How to Move Abroad and Take Your Job With You
Like many of us over 60 years of age, my wife and I are considering a move abroad. We are considering this because neither of us is yet eligible for Medicare and we are both self-employed. The current health care debate in Washington puts us in a very vulnerable place.
I run a virtual business called Career Pivot where I help those in the 2nd half of life make career transitions. My wife is a massage therapist and would likely retire if we move abroad.
This article originally appeared on FlexJobs.com in August of 2017
I am writing this article to chronicle some of the decision points in what it would take to move my business outside of the United States. If you have a remote job, many of the same issues will apply to your situation.
We are looking at Mexico, Ecuador, and Panama as likely destinations. The common theme is they are in roughly the same time zones as the United States.
I want to address two areas in this post: technology, and transportation.
I have always said if I have a good Internet connection and a cell phone, I can work from anywhere. The first question is what defines a “good” Internet connection. For me it comes down to three factors:
- Can I receive and make phones call?
- Is there sufficient bandwidth for reasonable quality video calls?
- Is it reliable?
Next is the cell phone service. What is the service provided locally, 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE or … Would I be able to function with a U.S. carrier like AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon? Would I need to get a local phone and phone plan from a local carrier?
At the time of the publishing of this article, we have explored San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Cuenca, Ecuador.
In both locations, we stayed at an Airbnb apartment with Wifi provided. I have a U.S. Skype phone number and was able to receive phone calls when I was connected to the Wifi with excellent quality. There are lots of ways to make calls back to the U.S. over the Internet but while traveling I required that all of my U.S. based clients call me.
I was also able to take advantage of DropBox and Google Drive to transfer files to the various vendors I deal with on a regular basis. This includes audio files for my podcasting vendor and various text files for my virtual assistant.
So far, I have not tried to make any video calls. I suspect I would have had sufficient bandwidth sometimes in Mexico but I doubt I would have been able to have a video call while in Ecuador.
As a recovering engineer and a former telecom employee, it was pretty obvious that the technology was 10-15 years behind what we see in the U.S. For those geeks in the audience, it was largely DSL.
Many of the U.S. carriers extend their service to Mexico. It is the data plan that you need to pay extra and it can get expensive. When traveling to Ecuador my AT&T plan was extended to Ecuador for $10/day which for a short trip is okay but for anything longer it gets expensive.
When I was in Mexico, I purchased a one-month 200MB data plan for about $40. I discovered all kinds of tricks to reduce the amount of data I used such that I easily made it through the 7-day trip and did not exceed the limit.
The various expat books I have read say when you are ready to move, get a smartphone in the U.S. and either purchase it unlocked or get the carrier to unlock the phone.
The phone technology and service vary widely. I found in Cuenca, Ecuador I could go block to block and find the technology and carrier could switch.
Today, I can be just about anywhere and conduct my business. If I move abroad I would have to be more careful in scouting out locations with good Internet service and use my smartphone carefully.
The more I research transportation issues it becomes a more vital and topical subject. This is both air transportation to and from the U.S. and local transportation, i.e., is an automobile required?
I have taught in 40 different countries but I have only lived abroad for no more than a couple of weeks twice – and that was in the 1980s was it was West Germany. I have thought about a move abroad for many years but have never acted on it.
For both San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Cuenca, Ecuador your arrival does not end at the airport. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and sport large expat communities. Neither is a short distance from an International airport. It is a 90-120 minute shuttle bus ride from San Miguel to an airport. Both coming and going you really need to arrange ground transportation carefully.
Cuenca has a local airport convenient but all flights to and from the U.S. land in Quito, the capital, and connections between Quito and Cuenca do not synchronize. It is a two-day trip each way because somewhere along the way you have to spend a night either in a hotel or a VIP lounge.
Why is this important? If I needed or wanted to travel to the U.S. for business I would need to add a day on each end of the trip. This can be important if you are pursuing the IRS Foreign Earned Income Exclusion where you pay no income tax if you are out of the U.S. for 330 days in a given year.
I recently had a conversation with an International Living editor about this topic. He had lived in Ecuador for many years but had moved to Ajijic, Mexico because the closest airport had direct flights to San Diego.
Why was this important? His grandchildren lived in San Diego.
Most Americans are addicted to their automobiles. Living in Austin, Texas I have slowly relinquished the need for a car. Last year, I put about 3,500 miles on my car because I work from home and live within 2 miles of most everything I need. I also have Car2Go available most of the time.
Taxis and drivers for hire are plentiful in many of the locations we are exploring. This takes a bit of getting used to but not having to drive in a foreign country is a blessing. Besides not having to pay for car insurance, gasoline, maintenance, tolls, and other things using other forms of transportation can be quite a bit cheaper.
It is the addiction of always having a car that makes it difficult for many Americans.
I had planned on covering finances when you move abroad in the article. If all of your work is accomplished with clients and companies back in the U.S. you can keep all of your monies in U.S. banks and only transfer money to a local bank when required. Ecuador uses the US Dollar as it’s official currency. Besides most of these countries will not allow you to work for a local business or clients without making you jump through a lot of bureaucracy.
The more I learn, the more questions I have.
We have a trip planned to Ajijic, Mexico for the fall and Panama in the Winter. The speed of decision making will largely depend on what our friends in Washington, D.C. decide.
All of the locations we are looking at have excellent hhealthcareat affordable prices. Purchasing health insurance that covers you outside of the U.S. is much more affordable than what we can get in the U.S.
We are ready for an adventure to move abroad. Are you?
To learn more check out the How to Move Abroad and Take Your Job With You Series PageMarc Miller
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Ian Bond says
I moved abroad for work 3 years ago. In addition to the cultural benefits, the cost of living (specifically healthcare) and quality are compelling.
We will settle in Western Europe next year (Portugal) and run our ecommerce businesses from there.
We employ numerous virtual assistants, developers, and marketing professionals that are all connnected via Dropbox, Skype, Slack, and Asana.
Since we’ve beta-tested this, we are extremely confident and excited for my job to end and our business to expand.
Great stuff and good luck Marc!