Monday, October 21, 2013

Do It Yourself Expats

Nighttime shot of one of the towers of
The vieux port in La Rochelle
Note: click on the photos to enlarge them. They're photos of the town I live in and are unrelated to the post.

In a very interesting blog post, a man describes how moving to Thailand helped him launch a startup. The short version: by living somewhere that allowed him to keep his monthly expenses down to around $1,000 a month, he was able to have more money to build his business and because he didn't know people there, he was less distracted by his social life.

Here's the interesting bit: he didn't have a work permit. He just sold everything he owned and caught a flight. This is what I call a "DIY (Do It Yourself) Expat". We're going to be seeing more and more of them in the future.


Everyone in La Rochelle
knows where this house is.

There's quite a debate about this post on Hacker News, with at least one individual, who claims to be Thai, asserting that a Thai can get by on $500 a month (though not if you choose to live in Bangkok). The trick is one that expats the world over learn: if you live as if you lived in your home country, you can easily pay a small fortune, particularly if the culture is far different from your own. People sometimes are confused by the high rents and low salaries of many cities, such as Hong Kong, but they forget that the locals can survive there, which means there's more going on than one might think.

A street near our flat.

Since the author of that post arrived on a tourist visa, he couldn't legally stay in Thailand forever, so he had to keep doing what is known as a visa run. This is the practice of a leaving a country for a short time merely so that you can return a get your visa renewed. I actually know of a gentleman who stayed in a Paris for a couple of years doing visa runs, but he found it increasingly difficult and it's not terribly common for Western Europe. It's generally emerging economies that are more tolerant of the practice. Visa runs are fairly common in Southeast Asia and South America.

La Rue sur les Murs, La Rochelle

The author already had an online business and that, of course, is the key for making this work. You generally can't just show up in a new country and (legally) work, but there's nothing stopping a tourist from attending their existing business. So you need an online job. Editor? Software developer? Virtual assistant? Hell, sign up to be a Mechanical Turk and start making money today! (If you go the Mechanical Turk route, check out out this page for the most valuable tasks there). There are many ways to become location-independent. You just need to make it happen.

Rue du Minage, La Rochelle

Oh, and you either want to put most of the things you own in storage, leave them with family or friends, or better yet, learn to live with just 100 things. That way you'll still be able to carry what you need to survive if you're denied re-entry on a visa run. And you'll want to be able to say "yes" to Count von Europe.

The local market setting up in the morning

The world is getting smaller. Opportunities are opening up everywhere, but rather than wait for that opportunity, why not create it? With the increase in telecommuting and the strength of many emerging economies, I fully expect a long-term downward pressure on wages in OECD nations. More and more companies are discovering that they can hire several remote workers for the cost of a single local worker. Not all positions are amenable to this, but this situation isn't going to go away and nows the time to plan for it.