There have been times when Nick Heilmann has looked around his hometown and wondered if there’s a single person there who thinks the way he does.
In August, when the US presidential election came down to two candidates, neither of whom he liked, Heilmann and his family decided to move from the US state of Indiana to Victoria, Canada. When he told friends and family about his plan to move, many wondered if he was abandoning his country.
“I’m very much against nationalism,” he says of his thinking on moving from one country to another. “You were lucky enough to be born on one side of an imaginary line that some politician drew on a map. How does that make you more special?”
You were lucky enough to be born on one side of an imaginary line. How does that make you more special?
The move wasn’t difficult for Heilmann, logistically or emotionally. He already works from home in his job as a senior gameplay engineer for a San Francisco game developer. And he says his soon-to-be home in British Columbia aligns more closely with his left-leaning ideals.
It’s not a new concept, the idea of moving somewhere that’s more fitting with how you think or the way you want to live your life. But in this era of telecommuting, and as companies spread wider across the globe, it has become much easier.
After the Brexit vote and the election of President Trump, many more people than normal have considered leaving their “passport” countries, according to Grace Garland, head of public relations for Movehub, a site that offers advice and help to people relocating overseas.
In the wake of these political outcomes, Movehub saw an immediate increase in traffic from people considering moving from the UK and the US. Most dramatically, Movehub saw a 1,000% increase in traffic to pages with information on how to become a citizen of the European Union, and a 5,000% increase in searches on moving to Canada from several US states, including Virginia, Florida, and New Jersey.
The site has also seen a marked increase in people seeking to be contacted by relocation companies, a sign that they’re increasingly considering a move or committing to relocation. After Trump’s inauguration, for instance, Movehub saw a 36% increase in people from the US requesting to be contacted by moving companies.
They’re not just dreaming about moving away… they are actually taking the first steps
“They’re not just researching and dreaming about moving away,” Garland says. “They are actually taking the first steps.” Typically, those who ask to be contacted by a moving company actually begin negotiating a move 70% of the time. But for the past six months, Movehub’s average has been over 85%.
Movehub found that most people were looking to move to countries with more liberal or progressive politics. In response, it produced a world map detailing the most liberal nations. Topping the list: Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway and New Zealand.
Making a statement
Leaving the UK before Brexit is something many are considering, in part as a way to maintain the sense of being European, and not just British. A native of England, Clare Fenwick always considered herself a citizen of Europe, so she left London last autumn as part of a wider plan to make sure she could continue to travel freely throughout the continent.
Now she’s working on a PhD at Leiden University in the Netherlands, studying migration in Europe.
“It’s not so much about living in a place with people who think like me, but in a country with people who are interested in the concept of solidarity,” Fenwick wrote in an email to BBC Capital. “If people are really unhappy with the political trajectory of their country then they should consider making a move abroad.”
Not just politics
It’s easy to think that the polarised political climates in so many countries across today’s world are the main cause for people choosing to cross borders indefinitely.
But this recent trend actually has as much or more to do with technology, says Joe Peppard, a professor at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin. A decade ago, moving to a country that aligns more with your personal or political beliefs or lifestyle preferences typically meant finding an office job there first.
Since 2005, the number of people working from home has more than doubled, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. Employees of the world’s Fortune 1000 companies now spend half their time, on average, away from their desks. Companies across the globe are scrambling to accommodate remote workforces.
Sometimes it’s possible to dictate your own terms
For an employee with the desire to move countries but not to upset their working life or career altogether, the barriers to relocation are shrinking left and right. Say you want to leave Germany because of objections to its lenient immigration laws, or flee Greece over austerity measures, and have the means to do so, it may now be easier than ever before.
“Sometimes it’s possible to dictate your own terms,” Peppard says.
Peppard says there’s no telling how many workers or entire companies, particularly in the West, will move for political or ethical reasons in the next few years, as national debates over globalism make some countries more insular and others more open. It may be a phenomenon that’s more talked about than a reality, he says, or it could be the start of a global trend.
“Technology has meant people are not tied to an office the ways they have been,” says Peppard, himself a native of Ireland who splits his time teaching in Germany and Australia. “It’s an entire shift in the mindset of demarcation.”
Staying home instead
While some are moving to new countries for a better personal fit, others are declining offers to work overseas for the same reasons.
Michelle Reilly has seen this more and more in her role as managing director of the London-based contract management company 6CATS. Her company does significant business in the Middle East, and, says Reilly, this way of thinking is most prominent for US workers considering a move to Middle Eastern countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Some prospective hires have expressed concerns that the US’s recent attempts to ban immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries will make them pariahs when travelling to Arab nations.
Lately, she’s had workers decline job offers for these reasons. Many of these reticent potential hires are seasoned expats who have already spent considerable time overseas, Reilly says.
“For a long time now, it was widely accepted that people travelled around the world without borders for new jobs, but that seems to be eroding,” Reilly said. “We’re seeing big changes in the way people are thinking about moving to new countries.”
We’re seeing big changes in the way people are thinking about moving to new countries
In reality, most immigrants will be welcome when moving internationally. Most people in countries across the globe are willing to accept newcomers as citizens, according to a new Pew Research Center study. People in most nations think immigrants can become citizens and fit in to their new country, just like native-born people.
Reilly is considering a move outside the UK before Brexit comes into effect because she fears it will be more complicated for her company to do work in European Union countries unless it relocates to one. Ireland or Spain, places that align more closely with Reilly’s ideal of globalisation over nationalism, top the list.
“Our first choice is Ireland because there is no language barrier, but Spain sure is sunnier,” Reilly says.
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