Europe retains allure despite Ukraine war and energy crisis

Portugal and Spain are among the nations offering “golden visas” that give residency rights based on an initial investment, sums that are well within reach of many middle-class Americans

Madrid, Spain. Photo: Reuters
Madrid, Spain. Photo: Reuters

By Jon Van Housen & Mariella Radaelli

Published: Mon 5 Dec 2022, 9:24 PM

Not long ago, following a torrid summer, scientists were talking about a fundamental shift in habitable Europe: Due to climate change, they said Scandinavian and other northern European nations could become home to those seeking a mild climate.

Oslo and Helsinki might one day replace Rome and Athens as capitals noted for their pleasant weather.

Not yet.

While a shift in habitation might be underway, it more closely conforms to our traditional notions about where to find good weather in Europe. Spain, Portugal, and outlying islands are hosting increasing numbers of European “energy refugees” from the north and east who are fleeing the high costs of winter-heating in their home nations due to soaring prices for natural gas.

They are joined by Americans escaping their own winter of discontent: increasing levels of gun violence and political radicalism.

Though in the northern Atlantic Ocean, Spain’s Canary Islands are only about 100 kilometers off the coast of Africa. Their warm winter weather and welcoming policies are attractive to some Europeans facing huge heating bills who can pull up stakes and leave for the winter.

In response, the Canaries have put up a website extoling the benefits. “Want to work in the best climate in the world without leaving Europe?” it asks. “Yes, you can remote work with sea views, close to lush nature, with an average annual temperature of 23 C.”

And if long-term expats are a way to take the temperature of Europe, Spain is a place to bask in well-being. Its third-largest city Valencia was ranked the best city in the world for expats in 2022 in a poll of members by InterNations, a global community for people who live and work abroad.

Dubai came in second in the survey, while Lisbon ranked fourth and Madrid fifth.

There is also a form of refugee that is relocating to southern Europe from America due to gun violence and political rancor back home – as well as a better bang for the buck.

The number of Americans living in Portugal surged 45 per cent in 2021 from the previous year, according to government statistics. Alejandra Vanoli, managing director of Spanish real estate agency Viva, told the press that the number of US-born residents in Spain rose 13 percent between 2019 and 2021, adding to what was already the largest population of Americans in Europe.

Portugal and Spain are among the nations offering “golden visas” that give residency rights based on an initial investment, sums that are well within reach of many middle-class Americans.

Back in the European Union, solidarity might be the watchword in the face of armed conflict, but when it comes to investment, taxes and tourism it is a matter of self-interest.

Air connections from Austria to Greece have increased to around 20 Greek destinations that are now welcoming flights from the country, according to

A similar campaign was launched by the Portuguese tourist association. Its leader Luis Araujo said data on winter visitors from Northern Europe is now “very positive”.

Ernest Hemingway wrote a memoir entitled A Moveable Feast that among other things describes a golden age for expatriates on the French Rivera in the 1920s when Europe was affordable and the cultures were most welcoming. Today’s feast is made more alluring by visa-free movement among European Union members and the possibility of remote work over the Internet.

And you don’t have to be a well-known author or extreme adventurer to join in.

- Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are international veteran journalists based in Italy

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