Black Americans with college degrees and financial resources are moving beyond American shores. The U.S. is no longer the epitome of easy living as other nations modernize, and some middle class Black professionals have discovered they can better enjoy their lives and grow their wealth elsewhere. Thirty-seven-year-old Asha Farrah and 42-year-old Nancy Caroline both came to this realization last year. They both decided to leave America behind and became legal residents of Mexico and Panama, respectively.
I Wanted a Different Quality of Life
For Farrah, the cost of U.S. living was an impediment. It’s cheaper to live in Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico, than it ever was for she and her wife in Washington D.C. She said this has something to do with Mexican culture valuing relationships over material possessions.
“Family is the most important thing here,” Farrah said. “[…] I’m a person who enjoys experiences. I don’t really care that much about things.”
By cutting back on food, housing and leisure costs, Farrah has the luxury of experiencing her new city and neighbors without having to work endlessly to fund her lifestyle. She and her wife can deepen their connection with each other and their community without worrying about making ends meet, and they can live comfortably while saving for the future. Farrah also sees an improvement in food quality, with organic food in Mexico being more affordable, and generally less processed.
Caroline said she admires the international quality of life.
“People (in other countries) worked, but only during working hours,” she said. “And they lived during living hours.”
All across Europe, people introduced themselves to her by simply offering their name and asking her if she wanted cheese or a glass of wine. They never mentioned what they did for a living. They weren’t concerned about what she did for work, either. When she decided to apply for permanent residency in Panama, it was after a decade of repeated exposure to life beyond the hustle culture that’s become ubiquitous in the U.S.
“America will have you believe you should work, work, work for most of your life, retire and then get two or three years to travel,” she said.
Caroline rejects that mindset, and has made it her goal to be a perennial expat, which means she’ll never live fulltime in the U.S. again.
Yes, I Needed Money … And a Plan
Relocating to a foreign nation is no small feat. Both Farrah and Caroline acknowledge the privileges they leveraged to pull up stakes and put down roots elsewhere. Caroline’s husband is a United Kingdom national with whom she co-owns a food distribution company.
“You need access to a good immigration attorney who can handle your visa,” Caroline said. You also need a flexible schedule to gather all the documentation the lawyer will need to file with the proper agencies. Expendable time and money are necessary. Farrah, meanwhile, had to first clear off many Americans’ biggest financial burden.
“We paid off both our student loans—over $100,000—in two years,” Farrah says before she even began researching visa requirements, destinations and cost of living. She has since started the consulting company, Mexpat Dreamers,to help other potential expatriates.
However, Caroline and Farrah were experienced travelers long before they became full-time expats, and they don’t sugarcoat what it takes to leave your home and create a thriving life in a foreign country. Farrah quickly tells clients they won’t get a four-bedroom four-bathroom house in the city center for $400 a month. Also, download a language app and start learning Spanish.
Instagram influencers will have you thinking all you need to do is come here and live off coconuts,” Caroline said.
Regardless, many Americans are joining Farrah in Mexico. A recent influx of U.S. residents—and former U.S. residents—have increased home and rental prices in some major cities, like Mexico City, up to nearly triple the average monthly wage, pricing out many Mexican residents and triggering calls against gentrification.
Still, neither woman regrets making the move. Like many Black expats, Farrah and Caroline are finally living the American Dream. They just had to leave America to do it.
Keturah Kendrick is the author of No Thanks: Black, Female, and Living in the Martyr-Free Zone. She’s written for USA Today, Newsweek, The HuffPost, NBC Think and numerous other outlets. An avid traveler who’s explored much of Asia and Africa, Kendrick’s work often highlights the connections made and community created when venturing outside of one’s home country. She currently resides in New York City.