Everyone wishes that they could open their own business wherever in the world they choose…but nobody actually does it… Do they? Well, the short answer is…Yes, they do. And we’ve met them.
We know expats who run their own B&B in Mexico...opened a bagel café in Panama... started a tour business in Chile...operate a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. The fact is, being your own boss will provide you with the flexibility to work the hours you prefer and pick a schedule that best fits your lifestyle and priorities. So take that leap and open that business of your dreams in an overseas location of your choice.
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Stephanie Gough can hardly believe how quickly the five years has gone since she moved, with her family, to Costa Rica. “It’s kind of crazy that it’s been that long,” says Stephanie, who lives in the bustling beach town of Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast.
On my first trip to Granada, Nicaragua several years ago, I stopped in a small bookshop in the historic colonial quarter, just a few blocks from the main square. It was evident the owner—an expat from California—was a lover of literature. Classics…science fiction…travelogues…histories…and more lined the shelves. As I chatted to him, it emerged that he got started when he was just passing through Granada and, looking to make a bit of extra travel money…he laid books out on a blanket on the street to sell.
After a long career in the restaurant industry in New York and New Jersey, Anthony Chalas was ready for a change. He wanted his own place, where he could fulfill his vision of a seaside restaurant serving Greek food. And he found it on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, in the sleepy fishing village and expat haven of Puerto Morelos. His restaurant, La Sirena, sits on the town square, just across the street from a white-sand beach. Set on the second floor, it allows diners to see the vivid blue sea from the eatery’s open-air deck
“I brew beer for a living. How bad can it be?” asks Dave O’Keeffe of the Boquete Brewing Company in Panama. Dave is originally from San Diego and previously worked as an ER nurse in Oregon. “When I decided I wanted to open my own business brewing beer I started looking overseas,” he says. “The market in Oregon is already saturated but here in Panama it’s just getting started. The annual Brew Fest celebration in Panama City gets bigger every year.”
It wasn’t until Tina Frewer suffered a serious health issue that she discovered how good the medical care was in Mérida, a city of nearly one million people on the western side of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. After receiving excellent care at Star Médica, one of two top-rated hospitals in Mérida, and attention from the area’s top specialists, Tina was inspired. Why not help medical tourists who come to Mexico for low-cost, high-quality surgeries and dental care navigate the city and the system? As a patient advocate/medical tourism concierge, Tina now connects expat patients with doctors and healthcare facilities through her business, HealthItinerary.
We enjoy the beach when we have time,” says Joseph Ader of his new life on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. “I love what I do. And I love the climate here. It’s very similar to Florida, which is one of the biggest producers of ﬁsh for food and the hobby trade. That’s one of the reasons it’s such a good business here.” As a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, Joseph helped his grandmother with her tropical ﬁsh aquariums, not realizing he was setting himself up for his future career.
The global rise in demand for craft beer from microbreweries has given birth to thousands of small businesses—brewing, serving, and distributing. In a backlash against mass production, the world wants its beer made in small quantities with great care. It has become a business where manufacturer and consumer are chasing discerning production…and the small operator has a great chance of succeeding.
Every morning Barbara Wastart rises to another glorious tranquil day, surrounded by fruit trees, coconut palms, and exotic tropical birds. As she looks out from her hilltop home, she takes in the spectacular view of the turquoise Caribbean bay below. A fleet of kayaks, and a pontoon boat, are tied to her private dock. A quick paddle through the mangrove forest and she can tie up to a private buoy near the barrier reef, and snorkel in the crystal clear waters abundant with fish, rays, and coral.
Before moving to Belize, Polly Alford lived a cushy life in southeastern England. She had a lucrative job with an IBM partner company, drove a convertible Volvo, owned a comfortable home, and vacationed several times a year. But she wasn’t content…Whenever Polly returned home from an exotic diving vacation, she wondered what it would be like to live a different lifestyle…in an exotic location…where she could indulge her favorite passion, scuba diving. So in October 2003 she gave in to that yearning.
