How to Make Money Living Abroad (and Start BEFORE You Leave Home) (Episode 137)

Since we both work online from Cuenca Ecuador for companies back in the States, how to make money living abroad is a common topic of conversation with our subscribers and patrons.

While it is possible to earn income from a job in another country, there are other options that may allow you to earn more money working fewer hours. Plus, you can start before you leave home so you minimize your risk of moving abroad and ensure a smooth landing in your new expat destination.

Is Getting a Job Abroad Realistic?

While it is possible to get a job abroad, it may not be the best option, especially in countries like Ecuador. Here’s why.

Local Language Fluency

Local Language

Most businesses require their employees to be fluent in the local language since most of their customers do not speak a foreign language. If you’re not fluent in the local language, it will be very difficult to find a job.

This is especially true in Ecuador where Spanish is the official language. Even though Cuenca has a lot of English speaking locals, most people don’t speak English here and even fewer speak English in other places outside Cuenca.

Spanish fluency is a requirement to get a job at most businesses in Ecuador, as well as in other Spanish speaking countries.

Specialized Skill Set

Doctor

If you have a specialized skill set or education, you may be able to get a job and have a translator supplied for you. For example, Ecuador has a foreign doctor program that encourages doctors to move to Ecuador.

There are also programs to teach a foreign language to students here in Ecuador, but the pay is very low: $4 to $5/hour.

When we were doing research to move abroad, we briefly considered New Zealand and Australia. However, even though we have marketable skill sets for available jobs in those countries, they have age and health requirements for immigrants that we didn’t meet.

You may have a specialized skill set that qualifies you for a job abroad, but the pay may be very low and there may be other factors that prevent you from getting a job in your destination country.

Visa Type

Ecuador Resident Visas

You need a visa type that allows you to work in another country. Some visa types are specifically for work, others allow you to work and others prevent you from working.

We have a Professional Visa in Ecuador, which allows us to work here if we wanted to. Ecuador also has a Volunteer Visa that allows you to work for free, and a Work Visa that must be sponsored by an employer.

It’s our understanding that you’re not allowed to get a job with any of the other visa types. That doesn’t mean you can’t earn income here. It just means you can’t be a legal employee. If we’re wrong about this, please let us know and include a link to your reference info.

Local Income Taxes

Income Tax

If you get a job abroad, you also need to worry about paying income taxes to the country and province where the income is earned. If you earn income online from clients in other parts of the world, you may not owe any local taxes.

In Ecuador, any income we earn from companies back in the States is not taxable here. That not only saves us money, but it saves us the hassle of filing tax returns in Spanish.

Low Pay

Low Pay

In popular expat destinations like Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Belize, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, etc., the local wages are very low. It’s difficult to earn enough money from a job to live even a basic American level lifestyle in many countries.

The minimum wage for a full time job in Ecuador is $394/month. That’s about $2.46/hour. We know people who have jobs here and they make between $5 and $10/hour. Even at $10/hour for a full time job, that’s roughly $1,600/month before taxes. You can live on that here, but you won’t have a lot of discretionary spending money.

See More: Cuenca Ecuador Cost of Living 2019

Stiff Competition

Stiff Competition

Being a foreigner is often a hindrance to finding a job. This is especially true when there is stiff competition for work, which is common in most developing countries.

Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and other countries in this region have a lot of Venezuelan refugees who need work. Ecuador is prioritizing Venezuelan work visas so they can get jobs here and start paying into the social systems they’re using.

Since they already speak fluent Spanish and they’re willing to work for low wages, they are stiff competition to other foreigners looking for the same jobs.

If your dream of becoming an expat hinges on finding a full time job abroad, you need to start thinking about Plan B.

How to Make Money Living Abroad

If finding a job abroad isn’t the best option, then what is? How to make money living abroad without a job might be easier than you think. Here are several options.

Work Remotely

Work Remotely

Working remotely means you convert your day job into a virtual job. This is the most viable option for how to make money living abroad, if your employer will allow it.

Amelia works remotely for a commercial lighting company back in Denver, Colorado. She manages their sales CRM tools, sales incentives and manufacturer visits. She still goes back to Denver about 3 times per year for some facetime, but 100% of her job can be done online.

When we lived in Denver, she worked in the office about 20% of the time and at home the other 80% of the time. When we decided to leave Denver, she told her bosses that she needed to be 100% virtual and thankfully they were ok with that.

