As international relocations become more accessible, millions of British nationals look for opportunities to move abroad and enjoy a different culture, landscape, and pace of life.
You can’t get much further away from the UK than the Americas. Travelling to the other side of the world can be an extraordinary way to take up career openings, settle somewhere new with your family, or retire in style.
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However, this region is vast, including North and South America, Central America and some Caribbean areas, making the choice of places to live a tricky one.
The key is to think about your lifestyle aspirations and select the country that fits your ideal – whether the priority is weather, culture, education or employment or something else that matters most to you.
This guide will explore the top 10 countries for British expats in the Americas and what makes each option so unique.
First up, we’ll head to the US of A, a top choice for UK expats with around 678,000 Brits calling the States home.
It might not seem the most exotic destination in the Americas, but let’s take a moment to reflect on the country’s sheer scale and the distinct contrast between the states.
Across the US, expats often find that the culture is surprisingly different from that in the UK, with a ‘can do’ attitude, positivity and a warm social community, particularly in smaller towns and cities where new arrivals are welcomed with open arms.
The states are also massively diverse, with thousands of different cultures and languages spoken.
Whether you dream of living on a ranch in Wyoming, the bright lights of Las Vegas, becoming a true urban New Yorker, or kicking back in California, there are more opportunities to switch up your lifestyle and try something new than you’ll find in any other country in the world.
Note that the healthcare system isn’t free, so it’s vital to have comprehensive medical insurance.
On the plus side, the US remains a top-five country for employment and workforce productivity, with most professional expats finding a range of career opportunities.
One of the biggest attractions for UK expats considering the United States is the space to breathe.
It’s hard to imagine the size of the states compared to Britain, but imagine that Texas alone is three times larger than the whole of the UK, and you’ll be on the right track.
This space impacts everything from generous homes, extensive gardens, open parklands and over 200,000 square miles of national parks for hiking, walking, biking and exploring.
Next up, we’ll head north to Canada, a country that is rapidly becoming one of the most popular in the world with global expats. There are currently around 603,000 British nationals living in Canada.
Like the states, Canada is a vast country. It offers a life-changing alternative to British life with enormous areas of unspoiled natural beauty, flanked by thriving, cosmopolitan cities that offer some of the lowest crime rates and unemployment rates worldwide.
Economically and socially, Canada is like the United States and boasts a strong economy that attracts more Western expats than any other per capita.
The visa requirements are relatively straightforward, and the United Nations Human Development Index frequently ranks Canada as the number one country for factors such as:
- Health and life expectancy
- Cost of living
- Employment opportunities
While Canada is enormous, and there are swathes of the country that remain uninhabited, or with low population density, the key cities are nearly all within 125 miles of the US border, making international travel accessible and streamlined.
The critical employment industries are paper manufacture, aerospace technology, car production, agriculture and energy, with an abundance of natural oil and gas making Canada a world leader in energy production and resources.
If you yearn for peace and solitude, you’ll find it in Canada in spades, along with native wildlife, including bears, walrus, moose, beavers, bison and even polar bears.
Our next destination in the Americas is Mexico, heading south of the US border. The total population is 127.6 million, of which around 8,500 are British nationals.
The primary reasons for choosing life in Mexico include the climate. The weather in Mexico is usually warm, and hot summers and spicy regional delicacies epitomise the expat dream of living in this Latin American country.
Some cities and regions in Mexico are considered unsafe, so it’s wise to do your research and avoid places like the Tijuana border crossing.
Still, the country is often highly rated as one of the best places to live, with the cost of living and healthcare outweighing crime rates, which tend to be confined to specific places.
Mexican pesos also make life very affordable. The average cost of living is around 32,333 MXN (£1,172) a month, excluding accommodation for a family of four and approximately 8,989 MXN (£326) for a single person.
That makes life over 51% cheaper than the UK, with rents around 64% lower. Retirees also have the option of registering for discount cards that deliver 20% discounts on a variety of products and services.
A further advantage of moving to Mexico is healthcare. The standards in the country are excellent and cost a tiny fraction of private care in the UK. You can also usually pick up prescription medications over the counter without a doctor’s prescription.
Just under 1,250 miles south from Mexico and bordering Panama, we arrive in Costa Rica, home to around 4,800 British nationals and a country renowned for tranquillity, waterfall paradises and world-class surfing.
The country has countless natural wonders, incredible volcanoes, hundreds of miles of beaches, and sands ranging from pink, black and gold. Mangroves and jungle host the native monkeys and make Costa Rica a massive draw for travellers and nature lovers.
Medical tourism has become big business in San Jose, the capital, given the high healthcare standards in Costa Rica and the low costs. Thousands of people visit for surgeries, dental work and other procedures, and there are lots of job opportunities in the sector.
