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Osman Hassan has had enough of the daily grind. At 36 years old, he says he’s cashing out and leaving the Twin Cities to move back to East Africa, where he thinks his modest nest egg will keep him comfortable for a long time—perhaps the rest of his life. The first place he wants to go when he lands in Uganda? The zoo.
After Osman lost his job last month in the IT department at the Mosco Group, a retail solutions firm in Minnetonka, he decided he wouldn’t bother applying for another 9-to-5 job. Instead, Osman cashed out his 401(k) retirement savings, put his house on the market, and tallied up his investments in BlackBerry and other companies. He added to it by skillfully riding the Reddit-fueled stock market short-selling craze. When he totalled it all, he decided that his $80,000 was enough to live someplace warmer that he considers more “culturally vibrant.” He plans to leave later this month, provided he sells his house.
He’s grateful for the opportunity the United States gave him, but says he won’t miss the cost of living. Or the Minnesota snow.
Osman announced his plans to move on Reddit, which quickly accumulated more than 3,000 up-votes. He said he deleted the post because he was tired of responding to individuals commenting: “Take me with you.”
“Farewell Minneapolis and America,” Osman wrote in his post. “I just listed my house for sale. My job is no more and I have enough assets in the stock market and 401(k) to permanently move back to Africa and live comfortably without a job.”
“It’s both sad and happy at the same time. I will miss Minneapolis and the nice people,” Osman continued in his post. “America allowed me to save a lot so I can’t complain.”
Whether or not things turn out the way he planned, Osman is far from the only one who has chosen to trade the life he found in America for a less expensive life abroad. He has friends and family members who have recently moved back to Kenya and Somalia—and they’re enjoying it, he said. In particular, one friend who moved to Kenya in 2013 inspired him. Osman also is following members of previous generations of immigrants from many countries dating back a century or more, who came to America—and then headed home again.
One downside to moving back always has been the threat of political instability elsewhere, a concern that may seem less of a problem considering the rough patch the United States is going through. But just in case, Osman is keeping his U.S. passport. He considers it “highly unlikely” that he’ll return, but if he finds that Uganda, Kenya, or Somalia isn’t safe, he’ll come back to live with his mom in Eagan.
Anisa Haijmumin is the assistant commissioner for immigrant and refugee affairs at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). One of Anisa’s main responsibilities is boosting the economic potential of Minnesota’s new Americans. But she’s noticed that some people feel that their money might be better spent back home in Somalia or Kenya. Stories of Somali immigrants going back home to establish businesses or buy homes are not uncommon in the community, and predate the current turmoil in the United States.
Anisa said some immigrants return to their home countries because they don’t feel like they belong in the United States. Anisa sometimes felt that way herself. After living in Minneapolis for 18 years, she moved back to Somalia in 2014 to serve as minister of women, development and family affairs in the Puntland region.
“Maybe we should ask questions why it is that we feel we don’t belong here,” Anisa said. “It’s not so much about where you were born that’s considered home, but where you make home.”
When Osman and his mother, three brothers, and sister immigrated to the U.S. 30 years ago, they lived in San Diego briefly before relocating to Minnesota. Fifteen years later, Osman became a naturalized citizen.
“America made it happen for me,” Osman commented on his Reddit thread. “I came here in 1991 from war-torn Somalia as a refugee.” Now, he said, he could go back to Somalia and buy a “nice, small mansion.”
After a few security jobs, Osman more recently worked in IT. He had been at Mosco since 2017. He also drives for Uber on the side.
Osman studied IT at Century College in White Bear Lake and Normandale Community College in Bloomington, but he became fascinated with the stock market and decided to teach himself how to invest.
“I handle my own finances right now,” Osman said. “I’ve been studying the market for a while now.”
Osman said he cashed out about $45,000 in retirement savings, to which he’ll add the proceeds from his house in Brooklyn Park and his gains from the stock market short-sale frenzy.
Osman said he’s become frustrated by the rising cost of living. Taxes, housing association fees, electricity, and gas bring his monthly housing cost to about $1,500. But in some African countries, Osman said utilities are included in the sale price.
He plans to live with his girlfriend in Uganda, who rents an apartment that costs the equivalent of $100 per month. The two met while Osman visited Uganda on vacation in 2019.
“I’m not looking for expensive shopping or anything like that,” Osman said. While he said he’s looking forward to moving to a place where the American dollar—which is worth about 3,600 Ugandan shillings—goes far, he’s excited to go to the zoo and generally spend time outdoors.
After a year, they plan to move to Nairobi, where Osman has friends and family who have also moved back from the U.S. Once there, Osman said he might start a small business to keep himself busy.
He’s eyeing a two-bedroom condominium with marble floors, cove lighting, and French windows in Nairobi, Kenya. The condo is currently priced at $60,000, but that’s negotiable, he said. Eventually, Osman wants to move to Somalia and build a house on some land his mother owns. He’s holding off on that for now, because he isn’t sure how safe it is.
Anisa, who lived in Somalia for 3 ½ years, said she faced cultural barriers as a minister and realized that she belonged in Minneapolis. She has noticed some people are attracted to living abroad because of the low cost of living. For example, an immigrant who feels burdened by taxes in the U.S. might want to move to Somalia and work a job that’s tax free. However, that has implications that Anisa urged her community to consider.
“Here, you pay taxes, you work, and you actually have rights that you can fight for,” Anisa said. “In Somalia—you may not.”
The United Nation International Organization for Migration (IOM) provides assisted voluntary return and reintegration programs for migrants across the world. The agency primarily helps people who want to return to their home countries but—unlike Osman—lack the means to do so.
According to a 2019 report, IOM assisted almost 65,000 migrants in 2019, a 2.6 percent increase from 2018. The organization reintegrated the highest number of migrants in the last 15 years in 2016, with more than 98,000 migrants making the trip back to their home countries.
The organization helped more than 7,000 migrants with voluntary returns to East Africa. Those cases made up about 11 percent of their caseload. About 222 clients returned to Somalia, while 67 clients returned to Uganda. The report does not specify how many of these cases originated in the United States.
Data for voluntary returns during the pandemic is still scarce.
On Osman’s Reddit thread, one user commented: “This guy is living the American dream.” Osman responded that he’s moving on to “the African dream” next.
“A lot of friends and family retired back to Kenya or Somalia and many didn’t even have the money I have saved,” Osman wrote. “So I will be in a good position.”
Before the pandemic, Osman said he hadn’t thought about moving to East Africa, but the increasing cost of living did worry him. He just wanted to retire early.
“All I did is live and work,” Osman said in a comment on Reddit. “I didn’t make MN great. But the countless diverse Hmong, African, and other groups all made it great.”
Although affordability is the main issue, Osman said he doesn’t want to retire at 65 and then die a few years later.
But he also pictured himself sitting in a coffee shop with his girlfriend and looking out the window to see people walking around on the busy streets under the warm sun.
“Here, in the summertime that’s also true but,” Osman paused, “it’s more culturally vibrant, less empty.” Osman said he lately felt unsettled by how quiet Minnesota can get, particularly during the winter months of the pandemic.
At least in Uganda, when Osman looks out of the window, he won’t see empty streets.