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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See below for inspiring articles from expats who have opened many different types of businesses in countries around the world.
If you dream of a place where you can live a cosmopolitan lifestyle in a gorgeous setting, yet pay rock-bottom prices for everything from food to rent, Cusco—Peru’s most historic city—is unbeatable. This 500-year-old colonial gem reminds some folks of Florence, Italy, with its abundance of domed churches and ancient, pedestrian-only cobblestone streets. But it offers a quality of life and price point that is unheard-of in Europe. And the expat population is growing by leaps and bounds. “It has definitely gotten more populated recently. A lot of that has to do with the popularity of the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu and the local culture,” says Scott Englund, who has lived in Cusco for the last four years with his wife and their two daughters.
At 7,300 feet and home to cobbled streets and majestic colonial buildings the small Ecuadorian city of Ibarra is not a big expat haven. But along with a year-round moderate climate it harbors opportunities nonetheless…as Canadian Enderick Spurette has found. Bordered by the majestic Andes Mountains the bustle of city life is balanced by that of surrounding farms and historic hillside haciendas. Ibarra is a place where the banking district sits opposite small craft stores and mom and pop setups, and where those with a bit of motivation and desire can still find a business niche—just like Enderick’s Caribou Bar and Grill.
Not everyone who comes to Cuenca, Ecuador, has an idea to start a business. Sometimes new surroundings, a change of pace, and a fresh perspective align to bring long-held passions to light. That was the case for expats Juan Carlos Morales and David Korkoian, who together discovered a niche market and filled it. Juan was convinced that Cuenca was the ideal spot to escape the rat race in the States. “The moment I stepped foot in Cuenca, I knew I wanted to live here,” he says. “It reminded me of when I backpacked through southern Europe in the 1980s.”
Today, starting a business on a shoestring from the kitchen table is much easier than it was 30 years ago (and even as little as five years ago). If you’re looking for a way to make a healthy side income or completely replace your current income stream, I can’t imagine anything that carries such low risk and such little investment as an online business. And, once you get up and running, you can even manage things from your smartphone without being tied to the office—or kitchen table—at all.
Imagine earning extra income in your spare time, or “on the road,” or even while you work from your kitchen table. Well, I have discovered a fun and lucrative business almost anyone can do…from just about anywhere. The idea is to acquire products at deep discounts from more than a hundred countries around the world…and then sell the products online at profitable markups. And I am amazed how people are leveraging this business and making money.
Could there be a more perfect country for ecotourism than Ecuador? With four distinct regions in an area the size of Colorado, Ecuador offers endless possibilities for adventure travel. You’ll find the Galapagos, Pacific coast, Andean highlands, and the Amazon… Ecuador is, per square mile, the most biodiverse country on the planet and numerous expats have moved there to become part of the ecotourism industry. Back in the 1980s, Richard Parsons was based in Quito and one day, while enjoying a leisurely drive through the Tandayapa Valley, he and his wife Gloria stopped and struck up a random conversation with a man cutting up a tree.
Michelle Klein and her husband, Gary Garces, live in the idyllic environment of a small Ecuadorian community. They awake to the call of wild birds and the scent of orchids on the breeze…a quick walk to the mom-and-pop store on the corner rewards them with fresh bread rolls for breakfast from the friendly proprietors…and access to the many rivers that roll through town is just a quick car ride or a leisurely stroll away. They run the Casa Blanca jungle hostel in Tena where they are raising three daughters.
Scott and Michelle Lyons planned to move to Mexico when their kids went to college. But when Michelle went on a cruise that stopped in Belize…their plans changed. “When I discovered that English was the language in Belize, I knew I had found something that would work for us,” says Michelle. The impossibly blue waters, soft sandy beaches, and wonderfully warm climate of beautiful Belize also helped win the couple over. From the sparkling sea filled with palm-lined islands to the verdant jungles teeming with wildlife, Belize beckoned with an enticing blend of relaxation and adventure…a tropical paradise.
When you imagine how a retiree might spend her time in the highlands of Panama, you probably don’t imagine her opening a gym and fitness center. But at age 64, that’s exactly what Bonnie Jach did when she moved to Boquete in Chiriquí Province. Bonnie’s love of travel and adventure began at a young age. “I’m originally from Wisconsin,” she says. “When I was 20, I joined the Peace Corps. I’ve always loved new and exciting places. Even though I like the States very much, I knew I wanted to live overseas.”