For residents, health remains a priority, and the national healthcare programme is available to all for a low fee. Alternatively, private insurance costs about £35 a month.
The Costa Rican climate is comfortable, and while there are wet and dry seasons, there is rarely a day without sunshine.
San Jose offers international flights to all of the major US cities, including Boston, New York and Houston, and so it’s a lot cheaper to buy imported products than in much of Central America.
Life in Costa Rica is all about nature and healthy living, and while the pace of life is relaxed, the diet relies primarily on local fruits and vegetables.
There is also a significant expat community, and in the coastal towns, you’ll find excellent schools, markets, cafes and yoga classes.
Safety is often a primary concern for British expats moving to Central America, but there are few worries in Costa Rica. The government abolished the army in 1950. The nation is now considered one of the most stable democracies in the world.
Expats looking for work will find plenty of jobs in tourism, with booming foreign investments leading to continued economic growth.
If you’re excited by the prospect of quiet beaches and steamy rainforests, Belize is an astonishingly beautiful country that should also be on a must-visit list.
The pace of life in Belize is quiet, and though it isn’t the most affordable country in terms of property, you will find a stable economy, reasonable living costs compared to the UK or the US, and stress-free culture.
Nature remains a pivotal part of life in Belize, with hiking through the jungle, visiting Mayan ruins and spotting parrots, toucans and even jaguars a popular pastime.
With around 2,000 British residents, Belize is not a densely populated country, so it’s easy to find space to relax. Three highways cross the nation (heading north, south and west, respectively), so there are few cars in Belize, and transport options are somewhat limited.
Belize City is a thriving workplace, along with the capital, Belmopan, about 50 miles inland, although both are relatively small towns. Belize City is the biggest in the country, with a population of around 57,000 people.
You’ll find work opportunities in several large non-government organisations operating from Belize. Popular fields include journalism, information technology, and ecology and community growth projects.
However, there aren’t limitless employers in the region. While the economy in Belize is growing around 2% to 3% per year, unemployment is around 11%.
Most businesses hire people based on networking, so it can be pretty challenging to find an opening online to apply in advance of an international move.
There are also regions such as the frontier in Cayo, which are highly affordable with few residences if you’re hoping to find a jungle escape without much traffic or noise to speak of.
Guatemala is another Central American country with a chequered past, with a history of violent civil conflicts and high crime rates.
Today, the nation is much safer and has a heavy police presence, ensuring it remains a calm place to live.
Police in Guatemala are part of the friendly community and will go out of their way to ensure any expats or travellers know where they’re going and can find local services.
Around 1,900 UK nationals live in Guatemala, and one of the most significant advantages is the low cost of living. Hiring staff in a typical residential home is the norm and costs around:
- £35 per month for a weekly cleaner.
- £0.70 per hour for a babysitter.
- £2.15 for a chef-prepared meal.
Travel in Guatemala is easy, with plenty of public transport, including tuk-tuks, buses, shared vans and boats.
The native language is Spanish, and you’ll need to speak at least some of the lingo to get around in the less touristy areas – although a tutor costs around £3.60 per hour, so it isn’t tricky to find a teacher.
There is high demand for foreign expats in sectors such as English teaching, tourism, and the voluntary sector in terms of employment.
Next, we’ll look at Panama, home to around 1,000 Brits and a richly cultural country known for the warm weather, gorgeous beaches, natural beauty and vibrant wildlife.
Panama is a popular retirement destination but also attracts professionals and business owners looking for tax advantages and lucrative foreign investment opportunities.
British expats can usually find work quickly, given the demand for fluent English speakers across the business sectors. Unemployment levels are low.
Another economic plus is that the Panamanian Balboa is linked to the US dollar at 1:1, meaning that there are no exchange fluctuations to worry about for imports or exports to the American market.
The average salary is around 800 – 2,000 PAB a month for skilled professionals (£576 – £1,440), although it can be higher for migrants working in the banking or financial services sectors.
Panama City is the capital and is a flourishing city, which feels quite European in its culture and architecture. Outside of the towns, Panama offers outstanding biodiversity with mountains and rainforests along with over a thousand tiny islands.
The coastline spans 1,547 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with both coasts offering scuba diving, deep-sea fishing and snorkelling.
Higher up in the mountains, expats can live in towns such as Volcan or El Valle, where the weather is a little cooler and breezier, offering breathtaking views of the land below.
Travelling north from Panama, Honduras is around 590 miles away, with 950 British expats in a small population of 9.7 million people. Like much of Central America, the country is unspooled, with low living costs and beautiful landscapes.
British expats looking to move to Honduras have a range of visa options, depending on whether:
- They are a retiree.
- They wish to start a business in Honduras.
- They have a foreign income source or employment.
Those looking for work will have many opportunities if they hold a professional skill, accreditation or qualification.
