“I’m all for sticking everything in storage and moving abroad to cut my expenses, but what I do for a living isn’t portable. What am I going to do for work if I go traveling or move to another country? How do I look for international jobs?”
As the author of A Better Life for Half the Price and the person who moderates the private Facebook group that goes with the Committed package, I get a lot of questions about working overseas and how to make money living abroad. Some questions are from those who are in their golden years and are trying to scrape by on $1,200 a month. Others are 20-somethings trying to become digital nomads who roam the world, with a location independent life.
In between are families, career changers, and restless souls who are unhappy about how boring and routine their life has become. Others are sick of the politics and an unaffordable health care system. They want to get out and move abroad, but they’re worried that their savings won’t last after they quit their current job. So the first question is, “Where are the overseas jobs?”
For most people that’s the wrong question. You’re not going to pull up a job site and find suitable positions in Vietnam or Bulgaria. Especially in English instead of the native language.
It’s also hard for me (or anyone else) to answer the question about how to make a living in another country without having a personal consulting session where we play 20 questions. Everyone has very different skills and abilities, different things they can get paid to produce or do.
Plus some job skills just won’t transfer well, so you have to dig deeper. Writers, computer coders, and graphic designers have an easier time than cops, firemen, and carpenters, for instance. You don’t want to work construction in Mexico when the minimum wage is less than $8 per day. Or get work as a security guard. If you are competing with the local workforce, any cost-of-living decreases are offset by lower wages.
Let’s just say it’s 100 times easier to make money from another location now though than it was when I started traveling pre-internet. You can work from home wherever home happens to be. If this recent pandemic has taught the corporate bosses anything, it’s that a lot more jobs can be done remotely than they thought.
This doesn’t mean your overseas job or business has to be an online one, however. There are plenty of oldies but goodies out there that require a physical presence. Some of them even pay well. This is usually because a local can’t do them though, like teaching English with the proper accent.
During my very first trip around the world, I got certified to teach English as a second language and went on to do that in Turkey, Korea, and even part-time in New York City. It was a great experience and in Korea we saved $30K in a shade over a year—in late 1990s dollars.
Now I make a living completely online from the websites I run and from book royalties. I currently live in Mexico, but nearly all my income is via the USA and Europe. (Plus a smattering of Amazon sales from the likes of Japan and Australia.) Those are two ends of a spectrum in which many possibilities lie.
Physical Jobs in a Foreign Country
The original ways people made money while traveling the world or living abroad still exist. Teaching abroad is still quite popular and ESL teachers are always in high demand. You can get a recognized certification to teach English in about a month and then—if you have a college education too—can get a job teaching almost anywhere in the world.
Wages will vary greatly though. The top spots are generally the Middle East and East Asia, while in some of in the World’s Cheapest Destinations you’ll be lucky to earn enough to cover your bills. Once you have a lot of experience that can improve somewhat: you may be able to snag a university job with a set salary that’s beyond survival level.
The other option that exists now is to teach by Skype. I have friends living in Mexico who are teaching kids in China and Korea. The hours suck because of the time zone difference, but the money is better than teaching locally. These online teaching jobs are a relatively recent development and demand is growing fast.
There are also ever-reliable options like being a scuba diving instructor, tour guide, yacht mate, or ski instructor if you have the right skills or certification. If you search “work abroad jobs” anywhere you’ll see a lot of these. (Along with unpaid volunteer positions, unfortunately.) A large number of real estate agents working in places where foreigners are buying are foreigners themselves.
Many people manage to take what they do now and get a real job in another country. They apply for a transfer with their company or they apply for a new job abroad where they easily qualify. This is especially prevalent with those who work for a major international company or those who have an easily transferable skill/certification in finance, education, sales, or IT.
If your skill revolves around an international language of some kind, that makes it easier. If you write Java script code or build websites, you can do that most anywhere and the skills don’t change much. Same for medicine, lab work, or accounting. The terminology and local laws may change, but not the underlying principles. Many educators move abroad by working in an international school or for the state department.
At the other end are the jobs almost anyone can do: pick fruit, wait tables, tend bar, make coffee, man the hostel desk. It’s hard to go long-term with this though and wages are usually low. Again, the less skill or experience a job requires, the easier it can be done by a low-paid local. Occasionally there are exceptions because of a lack of local English proficiency, but you can’t count on that lasting.
Running a Physical Business to Make Money Living Abroad
I interviewed an American woman recently who just started running a hotel in Cusco, Peru. This is not as daunting as it sounds really. It turns out you don’t have to own a building to own a hotel. You lease the building, put your marketing skills to work, and whatever you earn above expenses (including the rent) is your profit.
There are a lot of situations like this where you can get started with a modest investment. You’ve probably ordered drinks in expat-owned bars, pulled out your laptop in an foreigner-owned coffee shop, and stayed in an inn owned by someone not from that country. There are only a few hundred foreigners in the Mexican city I’m in, but they make all the best baked goods in town and own some of the top restaurants. They roast the best coffee and rent out some of the nicest Airbnb places. As a side hustle I started a Guanajuato walking tours company years back and now it’s one of the top-rated tour companies in town.