With its great windsurfing and stunning beaches, the town of Cabarete, on the Dominican Republic’s north coast, draws thousands of visitors each year. Its sand, sun, and surf were what first enticed expat Peter Orr to this part of the Caribbean. And today they bring a regular stream of customers to his business—a beachside hotel. “While working in Barbados in the early 80s, I got to experience the Caribbean lifestyle and windsurfing. I formed a dream of buying a little hotel on a Caribbean island when I was done working for someone else,” says Peter. More than 20 years later, Peter did exactly that.
They say the best way to make a living—if you can—is to monetize your hobby. Sometimes that can be easier said than done. But if you can do it, it can lead to a far more enjoyable and fulfilling vocation. This has been the case for me in the Ecuadorian mountain city of Cuenca. Its beautiful colonial architecture and friendly, colorful locals have enabled me to supplement my retirement income through photography.
Retiring to Lake Arenal in Costa Rica almost four years ago was one of the best decisions my wife Beaty and I ever made. We lived in the little East Texas town of Crockett and the kids were all graduated from college. After practicing dentistry for 38 years, I was hitting the point where I was ready to get out. Beaty had already retired from her physician’s assistant job.
Sunday morning, San Miguel de Allende. From a dead sleep, the cacophony of clapping, singing, and unusual musical instruments wakes me out of a deep sleep… “It’s really close!” I think to myself. I amble down the stairs in the direction of the sounds, they get louder, in fact they seem to be just outside my front door. I had arrived home the night before, after a long week of both business and fun, into a thunderstorm-ish airport.
One of the things I love most about traveling is that it can be a metaphor for other parts of our life. Outside of familiar surroundings, we are apt to be more alert, more conscious. In such situations we frequently gain new skills—like learning how we respond to unexpected delays and distractions. It was a discovery I made after spending 10 days with my siblings in Lucca, Italy. I planned to take a train to Venice, spend a bonus afternoon in my favorite city, and fly home the next day.
Coming from Tyler, Texas, Harold and Lisa Beasley brought more than clothes and household items when they moved to the village of Atenas, in Costa Rica’s Central Valley region. They also brought with them a touch of Southern hospitality. That and home-style cooking is on offer at Kay’s Gringo Postres, a restaurant with a long history in the expat community, which they bought from its original expat owners.
The Honduran island of Roatán has a lot of things going for it: low cost of living, a laidback island lifestyle, sun, sand and, of course, sea. The island has over 95 miles of coastline fronting the rich, warm waters of the Caribbean making it a scuba diving Mecca. This is a fact that expat business partners Gary Carlson and John Hart have been able to take full advantage of with their diving shop, West End Divers.
Tim Leffel and his family live among the cobblestone avenues, pastel-colored colonial buildings, and leafy plazas of Guanajuato, one of Mexico’s prettiest towns. “I really love the pace of life, the emphasis on family and fun rather than wearing ‘busy-ness’ as a badge of honor,” he says. “Since Mexican cities are geared to pedestrians and people are always out and about on foot, we don’t need a car and all the related expenses. Since healthcare costs are reasonable, there’s no fear of a doctor’s visit costing more than a car payment either.”
It’s almost lunchtime, which means it’s time for the work to end and play to begin. The beach awaits and the dive boat will be heading out soon, leaving just enough time to shut down the laptop and mosey into town. Such is a typical day in Roatan, Honduras, for expat Rika Purdy. Originally from Vancouver, Rika worked as a paralegal for years, obeying the clock, and working to make other people rich. But she came to realize there were new opportunities for earning online which could release her.
A decade ago, I had no idea this type of freedom was possible… I thought I’d spend the rest of my career working for an employer, getting 3% raises each year, hoping for a tiny holiday bonus. I thought I’d be chained to a single location, traveling only during my vacation days. But thanks to the power of the internet, which creates the opportunity to embrace location-independent jobs like blogging, I’m now able to go anywhere I want, anytime I want, for as long as I want.
I don’t like any weather that requires a jacket. My solution is to escape to warmer climates. This past fall and winter, I spent more than three months living in Italy and Spain. Last year I spent almost two months in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. I spent my weekends exploring Cinque Terre and small Tuscan towns like Siena, Lucca, and Cortona. I enjoyed soaking up the Italian history and culture by wandering through cobbled streets, climbing up old towers, and eating more pizzas than I can count.