Many Honduran businesses struggle with the lack of skilled workers, and so expats are in high demand.
One of the most compelling reasons to choose Honduras is that foreigners who rely on overseas income do not pay any taxes. Only income earned in Honduras is taxable, with the top tier rate highly favourable compared to the UK at 20%.
However, the financial infrastructure in Honduras isn’t well developed, so it is usually impossible to cash a cheque or make a money transfer.
Many expats choose to take out a bank account in US Dollars.
There are laws in Honduras that limit property ownership by foreign nationals. Expats can own up to three-quarters of an acre of land. Many choose to establish a corporation and then purchase a larger property through a business.
You’ll find a vast range of places to live:
- Tegucigalpa is the most popular city for expats, with several outstanding schools, including The International School.
- The north coast is the industrial centre and a key employment area, also with several bilingual schools for expat children.
- The Bay Islands are popular with tourists, and although the cost of living is higher than elsewhere, there are many job opportunities in the tourism sector.
Nicaragua is an attractive prospect for British and American expats looking for investment options, although the community is still small at around 410 UK nationals.
Over the last few years, awareness of the country has grown due to the:
- Low-priced and accessible property market.
- Overall low costs of living.
- Retirement lifestyle by the beach.
- Outstanding natural wildlife and surfing.
Life in Nicaragua is centred around the outdoors, with crystal clear oceans, perfect beaches and live volcanoes. Locals enjoy surfing, hiking up volcanoes, snorkelling and SUP boarding, to name a few.
Property in Nicaragua is highly affordable, and a four-bedroom home with ocean views costs around the same as a one-bedroom flat in the UK.
Ongoing costs of living remain very low, with most expats shopping at markets. Many Nicaraguan farmers sell organic produce or local baked delicacies.
There are also excellent restaurants and bars in the cities, with a wide range of cuisines available, all at minimal prices.
However, Nicaragua isn’t an undeveloped country. The internet is high-speed and reliable. The infrastructure is excellent, and there are many co-working facilities, supermarkets, golf courses, shopping boutiques, and international English language schools.
Healthcare is also of very high quality, with nearly all major hospitals and clinics having English-speaking doctors.
There is a free public healthcare system, and private treatments remain low cost compared to prices in the UK.
Finally, we’ll travel across the maritime border to El Salvador, around 256 miles away by road. With about 390 British nationals, El Salvador is a unique tropical country, with Pacific Ocean beaches, friendly people and low living costs.
Many expats discount El Salvador due to a history of crime and violence. However, the government has invested in making this Central American country safer and more attractive to foreign nationals.
As we’ve seen, many countries in the Americas offer incredible living costs compared to UK prices.
El Salvador is not as developed as Costa Rica or Panama and is more affordable, although slightly more expensive than Honduras or Nicaragua.
San Salvador, the capital, is ranked as eighth in the Cost of Living Index, comparing the living expenses in some of the largest Central American countries, behind Panama City, Belize City and San Jose in Costa Rica.
Expats are customarily advised to steer clear of downtown San Salvador, with crime usually restricted to the east of the city, along with parts of Soyapango, Apopoa and Mejicanos.
Primary employment sectors include agriculture and manufacturing. Some of the main exports from El Salvador are coffee, corn and rice, and around 82,000 people are employed in the coffee industry.
Life as a British Expat in the Americas
There are many factors to consider when selecting the country in the Americas you’d like to move to.
Central America tends to offer lower living costs and more natural landscapes but can have higher crime rates and fewer employment opportunities.
Each country is different, so it’s essential to visit first-hand before deciding where to relocate.
A lot depends on your priorities and the lifestyle aspirations that have led to your decision to move – for example:
- Do you need to find work overseas, and if so, which countries have the sectors and industries where you’re most likely to find employment?
- Are you moving with children, and so will you need to select a destination with good educational standards and budget for an international school?
- If considering moving to a Central American country, would you be willing to learn a new language?
- How important is it to you that you find a country with a beach lifestyle and coastline – and if you move somewhere tropical, will you want to live in the city or somewhere more rural?
- What is your budget, and will the average property prices and tax rates mean you can live comfortably in your chosen destination?
It’s advisable to travel to your preferred location several times, at different times of the year, and explore the local area to get a good idea about the local culture, lifestyle and amenities on offer.
The United States or Canada are often a more straightforward choice since the language is the same.
Still, it’s equally important to research the visa entry requirements, which are often far more accessible in smaller Central American countries than you’ll find further north.
However, suppose you dream of tropical heat, peaceful living, relaxed cultures, and a myriad of flavours and cuisines to keep your taste buds alive.
In that case, the choice on offer in the Americas is unrivalled and will undoubtedly deliver a pace of life that is incomparable with that in the UK.
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