These Black Women Moved To Europe For A Better Life — Did They Find It?

Photo: Courtesy of Margo Gabriel.
Social media has a way of creating an allure, a certain aesthetic and with the right soundtrack it can make anyone feel as if they, too, can live their best lives. People are hungry for curating a life they no longer need a vacation from. To that end, many are voluntarily leaving the United States for life abroad. There’s a growing number of Black American women who are opting to leave the country — permanently. This is not a new trend; activists, musicians, socialites, and writers like James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Nina Simone and Josephine Baker all famously took the leap and left America behind for life in Europe. According to the State Department, about 9 million Americans reside abroad. I am one of those people and there are a myriad of reasons why I, and so many others, chose to leave the U.S..  
For the Black women like me who live abroad,  it’s more than just a pursuit of the “soft life” that’s become ubiquitous online these days. To find out more about why so many people are moving abroad, I spoke to six Black women who decided to make this massive life change. For them, it’s about striving for a better quality of life, safer neighborhoods and the other benefits of life outside of the United States like the time to slow down, tend to their mental health, and dive deep into their self-care practice, and tap into what sparks joy — all markers of a healthier and robust lifestyle. 

For the Black women like me who live abroad,  it’s more than just a pursuit of the “soft life” that’s become ubiquitous online these days... it’s about striving for a better quality of life, safer neighborhoods, the time to slow down, dive deep into their self-care practice, and tap into what sparks joy.

Some made the move to grow creatively, to study abroad, to fulfill a lifelong goal, to provide a safer environment for their families, and others to have an improved work life balance. Each of the women I spoke to chose Europe for the aforementioned reasons. For me, moving to Portugal has meant that I finally had the time and mental space to explore my creative interests. In the almost two and a half years of living outside of the United States I have not dealt with crippling panic attacks, I have had the capacity to write and self-publish a book, I was featured in the New York Times, hosted pop-up events, worked as an associate producer to a film, built genuine community and expanded my writing career. I attribute this shift for the better due to not having to deal with microaggressions in the workplace, feeling comfortable enough to not hide my natural hair behind a straighter hairstyle, and being my full self. I work remotely and have full control of my schedule. 
On the flipside, the experiences of the women who shared their life in Lisbon does not negate the far reaching impact of Portugal’s colonial past and the current realities of those who are from former nations once colonized by Portugal. Like the erasure that occurs in the media or the marginalized communities pushed to the edges of the city. There are many activists and thought leaders who continue to do important work in Portugal like journalist Paula Cardoso, and founder of Afrolink, a digital platform promoting the representation and visibility of afro-descendants across all spheres of life in Portugal. Through Afrolink, Cardoso organizes regular pop-up markets for local entrepreneurs. She also uses her platform and voice to shed light to call out cultural appropriation and speak out on the struggles facing the Afro Portuguese community.
There’s also Vítor Sanches born in Portugal to Cape Verdean parents. Sanches is the founder of sustainable clothing brand and bookstore, Bazofo & Dentu Zona, located in Cova da Moura. Cova da Moura is home to Lisbon’s largest Cape Verdean community. In May, I partnered with the Bazofo & Dentu Zona brand on their screening of the documentary, Alcindo by Miguel Dores, about the slain Cape Verdean man, Alcindo Monteiro in 1995 on Rua Garret in what is now Lisbon’s busy Baixa Chiado shopping district. In 2020, Público reported that the municipality of Lisbon installed a plaque honoring Alcindo Monteiro’s life.
Cases like the slain Alcindo Monteiro in 1995 by xenophobic white Portuguese nationalists ,who are now free from prison, or the 2020 racially motivated murder of actor Bruno Candé, are a glaring reminder that there much work to be done in Portugal. Another ongoing issue is the plight of countless Portuguese-born individuals with ancestral roots from Africa who are nationless and without citizenship due to the Portuguese Nationality Law of 1981 as reported by Portuguese journal, A Mensagem. This law states it no longer suffices to be born in Portugal to gain Portuguese citizenship. The law has gone under several changes but reading the accounts of the individuals who are in the limbo feels like a sick joke reminiscent of America’s Jim Crow past.
While I have experienced the benefits of this new season of my life in Portugal, there also have been challenges. Let’s face it, I’m an immigrant here and that means dealing with agencies like SEF (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras). I’ve had many calls go unanswered, sent countless emails essentially pleading to have my paperwork processed. It didn’t help that I’d read so many horror stories on expat forums of other Americans having their paperwork denied. As a highly independent person, this immigration process was humbling to say the least. I am glad I stuck with it long enough to gain my Portuguese residency albeit with very limited Portuguese language fluency. Have I had epic meltdowns? Absolutely. But, I am grateful to share the realities of life as a Black American woman living in Europe.
Here is an inside look at why many Black women are charting their own paths and leaving the United States for life abroad in Europe. And we get a chance to understand from locals the impact of this new wave of Americans relocating to Europe.