One of the things that Richard Meyer enjoys most about his bakery in Boquete, Panama, is that he gets to be his own boss. “I grew up in Denver and I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 12,” says Richard, now age 47. “As a chef, baker, and pastry chef, I create both sweet and savory dishes, and now I get to decide what’s on the menu.” Richard and his Panamanian wife, Yarina, found their premises for rent on Craigslist.
After working in the U.S. for more than two decades, I love the freedom I now enjoy from making an income in one of the most beautiful parts of Costa Rica. I wake each morning, excited to see what the day will bring. That first cup of coffee on the patio—watching whatever may be in the jungle—is awesome. Monkeys and their antics…perhaps an exotic bird I’ve never seen before…a new bloom on an exotic plant…all these things give me great pleasure.
For seven years, I commuted 90 miles a day to my job in a Fortune 200 company. It was a great company, with great co-workers, and a really great salary to boot. There was just one problem. I was miserable. But with a mortgage and a car payment…well, you know how it is. Then July 31, 1993 I got the worst news of my life. That’s the day my mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack. She was only 61 and just five months shy of her much-awaited retirement.
Five years ago, I was the lead copywriter and content strategist at an advertising agency in Denver, Colorado…coming in as early as 7 a.m. and leaving sometimes as late as 9 p.m.—and rarely ever got a real break. Now, I’m sitting in a sunny top-floor apartment in the Swiss Alps, writing this to you. I can see a waterfall from my window and, only a few steps from my door, I could be on a hiking trail that leads to a Swiss ski town or a 360-degree panorama of the mountains. All because I am a travel writer.
Getting a small business loan can be a challenge anywhere. It’s especially tough in a new country where you may not have a credit history or collateral. Fortunately, there’s a way to raise money for your business abroad that bypasses banks altogether. It’s called reward-based crowdfunding. With crowdfunding you fund your business idea without taking out a loan, going into debt, or sharing equity with a financial partner. It’s a perfect solution for many expats because it enables you to fund your business across borders. You can raise money from backers anywhere in the world for a business activity in the country of your choosing.
Eighteen years ago while we were getting evicted from our home, I couldn’t see a money-making opportunity anywhere. I was broke. But then I discovered the secret of e-books and today, I see money-making opportunities everywhere. I don’t watch a lot of television but when I did I kept seeing ads by Larry the Cable Guy (ok, I’ll admit, I love his crazy humor). They were for a product I’d never heard of—Prilosec. And they came on so many times I could see Prilosec had spent millions of dollars to air them. That led me to find out what Prilosec was—a remedy for heartburn and acid reflux. So what, you say?
When I was getting started in the e-book business, I thought it would be a long time before I could create an actual book (I’ve since learned shortcuts for doing it quickly). Part of my solution was to use books from the public domain for free—as I told you about yesterday. That works for older material, but a strategy that provided me with more contemporary books was licensing existing print books…converting them to an e-book format…and paying the author part of the royalties I collected.
What if I told you that Walt Disney built the foundation of his multi-billion dollar business on public domain books written by other people. Ever heard of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid? Blockbuster Disney movies, right. But before that, they were public domain books written by other people.
I’ve made a lot of money from e-book publishing…which I think would come as a surprise to my college English professor who gave me an ‘F’ in her course. But you don’t have to be a writer to make money in this marketplace. I’ve published almost 50 books written by others. Some were books I took from the public domain, which means I didn’t pay for them, and some were written by ghostwriters I hired for little more than the cost of a great night out.
For Olley Ollerenshaw, living in Cusco’s historic artisan district of San Blas has allowed a childhood fantasy to come true. “I’ve always been interested in maps of the world, maps of all kinds. Maps are symbols of adventure as well as functional tools, and for anyone like me who grew up daydreaming about visiting exotic places, maps hold a special allure,” says Olley.