Having Amelia’s full American salary while living in a low cost country like Ecuador has allowed us to pay down the debt we racked up from Amelia’s student loan and the lost income following my spine surgeries.

I also work remotely, but my job as a web designer has always been virtual. Most of my income is from my managed web hosting clients back in the States. They pay me a monthly fee to host and maintain their WordPress websites.

Over the past few months as our YouTube Channel has grown and we started earning income from our patrons on Patreon, I’ve stopped taking on new web design clients so I can focus on growing our expat and travel vlogging business. This is our long-term income strategy for how to make money living abroad.

We also know another expat who worked as a medical transcriptionist for a doctor’s office back in the states. She already worked remotely before she became an expat so when she moved to Ecuador, her employer didn’t know she left the country. With modern communication technologies, it’s easy to appear like you’re right next door even when you’re on a different continent.

If your current job can’t be done virtually, you can search for remote jobs on FlexJobs.com.

Do Online Gigs

We live in the virtual age. More and more jobs can be done online from the comfort of your home, wherever your home happens to be. You can make money living abroad as long as you have a reliable internet connection and a few basic skills.

Web & Graphic Design

Web Design

I built my first website back in 1995 while working for Sprint in Kansas City. Since then, I’ve built hundreds of websites for small businesses, as well as some very large business management systems for large corporations and the US government. My entire career has involved web design, software development and the Internet.

However, it’s much more difficult to make a living in this business now than it was 20 years ago. That’s because of the wide availability of virtual workers from low cost countries.

As a web or graphic designer, you’ll be competing with people in countries like India, Pakistan, Russia and China where the cost of living is a fraction of that in the States or Canada.

I used to charge thousands of dollars to build a relatively simple brochureware website. Now I’m lucky to get paid a few hundred dollars, assuming I don’t lose the job to someone in India who will do it for $50.

To be honest, web design is a loss leader these days. It’s a way to get a business onboard with a web hosting, managed web hosting, SEO or social media management monthly subscription service.

My clients have paid me far more in managed hosting fees over the past several years than the original cost of building their website. Once I get a client onboard with managed hosting, they rarely leave and when they do, it’s usually because they decided to kill the website or close the business.

If you’re in the web design business and don’t offer a monthly subscription service, you’re leaving most of your revenue on the table.

If you’ve never done web or graphic design, I don’t recommend starting now unless you live in a low cost country and can live on a small income. It also takes years of experience to become really good and efficient.

Check UpWork.com, Freelancer.com and Fiverr.com for web and graphic design of gigs.

Content Writer

Constant-Content

The web is made of content. Although video and images are extremely popular, the written word still dominates search results and eyeballs. In order to stay relevant, a website needs to produce high quality content on a regular basis. That means companies need writers.

The easiest way to get paid to write is on websites like Constant Content and Fiverr.com. If you’re a good writer with a broad range of experience or the ability to research, you can make a descent living writing content for other companies.

A few years ago, I submitted a couple of business articles to Constant Content, which were subsequently purchased for roughly $80. I spent about 4 hours writing them, so my pay rate was about $20/hour. Not bad.

As an expat, you’ll also have valuable and unique experiences for the readers of International Living and similar media outlets. IL pays up to $350 if they publish one of your articles.

Some people make a full time salary by writing articles for companies and content brokers so this is a viable option for how to make money living abroad, as long as you’re a good writer (editors can be very picky).

Social Media Manager

Social Media Manager

Business social media accounts require constant attention. In order to stay top-of-mind, companies need to post relevant and interesting content to their social feeds throughout the day and week.

A lot of companies, especially small businesses, don’t have the bandwidth to handle this time consuming and tedious workload so they outsource it to social media managers.

If you live on social media and understand how to attract eyeballs with your posts, this may be a viable way to earn income abroad.

Check UpWork.com, Freelancer.com and Fiverr.com for social media manager gigs.

Video and Podcast Transcription/Subtitles

The need for transcription services is a rapidly growing. There are millions of YouTube Channels and Podcasts that need transcriptions, translations, closed captions and subtitles for three main reasons: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the hearing impaired, and foreign language speakers.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO

YouTube uses a pretty sophisticated speech-to-text transcription system, but it’s still not very accurate, especially with foreign sounding names. It rarely understands the names of towns and businesses here in Ecuador when it attempts to generate automated English subtitles for our videos; however, it needs the subtitles to accurately optimize our videos for search results.

