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Tips on How Expats Can Earn Money Abroad
Very few expats can find professional-level work in their chosen field in their new home unless they have an incredibly unique or sought-after specialty. Most expats who work in professional positions abroad are brought overseas by the US or European countries after working successfully for that company in the US. These companies send these people abroad based on the companies’ needs for specific, specialized expertise. Since this relocation is costly ($100,000 or more per employee) and most foreign governments require that such companies prove that they cannot find locals to fill these spots, very few overseas positions come available for expats without specific skills or experience within a given company.
Most of the jobs available from in-country employers for expats without specialized skills are reserved for people with good English skills. These jobs include English teaching and journalism. Most of these jobs do not pay well, but many expats find these jobs worthwhile anyway.
Thankfully, there are several typical jobs (most of which involve working for other people) that Americans do while abroad such as travel writing, importing/exporting, and hospitality industry jobs. Here is a brief discussion of some of these options:
In a recent survey, Americans reported that their second most common dream job (after being a celebrity) would be as a travel writer.
Travel writing has a lot of benefits: a chance to see the planet, opportunities to stay in some of the finest hotels and eat at gourmet restaurants for free (though increasingly media outlets will not accept stories if you have accepted any type of freebies), plus a lot of personal freedom.
However, it also has many downsides. Most travel writers do not make much money, and it takes time and perseverance to get a story published. (Most budding writers could paper their walls with rejection slips.) Moreover, you must maintain thick skin, and editors sometimes destroy your work, and no one likes to be rejected repeatedly.
That said, many Americans make a living as travel writers. Here are some of the ways they succeed:
- Specialize in a topic or a destination. Pursue a passion or specialized skill while on the road and tell your readers about your adventures. If you love golf or gourmet food, then perhaps you can develop these passions into a slant for your stories (i.e., an article about great golf courses near gourmet restaurants). If you become an expert in a specific topic after a while, editors will start to look for you to cover these niches for their magazine.
- Find a unique angle for a story. No one will accept a story on your trip to Paris since there are more articles written about the City of Lights than any other place on the globe. (For a couple of years, I collected magazine articles on various parts of the world. I ended up with 500 articles on Paris—more than my complete collection of clippings for Latin American and Asia combined.) However, you can find something unusual about Paris (like a list of unusual accommodation options that cost $50 a day or less) that will capture an editor and a reader’s attention.
- If you can take good photos, you will double (triple) your earning capacity. Photos will help you sell your articles, particularly to newspapers and they will help you get some more income as well. Nowadays, it is possible if you know how to compose a good photo to do so with simple photographic equipment. (One of David Luna’s best photos of the Washington monument was taken with a disposable camera.) The single easiest tip for being a good photographer is to take advantage of natural light. In most of the planet the best times to take a photo are in the morning or early evening.
- Work on honing your writing skills. Nowadays most newspaper and magazine editors want stories that “show, don’t tell.” They want to tell a story rather than simply report facts. The best way to develop a delightful story is to concentrate on using exciting, active verbs. Most beginning writers use too many useless (like beautiful and wonderful—what does that mean?) and clichéd adjectives and expressions. (Most travel editors bemoan the use of phrases like “the trade winds caressed the shore.”)
- Take classes and read books about marketing your articles. See my book picks in the below sidebar. Check listings for courses at local travel bookstores, community colleges, online, and at adult education centers. If possible, attend the four-day travel writing conference at the Book Passage (www.bookpassage.com) in August in Corte Madera, California (about 20 miles north of San Francisco).
Nowadays, increasingly American travel writers are basing themselves in other countries. With the advent of instantaneous communication, they can live in a cheaper corner of the planet while they set up their career. Sometimes this also enables them to make a living as the resident travel expert on such and such a location. This can be a plus if you find yourself in a place that becomes trendy (like Argentina today, which is being discovered as a sophisticated bargain destination). It can also help if you want to write a guidebook since large travel publishers are increasingly searching for regional experts rather than generalists to research their guides.
The key to success in importing and exporting is to find the right product. To be successful, you need to find products that are hard to find, expensive, and in demand in the US and your destination.
One of the best ways to find an excellent product is to start looking for unusual things in your destination, bring them home to friends and relatives, and visit local stores to gauge their reactions. After returning to your overseas home, you may also want to go through the same process with goods you bought in the US.
The process of shipping and buying copious quantities of goods can be complicated and do a lot of research before you take the plunge. Travelers often discover that importing/exporting makes a reliable source of additional income on a small scale. Still, it is not worth the hassle on a scale large enough to earn a living exclusively as an importer/exporter.
If you are traveling overseas and anybody tries to sell you something with a promise that you can make good money exporting to the US, run the other way. This is one of the oldest scams in the book.
Check the price of similar goods in the US before buying a lot of stuff to export to the US. Nowadays, many exporters can purchase enormous quantities of goods (from Asia), export the goods, and still make the goods available for not much more than they had cost you to buy at your destination.
Being a successful importer/exporter also requires a lot of understanding of tariff regulations, shipping costs, and other regulations. You can get some idea of the issues involved by taking classes from the federal government on these topics.
Hospitality Industry Jobs
Many travel addicts naturally assume that jobs in the travel industry are the perfect ticket to traveling the globe. Sometimes they are right; sometimes not.
The travel industry is notoriously fickle, and they frequently reduce staff to cut costs. They have become so cutthroat in today’s environment that the pay and benefits are not particularly good. You can still get free and low-cost accommodations if you work in the industry, but these benefits erode over time. Yet, as with anything, if you commit yourself to the industry, work hard, and are creative, you may come out ahead. (An excellent ability to handle details helps too.)
Many of the sources of employment in the industry nowadays for Americans require specialized skills. It is almost impossible, for example, for Americans to make a living off menial jobs on a cruise ship (such as waiters and house cleaners). Eastern European and EMERGING country citizens entirely take these jobs.
However, you can earn a reasonable salary as a performer or a cruise director on a ship. You can also arrange free, or reduced, the passage in exchange for port lectures or serving as a guest host. (Guest hosts dance and talk with single, primarily elderly guests. Most guest hosts are 50-year-old men (though some women) who are skilled dancers and graceful hosts. Most of these jobs are arranged through professional talent agents. From time to time, you can also find decent work with some of the subcontractors of a cruise ship in spas, fitness centers, etc. (Note: Most cruise ships rent space to a variety of companies who provide services to the cruise lines.)
There is a lot of room for creativity in the travel business. Many small niches are looking for creative people. The travel industry is the single largest business on the planet, and it is also sadly one of the least innovative. The company is far too geared toward families earning $100,000 or more (less than 10% of the US). The level of service provided by airlines and some hotels in the US is increasingly poor. The industry does not recognize the two million Americans who have taken advantage of alternative tourism offerings (such as learning vacations, volunteer vacations, home, and hospitality exchanges, etc.).
I am thus reluctant to endorse jobs in the field. However, it is worth exploring. I would encourage you to take classes in the travel industry, through community college (the private schools are sometimes biased). You will learn a lot about the industry and how it works. Even if you do not decide to work in the industry, you will become a better consumer.
The hospitality industry does provide an excellent way to make some extra money while on the road. You can work as a bartender, a ski instructor, or other such hospitality industry job for a short term in many parts of the developed world (US, Canada, Europe, Australia/New Zealand) as a source for extra money. A lot of these jobs do not require a lot of skill (note: many overseas teaching and journalism jobs require a BA, hospitality jobs do not and are easy to get, and while they do not pay well, they are a fantastic way to meet people and help you get money to extend your trip around the world.