Retiring to Costa Rica, making a killing in Hong Kong, hanging out with other anime nerds in Japan—the reasons for moving abroad are legion and frequently awesome. It’s estimated that 2.2 million to 6.8 million Americans are currently enjoying the expat lifestyle, and most of them probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
But living abroad isn’t all sunshine and lollipops and guilt-free sex with hot locals. Plenty of the world’s most popular expat destinations have a darker, hidden side to them. Have a bad experience in one of these countries, and your dream life abroad could turn into a screaming nightmare.
10 Japan’s Justice System Is Built On False Confessions
Japan is a country so safe that it makes Canada look like Somalia. Its intentional homicide rate is around 0.3 per 100,000 people, far less than America’s 4.7. It has barely any terrorism. In 2013, only 12 people were shot to death, and even that paltry number was a massive increase. In 2012, the total number of shooting deaths was three.
There are many complex reasons why Japan is a nonviolent society. One is that its police force is utterly terrifying.
If you’re going to have a run-in with the law, pray it isn’t in Japan. Police have the right to hold you without charge for 23 days, and they’ll spend most of that time torturing you. Suspects have tables rammed into them, their feet stomped on, and threats bellowed into their ears. Sleep deprivation is common, and choosing to remain silent is taken as admission of guilt.
The only way to stop this onslaught is to sign a confession, and good luck retracting it later. Courts assume that a confession is an admission of guilt and will sentence you accordingly. People frequently go down for decades for crimes they clearly didn’t commit. It’s estimated that one-tenth of all Japanese prisoners are in jail due to false confessions, and the government has no interest in reopening their cases.
9 Thailand Will Jail You For Insulting The King’s Dog
Thailand is often portrayed as an east Asian paradise—a country where the girls are beautiful, the cost of living is low, and the weather is great. All of this is true. It’s also a country where you can be thrown in jail for over a decade for insulting the king’s dog.
The love the Thais have for their king makes the British seem like a nation of royalty-hating republicans. Strict lese-majeste laws hand down substantial penalties to anyone who criticizes or insults the royal family. Since the 2014 coup, the military junta has extended these laws to even cover the king’s pets. In December 2015, Thanakorn Siripaiboon was charged before a military court for making a “sarcastic” Internet post about Copper, the king’s dog. It’s expected that he will receive several years in prison.
You better believe these laws apply to foreigners. In 2007, a Swiss expat was jailed for 10 years after he spray-painted over a picture of the king. The current US ambassador, Glyn Davies, is being investigated for criticizing the mere existence of these dumb laws.
8 Vietnam’s Drug Laws Are Utterly Brutal
Compared to many of its neighbors, where drug possession can lead to execution, Vietnam has a pretty relaxed drugs policy. Users are sent to rehabilitation centers instead of jails, where they cure their addictions through work. Sounds pretty progressive, right? Maybe in theory. In practice, the “rehabilitation centers” are brutal forced labor camps.
Those who’ve been through the system have reported beatings, torture, and being forced to work extremely long hours, making products for private companies. Missing a work quota can get you beaten. Complaining can get you beaten. Basically, just showing your face can result in some random guard deciding to put his fist into it, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
In some ways, the centers are even worse than prison, where at least you have a release date. Some in Vietnam’s rehabilitation program have been held for years without due process or any end in sight. Perhaps it’s no surprise that inmates frequently stage violent mass breakouts from these facilities.
7 Italy’s Taxes Are Staggeringly High
With its endless sun, world-class culture, and relaxed lifestyle, Italy might seem like the perfect country. So it may come as a shock to realize that it frequently features in polls about the worst countries for expats. The reason for this is likely financial. Any foreigner who moves to Italy can expect to be hammered with crippling taxes.
Tax rates in general are high in Italy. By some estimates, they’re the highest of all the G20 nations. A high wage earner can expect to take home only slightly more than half their salary, compared to around 60 percent in the US. This isn’t even the worst aspect. Thanks to its byzantine bureaucracy, filing tax returns in Italy is filled with hidden charges seemingly designed to catch foreigners out.
Since 2013, expats have had to declare all overseas assets. This includes the $14 floating around in your old US bank account. Forget to declare that spare change, and you can get slapped with a hefty fine. Same deal with foreign earnings. If you make $13.68 selling a T-shirt on eBay while living in Italy, the government will take a chunk of that sweet pocket change off you. Forget to tell them about it, and you’ll find yourself facing legal action.
6 India Has A Terrifying Number Of Traffic Accidents
The 2011 film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opened people’s eyes to the idea of retiring to India. The story revolves around a bunch of British pensioners who move to the subcontinent and have heartwarming adventures. In real life, those adventures would more likely come with the appellation “death-defying.” India is the top destination on Earth for deadly traffic accidents.
According to data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO), more people die on Indian roads than anywhere else in the world. In 2009, the country recorded 105,725 fatal traffic accidents, with the WHO estimating the real number as closer to 200,000. By way of comparison, the US had the third-highest number with a mere 42,642. In a single typical year, bad driving kills more people in India than malaria does in the entire world.
This isn’t helped by the government’s recent decision to relax road safety laws. Since spring 2015, running over and killing a child gets you a $780 fine and a single year in prison. That’s the maximum penalty. There are many reports of wealthy teenagers hitting and killing homeless people and not even having their licenses suspended.
