¨One of the things you learn when you go overseas is how much a lot of the countries overseas really just like to enjoy life.¨
While most people who work abroad are sent on assignments by their employers, many travelers have found intriguing and creative ways to finance their new life abroad through working in another country.
Most countries require foreign workers to demonstrate that they fill a position that native workers cannot fill. Like developing countries Australia and New Zealand, a few welcome workers for short-term assignments like carpentry, agriculture, and bartending.
That said, you can usually not find non-skilled work in another country, particularly in developing (third world) countries. Often these countries have high unemployment rates and tons of unskilled labor.
Probably the best way for an American to make a living is to work as a freelance, telecommuting consultant in their current field for an American employer. This way, you can live in a place where living costs are low while gaining American wages. Many Americans find ways to do this for their current employer, and others work for various clients. Some find that they need to go back to the US to do assignments or drum up new clients.
One of the keys to successfully doing freelance work from a foreign country is to act legally as if you are doing all your work from the US. Yes, you will have to pay and file, US taxes but you will not attract the attention of bureaucrats in your new home. In addition, by keeping a US phone number, your client will feel like they are dealing with a US-based consultant.
Americans are also blessed with many opportunities to earn a living in another country through entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the easiest way for Americans to make a living that will allow us to live an American lifestyle in another country.
While it is almost impossible to tell you what the perfect entrepreneurial path for you in your new home would be, I can help get your creative juices flowing by showing you some of the advantages Americans have in establishing businesses overseas.
Want Some Ideas for Making a Living Overseas?
Many times, when I taught my Big Blue Marble seminars in the 2000s, students had a tough time imagining what type of businesses they could start overseas. I have even had some skeptically tell me that they found it hard to believe that setting up a business overseas was common. Yet, it is. I would say 95% of people I have met who needed to make a living while living overseas (who were not sent there by a US company or government on assignment) developed their own business. The rest found work with other people in some incredibly unique businesses. Here are some of the ways that I encountered Americans making a living in Costa Rica during my three-month stay in Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the Winter of 2008.
- A Massage Therapist who also worked part-time for a call center providing interpretation services for Spanish speaking patients at U.S. hospitals.
- A long-term expat resident who opened her own company making hand-painted dresses for sale at upper end boutiques in Costa Rica mostly in expensive resorts and hotels.
- Another long-term expat who taught economics at the University of Costa Rica for twenty-five years and then opened her own shop selling high quality linens imported from the US and Europe,
- A three-year, Costa Rica resident who made money selling real estate and cell phones to the expat community
- A ten-year resident of Costa Rica who set up a butterfly farm and B&B near Volcan Arenal
- A long-term resident who put together specialized tours of Costa Rica covering everything from fishing to popular places to live in Costa Rica’s Central Valley.
- A sixteen-year-old, bilingual son of a long-term expat who made extra money (about $6 an hour, particularly good for this type of work in Costa Rica) working at an on-line betting company.
- A thirty-year resident of Costa Rica who provided financial advice to the expat community
- An expat who provided high quality pies to Auto Mercado supermarkets. (Her passion fruit pie is the best pie I have ever tasted).
- Our language: English is the closest thing the world has ever had to a universal language. More than 2/3rds of the Earth’s websites and ½ of the publications are in English. (For example, most students abroad who take a medical or scientific course of study have textbooks in English.) If you can teach, write, or speak English fluently, you can find work anywhere.
- Our nationality: We can make a good income providing skills and services to other Fifty-Plus Nomads who live overseas. Fifty-Plus Nomads (particularly those who live in large colonies of fellow Americans) provide a range of services to the compatriots such as real estate, relocation, computer, and medical services. They also set up businesses geared toward their fellow Fifty-Plus Nomads and tourists including hotels and bed & breakfast inns, restaurants, English language publications and bookstores, and other related services.
- The ability to do our work anywhere in the world: Often Americans find that thanks to the advent of the internet and telecommunications, they can work at the same job they had at home from anywhere on Earth. For example, I once worked with a company which had a long-term employee who provided consulting services (she helped local governments plan homeless services) who lived in La Paz, Bolivia.
While I do not know how much she made, she had the best of all worlds. She could live in another country for 1/3-1/2 the cost of the United States, work fewer hours (since the cost of living is less), have the same lifestyle as at home, and make a US-style wage. She lived on $1500 a month (which would provide a good lifestyle in Bolivia, one of the cheapest places on Earth) and earned $50 an hour as a consultant. She could pay for all her expenses by working one day a week (30 hours a month; $50/hr. x 30 hrs. = $1500) and playing the other six days!
- Access to the United States: It used to be easy to make a living exporting goods from the United States to another country when many countries imposed high tariffs on exported goods. However, with globalization, the cost of goods from the US overseas often costs what you would pay at home. This does not mean, however, that you cannot make money importing/exporting. If you are observant, you may find either high demand goods from the US that you cannot buy in another country or conversely something from overseas that would sell well in the US. Just be careful to investigate the market thoroughly. 20 years ago, many entrepreneurial travelers made a fortune selling jeans in Eastern Europe and Russia. Today, jeans in these lands cost about the same as they do in the US. Nonetheless, even 15 years after the fall of communism, you still occasionally read stories of American travelers stuck with pounds of jeans that they cannot sell in Russia!
