Emigration from the United States

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American diaspora
Flag of the United States.svg
Total population
9,000,000[1] (2016, est.)
Regions with significant populations
Dominican Republic200,000[10]
United Kingdom139,000–197,143[12][13]
Puerto Rico189,000[14]
Costa Rica130,000[15]
South Korea120,000–158,000[16]
Hong Kong60,000[19]
Japan55,713 (2017)[21]
United Arab Emirates50,000[24]
Saudi Arabia40,000[26]
Spain34,638 (2018)[28]
El Salvador19,000[34]
New Zealand17,751[35]
Ireland17,552 (2017)[36]
English, Spanish and others.
Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism and Others
Related ethnic groups

Emigration from the United States is a complex demographic process where individuals born in the United States move to live in other countries, creating an American diaspora (overseas Americans). The process is the reverse of the immigration to the United States. The United States does not keep track of emigration, and counts of Americans abroad are thus only available courtesy of statistics kept by the destination countries.


There are a wide range of reasons for which Americans might emigrate from the country. While some emigrate for economic reasons, the United States' position as an affluent country and a country with a strong immigrant history means that many leave for a chance to experience other parts of the world, to return to their country of origin, for religious reasons, such as missionary work, or to escape policies of the American government.[45]

With the ongoing problems with the American economy, and increase in economic opportunities for skilled workers in emerging markets, economic opportunities are increasingly driving migration abroad, both for native-born Americans[46] and naturalized immigrants returning to their home country.

Common reasons for living abroad are marriage/partnership, study, employment, and retirement. Since children born in the United States to non-citizens are generally automatically granted U.S. citizenship, children born to migrant workers, temporary foreign employees on visas, or international students are U.S. citizens, and when they return to their countries of origin, they are also considered to be U.S. citizens living abroad. They are sometimes called "accidental Americans".[47]

Other reasons for Americans to leave the United States are for political reasons, racism, economic inequality, and no universal healthcare. Normally, Americans do not easily have access to any foreign country for the purpose of permanent residence (with certain exceptions such as Jews emigrating to Israel, Americans of Irish descent emigrating to Ireland, etc), so the American diaspora is relatively small in comparison to the total American population.[citation needed]

Reasons include:

  • Economic reasons (e.g. inexpensive housing in Mexico[48])
  • Political reasons
  • Access to benefits and health reasons (see Universal health care)
  • Evasion of legal liabilities (e.g. crimes, taxes, loans, etc.)
  • Family reasons (most common with recent immigrants or permanent residents)
  • Marriage to a foreigner
  • Safety concerns
  • Wanting to experience a new culture
  • Religious reasons (e.g. Jewish migration to Israel)
  • Individuals living in a diaspora in the United States wanting to go back to their original homelands
  • Loss of rights due to having a felony
  • Men avoiding military service or fighting in wars (pre-1973)

According to a Gallup poll from January 2019, 40 percent of women under the age of 30 would like to leave the United States.[49]

Net effect[edit]

The United States is a net immigration country, meaning more people are arriving to the U.S. than leaving it. There is a scarcity of official records in this domain.[50] Given the high dynamics of the emigration-prone groups, emigration from the United States remains indiscernible from temporary country leave.


There are no exact figures on how many Americans live abroad. In 1999, a State Department estimate suggested that the number may be between 3 million and 6 million.[51][52] In 2016, the agency estimated 9 million U.S. citizens were living abroad.[1] However, these numbers are highly open to dispute as they often are unverified and can change rapidly.[53] The United States Census Bureau does not count Americans abroad and individual American embassies offer only rough estimates, which makes the U. S. the only developed country that does not even attempt a formal enumeration of expatriate citizens. The State Department does not release what statistics it may have, citing "security reasons."[51]

One reasonably "hard" indicator of the U.S. citizen population overseas is offered by the fact that often when they have a child abroad, they obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad from a US consulate as a proof of the child's U.S. citizenship. The Bureau of Consular Affairs reports issuing 503,585 such documents over the decade 2000–2009. Based on this, and on some assumptions about the family composition and birth rates, some authors estimate the US civilian population overseas as between 3.6 and 4.3 million.[54]

Sizes of certain subsets of US citizens living abroad can be estimated based on statistics published by the Internal Revenue Service. US Citizens are liable for US income tax even if they reside overseas; however, if they receive earned income (wages, salaries, etc.) while residing in a foreign country, they can exclude an amount of foreign earned income from the US taxation or receive credit for foreign taxes paid. The IRS reported that almost 335,000 tax returns with such a foreign-earned income exclusion form were received in 2006.[55] This imposes a lower (and very imprecise) bound on the number of US citizens who were living and working in foreign countries at the time.