That means if the names are spelled wrong or words are inaudible to the non-human transcription system, our videos won’t be as easily discovered in search results. Most large channels and podcasts with meaningful income streams pay humans to transcribe videos so they’re more accurate and more discoverable.

For the Hearing Impaired

Closed Captions

It’s estimated that roughly 5% of views on YouTube are from hearing impaired viewers. That’s a lot of people who won’t be able to watch your YouTube video or listen to your podcast if you don’t have transcriptions.

In addition, research shows that videos with closed captions have 12% more views and 80% more people watch them all the way to the end.

As channels and podcasts continue to grow, the raw numbers associated with these percentages becomes huge. That means transcriptions become increasingly more important with the size of the audience.

Translations for Foreign Language Speakers

Translations

Our VLOG is based in Ecuador, but we primarily target older viewers who live back in the States and are considering retirement abroad and becoming an expat.

We have a very small percentage of Spanish speakers who watch our videos, but as our channel grows, we’re getting more requests for Spanish subtitles.

Unfortunately, foreign language transcription isn’t in our budget right now. That’s because people who speak two or more languages fluently can earn a lot more money providing transcription and translation services.

Rev.com is one of the most popular transcription services. You can signup and start transcribing right now. The website charges $1/video or audio minute for English transcriptions, and $3/minute for Spanish transcriptions.

Our videos are usually around 15 minutes long, and we post 8 to 10 videos per month. That means it would cost us $120/month for English transcriptions and $360/month for Spanish translations. That’s almost $500/month just to transcribe roughly 2 hours of video!

We’re still way too small to afford that, but lots of channels and podcasts aren’t. They have grown to a point where every potential viewing segment matters and they can afford to pay for transcriptions and translations.

If you speak English and another language fluently, you can make a good living transcribing videos and podcasts. Even if English is your only language, you can still earn an income living abroad by transcribing videos and podcasts.

Check out Rev.com, UpWork.com and Fiverr.com for transcription and translation gigs.

Telemarketing & Customer Service

Telemarketing

Several years ago, before we considered becoming expats, I hired a telemarketer based in the Dominican Republic to make cold calls for my web design business. He and his wife were both telemarketers from Southern California, but they couldn’t afford to live there anymore so they became expats working abroad.

They started in Costa Rica, but the 6 months of rain per year was too much for them, so they moved to a beach town in the Dominican Republic. With high speed internet available in most countries now, it’s easy to use Skype or MagicJack to make calls anywhere in the world.

If you have the mental stamina to make cold calls, or the patience to deal with unhappy customers, you can earn an income abroad by doing telemarketing and customer service.

Check FlexJobs.com, UpWork.com and similar virtual job sites for telemarketing and customer service freelance jobs.

Teach English Online

Teach English Online

We know several expats here in Cuenca who earn the majority of their income from teaching English to Chinese kids through websites like VIPKid.com. You can earn between $14 and $22/hour, but there are a few downsides.

For example, you have to commit to a certain number of hours per week and the hours you’ll need to work are either very early in the morning (think 4AM to 8AM) or very late at night (think 10PM to 2AM). I guess that’s what you should expect if you want to teach kids on the other side of the planet.

The main requirement for this method of making money while living abroad is fluency in English. We have a Russian friend who speaks English fluently as a second language and passed the test to teach English online so you don’t need to be a native speaker to do this job.

Start Your Own Business

Start a Business

You may have never considered becoming an entrepreneur, but it’s actually a great option for expats to make money living abroad. That’s because many of the products and services we take for granted back home aren’t readily available in developing countries.

We know lots of expat entrepreneurs here in Cuenca Ecuador. Here’s a list of all the expat businesses that we know about (let us know in the comments if we missed any):

Some of these expat companies are full time businesses with full time income, others are hobby businesses providing supplemental income. It really depends on your skill set and goals as to how much money you can earn from your own business living abroad.

How to Decide What to Do

Make a Decision

Deciding what to do to earn a living abroad is the hardest part, especially if you’ve spent your career working a traditional white or blue collar job back in your home country.

Working online or starting a business may be a completely foreign concept, but there’s a really good chance you can find something that resonates with you. The real question is, how do you decide what to do?

Do What You Already Know

Do What You Know

Do what you already know how to do. This is the most important point I can make. It can be related to your career or a long-term hobby, but the key to earning an income now is to start years ago.

If you don’t know how to touch-type, doing transcription or web design or programming probably isn’t a good option for you. To make a descent living in a typing heavy field, you need to be able to type fast and accurately.

