How to Move to a New Country
The pandemic and anti-Black violence have our Black family reconsidering what home means to us
It’s a common refrain these days, especially among Black Americans: “I’ve just got to get out of this country.” But how do you actually find a new home abroad? After years of nomadic living, my family and I have recently found a place to settle, and so I can tell you this much: You have to ask yourself a couple of serious questions first — mostly about yourself.
What are you trying to solve for in your personal life?
What is your current life missing? When I moved to Cairo, Egypt, it was because I had a dream of a life that was about more than just paying bills and dreading the day I turned 30.
I’m American, and had always lived in the States. In 2015 I was working a temp job in Washington, D.C., to supplement a career in broadcasting that didn’t pay a living wage, and I was yearning for a life that didn’t feel so stressful. I thought traveling the world would mean I was living on my own terms — and it did feel that way, for a time. As it turned out, the nomadic path has its own set of stresses. My expat journey would lead to being displaced due to the pandemic.
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I had a good run before Covid-19 crashed the party, though. I lived in Egypt for seven months before I met the man who would become my husband. Like me, he was an American expat. He coached American-style football, but his seasons would only last about three months — then he’d be off to work with a new team. I fell in love with him and with the opportunity to see the world. We would have kept traveling, I think, had the pandemic not made settling feel so suddenly urgent.
What does the United States lack that you need?
The United States is not a country where I feel safe and healthy. As Black Americans, it’s easy to feel like a target when you keep seeing people who look like you and your family getting killed by the people who should protect us, or by a citizen who shouldn’t even be able to own a gun. The idea of raising my Black son in America was scary. The anxiety I felt each time my husband or I left the house was untenable.
The cost of living in the States wouldn’t allow us the quality of life we had abroad. And besides, it was exhilarating to live in places that many Americans have never even heard of or explore new areas of the world. Living abroad, we had much more money and free time to do so. We bounced around between a couple more countries — Poland, Egypt — before settling in a cosmopolitan, family-friendly city called Wuhan, China.
Of course, by the beginning of 2020, the only thing people would know of Wuhan was this pandemic. Within two weeks of getting the text from our landlady about this sickness that didn’t quite have a name yet, we would be locked out of China completely — stuck in Malaysia with only the belongings we had for what was supposed to be a short vacation.
And there it was — our peripatetic life no longer felt like a big, fun adventure. The world has changed, and so have I.
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Now, we’re looking for a home we can call our own, and the United States seems no more inviting than it was five years ago. We just spent three months in the States after getting stuck in Malaysia, and the tense situation — the mismanaged response to the pandemic along with widespread police violence — only exacerbated my anxiety. I went to the doctor to get an EKG because I thought I was having a mild heart attack. The United States is not a country where I feel safe and healthy.
Where will life truly be better?
We needed a place to call home. But first I had to do some research. Obviously this is complicated by the pandemic and by having American passports in a time when many countries have banned them. I found out that Mexico had never closed its air borders to flights. Everyone still has to wear masks; the beaches are closed.
Our ultimate goal was to live somewhere with a lower cost of living and a family-friendly environment where my son can make friends and enjoy his childhood. Mexico seemed to tick off all the boxes.
I think it’s most important to plan your life abroad — well, probably your life anywhere — based on what your needs are now and in the future. When we lived in Egypt, both my husband and I lost our jobs, but because of Egyptian-American exchange rates, we could live off $200 to $300 a month and not have to shift our lives drastically. And now that our son is inching toward school age, we would like to put him in a structured environment that allows him to pick up the local language because multilingualism is important to us.
Does it feel like home?
We’ve settled here in the Quintana Roo area of Mexico, and it really feels like we have found a place that is safe, comfortable, interesting, and can be an actual home. We know that racism exists around the world. We’ve found, however, that we do have privileges even as Black Americans in other countries because we are still American. With that reality, we have not been treated harshly or demoralized in the places we’ve lived, an experience I’m grateful for. It’s ironic that America is the one place I feel victimized and afraid right now, and yet being American grants me certain privileges around the world.
As my son gets older, I don’t want his memories to be of constantly leaving things behind and always having to start anew. I want him to be a part of a true community that doesn’t change every six months to a year. I want our family to feel whole. These years on the move we’ve always felt somehow like something was missing. I now realize that a missing piece is “home.” We’re working hard to create it.