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 can’t speak for specific countries, but before moving for lower-cost or free healthcare, also consider the quality of care for specific problems in each country.

    Like, if your family has a history of breast cancer or heart disease, try to find people who have had those problems in the country you’re looking at. “Free” doesn’t mean much if most of those people have had awful experiences getting care.

  2. It can be so nice to dream of going anywhere but the reality of qualifying for visas can really throw a spanner into the works. So I’d say first look to where you can realistically qualify, save tons and tons of money, and then look at the other stuff for pros and cons. Because you’d be surprised at the number of people who think they can just move to another country because they want to, when its not that simple! That said, dreams are nice to have and sometimes where there is a will, there’s a way 🙂

  3. You’ve already had some great info about the UK, but I thought I’d add a few points:

    1) Generally speaking, UK cities will be the multicultural, diverse havens of tolerance that other people have described. But if you go rural it’ll be more hit and miss. There are undoubtedly lots of brilliant rural communities, but my experience has been that there’s often more conservativism and traditional thinking when you go to these places.

    2) The NHS is brilliant and I’m so grateful that I never have to worry about whether I can afford medical care. But be aware that you often have to wait a while for an appointment, or sit for a long time in waiting rooms because appointments are running late. This is something we Brits take for granted, but one of my immigrant friends was initially shocked by it.

    3) On gender norms, I think the UK in general is probably more open-minded than certain parts of the US, but be aware that gender norms are still very much engrained here. So, you won’t face any serious barriers or threats if your kids defy gender norms, and schools will probably be supportive, but you might get comments from other parents/children, and your kids will be subject to the same peer pressures and media messaging as in the US.

  4. Australia here. It has the healthcare but the population is very split on equality, racism etc. The wages are good but the cost of living is high. However, have you considered New Zealand? Beautiful country, gay marriage is legalised, healthcare is good. I’m sure there is a Kiwi here who could talk up the benefits, as an Australian who is really at odds with the rather insular culture and politics going on here at the moment I am considering the move there.

  5. Northern Ireland here
    Ignore any positive vibes from the previous poster about this little country – yes, there are some lovely people (like any place)
    – most of the nicest ones leave

    NI is a part of the UK politically and Ireland geographically but in reality it exists in a bible belt bigoted reality. If equality matters to you at all, just avoid this place. While marriage equality is set to become a reality for gay people in the rest of the uk (hopefully next year) NI is proudly fighting to remain in the 1950s – the politicians get elected on religious extremist views (Christians hating Christians, you couldn’t make it up …). It’s also white in a very white way.

    Yes it’s a great ‘wee’ country and great for a ‘wee’ visit but don’t move here. We hope to emigrate as soon as we financially can make that move – we are a 2 mum family – its just not a nice place to live, even in middle class suburbia. Don’t move here unless you like moving backwards in time.

    • When I was first putting together a list of places I’d like to move to, Derry was probably top on my list (The geography of Ireland plus the NHS? Sign me up.) but a little bit of research suggests that while there are some genuinely nice and good people there, the tolerance for batshit crazy is just way too high in Northern Ireland for my comfort. (Which explains the majority of politicians…) Comparisons to some of the less enlightened parts of the American South are probably not amiss – although I genuinely prefer the accent.
      I won’t be going anywhere for a year or two, but I’m currently – though not literally – leaning towards Ireland but probably not Dublin. If I can just get the money bit figured out.

      • Do some serious research into Galway – its the offbeat capital of Ireland in my mind :0) Cork is worth investigating too – lots of Ireland outside of Dublin :0) but Galway gets my vote every time :0)

  6. Hello! I thought I would give a Northern-er view of the UK. I live in Newcastle upon Tyne, which is in the North East. Benefits of living near Newcastle are – cheaper than down that London etc, and though wages tend to be lower, so does the cost of living. However, jobs in certain professions are harder to come by. I work in publishing and it is very rare that such jobs would be available in the area. My fiancee is a Dr at Newcastle University – we have two universities in the city, I went to the other one, Northumbria, and there is Durham, Sunderland, and Teeside, all in the vicinity too.

    We have the metro train network up here, meaning that cars really aren’t necessary – you can get to the neighbouring city of Sunderland, to the coast, to the airport, to the central train station, all by metro. I pay £25 a month for all zone access, which gets me on all metros, buses, and the ferry across the river Tyne, in the region. I live at the coast to the north of the city and work in a business park 10 miles away to the south, and commute via public transport no problem. These sound like tiny distances, but our road networks are so intricate that these distances can prove insurmountable in more rural areas when it comes to a commute unless you have a car.

    University fees have gone up, but you pay so little towards them – 9% of what I earn over £16000 goes on mine – that it doesn’t really matter to me – I paid £3500 or so a year, for my degree, and now they’re at £9000, but it’s like monopoly money really, no-one’s breaking down your door to get their money back.

