your US citizenship upon acquiring citizenship in another country. This requires that you are up to date with your past 5 years of taxes as well, as people have tried to renounce out of frustration with the system.

    Just a heads up to you that you need to consider this if you do decide to leave the US permanently, a great source of info on this is:
    http://americansabroad.org/

  21. I lived in Norway for three years as a US citizen. It was overwhelmingly xenophobic and an overall negative experience. I was working and was not allowed time to take language classes, so all of my Norwegian was just picked up as I went. If you’re not Protestant or an atheist, it’s not a particularly friendly country to be in. I’m Jewish, and was treated like a pariah. I’m also a childfree woman, and I had people telling me at the age of 25 that I was getting old and I better hurry up and have kids.

    Your mileage may vary, but I’d never been so glad to come home.

  22. Here’s a view on Ireland.
    I’ve lived in Dublin for the last decade and am pretty set to live here for the rest of my life. I’ll break down my take on the country but keep in mind I’m a white middle class female and others may have a very different view on life here.

    Living:
    While wages have dropped in the past few years they still aren’t too bad. Young professionals could expect to make between 25K – 30K and there is a massive amount of support right now for entrepreneurs – specifically in the software sector (my area). That being said it is still pretty hard to get a job unemployment is pretty high. It’s not as bad as it was a year or two ago but it’s still not great. Cost of living can be a little pricey with recent increases in public transport and energy and we spend about 200-300 a month on groceries (don’t know if that is high or low). Rents in the capital have gone up significantly – we’re about to leave a good three bed house in a lovely area about 5km from the city centre which is on the market for 1300 p/m (we were paying 1175).
    Even with drops of about 35-40% property prices are still pretty high. We’re buying a good sized well maintained 3 bed terrace within 5km of the centre of Dublin for about 300K and with prices in the capital increasing this is actually a pretty good deal.

    Health:
    I don’t have health insurance and have survived pretty well with out it. Medical care is not free and I will get health insurance when I start a family but as a young healthy professional I’ve been ok without it. I have had to go to hospital a couple of times for tests or consultations but one problem has never cost me more than €100 at a time. Any GP visit will cost about €50, and dental visit about €50. However a few years ago free cervical screening was launched which I am thrilled about as HPV virus manifestations are common in my family.

    Education:
    It’s free up until University. When I was in University all I paid were registration fees of around €800. My MSc was free too and I was eligible for a grant when I did it. Since I left university about 7 years ago registration fees have been on the rise – I think they are around €1200. There is also speculation that the grant system is going to be cut. Keep in mind most of the University prices apply to EU citizens and International students would have to pay substantially more.
    Most primary and secondary school are run by the catholic church but there have been moves to change this. A large number of secular schools have opened in recent years and I believe there are more in the pipe line. The quality of the education is also relatively good – it’s not the greatest education system in the world but it’s not bad.

    Welfare:
    I had hard financial times a few years ago and got a good bit of support from the government both with welfare and medical cover – I got free medical cover for over a year and that included dental care. That being said this was before the financial crisis hit and there have been cut backs since. The upper rate of welfare is €185 per week – which in comparison to other countries is pretty good. Medical cover is free for individuals under a certain income bracket it used to be around 17K but I think it’s dropped to 12K or 15K.

    Transport:
    To be honest public transport is pretty poor Dublin relies on buses which sucks for me as I’m prone to travel sickness – however the city is small enough the cycling is an option. Most of the transport radiates in our out of the centre of the city so if you’re trying to get around the outside you’ll need to take multiple buses. There are two tram lines which are handy for pretty specific areas and a train line that runs along the coast. Huge draw back is that payment for public transport is not centralised. The motorways are relatively new but are intermittent across the country – most were in the process of being built when the recession hit. There was a project to build an underground metro but that has been scrapped due to finances.