Pursuing Possibilities in Portugal 

Hiwote Getaneh is a podcast host and co-producer of This Is Dating. She moved to Lisbon from New York. “I came to Portugal because I wanted an adventure. Cheaper rent, for more space, access to sunshine, access to nature, and being able to go to the beach every weekend. Doing watersports.” Getaneh also wanted to improve her Portuguese. “Relearning Portuguese was a big part of my childhood when I grew up in Mozambique.” She says life in Portugal allows her to create new friendships. “It has been really nice to connect with people from all over the world who have immigrated here in search of a more chill life and a slower life. It feels really gratifying.”

I absolutely love my life in Portugal but I like to be real and transparent about the realities. If I wasn’t highly independent, resourceful, and agile then there’s no way I would have been able to navigate the inevitable challenges that arise from living abroad.

Julie Broughton - Lisbon, Portugal
Julie Broughton works in tech in L&D and is an entrepreneur from the Bay Area. Broughton moved to Lisbon with her son. “I absolutely love my life in Portugal but I like to be real and transparent about the realities. If I wasn’t highly independent, resourceful, and agile then there’s no way I would have been able to navigate the inevitable challenges that arise from living abroad.” Broughton shares that the immigration process is not for the faint of heart. “Bureaucracy is very real here, and the operational efficiencies present in countries like the US aren’t the standard.”
Photo: Courtesy of Julie Broughton.
Julie Broughton, L&D tech creative. Lisbon, Portugal.
Broughton’s priority is to create a safe environment for her son and years of researching how to immigrate to Portugal paid off when her visa was approved and later obtained residency status for her and her son in 2021. “At the top of the list was a better life for my son. As a parent it is my responsibility to ensure I give him the best life and opportunities possible, and that simply wasn’t going to happen staying in the US.” 
She is also aware of the impact her and many Americans who relocate to Portugal have on the local economy and housing market. “For me, integrating into the community and doing my best to minimize my gentrifying presence is a top priority. That includes frequenting local-owned restaurants and shops which leads to becoming regulars and makes connecting easy.” Broughton and her son are settling into their new home in Europe. “The Portuguese people I have encountered have been very welcoming and curious when seeing my son and I, so it’s always been a breeze to strike up conversation and build from there.”
Cinnamon McCann, a digital marketer and D.C. native says she felt like life in the United States was becoming increasingly volatile. “I felt like life in America felt so unsustainable. There was a massive racial divide, there was just an inability to feel like you could have a life and work. There was an overall sadness, frustration and exhaustion that made me choose to leave the country.”

What Locals in Portugal Have To Say

I spoke with local Portugues citizens about the recent influx of Americans to Portugal to get a sense of the impact of this new wave of migration to this western European nation. Ana Sofia Lopes, entrepreneur and owner of restaurant, Sofia’s Place, in Lisbon’s bustling São Bento neighborhood, shares what many of her American friends and patrons reveal about life in America. “My American friends and guests from the United States to Portugal, many of them have expressed feeling attacked and abandoned from all sides of American society and culture.” In the age of social media, it is easy to see snapshots of life in America, unfiltered by whatever narrative history books or news pundits say. The real threat of lethal violence in the United States is one of many reasons why many of the interviewees and I chose life in Europe.
Photo: Courtesy of Margo Gabriel.
Margo Gabriel, freelance writer. Lisbon, Portugal.
Lopes firmly believes there is a lot to look forward to as Portugal welcomes more Americans from all backgrounds to its borders. “The Portuguese like to promote their narrative of the age of discovery. But as a Portuguese woman, and most especially as an African woman, I and others like me, are committed to creating a Portuguese future that you can say is rich in diversity and opportunity for all of the people.” 
Sara and Eucleia Pontes Ferreira, are sisters and grew up in Portugal. They founded Mukiidi and host the Afro Europeu podcast by the same name that amplifies the work of creatives in lusophone communities within the African diaspora. Eucleia shares her thoughts on Americans in Portugal. “I think it is good, people should have the right to move wherever they want. Maybe the only thing that I'm not happy with, is the high cost of living for the Portuguese residents influenced by the rise of Americans in Portugal.” 
Sara gives more context about the reality of Americans, or any foreign national arriving in Portugal, will encounter. “What may be challenging for some Americans is to understand that the Portuguese in general think in a very different mindset which is linked to its history of its past colonialism.”
Maura Franciso, a freelance journalist and columnist at A Sentinela in Portugal says she’s encountered several Americans who relocated to Portugal to pursue university studies as they believe it “is a fair price” and “they are motivated to come here despite the language barrier.” Francisco says the American students are flocking to the European nation as they are priced out of an affordable education in the United States.
Djuze Neves is forestry engineer, social activist and Vice President of Batoto Yetu, a non-profit empowering youth via art, culture and dance. Neves is candid about the increase in Americans arriving in Portugal. “ The low cost of living, the good weather, it is a country that has a peaceful, cosmopolitan image outside of the country and in America. In the past 5 to 6 years, it’s changed a lot. It is a more broader, diverse migration of Americans that mingle more with the rest of Portuguese culture and communities.” Neves believes this shift in migration enriches Portugal “in terms of culture, mindset, financial and technical abilities” that many Americans bring with them. 
Alternately, Neves says some Americans are not engaging as much as other communities who speak Portuguese. “Each American community that comes here connects and has different interests. They want to know how to live here.” Neves states some reasons why Portugal is a favorable option for Americans. “The country has a long history of not having revolutions, problems in elections, street safety, environmental safety, and political safety.”