    Also, I’m a gay lady, marrying a lady. Marriage equality is being finalised, so my civil partnership booked for next August may be re-booked as a marriage, which is exciting.

    I’ve had excellent care with the NHS – from eczema treatments to breast screening to free contraception – though things look to be changing, I can say that it’s been a lifesaver, and I would hate to live somewhere I had to pay for simple things like a GP appointment.

    We’re friendly up North, and the pace is slower than London. There’s always so much to do around Newcastle – free festivals roll around all the time – and if you’re bored, you just aren’t looking. There’s zapcat racing this weekend, the EAT festival next weekend, the High Bridge festival two weeks after that, the Science Festival two weeks after that, Durham Book Festival in October, and this is just the stuff I’m going to – there’s so much out there. I’d recommend, if you did move around here, to volunteer at events too. You meet great people, and get to see some amazing events for free.

    I’ll stop now – I have lived around Newcastle for six years and though I won’t lie and say I’ll never move, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

    ETA – Oh, and I come from a low-income background, my mum’s a receptionist, my dad is no longer alive, but I have a BA degree and an MRes (which I was awarded a fee-waiver scholarship for) – there are lots of opportunities for social mobility. Partnership schemes with local schools for universities, meaning those from the more deprived areas can still find a place at university. I had the opportunity to be part of several such schemes, and though I didn’t exactly do that, I was given help – I missed my grades but was awarded a place with the university regardless because they were aware that I had done well, all things considered – and went on to achieve a First at university. I love that I have been able to prove that just because you haven’t had a privileged start doesn’t mean you can’t achieve, and I am by no means an exception. That really is it now!

      • Yeah I forgot about that. In 2010 it was taking me four hours to get home from work for an hour long commute because of the snow.

        Don’t think we’re likely to experience anything that extreme in the coming years though, she says, crossing everything!

        Mind you I did get sunburned on Monday as we had an unexpected scorcher so … swings and roundabouts!

  7. Hey! I’m late to the party, but I just wanted to say a couple of words about Norway.

    I saw someone else mention that it took her years to immigrate and that the bureaucracy is a pain. Yeah, no surprise there. But the job market is pretty good, and it will probably stay that way for some time. Norway “hardy” felt the impact of the economic crisis of 2008, and we have the lowest unemployment rates in Europe. So you should be able to get a job pretty quickly, especially if you’re a skilled worker.

    And the language is actually not that different from English. I’ve talked to several exchange students from the US or UK who were surprised at how easy learning Norwegian was.

    What I really love about my country is the flat social structure. We do have some VERY rich people, and some quite poor ones, but there’s no elite/overclass and no real underclass. And there’s not a huge gap between the people who run the country and the people who vote for them. I’ve been to several political or semi-political meetings where you can just walk up to, like, the minister of international development and ask him a couple of questions. It’s also pretty cool to be able to walk down the street and suddenly realise that you’re walking next to the prime minister. And if you want to engage politically, it’s not that hard to actually get into a position of power because there are so few of us and so many opportunities.

    I see that you’re looking for “a culture that is generally very accepting and friendly”, and if your choice should fall on Norway, please realize that our accepting and friendly is very different from American accepting and friendly. People will not talk to you on the bus, your neighbours will (probably) not drop by to say hello, people will not say “vær så snill” (please) or “takk” (thank you) when you expect them to. But when we ask you “hvordan går det” (how are you), we actually mean it, and when you ask us for help, we will drop everything to give it to you, and when you explain to us why you have chosen a different path in life than most, we will accept you.

    I’d be happy to answer your questions if you have any ^^

  8. Hello girl!!!!

    An opinion from an expat living in the Netherlands. I will give you the + and – from my point of view.

    +: Very nice country, full of nature, parks, recreation parks, museums and the most important of all, forests. Forests are my favourite. You can smell the nature, I love it! And people respect the nature. Your bicycle can take you, safely, because there are roads only for the bikes, anywhere you want! And it is a good way to train, as well! The weather. I know that Dutch people complain about it but I love it. I am an autumn girl. I like the breeze, I like the rain, and in the winter it is not that cold, really. Sometimes it snows but not so much that you can get bored of all this snow (I have lived in Finland, too), so, you have the chance to go ice skating. People love animals, also important. They treat them nice they do not poison them or abuse them, in some cases of animal abuse the police is dealing very quickly with it. There are a lot of activities to do and charming places to visit. The salaries are good even if you work part time (however, renting a house is also expensive). Lots of chances to follow-up with your education that you already have, through e-learning or just by following courses and seminars (sometimes they are expensive but it is worth it). People are very friendly and polite when they speak to you. Willing to help you especially when they realise that you are a tourist.