Ryan Bickle, 33, was exploring the hills around the town of Montezuma in Costa Rica 10 years ago…and it changed the direction of his life. Montezuma is a fishing village turned bohemian hangout on the tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific in the north of the country. There is no large-scale development, no big hotels, no chain restaurants. It’s a simple place, quiet, with a laidback lifestyle that attracts expats seeking a home without resorts or the crowds that come with that level of development.
Start a blog this week—take a couple of days to really set it up right—and it could earn you a full-time income from anywhere in the world you want to be. Sound far-fetched? I’m not surprised. After all, as recently as the year 2000, “blog” wasn’t even a word. But fast forward to today and Forbes cites a woman receiving $5,000 to blog about an iPhone application for seven days…another who earns twice as much as her husband’s annual salary…and another taking all-expenses-paid vacations to Hawaii, Aruba, and Florida.
Bruce Walker has a simple life. Most days you can see him riding along the golden-sand beaches and jungle paths of Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast…with guests in tow. He has lived in Playa Chiquita, a small beach community for the past four years and his Playa Chiquita Riding Adventures is one of the most popular activities for visitors to this area, which is untouched by major development or tourism. No big resorts, no big towns. It’s a rural area full of nature. Rain forest borders a turquoise ocean.
Exactly one year ago, I was sitting on my couch in snowy Cleveland. At that time, I hadn’t left Northern Ohio for more than three weeks at a time. I was spending my time watching International House Hunter shows and researching on every travel blog and forum I could…trying to find out if living in Central America was a realistic dream for my husband, Dave, and I.
When the cold New York winters got too much for Nino Marzano and Maria Postell, they started thinking about turning their favorite vacation spot into their new home. And, in 2011, they made the transition—letting go of the stress and the cold to live full-time in one of the Dominican Republic’s premier vacation and expat hotspots: Punta Cana-Bávaro. With its white-sand beaches, reef-protected crystal waters, coconut palms, and resort infrastructure, it was the perfect antidote to New York.
Ecuador, a place I often travel to, is a land of rainforests, breathtaking river gorges, and volcanic hot springs, where you can be pampered by affordable spa treatments or simply enjoy the beautiful landscapes. I’m still amazed at how much my life has changed over the last 10 years since I discovered how to fund my travels and spend more time in Ecuador. I feel so fortunate to have had the experiences. And to make it even better, these were business trips. I made far more money than I spent. The priceless memories cost me nothing.
Being self-employed in Costa Rica means Charlotte Viehauser can choose her own hours and spend plenty of time with her family. “Because I’ve chosen to raise my boys in Costa Rica instead of the States, I can have so much more time with them. I make my own schedule, so I can work during their school hours. In our free time, we like to get together with the other American families, play soccer, and travel within the country when we have the chance.”
Joseph Mucaria fell in love with Costa Rica on a short visit. “I was only supposed to come for three months and then return to the States, but I fell in love with the culture and the environment, plus I always wanted to learn another language,” he says. That was 12 years ago. Now, he lives in an ocean-view condo just 45 minutes away from the city of Liberia.
Ryan Gast couldn’t be happier. “At 30 years old, I found a way to semi-retire,” he says. “I’m healthier, happier, and surfing better than ever. I make enough to live here. I live a simpler lifestyle. I work. I surf. I go home. And that’s exactly what I wanted. I love being around like-minded people. I’m where I’m supposed to be.” A typical day sees him sitting in front of his small surf shop. Friends riding by on bikes shout greetings…customers pop by regularly to ask about renting a board or taking surfing lessons…the vibe of this little community has a soothing effect.
I’m a real sucker for pastries. I can’t resist the melt-in-the mouth, flaky pastry of a fresh croissant or better still, a pain au chocolat with its bonus hit of dark, sweet goodness in the center. Of course, eating baked goods prepared by a top patisserie chef while sitting in a glittering salon—and knowing that this is just one stop on a three-day gastronomic odyssey—makes it taste all the more delicious.