If you’ve never built a web site before, it’s unrealistic to think that you can start earning an income tomorrow by providing web design services. There is a steep learning curve that is masked by user-friendly web design platforms such as WordPress, SquareSpace and Wix.

It’s just not as easy as it looks and your customers will have unrealistic expectations that you’ll need to manage. If you’ve never done it before, you don’t know what you don’t know.

If you’re struggling to find something that will allow you to make money living abroad, start by looking at what you already know how to do and things you already enjoy doing. If you’re qualified to give advice on a topic, you can probably start earning a living from it.

Identify a Demand (NOT a Need)

Dogs

There is a difference between a need and a demand. Your goal is to do something with a demand that has been unrealized or under tapped. There may be a need for a product or service, but if there isn’t demand for it, you won’t be able to earn an income from it.

There is a huge need for neutering services here in Ecuador. However, there is also a cultural bias against removing a male dog’s manlihood. While neutering is growing in volume here, it’s mostly done on a volunteer basis because the locals aren’t willing to pay for it. That’s the difference between a need and a demand.

The list of expat businesses above are primarily successful for two reasons: the founders did what they already knew how to do, and they filled an unmet demand.

Determine If You Have What It Takes

Perseverance

It takes a lot of self discipline to work remotely, get your own gigs or start a business. A lot of people simply don’t have what it takes to be their own boss. They’re easily distracted and lack the motivation to work without someone breathing down their neck.

The easiest way to determine if you have what it takes is to start doing it now while you’re still at home. If you can start earning additional income while you’re still working your day job, that’ll be all the proof you need to know for certain that you have what it takes.

Be Prepared for Hard Work and Slow Progress

Hard Work

If you want to start an expat business or get online gigs, it will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think it will. You need to plan for that.

Patience, determination, consistency and perseverance are required traits for entrepreneurship, regardless of where you start your business. It takes a lot of hard work to start, operate and market a new business. If you build it, no one will come unless you promote the hell out of it.

Avoid Scams

Avoid Scams

There are lots of people selling digital nomad and work remotely snake oil. They will tell you what you want to hear and encourage you to do things at which you’re not likely to succeed.

While doing some research for this video and blog, I found people recommending things like online poker, day trading and bitcoin investing. This isn’t earning an income abroad; this is gambling abroad.

These charlatans tell people who can barely use the Internet that they can learn how to build websites or do search engine optimization. And they’re happy to share their “secrets”…for a fee, of course.

Please don’t give your money to these people or believe what they say. Much of their advice is absurd and will end up costing you more money than you’ll ever make.

Consider Multiple Streams of Income

Multiple Streams of Income

We have income from Amelia’s job, my web design clients and from our VLOG through Patreon.

Several of our friends here in Cuenca teach English online while also teaching yoga and fitness, or writing content for the web.

Even if you have a stable day job back home, it’s always a good idea to have multiple streams of income in case one of them goes away unexpectedly. The same is true if you want to earn an income living abroad.

Study the Local Language

Walking Spanish Lessons

As I mentioned before, speaking the local language is critical if you want to find a job in your new country. However, it’s also important if you want to start a business, too.

In Ecuador, it’s pretty easy to function with just English, but your life will be much easier and your business more successful if you can speak at least a little Spanish.

Start Before You Leave Home

Start Now

You don’t need to wait until you arrive in your new expat home before you start earning income. In fact, it’s best if you start right now so you have time to prove the concept before you need the income.

If you want to earn money online, it’s easy to get started in your spare time. First determine what you want to do and then start doing it.

Don’t get buried in the busy work getting everything just right before your launch. Just start. Signup on a website and apply for a job or gig or start writing. See how it goes. Learn and adapt.

If you want to start a business in your new expat destination, you can get a lot of the research and planning done before you get there. Figure out where you’re going to get the products or how you’re going to supply the services. Create your brand image and write your business plan.

More importantly, start reaching out to other business owners who have already started a business abroad. Ask them questions about the process, requirements, costs and marketing methods that work well where you want to live. You’ll be surprised at how helpful some entrepreneurs are when other aspiring entrepreneurs ask them questions.

If you’re worried about how to earn an income living abroad, the best way to alleviate your concern is to start doing it now. You have lots of options at your fingertips and there are lots of ways to make money living anywhere in the world. The hardest part is getting started.

Hopefully you enjoyed our video and blog post, and if you did, please LIKE, COMMENT and SHARE it, and SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel. ¡Muchas Gracias y Hasta Luego!

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