Here’s what we know for sure: the number of U.S. citizens moving abroad has exploded in the last 50 years. Seems that people want to bust out of provinciality in the same way prisoners want to bust out of jail.
- Between 1966 – 1996 the number of Americans living abroad quadrupled, from 70,000 in 1966 to between 3 and 4 million in 1996 (Source: U.S. State Dept.).
- Ten years later, in 2006, estimates were closer to 6 million.
But the word estimate is key here.
When I wrote Living Abroad on Costa Rica, I had the devil of time finding a reliable number for how many Americans made that very livable Central American country their home.
Estimates ranged from 200,000 to almost four times that, but there didn’t seem to be any credible sources with accurate numbers.
It’s just as hard, if not more so, to nail down the number of Americans living abroad in general.
God knows the U.S. government has tried. In 2004 the Census Department did what they called an Overseas Enumeration Test, attempting to count the number of Americans living in Kuwait, Mexico, and France. The program was a dismal failure. In Mexico, for example—where the estimates of American expats ranges from 300,000 (according the the US State Dept.) to over a million (according to groups representing Americans overseas) — only 250 people completed a census form! The response was also weak in France, where 2,600 people filled out a form of an estimated American population of 112,000.
Census official Louis Kincannon admitted that issues of confidentiality and taxation might be at play here. “There are people who have a disinclination to be identified to any government,” Kincannon said.
In other words: Those who want to lose themselves often don’t want to be found.