In the same tax year, almost 969,000 US taxpayers reported having paid foreign tax on "general limitation income" (i.e., income other than interest, dividends, and other "passive income") from foreign sources on their foreign tax credit forms.[55] Of course, not all of these were actually residing abroad full-time.

As of June 2016, the State department's consular section estimated that there are 9 million non-military U.S. citizens living abroad,[56][57] an increase from the 4 million estimated in 1999.[58] However, these numbers are often disputed as being underestimated.[59]


Americans can only lose their citizenship in a very limited number of ways, and anyone born to at least one American parent, or born on American soil, is considered to be an American citizen. It is not automatic for a child born abroad to one American parent to obtain US citizenship if the American parent has been living abroad for a long time.[60]

Few Americans living abroad renounce their citizenship, with the long-term trend being in the low-hundreds per year; this changed, however, after the United States government passed Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, requiring foreign banks to report information on American depositholders with bank accounts located outside of USA. Almost 3,000 Americans renounced their citizenship in 2013 alone, many citing the new disclosure laws and difficulty in finding banks willing to engage in said reporting.[61]


Due to the flow of people back and forth between Britain and the colonies, and America and the Caribbean, there has been an American diaspora of a sort since before the United States was founded. During the American Revolutionary War, a number of American Loyalists relocated to other countries, chiefly Canada and the United Kingdom. Residence in countries outside the British Empire was unusual, and usually limited to the well-to-do, such as Benjamin Franklin, who was able to self-finance his trip to Paris as an American diplomat.

19th century[edit]

Thanks to the increase of whalers and clipper ships, Americans began to travel all over the world for business reasons.

The early 19th century also saw the beginning of overseas religious missionary activity, such as with Adoniram Judson in Burma.

The middle of the 19th century saw the immigration of many New Englanders to Hawaii, as missionaries for the Congregational Church, and as traders and whalers. The American population eventually overthrew the government of Hawaii, leading to its annexation by the United States.

During this time former slaves also migrated to Liberia, becoming the Americo-Liberians, who dominated the country for most of its history.

Also, due to an invasion in the late 19th century, many Americans became immigrants to the Philippines when it was a colony after the American victory in the Philippine–American War.

In Asia, the American government made efforts to secure special privileges for its citizens. This began with the Treaty of Wanghia in China in 1844. It was followed by the expedition of Commodore Perry to Japan 10 years later, and the United States–Korea Treaty of 1882. American traders began to settle in those countries.

Early 20th century[edit]

Cecil Rhodes created the Rhodes Scholarship in 1902 to encourage greater cooperation between the United States, the British Empire, and Germany by allowing students to study abroad.

Interwar period[edit]

In the period between the First and Second World Wars, many Americans, particularly writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound, migrated to Europe to take part in the cultural scene.

European cities like Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, Prague, Rome, Stockholm, and Vienna came to host a large number of Americans. Many Americans, typically those who were idealistic and/or involved in left-leaning politics, also participated in the Spanish Civil War (mainly supporting the Republicans against the Nationalists) in Spain while they lived in Madrid and elsewhere.

Other Americans returned home to the countries of their origin, including the parents of American author/illustrator Eric Carle, who returned to Germany. Thousands of Japanese Americans were unable to return to the United States, after the Attack on Pearl Harbor.[62]

Cold War[edit]

During the Cold War, Americans became a permanent fixture in many countries with large populations of American soldiers, such as West Germany and South Korea.

The Cold War also saw the development of government programs to encourage young Americans to go abroad. The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 to encourage cultural exchange, and the Peace Corps was created in 1961 both to encourage cultural exchange and a civic spirit of volunteerism.

With the formation of the state of Israel, over 100,000 Jews made Aliyah to the holy land, where they played a role in the creation of the state. Other Americans traveled to countries like Lebanon, again to take place in the cultural scene.

During the Vietnam War, about 100,000 American men went abroad to avoid conscription, 90% of them going to Canada.[63] European nations, including neutral states like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, offered asylum to thousands of American expatriates who refused to fight.

A small number of Americans abandoned the country for political reasons, defecting to the Soviet Union, Cuba, or other countries, such as Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, current Libyan nominee as UN ambassador, and sixties radicals such as Joanne Chesimard, Pete O'Neal, Eldridge Cleaver, and Stokely Carmichael.

During this period Americans continued to travel abroad for religious reasons, such as Richard James, inventor of the Slinky, who went to Bolivia with the Wycliffe Bible Translators, and the Peoples Temple establishment of Jonestown in Guyana.

After the Cold War[edit]

The opening of Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and Central Asia after the Cold War provided new opportunities for American businesspeople. Additionally, with the global dominance of America in the world economy, the ESL industry continued to grow, especially in new and emerging markets. Many Americans also take a year abroad during college, and some return to the country after graduation.

