Whether the motivation was a new career, adventure or a better standard of living, many Black women are making the intentional decision to settle abroad—a trend that has only surged since the onset of the pandemic.
“I read a great quote years ago, ‘Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated,’ and for me, I was celebrated in Paris,” says April Verge, a travel blogger at Dreaming in French Blog. She moved to France in 2020.
After visiting the City of Lights for the first time, Verge describes a feeling that she had never experienced in the States before: the freedom to exist the way she wanted to.
“Paris has always been a place where Black people could go and just be people,” says Verge. “The freedom I experienced as a Black woman—I was treated better in a foreign land than I was in the United States.”
Inspiration for leaving the country varies from person to person, but one common catalyst was the murder of an unarmed George Floyd by police in summer 2020 that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement—the largest protest movement in U.S. history.
“Time and time again, the United States has shown people of color, and Black Americans in particular, that we are not welcome,” says Janelle (Jash) Cooper, a travel content creator at Joyriding with Jash. “In a country that we built, we have to work twice as hard to get half as far and it is exhausting mentally, physically and emotionally.”
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Black Americans trading in their red and white stripes of the U.S. for life as expats dates back to the 20th century. Think James Baldwin and Josephine Baker, who famously fled American soil and took up residency in France where their artistic dreams could be realized.
In a speech about her relocation to Paris, Baker said, “I ran far away [from America] to a place called France…in that country I never feared. It was like a fairyland.”
In addition to the freedom from the unique brand of racism where people often feel they are seen as Black first and American second, Black emigres attest to an increased standard of living in their newfound homes—lower costs of living, increased safety, healthier food options and even an escape from the hustle, “always on” culture of America.
Corritta Lewis, HRIS analyst and founder of It’s a Family Thing, moved with her family to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, in 2020 after being laid off from her job. What initially was supposed to be a months-long hiatus to lessen the financial load turned into a year-and-a-half stay because of the overwhelming sense of acceptance.
“Surprisingly, we were welcomed into the community by the locals in a way we did not expect,” says Lewis. “It was amazing for us to be in a place where we knew we stuck out, but it didn’t matter because we were part of a community.”
Danielle Hodge, an event producer and CEO of Alma Ocean, says that her life in Melbourne, Australia, is both healthier and safer. “I’m definitely living a more simplified life, which I’m loving and embracing,” she says.
Hodge adds: “As a Black woman, I definitely feel safe walking down the streets here more so than in America—and there are not as many cops in sight as in the States.”
Lewis agrees that the experience with police is unique from America, where Black Americans account for a third of the prison population but only 13% of the overall population. “In the U.S., we always felt anxious anytime we saw a police car, but in Mexico, we see the military and the policía on a regular basis and aren’t bothered,” she says. “We do not have the same sense of anxiety.”
Lewis emphasizes another refreshing change: the lack of consumerism. “The biggest difference is…there is no pressure to wear the most fashionable clothes, have the latest car or even look a certain way,” she says. “Life here is a lot more carefree, and there’s less stress and pressure.”
Alero Akuya, vice president of global brand at LEGO Group, has found a slower pace of life since her move to Copenhagen, Denmark, at the end of 2020. Since her move, she has mastered the art of hygge, which translates to “cozy” in Danish. She creates space for more downtime and hosts friends for dinner parties often.
“Work is not at the center of life, nor is it a part of your identity,” says Akuya. “Here, in fact, it takes a backseat to your well-being, family and community.”
No Rose-Colored Lens for Expats
Although Akuya’s life in Denmark is ideal, it isn’t free from racism and discrimination. Black American citizens who are considering the big move should be aware of the racism that they will likely encounter at some point while living abroad.
“Like anywhere else in the world, inequality can be found here among immigrant communities,” she says.
In Australia, instead of Black expats, Indigenous Australians have a long-standing history of being targets of racism and discrimination.
“It’s a breeze here as a Black Westerner, but Aboriginal Australians are the group referred to as Black and, unfortunately, experience a lot of racism,” says Hodge.
Advice for Potential and Future Expats
Community is key when moving to a new country, says Akuya, especially when faced with obstacles. She adds, “My advice is to give [life abroad] the old college try. You will go through peaks and valleys, but with a strong community, you will enjoy your time and endure the challenges that come your way.”
Verge agrees about the value of building your network, specifically with locals. “Befriending locals is a great way to adjust to a new country because you can ask questions, ask for help and get an explanation of local cultural norms,” she says.
Hodge sums it up best for those who are on the fence: “Nothing is holding you back but yourself. Get out of your own way and explore.”