All you need to make a living overseas is creativity. You may not find it easy to take your current job and translate it onto foreign soil. You need to look at your skills, passions, and interests carefully to determine if they might result in a profitable undertaking on another shore or investigate ways of maintaining your new career from overseas.
That said, I have talked to many Fifty-Plus Nomads who have created the perfect career for themselves on a foreign shore more quickly than they could have if they stayed at home because they are:
- More adventurous and open to innovative ideas abroad than in the US
- Not as tied down (by bureaucracy, family commitments, fears, and the excessive cost of living) as at home.
Supporting Your Wanderlust
One of my favorite people is Barbara Winter (www.barbarawinter.com). Barbara runs a small company that helps people discover the joys of being an entrepreneur. She is also the author of Making a Living Without a Job: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Love and Jumpstart Your Entrepreneurial Spirit. I first met Barbara at a series of seminars she taught at the Learning Annex in San Francisco in 2001. The workshops were (are) called Making a Living Without a Job, Establish Yourself as an Expert, and How to Support Your Wanderlust.
Barbara exudes contagious enthusiasm in her zeal to get ordinary Americans to realize that they have the power to forge a life and a career that engages their passions rather than earns them a living (to her, the word job is a three-letter expletive). She is also a very generous person who has given her time and energy to help me set up my business.
In January 2005, I interviewed her by telephone for this sidebar because she has a lot of creative ideas for financing your way around the world.
Paul: How can you support your wanderlust?
Barbara: In my book, Making a Living Without a Job, I map out six ways to earn money without a job. I think three of these possibilities exist for people who want to travel: personal services, information packaging, and marketing a product or service.
Personal services are easy to transfer anywhere, and they do not cost much to start. All you need to do is look at your current set of skills and passions and find a way to fill a need in the market. One of my favorite stories about someone who used personal services to create a new job overseas happened to a woman I met at one of my seminars. She started a computer business several years ago in the US, specializing in a specific technology. In the US, she found that she had to work hard to keep her business afloat. One day, eight or so years ago, she got an assignment for working in Britain. When she got there, she discovered there was less competition than in the US, and, as a result, she has been able to string together several long-term assignments without working as hard as in the US.
Sometimes an excellent personal service business just combines several of your skills and passions creatively. I once had a man at a seminar in Atlanta tell me about his days as a yacht sitter. He loved to travel and sail, and he realized that many yacht owners kept their boats vacant for most of the year. He established trust with the owners and asked them to live aboard the yachts when they were not occupied. It was not hard for him to string together several yacht sitting experiences since they helped the yacht owners while away and provided him a free place to stay.
Caretaking is an excellent personal service. When I decided a few years ago to take a sabbatical from my business to travel, I found several people who allowed me to take care of their homes while they were gone. I enjoyed spending time in other people’s homes but found that I got territorial about my new home. I felt upset when the owners returned. I learned, though, that I did not need much money to survive. (Paul’s note: Caretaking is so popular that there is a newsletter called the Caretaker’s Gazette (www.caretaker.org) that advertises positions around the globe (in the US) and profiles interesting caretakers. Most of the positions listed required a lot of work—such as taking care of a hotel, farm, or business—however, sometimes they have “low maintenance” positions available.)
Another excellent example of a creative business is Ian Hewitt, author of the book Teaching English as a Foreign Language. He owned a health food company in Australia and found that he had to work so hard that it endangered his health. On a lark, he went to Japan to teach English. Over time, he began to look at websites there and realized that they needed someone to help them write in clear English. I also had a student who traded her English skills for accessible accommodations in Asia. Whenever she got to a new city, she went to a university and announced that she would trade English lessons for accommodations. She never had a tough time finding a position and met a lot of beautiful people.
You do not have to go through a formal program to teach. There are a lot of excellent resources for teachers available from state literacy programs throughout the US. In addition, there are lots of websites with detailed information about teaching in many countries, complete with country-specific lesson plans. I think that some trendy personal services in the US, like personal organizers, may do well in another land where they are just beginning to discover some of these new services.
Paul: What about information packaging?
Barbara: One of the best ways to package information is to give a tour. When I was in Rome, I heard about an American who was a classical scholar who earned $300 a day giving private historic tours of ancient Rome. I have a friend, Jan, who runs a business called Murder Most Cozy that offers small, specialized tours of the sites of famous cozy mystery stories in England. She changes the tour annually and ends up with many of the same guests year after year. She ran a newsletter with the same name until a couple of years ago. A cozy mystery features an amateur sleuth who solves a crime. The crime does not have to be murder. The main attraction to the stories is that the sleuths are usually eccentric.
Paul: I have thought about doing tours, but I am afraid it will be a lot of work.
Barbara: When I started researching for my How to Support Your Wanderlust seminar, I thought the same thing. However, Jan says it is like hosting a slumber party. She has a travel agent make most of the arrangements for the tour, and she prepares the tour itinerary and presentations. I once listened to a story on the Today Show about a man who specializes in taking photos of the sights of Washington DC. At first, I did not think much about it. However, I looked at his website and was surprised at how many exciting ways to capture well-known sights. Seeing all those exposures undoubtedly helped him sell his photo tours.
Paul: Now tell me about marketing services and products.
Barbara: One of the most common ways to market services and products while traveling is importing and exporting. The US Department of Commerce gives extensive, inexpensive seminars detailing what you need to do to export products from the US overseas. It is harder to get helpful information about importing goods from other countries to the US. Whenever you market a service or product, you will be most successful if you find a specific niche.