    -: Healthcare. You always have to visit a GP who, when and if he/she decides, he/she can send you to a specialist at the hospital. But GPs cannot know everything, can they? And because they can only send a specific amount of people to a specialist per week or month, sometimes you are stuck with the GP. Thinking out of the box. Not exactly an asset of the Dutch people in general and this applies to the doctors too, and anything else that you can imagine :). For example, if there is a protocol this protocol will be followed, and if it doesn’t work for you, in many cases they do not know what to do. Not very handy if you have a complex health problem (I speak from experience). Bullying. Please be prepared. It happens a lot and not only at school. I do not know why, but adults seem to find it a funny sport, also :P. ADHD: Somehow, someway, almost every kid here is diagnosed with something. It is the protocol that we were talking about, if the kid is a little bit more cheerful, let’s say than the “normal” kids, it is very easy to be labeled. Giving birth at home. The Netherlands have the highest infant death rate in Europe and the highest % of giving birth at home. You can see a gynecologist only if you are having health problems during your pregnancy otherwise you are followed by a midwife. So, if you are willing to have another child and this scares you, at least you know where you are heading. Kindergardens: approximately 7 euros PER HOUR. School system: A friend of mine who is a teacher came here for an (international) survey with colleagues from Europe, regarding the system of education. The goverment finds it perfect but the survey showed that kids and parents are pretty frustrated from the fact that their child’s future is decided at the age of 12 according to a test (Cito). Maybe you’d like to check this. Food. Lots of preservatives, lots of e-numbers. Luckily, many stores and supermarkets with biological foods, in prices that are affordable. I struggle to find bread without e-numbers (even at the bakery store, they usually don’t have it, you have to search a little bit). Last but not least, be prepared that if you go out with someone for lunch/coffee/etc, to give money (your share) till the last cent. People here are money-oriented and the hospitality is a little bit hmmmm…. Also, pleople are helpfull and very polite (you will hear many than you’s and you’re welcome), but I am not really sure what is happening when you really need their help or you know, the advise of a good friend. They are pretty distant and this “buddy” thing I think it is not so very common in NL.

    I am sorry I am writing more negative than positive things about NL, I do not mean to be mean but I think that if someone is willing to move it is also very important to know the difficulties, because this is what you are dealing with, after all. And through an expat’s eye, it is different. For a Dutch person it is normal to just offer you one single cookie when you visit them for coffee, but in other cultures this is very strange and not exactly a sign of hospitality. I love it here in general, my fiance is Dutch, but I have chosen my friends, my doctor (!!!) and my bakery very carefully.

    Groetjes from sunny (at this moment) Holland,


    • * I forgot to say, regarding the Cito exams, that you can however send your kids to an international school. I think they do not work with the Cito exams there.

  9. I’m late to this party but THANK YOU for posing the question and everyone who answered it. I feel like this is the first time I’ve gotten honest, thought-out opinions from people on their cultures. My fiancé and I have been talking about a “someday” dream of moving (after our parents pass away) to the Netherlands, or Germany, or the UK, or NZ, or Switzerland, or many other places we’ve never been for longer than a week. So having this kind of honest perspective frames things for us, and allows us to make more educated decisions. Thank you!

  10. I live in Sweden now with my husband, but before that I lived in London for 4 years. I’m originally from NY, and I went to London for my MA. The longer I spent in the UK, the more it seemed like I wouldn’t ever return to the US. I’m really glad with my decision and I’m even happier to be here in Sweden with my husband.

    Sweden has a very different mindset when it comes to the role of government and taxation. I’m fairly left-wing, but even sometimes things can be a bit jarring to my American roots. Take for example buying alcohol. One can go to a bar of course when they’re open, but if one wants to be a drink to have a home or for a party, they have to go to a special store that only open during strict regulated hours. This means that planning is everything.

    Also, many of these benefits come with lots of paperwork that are hard for those that know the language understand. Swedes also respect the queue, so you must wait a long time before something to be settled.

    But, after the paperwork, you’ll find that Swedes are pretty accepting and very focused on equality-especially with sex, gender, and economy. They also have a pretty open immigration policy with free Swedish classes and opportunities (although sometimes you have to dig to find them.) There is a pocket full of worrisome people that are gaining political ground with an anti-immigration stance. However, it’s nothing compared to what you’re used to in the US, and hopefully they’ll lose traction.

    This is just a small bit of my experience, and I hope it helps. I’ll say it was one of the best decisions I ever made, but it’s best to think through everything. Get ready for an exciting journey!

    • I’m a Canadian, who spent 3.5 years living in Seattle, WA, before also moving to Sweden about 9 months ago. I would echo a lot of that Dallas said.

      While Sweden is really good on the health care and equality front, I’m having the most hard times socially. Integration is hard. Swedes are very hard to get to know, painfully passive aggressive and while most everyone speaks English, getting things like a doctors appointment or dealing with the bank or phone company can be very difficult.

      I’m also finding that Swedes are fairly racist. Not towards people of colour but towards immigrants. Sweden has been taking in far more then their fare share of immigrants and people seeking asylum in recent years and many people feel they are putting a strain on the system.

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