Loaded question: Where are you from, where are you at, where have you lived and where are you possibly going?
I am from NYC originallyand currently live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I have also lived in Japan, Nepal and Thailand. In Japan I worked as an English teacher, in Nepal as a volunteer, and in Thailand as a pseudo-muaythai boxer.
As any avid traveler/adventurer/explorer will tell you, it’s virtually impossible to know exactly where one is really going. I strongly believe the most important thing to be when traveling (or living abroad) is flexible. Some of the best adventures are the unplanned ones. Who knows where I’ll be in a month, or a year. I’ll hopefully make Buenos Aires my new home for a while, with travel excursions around South America. I have plans to spend NYE in Uruguay, and of course travel within Argentina as much as possible. I’d love to make it to Brasil and Bolivia as well. Oh, and Patagonia, definitely Patagonia.
What prompted you to move from the US?
At the age of 15 I took my very first trip abroad to Israel, and from then on I was bitten with the travel bug. At the age of 17, I took my first solo backpacking trip to Europe and there began my wanderlust lifestyle. I think the US has some really wonderful opportunities, and it is my home, however there is so much more of the world to see and experience that it’s necessary to step out of your comfort zone and explore what this great planet has to offer. There is such beauty in different cultures, languages, and environments that can only be experienced by leaving your home base. I believe any time you travel/live abroad, you take yourself out of your comfort zone. Our regular routines are changed once we step foot on that foreign land and all regularity is thrown out the window. Some embrace that, some fear it. Those who embrace that challenge, or the “unknown”, are most likely to find the greatest things, whether in search of it or not. I live for that feeling, and chase it anytime I can, which is that force that perpetually drives me to leave the States.
What have you gained from living abroad?
It’s difficult to quantify exactly what one gains from living abroad. There’s a world of opportunity out there and it can only be experienced once you step onto new and exciting territories. I’ve learned more about myself and the world in which we live through traveling and living abroad, than I ever could have imagined. I’ve also gained lifelong friendships and memories along the way. I’m able to view things from a new perspective because I have been exposed to so many different types of people and cultures. This perspective on life has been invaluable to my growth and development as a person, and will only continue to grow the longer I live abroad and experience what the world has to offer. There’s a distinct difference between traveling somewhere, and living somewhere. When you travel you only get to see one small piece of the picture on a tourist visa timeframe, however when you live somewhere, you gain a much stronger understanding for the culture, the people and the local way of life. They both have their advantages and difficulties, but I strongly believe the best way to learn about a place is to live there and try to assimilate as much as possible. The personal growth and overall experience is something that stays with you for a lifetime.
How do you support yourself abroad?
Depends on the time and place. When I was a younger traveler I worked my butt off for a year or so, saving all the money I could. While all my friends were spending their earnings on clothing, video games and electronics, I was patiently saving away for my next big trip. I’ve always been a fan of spending my money on memories, rather than material goods. During college, I bartended for 3 years to pay for my 3 month backpacking trip to Europe. Then as I got older (and wiser), I learned the art of working abroad. When I was living in Japan I was working as an English teacher, and now while living in Buenos Aires, I’m working remotely as the Director of Operations for a mobile app development company. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between a sense of freedom and sense of restriction while working abroad.
And…now may be a good time to let readers know that your employer actually thinks you live WHERE?
Living with my grandmother in Florida (haha).
I don’t feel comfortable bending the truth (ok, let’s be real, “lying”). However, I knew my company would never approve my proposal to work remotely if they knew I was doing so in South America. I figured it would be easier for them to approve my remote request if it was something as innocent as living with my grandmother in Florida. What’s most important is getting the job done and doing so with the same (or better) quality as I did when I was working in NY. My work ethic and performance has not been affected by living here, so I don’t think location is necessarily an important factor. However, a good wifi connection is.
How does that arrangement work? How do you get paid and handle your bank accounts from abroad?
My employer direct deposits my salary into my US bank account. When I originally moved down here I was advised by many people to bring as much cash as possible. As an avid and experienced traveler, that’s one of the first things one shouldn’t do. However, given the market rate fluctuation (between real market and blue market exchange rate) it really does make sense to bring as much cash down here as possible (ie: exchange rate of 4.75 vs 6.3). I came with a few thousand US dollars to last me a while, then I will either have friends bring me down some cash when they visit, or go through the Zoom service. Zoom is a company in Buenos Aires that essentially transfers your US dollars to Argentine pesos at a much better rate than the banks, of course taking a fee. Even with the fee, it is a substantially higher rate than the banks.
What is your advice for someone who wants to work in a more mobile way? How should they approach their employer?
Well, I suppose the hypocrite in me recommends being honest, that’s always the best policy. That is, unless honesty will provide a rejection to your request…in which case, bend the truth and cover your tracks. With the ease of globalization these days it’s quite simple to work anywhere in the world, as long as you have a strong internet connection and a phone. Here are a few tips when proposing to work remotely:
- Make it worth your employers while: Offer to adjust your work hours to accommodate to their preference. I did this when asking to work remotely. My boss is a morning person, I am not. In NY my hours were generally 9:30-6:00, but my boss always arrived around 8am, and preferred I did too. When proposing to work remotely we negotiated a time more convenient to him and I was able to oblige (mainly because we’re ahead 2 extra hours here, haha).