    Values:
    Catholicism is a huge part of Ireland’s identity but personally on a day-to-day level I don’t feel its impact. That being said the majority of Irish national schools are run by religious organisations, the constitution is written from a catholic framework and it feels like every secular move is met with unprecedented resistance. There is a huge push from the newer generations for a more secular society and while the movement is slow it is happening. That’s not to say all catholic values are bad – but I do have pretty strong feelings about some of them. There is a very active LBGT community but it is still fighting tooth and nail for rights and recognition. There is civil partnership but I’d still like to see full marriage legalised for same sex couples. The recent legislation on abortion is still a far cry from where it needs to be but at least it is some form of movement. I’ve not seen much racism myself but I think it is very prevalent in the culture – I couldn’t say if it is more or less than other countries but high levels of racial diversity is relatively new in Ireland

    Politics:
    There are a few political parties and a few independents in Ireland but there are two main parties, Finna Fail and Fine Gael – I was quite surprised when I arrived to discover they fall pretty much on exactly the same point of the political spectrum, just right of middle. Politically I’d see Ireland as potentially more conservative then many of it’s European counterparts but my impression is that it is still a great deal more liberal than the US.

    Overall I’m happy with my life in Dublin, I’m planning on raising a family here. I’ve lived in a few other countries and Ireland is the place I want to settle. Much like anywhere there are problems but I feel that they are being addressed – I don’t think it will ever be perfect (will anywhere) but it’s definitely not bad!

    This is a fantastic question and it’s fascinating reading about all there different experiences of different countries.

  23. I was born, raised and still live in Ontario, Canada. We do have a good universal health care system and same-sex marriage is legal and mostly well accepted. That being said, we’re certainly not without our own problems and challenges.

    Universal health care means longer wait times. Lots of people don’t have a family doctor, which means walk-in clinics and emergency rooms take forever. And while you don’t have to pay for regular doctor visits and most non-elective medical things, you still have to pay for eye care, dentist visits, etc.

    In some of our major cities like Toronto and Vancouver and their suburbs, the cost of living is exceptionally high. The average price of a home in Canada is almost $400k and rising. I bought over an hour outside of Toronto, a year ago, for $200k. That got jme a 750 sq.ft. former cottage in a small town. The value of my home has gone up $50k in 12 months and it’s still rising. I could barely afford it if I had waited a year to buy.

    Don’t be fooled by higher wages here either, because the cost of everything is more.

    And immigration from the U.S. is much harder if you don’t have a relative already living here permanently, if you’re not a student here or if you don’t have a job offer in advance. Even then, there’s a fairly narrow criteria to fit into.

    I don’t mean to discourage you, just that there’s problems and inequality here just like in the U.S. There’s ups and downs to everywhere. And I guess in comparison to a lot of other parts of the world, the U.S. is still a pretty great place to live.

  24. I live in Canada. Both of us have considered moving for better career options, but the fact of the matter is that you cannot compete with Canada’s healthcare, I think. My hubby has had a lifetime of health problems so it’s not unusual for us to be stepping into a hospital several times a month. We need the healthcare, and Canada is number 2 in the world for his condition.

    As for equality, I would say if you’re considering Canada talk to some people in the places you want to live. There’s a really big shift in the Greater Toronto Area that is dominating the culture here. A lot of people are leaving to other places in Canada because of it. But I don’t know other places. I know Alberta is really hot right now.

    • I live in Toronto. I don’t have much to compare it to as I’ve lived here my whole life, but I do love it. The health care system is really, really amazing….I didn’t realize how amazing until I started making friends who live elsewhere and it’s just so sad to me. I can’t even imagine having to figure out if I can afford to go to the doctor when I’m sick. Not to mention maternity leave.

      A lot of other folks have talked about the government and culture of Canada, so really I’m just chiming in here as someone from Toronto. It’s definitely expensive here, and my wife and I both work in the non-profit sector so we don’t make much money compared to our peers. But we do ok. We rent, we don’t have a car, we walk/cycle/take transit everywhere, we eat out a lot because we both hate cooking so that’s really our one big luxury. There’s so much free stuff to do in the city though, so I don’t feel like we ever spend much on entertainment.

      We’ve thought about moving (basically every January when we’re SICK AND TIRED of winter) to the West Coast (i.e. Vancouver) but it’s more expensive than here. And the only other places I’d considered living (because I don’t want to have to own a car, I want to live in a large urban centre) are colder than Toronto (Ottawa or Montreal). I’ve never been to the East Coast though but have heard it’s lovely.

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