People come from all over the world to enjoy life among the paradise islands of Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast of Panama. They come for the surfing…for the deserted islands…and for the turquoise sea. Justine and Jeff Catalano also came for the sense of community. “Our favorite thing about living in Bocas is […]
I was recently chatting with friends back in Canada who were trying to shrug off the last remnants of a long, snowy winter…while I was relaxing on my ninth-floor balcony soaking up the Chiang Mai sunshine. I don’t have to wait until spring to feel it…it’s hot here pretty much year-round. My wife, Nancy, and I retired to Thailand a couple of years ago—having spent a few years in China and traveling throughout Southeast Asia. We settled in the northern city of Chiang Mai and haven’t looked back.
Ecuador attracts people from all over the world for many reasons. The natural beauty, colorful culture, great climate, and affordable cost of living are just some of the pulls. Beer, however, has never been one of the country’s strongest selling points. And this is something that U.S. expat Greg Gedeon is trying to address with his microbrewery, Zarza—coupled with the beer and bar of the same name—taking the mountain town of Loja by storm. Texan Greg first came to Ecuador nine years ago, fresh out of acupuncture school and looking to ply his trade in Latin America. Attracted by Loja’s nice weather, friendly people, and colonial architecture, he settled down in the area and stayed for two-and-a-half years. “When I first moved here, I was desperate for a decent beer,” Greg says. “So I started learning to brew my own beer.”
Sun, sand, and surfing. These are the three main draws enticing visitors to Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. And these have also created a ready market for businesses that can cater to the massive influx of tourists to the region, as California expat Danny Clark can attest. Danny first came to the central Pacific coast more than 20 years ago for a surf trip, and it changed his life. Today, the 42-yearold owns and manages a pair of successful restaurants in the bustling resort town of Jacó. And he says he lives a better lifestyle than he could in the States. His Side Street Bistro is a gourmet sandwich shop with an on-site microbrewery. And Graffiti is an upscale restaurant and wine bar.
Dyan deNapoli was five years old when her parents took her to an aquarium in Florida. She was so mesmerized by the relationship between the handlers and the dolphins that her parents had to pull her away. Despite fears that she wasn’t “smart enough” to handle the rigorous math and science courses, Dyan took a degree in animal science and was hired by the New England Aquarium in Boston as their Senior Penguin Aquarist. One of the highlights of her career was working as part of a team that rescued 40,000 penguins from an oil spill in South Africa.
If you’ve made up your mind to live the international lifestyle—and even done your homework—but you’re still afraid to actually take the leap, I have good news for you. The fact that you’re scared means that somewhere inside of you, you believe it’s actually possible to do the thing you want to do. That alone is huge. Think about it. If you didn’t think it was possible you’d never even get to fear. When you allow yourself to get to the fear stage, you’re one step closer to achieving your dream.
Ecuador has it all: stunning beaches, dense jungles, snow-capped mountains, and lush plains. And when you spend them here you are among some of the friendliest people on the planet. My husband, Warren, and I spent three months exploring the country…and we found a way to make huge savings, leaving most of our budget for enjoying the food, destinations, and culture. The mountains in the Otavalo area were our favorite. Soaring peaks and dormant volcanoes surrounded green valleys, where llamas and horses grazed under blue skies.
Wandering is our specialty. Since my husband, Chris, and I left the States at the start of 2013 with not much of a plan and a whole load of ambition, we have resided in seven homes and explored countless destinations in the two countries—Costa Rica and Nicaragua. During our travels we have rescued hatchling sea turtles from hungry birds…observed the most achingly beautiful sunset from a Pacific beach…and encouraged a sloth as he crept between trees…
Here’s a novel idea: What if parents, guidance counselors, and college career advisors had focused less on what you wanted to be when you grew up and spent more time helping you decide how you wanted to feel when you grow up? I call it the Life First – Work Second approach to career planning. It’s why I begin every business idea generation session with the same simple question: What do you want your life to look like?
As my nephew Jason prepared to begin his first year of college, his thoughts naturally turned to potential careers. “What would you really love to do?” I asked. Jason thought for a moment before replying, “I’d just like to get a job I don’t hate too much.” After a little auntie-to-nephew pep talk about the importance of shooting higher than “one notch above misery,” we talked about his love of baseball.
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