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Living the Good Life in Europe: Ex-Pats Enjoy Better Health, Schools

Universal health care, better public education systems, socially liberal attitudes, a frustration with American politics ... there are many reasons to live in Europe.

Even with the U.S. dollar’s weakness against the euro and the pound, Europe continues to be a major vacation spot for American tourists. But for many other Americans, Europe is more than a place to visit or go on holiday; it is where they live, work, get married and are possibly raising a family. According to the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO), more than 5.08 million Americans (not counting those serving in the U.S. military) are living outside the United States—and roughly 1.2 million of them can be found in different parts of Europe.

But what are the main things that make American expatriates want to live in Europe permanently or indefinitely? Universal health care, better public education systems, lower crime rates, socially liberal attitudes, a frustration with American politics? The reasons why some American expatriates prefer life in Europe over life in the U.S. can vary, but according to Joanna Hubbs (president and senior editor of the expatriate-oriented website and author of the book “Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture”), the main reason why Americans initially decide to move to Europe is because they fall in love with all the cultural beauty that Europe has to offer. And after they have taken the plunge and become situated, things like universal health care, a social safety net, a strong infrastructure and socially liberal attitudes may encourage them to stay.

According to AARO, European countries that have more than 100,000 American expatriates include Germany, France, Spain, the U.K., Italy and Greece. And one of the Americans who has spent many years living in Spain is Angela Carson, a Los Angeles native who specializes in marketing for high-tech start-up companies and has been raising her daughter in the Barcelona area. Carson first moved to Barcelona in 1993; she moved back to Southern California in 1997 but returned to Northeastern Spain in 2003 and has been raising her daughter (who is now 15) there ever since.

Carson said that there is a long list of reasons why she likes raising her teenage daughter in Spain, including universal health care, low rates of violent crime, socially liberal attitudes and Spain’s educational system. Carson asserted that although Spain—with its same-sex marriage (which the Spanish parliament legalized in 2005), topless beaches, legal prostitution, widespread acceptance of erotic entertainment and comprehensive sex education programs—would be considered permissive in the American Bible Belt, she finds that there is less social dysfunction in Spain than in the United States.

“I’ve been living in Spain on and off for 18 years,” Carson said, “and I have never seen a pregnant teenager here like you see in the States. Never. I live in a small village south of Barcelona where everyone talks, and I just don’t hear about pregnant teenagers. There’s just a responsibility level here that’s different than in the States. Sex is a discussion here; you can see nudity on television here in Spain, and families joke around about sex—whereas in the States, you don’t have any of that, but you have high teenage pregnancy rates, high divorce rates, high incest rates, and high molestation rates. Everything is so controlled in the States, much more so than it is here in Spain. And yet, so many social problems are much worse in the States.”

Ask a Europe-based American expatriate what things he/she misses the most about the U.S., and the answer could be anything from baseball games to shopping at Trader Joe’s. American expatriates might choose Florence for its art galleries, pasta and cappuccino or Paris for its museums and architecture, but a part of them might miss the great Mexican food in San Diego or the trips to Yankee Stadium. However, one thing about American life that the expatriates interviewed for this article certainly don’t miss is the American health care system. Of the four Europe-based expatriates interviewed for this article, not one of them believed that they would be better off under the U.S. health care system that they left behind.

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