Many expats make a job instead of getting a job. Besides the obvious food and beverage options (including breweries), foreigners often own yoga studios, massage therapy businesses, holistic medicine practices, gyms, and surf schools. For those who have a little capital, it’s usually not hard to spot an unfilled need and fill it.
Just have a good advisor or partner who can navigate the local laws. Otherwise it can be a frustrating experience, especially with a physical location and full-time staffers.
Make Money Through Virtual Jobs for Location Independence
Some 74,000 people per month search the term “online part-time jobs” in Google. Often those jobs are right under their nose if they don’t wait for permission to take them. There are hundreds of books, podcasts, and websites out there on how to set yourself up in a business that will generate online income. This can be anything from blogging to offering a software service to selling physical goods via Amazon.
Plus there are thousands of freelance gigs you can do remotely. I have a guest post on this blog from someone who offers courses to get set up to do proofreading and transcription online as a freelancer. If you browse through Upwork or Fiverr, you’re almost sure to see something people are offering that’s related to a current or past job skill of yours. If you are a copywriter, SEO consultant, WordPress expert, or some other kind of problem solver, there’s a good chance you can deliver the goods just as easily from Ecuador or Thailand as you can from your current expensive location.
Even the old reliable job of teaching English abroad has gone virtual as well. This sped up even faster during the pandemic, so there are lots of services that will assign you to students and marketplaces that match teachers with those wanting lessons. If you’re a native English speaker of a language that’s in demand, apply to work at Preply and start browsing for opportunities.
If you have skills and experience, these days there are plenty of full-time remote jobs out there in companies that don’t even have an office. There are some businesses now that have 200 employees or more but 100% of them work remotely. Some of these jobs are listed on regular job boards, but you’re better off looking at a dedicated site like Dynamitejobs.co where those are the only kind listed. These are legit online jobs, looking much like any other job ads, but without the commute. As this post is going up they have 651 open positions–in the middle of a worldwide health crisis even. The numbers will surely go up as the economy recovers.
Then there are all the businesses where you run it yourself online, with no boss to deal with and no middleman to pay. You need to tread carefully and make people earn your trust first before going for shortcuts and easy answers though. Some shysters are glad to sell you a thousand dollar course that only gives you part of what you need–without telling you it will take three years before you’re making real money.
It’s better to follow people for a while and read $20 books before laying out a lot of cash. The ones I have followed on this subject for years are Smart Passive Income, Fizzle.co, and the Tropical MBA. The latter two offer a built-in community you can pay to join with very active message boards. That’ll get you lots of great advice without hiring someone one-on-one.
This free guide from Side Hustle Nation should generate an idea or two : 99 Side Hustle Businesses You Can Start Today. Wouldn’t at least one of them work?
Remember, if you’re moving to one of the cheapest places to live in the world, you probably won’t need the kind of salary you did before. It’s easier to get started, to give things time to build, when you don’t need $2K a month just to pay the rent and utilities. Just make sure you have a travel banking back-up plan and you’ll probably want to open Paypal and Transferwise accounts.
Buying a Job You Can Do From Anywhere
One sure way to make money living abroad is to invest in an online company that’s already generating cash. If I had a batch of savings I was going to use to go traveling the world, I would take half of it and buy an existing website that’s making money.
That way there’s a built-in revenue stream from the start so you’re not depleting your savings month after month as you go. The money comes in while you’re sleeping and if you put just a little effort into it, you can probably increase the earnings.
It’s common for people to sell websites at a pretty low price to earnings ratio, like three years of profit or less. That means even if you don’t improve the earnings in any way, you’ll make your money back in that time or less. Then it’s all profit going forward. Try getting a return like that on Wall Street or even with real estate. Plus you eliminate all that time of building and building, waiting for your blog or business to get indexed well in search and start gaining followers. You’re shaving years of effort off just by putting up some cash.
There are three main website brokerage sites to check into Latona’s, Empire Flippers, and Flippa.com. Something tells me there will be a lot of blogs and websites for sale in the coming months after this current ad revenue decline. You’ll probably find something you care about enough to run for a profit. On Flippa as I write this there are informational sites, job match-up boards, and drop-ship companies for a crazy variety of subjects for a few thousand bucks each. I’m talking sites for flag capes, underwater welding, Italian gourmet food from farmers, wooden toys, t-shirts, personal finance, cornhole games, celebrity gossip, and wellness advice.
Just try to align this method to make money living abroad with something where you have some competence or at least care about it enough to learn. Coming into an drop-shipping business when you know nothing about logistics, e-commerce, or customer service is probably a bad idea. Taking over a niche blog when you’ve never read or written a single article about the subject could be a disaster. The revenue streams from a website can vary widely (advertising, e-commerce sales, commissions, referrals, etc.) so understand what you’re getting into an how volatile it may be.
Hopefully one of these methods to make money living abroad will resonate with you and align with your skills or passions. If you really can’t make any of these things happen to enable a move abroad or long-term travel, then I probably can’t help you. If you just want someone to hand you a job upon arrival, you’re going to be in trouble. If you’re willing to pivot a little and try something different, however, you can find a path to success to make money living abroad. You will probably end up better off than you are right now.
If at least one of them looks possible, especially if your living expenses drop in half, here’s the best guide to moving abroad and extending your runway while you’re taking off.
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