Iraq War deserters sought refuge mostly in Canada and Europe, and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden escaped to Russia.[64][65]

Increasing numbers of Americans are retiring abroad due to financial setbacks resulting from the 2008 financial crisis.[66]

Young Americans facing a tough job market due to the recession are also increasingly open to working abroad.[67]

According to a Gallup poll from January 2019, 40 percent of women under the age of 30 would like to leave the United States.[68]


One of the biggest issues with the American diaspora is the issue of double taxation. Unlike most developed nations, the United States taxes its citizens even when they live overseas. The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion mitigates double taxation on wage income, but the Internal Revenue Code treats ordinary foreign savings plans held by residents of foreign countries as if they were offshore tax avoidance instruments and requires extensive asset reporting, resulting in significant costs for Americans at all income levels to comply with filing requirements even when they owe no tax.[51][69][70] Even Canada's Registered Disability Savings Plan falls under such reporting requirements.[71] The most prominent piece of legislation which has attracted the ire of Americans abroad is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Disadvantages stemming from FATCA, such as hindering career advancement overseas, may decrease the number of Americans in the diaspora in future years. The problem is so severe that some Americans have addressed it by renouncing or relinquishing their American citizenship.[72] Since 2013, the number of people giving up US citizenship has risen to a new record each year, with an unprecedented 5,411 in 2016. This is up 26 percent from the 4,279 renunciations in 2015.[73][74][75]

US citizens living abroad[edit]

The list below is of the main countries hosting American populations. Those shown first with exact counts are enumerations of Americans who have immigrated to those countries and are legally resident there, does not include those who were born there to one or two American parents, does not necessarily include those born in the US to parents temporarily in the US and moved with parents by right of citizenship rather than immigration, and does not necessarily include temporary expatriates. In all other cases, starting with Israel, the figures are estimates of part-time US resident Americans and expatriates alike.

  1.  Mexico – 899,311 United States-born residents of Mexico (2017)[76]
  2.  European Union – 800,000 (2013; all EU countries combined)
  3.  Canada – 738,203 (2011)[77]
  4.  India – 700,000 according to a press release from the White House on 12/06/2017[78]
  5.  Philippines – 600,000 (2015)[79]
  6.  Brazil – 260,000[80]
  7. Israel Israel – 185,000[citation needed]
  8.  Italy – 170,000 to 200,000[citation needed]
  9.  United Kingdom – 158,000 (2013)[81]
  10.  South Korea – 140,222 (2016)[82][83]
  11.  Germany – 107,755 (2013)[84]
  12.  France – 100,619 (2008)[85]
  13.  Australia – 90,100 (2011)[86]
  14.  Japan – 88,000 (2011)[87]
  15.  Dominican Republic – 82,000[citation needed]
  16.  China – 71,493 (2010, Mainland China only)[88][89]
  17.  Spain – 63,362[citation needed]
  18.  Colombia – 60,000[90]
  19.  Hong Kong – 60,000[89]
  20.  Pakistan – 52,486[22]
  21.  United Arab Emirates – 40,000[citation needed]
  22.  Republic of China (Taiwan) – 38,000
  23.  Belgium – 36,000[citation needed]
  24.  Saudi Arabia – 36,000[citation needed]
  25.   Switzerland – 32,000[citation needed]
  26.  Poland – 31,000 to 60,000[citation needed]
  27.  Lebanon – 25,000[91]
  28.  Panama – 25,000[92]
  29.  Netherlands – 20,769 (2019)[93]
  30.  New Zealand – 17,748 (2006)[94]
  31.  Sweden – 16,555 (2009)[95]
  32.  Austria – 15,000[citation needed]
  33.  Hungary – 15,000[citation needed]
  34.  Singapore – 15,000[89]
  35.  Ireland – 12,475 (2006)[96]
  36.  Argentina – 10,552[citation needed]
  37.  Peru — 10,409 (2017)[97]
  38.  Chile – 10,000[citation needed]
  39.  Denmark – 9,634 (2018)[98]
  40.  Czech Republic – 9,510 (2019; 7,131 have residence permit for 12+ months)[99]
  41.  Costa Rica – 9,128[100] to 50,000[101]
  42.  Norway – 8,013 (2012)[102]
  43.  Malaysia – 8,000[89]
  44.  Ecuador – 7,500[citation needed]
  45.  Guatemala – 5,417 (2010)[103]
  46.  Uruguay – 3,000[104]
  47.  Portugal – 2,228 (2008)[105]
  48.  Russia – at least 2,008[106] up to 6,200[107]

See also[edit]


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    "North Korea propaganda video depicts invasion of South Korea, US hostage taking". Advertiser. Agence France-Presse. March 22, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013. According to official immigration figures, South Korea has an American population of more than 130,000 civilians and 28,000 troops.
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