Updated: Mar 30
First thing I need to say is International Living mag is an okay place to start if you have zero international contacts and below average research and communication skills. Otherwise save your $50 for coffee on the beach.
Honestly, I've never seen more fluff in my life. It's actually painful to read article after article about absolutely nothing in this publication that is supposed to be a resource. If anything, each article just leads you to a "special offer". I have to use the term magazine loosely, it's more like one big infomercial. Depending on the day and how full my schedule is, I can offer some pretty colourful words when my inbox is bombarded with "postcard" after "postcard" with flowery tales of how Bob and Mary have found independence and freedom from their 9-5's and now live happily on a beach, sipping wine all day with the other expats in their lovely seaside village or how Ben gets paid to dine in restaurants around the world. Like just stop it already. Okay, yes some people do make a living selling travel photos online or writing for (real) travel magazines but the way IL makes it sound like these things happen overnight for people with no knowledge of the industry and no prior experience is absolute bullocks. Granted, they will add later in the article that you do need to familiarize yourself with industry protocol, do some free work before you get paid and try to make some connections. Well there's the reality, hidden under a steaming pile of bullshit. The truth is, it's not as easy as they purport to become a well paid writer or photographer. What they don't tell you is that you will typically get paid in cents not dollars for that awesome palm tree shot IF it's even accepted by a stock agency. Yes, technically you can create passive income this way but be aware it may take years before you're selling the volume required to live on those earnings... even in Southeast Asia. And travel writing? That's fine if you can churn out quality work rapidly because the last time I checked, like with a real website that pays for articles, the going rate for submissions was around $10 and maybe $50-$100 for a good quality feature piece. So could you technically write articles from some exotic locale, yes but could you realistically write enough of them in the "few hours a week" that International Living gushes about to actually buy food? I suppose that depends on how exotic your location is (read: how good the internet connection is), how bright the glare from the sun is on your screen and how badly you'd rather be napping in your hammock, Belikin in hand than writing articles. Take it from someone who has lived and worked abroad, the answer is most likely not.
The reality for me anyway, was that paradise tends to offer really shitty (and expensive) internet. You won't hear that mentioned once in an International Living article. Although infrastructure is improving, I paid $400 USD/month for a sad download speed of 4 GBPS in San Pedro, Belize a few years ago. A location that IL magazine has often purported to be an idyllic paradise for digital nomads. Umm, no. In order to actively work you need decent internet. Even today, in remote places you will not find decent internet and what you do find will sometimes be outrageously expensive. Please keep that in mind when planning your escape.
They also mention working as an online researcher/fact checker. I guess if you want to be at the bottom of the food chain, it's an option. I just feel like it would be hard living in paradise, tethered to your computer or smartphone when you'd rather be frolicking in the surf with your kids. Been there.
Another sugar coated example they give of an expat earning online is that of a remote English teacher. Legit job? Yes if you have a university or teaching degree. Definitely. Otherwise is working 10 hours/day to earn $2000/month really living the dream? Not for me. Actually, at this point in my life I am unable to commit to any set hours of work due to injuries/health priorities. Because of this, I have to be even more selective about how I would choose to fund my expat or travel lifestyle.
With that said I'm sure you're thinking "Okay then wise guy, how would you do it?" Don't get me wrong, you could technically do any of the things suggested above. Sure they work out for a small percentage but odds are you would end up choking on all that fluff about how living a luxury lifestyle via travel writing, photography or online teaching takes so little of your time. My disappointment with IL is also not with the tips and ideas they present rather it's more about how deceivingly it is written. For every sentence containing useful information, I have to wade through 25 redundant ones. Oh and of course the ever present, deeply discounted, limited time only "how-to" class. It's really, really annoying for someone with very little time. As my mother's husband always says "STATE YOUR BUSINESS!" In all honesty I usually end up deleting their emails before I get to anything juicy just out of frustration.
So, enough fluff from me. Without further adieu, here are my thoughts on how to realistically move abroad or travel the world.
"Attention has become the most valuable currency in the media world." ~ Fortune magazine
Something IL has not spoken much about, probably because it's more popular with the 20 and 30 somethings and not the retirees is social media influence. Many bloggers, YouTubers and Instagram users are earning big bucks for endorsing products, properties, tours, etc. You name it, if you can sell it, they're earning from it. That's on top of their press trips which can range from free activities to fully paid International trips in exchange for a spotlight piece on the influencer's various platforms.
What would you need to make this a reality? A solid social media presence with an engaging community. How do you achieve this? There are many social media resources out there to learn from and even management companies who will do the legwork for you.
We're not all cut out to be influencers so what else can we do to earn from abroad? Well, the one positive to come from Covid is the world's ability to see the value in working just about any job remotely. It's not only allowed at most companies in our post covid world but a requirement for some. There is a strong likelihood that you could transition your current position to an online gig. This is what I did as an expat, I worked in finance so my laptop and computer were my office. Half the time my employer didn't even know or ask where I was. This is very doable for jobs in finance, sales, consulting, insurance, customer service, tech etc. If you don't currently have a job that could be done remotely, there are some great job bank sites if you're up for a new one. My favourite is Remote Woman. (They are a female friendly resource but anyone can apply.) They have an extensive list of legitimate job postings in sales, management and support for some well known companies. If you don't see anything that blows your skirt up, you can always take your skills and fly solo. Outsourcing websites like Fiverr etc. are full of legit opportunities but they don't pay the best. I would suggest building your business through your existing network and keep with rates you're accustomed to.
Hmm, what else? I can't speak from experience on this one but I'm seeing a lot of digital nomads working for direct sales companies. Definitely something to explore. There's a huge rise in online shopping since Covid so it's no surprise that my friends with Amazon stores are killing it right now. Online courses are very popular these days as well. Do you have a good amount of knowledge on a certain subject? Monetize it by creating a course. You can either take an active role in teaching or set it all up digitally for download to generate passive income. There are many course templates to choose from out there. On the subject of photography, contrary to what IL will advise, I would steer clear of stock photography and if you have some skills, instead offer your services locally. You'll earn far more from a wedding or family photo shoot on the beach than you will selling stock photos for pennies. Just check the rules around working where you are and make sure you apply for any applicable permits etc. You could do any one of these things and earn remotely but why not do two, or three? Having multiple income streams is a common thing. It's crazy how quickly the revenue from digital assets and affiliate sales etc.can add up.
We can't leave out the amazing world of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. As an investor I've made more this year in that space than I've ever made in a year of working any job. As governments print more money to temporarily keep the ship from sinking, the reality is, fiat currency loses value by the minute. Savvy investors and big corporations are buying cryptos in record numbers. They know the once extremely volatile space is stabilizing and that Bitcoin is digital gold. What they don't yet know is that privacy coins like Monero are what Bitcoin was intended to be. I can't wait for the day they realize that one. To learn more, check out my post on cryptos.
Whether you choose to consult remotely or sell vitamins from the beach, the goal is to create more free time to explore your new surroundings and then relax afterwards. Keep that in mind when you're designing your remote work plan. Things will also evolve after you move. They always do. New opportunities will arise and those you thought would be the winners will fall by the wayside. It's just the way life works. Especially if you are craving a life abroad you'll have to go with the flow... or as they say in Sweden "Ta det som det kommer."