5 Nicaragua Suffers Endemic Corruption
Nicaragua is one of the world’s current retirement hot spots, thanks to the tons of incentives that the government is offering foreigners to settle there. On top of that, it’s beautiful, cheap, and hot all year round. What’s not to love?
Corruption. That’s what’s not to love.
According to Transparency International, Nicaragua is one of the most corrupt societies in the Americas. Their 2014 rankings placed it at 133rd out of 175 nations globally, only one place ahead of notoriously corrupt Russia. Only Venezuela and Haiti scored worse in Latin America, and the number of people retiring to either of those nations is practically zero.
Although this corruption rarely touches foreign residents, it still rears its ugly head from time to time. Almost everyone living in the country has a story to tell about police shaking them down for a bribe, and throwing cash around to get stuff done is a common fact of life. Still, plenty of people think it’s worth it for views as stunning as this one.
4 Singapore Has Absurdly Strict Laws
Tiny Singapore is one of the wealthiest, cleanest, and safest nations on Earth. It’s also a top destination for expats looking to make a killing and come home filthy rich. But all that cleanliness and wealth creation comes at a price. Singapore is governed by laws that are often bizarre and always strict.
Some of the strictest have to do with keeping the city clean. Littering and spitting both carry fines, as do chewing gum and tossing cigarette butts away. These aren’t the sort of fines you can shrug off with a quick wave of a US dollar and a mumbled, “Sorry, tourist.” Singapore is a vastly rich country, and their fines reflect this. Anyone caught littering is forced to cough up a cool $1,000. Anyone caught urinating in an elevator is arrested.
These laws are certainly tough, but we imagine some of our readers might be behind them in principle. Littering and spitting are pretty disgusting, after all. But then there are laws that require stuff like flushing public toilets after use. Failure to do so can result in a $150 fine.
3 Britain Is Effectively Unaffordable
With its quaint villages, rolling hills, and bustling mega-capital of London, Britain can seem like a haven. There’s tea to drink, a queen to fawn over, and terrible food to complain about. Sounds perfect.
Of course, that’s all assuming that you can afford to live there. And we’re here to tell you that you almost certainly can’t.
The UK is currently in the middle of a massive housing bubble. Thanks to rich Russians, Chinese, and Saudis sinking all of their money into property in London, buying a home almost anywhere in the country is essentially unaffordable. The Guardian recently crunched the numbers for people looking to buy a house at the median price while earning the average British wage of £26,500 ($40,200) a year. For someone in those circumstances, they found that 91 percent of England and Wales would be beyond their means.
Of course, an expat would likely be making significantly above the UK average wage, but the problem persists. A worker on £45,000 a year ($68,300) would still find over half the country beyond their means, despite being in the top 20 percent of all UK earners.
It’s not until you hit the top 10 percent of earners at £60,500 ($91,800) a year that most of the country becomes affordable. Even then, 29 percent of it would still be out of reach. This includes most of the area around London—exactly where an expat’s job is most likely to be.
2 Dubai’s Drug Laws Are Fundamentally Insane
The easiest way to not fall afoul of other countries’ drug laws is to not do drugs while abroad, or so you’d think. Dubai is different in that you can still get in trouble without actually breaking the law.
Across the UAE, it’s common for authorities to check the bloodstreams of people entering their country. Under Emirati law, having even trace amounts of drugs in your blood counts as possession. Possession carries a mandatory four-year prison sentence.
The simple solution would be to not do drugs at all, but the list of things that the UAE considers “drugs” is long and absurdly complex. Herbal Spice will get you jail time, as will many types of painkillers. In 2005, a British woman was held for several weeks after medication for her back pain showed up during a random screening. It transpired that she’d taken some prescribed codeine before setting off on her vacation. While being held in jail, she contracted dysentery.
Sometimes, you don’t even need to take a banned substance to land yourself some jail time. One Swiss national was jailed after three poppy seeds from an airport bread roll were found clinging to his clothes.
1 China’s Air Wants To Kill You
As the next emerging superpower, China is a hot destination for Americans and Europeans. There’s history to be seen and money to be made, all while getting a fascinating peek at one of the few surviving communist regimes on Earth. All this comes with a price. China’s air will go out of its way to kill you stone dead.
We’ve all seen the images of Beijing suffocating under thick clouds of pollution, but few of us realize just how bad things really are. In November 2015, air pollution in northeastern China reached 50 times the WHO-recommended safe level. This is a level so high that most outlets described it as an “airpocalypse.” China’s own state-run news agency, which almost never criticizes anything, called it “doomsday.” When a similar smog hit Beijing in December, authorities issued a red alert, complete with wailing air raid–style sirens. Schools were closed, offices were shut, and millions of people were warned to stay indoors at all costs.
These smogs are deadly in a way that most of us can’t even imagine. A summer 2015 study published in the scientific journal PLOS One claimed that pollution was killing 1.6 million people in China each year—roughly 4,400 a day. That’s comparable to how many people were killed in the Ukrainian civil war in 2015. Those who don’t die can still find themselves suffering from long-term health problems even after they’ve moved away. Emigrating to a country like China may seem like a dream come true. Just be sure to pack your gas mask.
Morris M.Morris is a freelance writer and newly-qualified teacher, still naively hoping to make a difference in his students’ lives. You can send your helpful and less-than-helpful comments to his email, or visit some of the other websites that inexplicably hire him.