Following Food and a Good Palate in France

Photo: Courtesy of Alyssa Johnson.
Alyssa Johnson, Le Cordon Bleu trained pastry chef. Paris, France.
Alyssa Johnson,  a trained pastry chef, moved to Paris, France to attend Le Cordon Bleu. Johnson is a native of California and identifies as a francophile and shares why Paris is her city of choice. “I knew I wanted to come to Paris. I wanted to finish my culinary training in Paris. It was always my dream to move to Paris. Life was too short to keep putting off this dream. I wanted a life filled with more joy.” On the flip side, Johnson says becoming an immigrant in another country has been “eye opening in the sense that there are so many rights” that she doesn’t have because she is not a French citizen. “It has been difficult, but it also has been so rewarding.” 
One of the many benefits of Johnson’s move to Paris are better quality of life. “Living in a city like Paris, I just feel like everything is accessible to me. I can walk everywhere. That helps my overall wellbeing.” She’s also gained new friendships and competitive culinary work experience at Ritz Paris. “I have met amazing people. And, I was able to work in the kitchen of one of the most luxurious hotels in Paris. My skills in my newfound career of being a pastry chef have improved by leaps and bounds. I have had experiences here that I never would have had, had I not moved here. ” 
Photo: Courtesy of Nikki Wooldrige Pinto.
Nikki Wooldridge-Pinto, Wine and Beer Import and wine consultant. Burgundy, France.
Nikki Wooldridge-Pinto has lived in France’s Burgundy region for many years. She is the owner of Game of Seasons, a wine and beer boutique import and export business. “My first motivation was a job in my field, as a wine broker (négociant) and then eventually as an wine/beer importer exporter. I used to go back and forth between the two continents. After two years I found love and that was my motivation to stay permanently, as a wife.” 
Wooldridge-Pinto, a California native, spent over a decade also working as a flight attendant before eventually settling in France. “My experience in France has been nice. I'm also Black American woman and they don't see me as a threat. I also speak four languages, so it helps that I speak French very well.” When asked how she’s able to build a community, Wooldridge shares that she goes to “farmers markets… the dog park, having apéro with clients and their families.” She doesn’t shy away from putting herself out there. “Introducing myself to neighbors and former colleagues. Frequenting the same restaurants, bars and utilizing social media.”

Creating a Creative Life in England 

Photo: Courtesy of Karl Lydie Jean Baptiste.
Karl-Lydie Jean-Baptiste, Press Officer at Young Vic theatre. London, England.
Karl-Lydie Jean-Baptiste, press officer at Young Vic Theatre in London moved there in 2020. She relocated to London to complete her masters degree in Public Relations. “I graduated in July 2022 from London College of Communication at University of the Arts London.” She was eager to expand her career options outside of the United States. “For anyone who wants to relocate–just do it. Life is too short and that was one of my motivations to move to London. I felt stuck so I unstuck myself and ended up in London.”
The consensus among all the American women who shared their experiences say they have no regrets for leaving the United States. If given the choice to move abroad again they would do it again in a heartbeat. 
It seems a series of events, like the pandemic of 2020, converged to inspire more people to think about living life more fully. And with countries like Portugal actively courting foreign nationals to, not only visit, relocate is part of a long term tourism strategy for the “development of the national economy” according to Tourismo de Portugal. One promotional video produced by the board of tourism features breathtaking views of Portugal’s diverse landscape set to a soundtrack that Hans Zimmer would score and a voiceover by a British man that will leave you feeling all the wanderlust in the world. And just before the screen fades to black a British woman’s voice promises Portugal will always welcome you. And for a moment, that dopamine hit of social media, the idyllic beach towns and verdant aesthetic of discovering what life in Portugal might be like the reels you in.

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