EXCLUSIVE: ‘We’re young expats from the USA and this is why we moved to Spain… and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon!’

FLEEING increasingly unaffordable housing and political fatigue, a growing number of Americans are starting anew in Spain, where they’re drawn to abundant culture and access to a comparatively cheap high quality of life. 

While the US State department does not reliably track the number of US citizens abroad, recent estimates have put the number of Americans living outside the US between 4.8 million and 9 million

As of 2018 some 1.3 million of these were estimated to be living in Europe, and in 2022, there were 41,953 US nationals legally living in Spain, up from 39,812 in 2021. 

Between 2019 and 2021, the number of Americans living in Spain increased by 13%.

Owen Murray moved to Valencia from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in search of greater affordability to pursue his copywriting business and an opportunity to improve his Spanish.

Owen Murray, 20, moved to Valencia a month ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in search of greater affordability to pursue his copywriting business and an opportunity to improve his Spanish.

The cost of living was a major factor in Murray’s decision to move to Spain. 

The young entrepreneur didn’t go to college and instead chose to start a freelance copywriting business — a career path that he says would have been inaccessible had he stayed in the US.

Valencia caught Murray’s attention, not only for its sunshine, paella and oranges, but for its low cost of living compared to Spain’s two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona. 

”With inflation and the cost of living being so high, supporting myself in an American city just didn’t seem feasible,”  Murray told the Olive Press this week. 

Before moving to Spain, Murray had lived with his parents in Milwaukee for most of his life. 

But even in his hometown, whose median monthly rent is below the national average, incomes remain low, meaning adequate housing is largely out of reach for many. 

Another major factor in his decision to move was the language, Murray said. 

He’d studied Spanish through high school but was unsatisfied with his level, concluding that total immersion would be most beneficial to his learning. 

He chose Spain over a Latin American country for his preference for the peninsular Spanish accent and easy access to Europe. 

As for the Spanish people and culture, Murray said he finds most Valencians warm and welcoming, although they walk a bit too slowly for his taste. 

“I’m a very fast walker, I think how fast people walk really says something about the culture,” he joked.

#americanabroad

A scroll through Instagram’s #americanabroad reveals some recurring themes: the dreamy, airbrushed profiles of digital nomads, rampant emoji use, money, glamorous lifestyles in lush tropics and quaint towns for American-cheap, videos following the formula, “here’s how much an American spends on X in X country per month.”

Many create “content” — utilising the digital economy to cash in on their own expatriate identities, profiting off of views, stealthy sponsorships and the attention of those back home watching enviously from across the Atlantic. 

Some are coy about their livelihoods, others sell courses and produce content meant to help other Americans join them in greener, cheaper pastures.

But in Spain, the truth is that the livelihoods, visa statuses, politics, and motivations of Americans are diverse. 

Some are here to learn the language, while others came in search of affordability. 

But a common thread for many is the pursuit of a higher quality of life.

The American Dream is Dead

When I hear the words ‘American Dream,’ the word that comes to my mind is ‘dead,’” US expat Carolyn Reisdorff told the Olive Press this week, “And I wonder if it ever existed.”

The 29-year-old, from Cleaveland, Ohio, is an English teacher who now lives in central Madrid. 

Reisdorff plans to vote in the 2024 Presidential Election in November, although she’s less than thrilled by the prospect of a Joe Biden-Donald Trump rematch. 

Reisdorff, who worked on Hilary Clinton’s 2016 campaign against Donald Trump, is concerned by the idea of another Trump term, though neither does she find Joe Biden all that inspiring. 

“I don’t have many problems with him but there’s nothing I particularly like about him either,” she said. 

But besides Trump’s controversial policies, crimes, and far-right populist approach to leadership, Reisdorff is fed up with answering for him in her new home abroad. 

“When you’re in the US no one expects you to explain why there’s a gun problem, why Trump is president,” she said.

“But if you interact with someone who doesn’t interact with Americans very often, they’re very curious, which is fair enough. But I wish they would use Google instead.” 

America’s gun problem also isn’t far from her mind. During a recent visit with her boyfriend’s family in Caceres, Reisdorff heard a loud bang in the distance.

Carolyn Reisdorff is originally from Ohio, and now lives in Madrid with her Spanish partner.

“I asked if it was a gun and everyone laughed at me,” Reisdorff said.

Reisdorff — who can speak Spanish and Mandarin Chinese — came to Spain in 2019 after serving a stint in the Peace Corps in rural China, to work as a language assistant in the public school system, settling initially in the Extremaduran town of Caceres. 

She wanted to see Europe, a continent she hadn’t yet visited at the time, and improve her Spanish skills. 

While she originally planned to stay for just a year, life quickly intervened. 

She fell in love with a Spanish man in Caceres, with whom she now shares a life in Madrid.

Although the couple has discussed the possibility of moving to the US together, for the time being they’ve decided to stay in Spain, as Reisdorff says it would be far simpler for her to stay than for her boyfriend to complete the paperwork required to move to the States. 

Not to mention they both prefer the robust healthcare system and pace of life in Spain compared to the nonstop grind that is common in the US, and would struggle to get by on similar salaries in any major American city. 

“The accessibility to enjoying life is so much better here,” said Reisdorff. 

Split between Reisdorff and her partner, rent in Madrid is a fraction of what many of her friends pay in Ohio. 

She makes a typical Spanish salary, although her income goes a lot farther here. 

And Madrid’s walking culture and wealth of cheap and free cultural offerings means she’s able to enjoy a quality of life available in America only to those who make much more money. 

“So much is at your fingertips,” she said, “even if you just walk out the door and don’t spend any money.”

According to some recent polls, the American Dream is in fact dead. 

An October 2023 Wall Street Journal-funded poll equated the “American Dream” with the statement “if you work hard you’ll get ahead,” and reported that 45% of respondents believed “it once held true but not anymore,” while 18% believed that such a statement never held true.

The survey, which involved 1,163 registered US voters, revealed a generally pessimistic attitude towards the American economy and American institutions. 

While only 2% of respondents rated the strength of the US economy as “excellent,” 65% rated it as either “not so good” or “poor.”

Half of respondents said they agreed with the statement “the economic and political systems in the country are stacked against people like me,” and that life in America is worse now than it was 50 years ago. 

Historically, the “American Dream” is understood as economic mobility — one can climb the socio-economic ladder with hard work, tenacity and intellect. 

But in a society where the wealthiest 1% of the population controls as much wealth as the bottom 90%, climbing the ladder is not so easy anymore.

Research from the Brookings Institute suggests that wealth among Americans tends to remain stagnant — particularly among the lower and upper classes — with economic mobility most likely to occur early in life, the chances of which decrease as one ages. 

The US consistently ranks on lists of the world’s most expensive countries in which to live, with residents expected to spend between $32,000 and $55,000 on essential living expenses per year, depending on state

Gun violence and political fatigue

Recent polling has also reflected widespread political pessimism among Americans with regards to the 2024 Presidential Election, which by this point is almost certain to be a rematch between incumbent, 81-year-old Joe Biden and 77-year-old former president Donald Trump — who’s notably been accused of sexual assault, racketeering, falsifying documents, and conspiracy, among other felonies

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that the majority of Americans consider both candidates to be too old for another presidential term, while two-thirds reported being “tired of seeing the same candidates in presidential elections.”

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