One of the most common excuses that people use for not following their dreams of moving abroad is that they can’t fathom how they could survive financially. Let me tell you,where there is a will, there is a way. Millions of expats around the world, whether they have moved to a cosmopolitan city or a remote island, have figured out how to make it happen. You can too, if you really want to.
One thing is important: keep an open mind. Just because you were an engineer before does not mean you are confined for the rest of your life to only making a living at engineering. I know a past Hollywood film guy who currently designs and prints greeting cards to be sold in kioskosin South America. Myself, I used to be a yoga teacher, and now I write and edit and guide in Patagonia. A past poet friend is now an entrepreneur with a huge language school. A Hospice chaplain I know teaches scuba now. An ex marketing friend runs an after-school non-profit. An ex high school teacher I know now exports wine.
A move might be just what it takes to shed your old ways and take the leap to pursue something that you may have always wanted to do, or maybe whimsy will take over and you will find your way down interesting paths you never could have imagined.
There are several jobs one can do almost anywhere in the world: headhunter, writer, graphic designer, copywriter, marketing consultant, photographer, artist, translator, virtual assistant, English teacher, dancer, website designer, coach, landlord, travel guide or journalist. I know many people who buy art or crafts in their new country at a very low price, supporting the local artisans, and sell the products on Ebay to people all over the world. Use a freelancing site like Elance or Freelancer to find projects that you can do online.
I put the word out through social media, asking for examples of what some expats do to survive financially. Here were some of the responses:
I have been overseas in Latin America forroughly 14 years. I started off as an impoverished tour guide, teacher and freelance journalist. Now, firmly established in Colombia for 7 years I started a hotel 5 years ago (www.lacasaamarillamompos.com) and ran this alongside other jobs. I continue to write as a freelancer and indeed wrote the Michelin Green Guide to Colombia, do translating work and guide from time to time (you can see my writing travel, news and otherwise here: www.richardmccoll.com). They key for me was, finally, to stay put and stop moving from place to place which allowed me to actually set myself up as a serious working individual. – Richard McColl.
We are currently living in Mexico City since September ’12. We lived off of savings and $200 monthly I earned from doing freelance for my last employer in the states. As of Jan 21, I’m working at a call center and making about $8,500 – $9,000 pesos a month, which is higher than the 5k pesos people usually make here. -Kim Claros
I’m constantly living/working abroad. To help finance the habit, I help facilitate the sale of popular – and often luxury – goods that are cheaper in my current location to others around the world. Some examples: Prada handbags, iPads, and Rayban sunglasses. In Asia, those hot items are actually quite expensive in local stores. I’m part of a team that is building a global price comparison website (www.humuch.com). The website is constantly being improved, as we test what works better. But, you can see what we are doing – trying to make pricing more visible to all.- Sarah Abuelona
I run an online tax business for US expat and foreign residents called onlinetaxman.com. That not only allows me to life in Buenos Aires, but it also happens to be the way I meet most of my clients – traveling. I not only love living abroad but also helping people with their unique and complex tax situations. We offer a free consultation and have helped hundreds of people. And of course, I don’t get taxed on 95k of my income. – VicenzoVillamena
It seems everyone always says, “Wow, you live in Mexico, I wish I could do that!” So this is how I live in Guadalajara, Mexico: I started a business, Spanish 2 English Translations, a translating and interpreting company. I work mostly from my computer at my apartment for clients in different parts of Mexico and the United States and can offer very competitive prices due to the fact that the cost of living is lower here. I do interpreting for business travelers also and occasionally interpret at conferences and can say that although it isn’t always easy, I truly love what I do and love living in Mexico! My website is www.spanish2englishtranslations.com. – Jennifer Nielson
I’m in Kingston, Jamaica. Not the most desirable place, but I love it, for sooo many reasons. And because I have a full-time US salary, I live as I would in the US in a modern apartment up town and still maintain things back in the US. I actually work a full time digital marketing job with a US-based company. I negotiated a change in responsibility to meet an unmet need on my team.The only downside was eliminating work travel, but because I work completely from home I can live anywhere.I am currently working on an ebook that outlines what I’ve done. I try to encourage people to not look at a 9 to 5 as a hindrance to your goals. Not everyone has to or wants to quit their job and sell everything to travel and live abroad. In addition to my day job, I also do freelance writing and marketing consulting. I’m building businesses to eventually negate my dependency on any company employing me. – April D. Thomspon, AbsoluteTravelAddict.com
I work for Luxury Branded <http://www.luxurybranded.com/>, a SEO/content marketing company that specialized in luxury. We provide SEO, content creation and marketing for global clients. For supporting myself abroad, my company is based out of Vancouver, so all our business and finances are handled out of there, but I work remotely. I’ve finished school formarketing communications in 2011 and have just started to travel while I work. I just moved to Playa del Carmen and for any other expats or digital nomads wondering, the Internet has been pretty good to me here. Of course cafes, but also most restaurants and bars will let you use their wifi as well. Pay-as-you-go data plans are also really cheap (compared to Canada). I use a new Lenovo Thinkpad that I love for travel because I have an extended battery, it has a non-glare screen which is better in brightlightor sun and it can take abuse. My favourite gadget I’ve brought is the Amped Wireless UA600 USB adapter http://www.ampedwireless.com/products/ua600.html This is vital if I’m stuck somewhere with a weak signal or if I just want to go to a beach club and still use the front beach beds and wifi at the same time.- Simon Gerard
I waitressed and bartended in the US for three months, living with family, saving practically everything so that I could finally move to Argentina. I have enough to live off of for months here now, and in that time it is do or die…I have to find a way to sustain myself before the money runs out or I will be on a plane back to the US. I just arrived last week and am already making connections all over the city. Even though it is scary to not have a set plan yet, it feels much better than being in the US wishing, hoping, and wondering ‘what if’. At least I know I threw myself in the right direction and gave it a go. Had I tried to have every detail figured out before I left, I never would have gotten to the point of actually getting on an airplane. Sometimes it’s important to just leap.– K. Smith
No excuses. There are a million different ways that you could make money abroad if living abroad is something that you really want. The money situation is often used as a crutch to keep people in their bubble of fear so they can think about expat life, but never actually have to leave their comfort zone (which, let’s be honest, can’t be all that comfortable if they are wanting to move abroad so badly…).
I know a lot of people who have started life abroad with no more than a plane ticket and $1000, and who have flourished. I am a single mom of three kids – many in my situation would use that as reason of how they could never be able to move abroad. But really, had I stayed in the states, I would have to work two jobs to keep afloat a lifestyle that I did not even enjoy. In South America, I can make ends meet through freelance jobs, leaving tons of time to raise my kids.
Also, realize that your expenses will not be the same abroad as they are elsewhere. You may find that you can do without a lot of the things that you thought you needed before. Those $5 lattes are great and all, but abroad you may enjoy herbal tea with your neighbor even more. Your kids may not bug you for a Mac computer or Abercrombie clothes if no one else in their class has those items. So when trying to figure out how much money you realistically need to make to get by, realize that some of your incidental expenses may be much less than what you are used to.
Basically, open your mind, get creative, and figure it out. Trust me, there are enough expats out there with less skills and more expenses than you who are making it happen.
What have you managed to do to get by and support your expat lifestyle? Share a comment and show others how it is possible to support yourself financially abroad!