- Switch your health insurance for a global plan, its usually MUCH cheaper and will save your employer a ton of money, thus making it more desirable for them to approve your move abroad.
- Change your domestic cell phone plan to a google voice/skype/magic jack international phone plan, and offer to pay/split the costs. These plans are usually super cheap (approximately $10-20/month) and will most likely be cheaper than your current cell phone plan. Thus once again,you are actually saving your employer money.
- Offer to do a “trial-run” to ensure your performance is not negatively affected by your move. Chances are it won’t be, and they’ll allow you to stay (that is, if you can manage working/living/enjoying life in a new city).
- Before you bring it up to your employer, think about all the possible reasons they would reject your proposal. Create a plan to rebut each negative factor with a positive (focus on saving money, and your improved work performance/wellbeing).
- Lastly, if you’ve decided to go rouge (like I did) cover your tracks- buy a skype/google voice/magic jack number with the area code you’re supposed to be located in. Also, if you really want to be stealth, purchase an IP proxy server membership. I used hidemyass.com, for $11/month, all of my IP addressing is through various Florida servers. Don’t forget to change your outlook time zones to reflect that of the time zone you’re supposed to be in. This nearly blew my cover.
- Look into co-working spaces for more reliable internet connections, and office-like environments. They’re becoming more and more prevalent across the globe. It’s a wonderful way to meet people, create potential collaborative relationships, and put yourself in a more conducive office environment. Membership varies based on your privacy preference, but in general they’re pretty affordable work spaces. In Buenos Aires, I highly recommend Areatres (www.areatresworkplace.com). They’ve got a great vibe, host wonderful events, and provide top quality internet and phone connection.
What should employers do if they get a no? (Because of course they should not accept a no so easily, especially not the first one!)
Ask your employer to specifically outline their trepidation associated with your request to work remotely, then work your butt off in the coming months to earn that trust and combat each of their initial points. After you’ve proven yourself, go back to them in a few months and request once again. They’ll see you’re dedicated and hopefully will approve your second (or third) attempt.
Which positions, in which industries, do you think could realistically be handled just as well from abroad as they could from an office in the US?
Luckily, we’re living in a world accepting and promoting of globalization. It’s quite easy to communicate, work and succeed through the use of the internet, as well as the availability of e-interactions. Most tech-centric and/or digital industries have positions that require most of their employee’s time to be spent online, communicating via email or phone. Person to person interaction has been enabled digitally, where we can easily get to e-know someone without losing the essence of that personal interaction. If your goal is to be able to work remotely/globally I would focus on the start-up industries, where the workplace is much more flexible and online based, or on the other side, you can look for positions with multi-national corporationsand ask to be transferred to a global office.
What are the challenges of having your work be so mobile?
In Buenos Aires it would definitely be the spotty Wi-Fi. Everything I do here is reliant on Wi-Fi, whether it’s running meetings, returning emails, planning operations or hosting phone conversations. When the Wi-Fi goes out, so does my productivity and work flow. Then again, many public places have available Wi-Fi, and unlike the States they’re not rushing you out after you finish your coffee/meal, so you’re able to spend hours at a café or restaurant without any problem. Whenever I’ve had internet issues in my apartment, Ijust find a nearby café and work from there for a few hours.
Where is the oddest place that you have found yourself getting your work done?
In the bathroom of a café. Not the most professional or hygienic place to conduct business, however it was certainly the most quiet at the time.
So…any plans to tell your employer that you are actually in Buenos Aires?
I’d like to, the additional stress and pressure of hiding my location is impeding on my experience living abroad. Although it’s funny and entertaining to share my story, I am a terrible liar and ultimately fear being caught and losing my job. It’s a risk I was willing to take to come down here, and a risk I’m willing to accept responsibility for.I told my employers I plan on “taking a holiday” to Buenos Aires next month, so I may “request” to stay here andlegitimately work remotely. My apprehension with that is their ability to say no, in which case it’ll blow my whole rouse, and could wind up doing more damage than good. Then again, I can always take my own advice from the 8th interview question.
Tell us a little about what you love about Buenos Aires so far…
Hands down, the people! The relationships formed here are so effortless and easy, but real and substantial. I absolutely love how everyone greets with a kiss or a hug, even if you’ve never met before. There’s a certain bond that is established within the first few minutes in any social setting here. It’s so easy to make friends, which is definitely a factor I appreciate as a solo female traveler. I came to Buenos Aires knowing no one, and within a few weeks I have already established a strong and diverse network of friends. I appreciate everyone’s warmth and openness to add new friends into their social circle.
How can we connect with you?
If anyone is interested in connecting, whether for advice, collaborations, travel buddies, or just a new friend, please connect with me anytime- firstname.lastname@example.org, @wanderleese, www.facebook.com/lisa.besserman