Before moving to Italy, Georgette Jupe had what many would consider a glamorous life: She was living in star-studded Los Angeles, working in public relations, and rubbing elbows with the B-list celebrities that her firm represented. She had a good, steady, lucrative job. And who doesn’t want to live in sunny, coveted southern California? To the untrained eye, Georgette had it all. But secretly, she was missing Italy— where she’d spent one beautiful year studying abroad in pretty Florence back in her college days.
It was 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. I had just finished drinking a cappuccino with a friend at a local café. Now, I was going to meet a client and spend about an hour getting them set up in their vacation rental. Then I would go back to my home office to spend another 30 minutes or so answering emails.
I discovered the potential of ecommerce 14 years ago when I started my online maternity store…from my kitchen table. At the time, I was searching for a business that offered me the freedom to work from anywhere and the flexibility I needed to care for my young children after my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I found it in ecommerce. In its first month, my first site brought in $7,000. I was ecstatic. And it grew from there. I turned my online business into a multi-million-dollar business in a short amount of time.
“My dream was always to live on the beach with palm trees,” says Peter Ottinger. “And here on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula the climate is an endless summer.” A far cry from snowy winters back home. “When I first moved here, to Santa Teresa, it was a very small community. In the beginning there were hardly any foreigners. But since 2004, it’s grown a lot,” says Peter. “Now we have a very international community.” It’s a booming haven of backpackers and even mainstream travelers in search of a laid-back and bohemian off-the-beaten path beach destination.
Licensed attorney Ashley Blaylock thought she had her life all mapped out. She was planning a legal career, specializing in corporate and tax law. But prior to taking a summer program in international law and human rights in Costa Rica in 2003, she took a vacation to Nicaragua. And that changed everything for this Houston native. “As a kid you have a vision of paradise, and when I saw Nicaragua, it was exactly like the vision I had,” explains Ashley. “It’s a gorgeous country, with mountains, verdant green countryside, and miles and miles of unspoiled ocean.
Ten years ago I was one of the millions of middle management, middle-aged people commuting into the big city. I was exhausted, bored, and stressed; deeply frustrated that I didn’t get to spend enough time with my young family. I was a walking stereotype. Today, I still work for the same employer, but I live on the other side of the world. I have spent the last eight years living by the beach in Australia, while being employed full-time by a company in London. My employer is a digital sports broadcasting company, and I’m a graphic designer, creating promotions for the various sporting events that we broadcast.
Places where expats and tourists gather are good locations for a food enterprise that gives them a taste of home— particularly when it comes to a daily staple like bread. Central America simply doesn’t have the same bakery tradition as the U.S. or Europe, which means you can find a hungry market for European-style loaves, pastries, wholegrain, sourdough, croissants, and more. Belize is a case in point. With tourism increasing more than 10% year-on-year since 2011 and a real estate boom reaching even into the less expensive areas like Corozal, San Ignacio, and Punta Gorda, the market for specialized bakeries is strong country-wide.
After her daughter left for college, New Yorker Judy Ganes Chase began to look at the possibility of moving overseas…and getting involved in a new business venture. She chose a frozen yogurt franchise and is now the first franchisee in Central America for the Chicago-based chain Forever Yogurt. She has two outlets in Panama City. But Judy has gone a step further and purchased the franchise rights for all of Panama. She plans to open five additional locations in the next two to three years.
When my husband Jamie and I left our U.S. home in Lake Tahoe, California for our new lives in Argentina, we were looking to learn a new way of life, meet new people and explore a new culture. But we needed income, and both being entrepreneurial souls, we knew that to live our life to the fullest while living abroad we needed to create our own businesses. In the past 12 years we’ve created and run nine successful businesses, from managing a vineyard in San Rafael to creating a bustling vacation-rental company in Patagonia. To say the least, we have learned a few lessons along the way. Here are seven tips to help you create your own successful business abroad…
Getting into retail without having to invest in stock is a great way to cut down on your initial investment and more quickly make a profit. And it can be very easy. Consignment shopping fits right into that mold. And, as a very American concept, there’s not a lot of competition for it in other parts of the world. If you’re gathering what others don’t want—and finding a market for it—you have a good business model for short-term or long-term retailing. Essentially, with a consignment store you offer a space for others to sell their items in exchange for a cut of the money when the product sells.
If you visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece of a home, you will most likely come away with a favorite memory. While the gardens are spectacular and the house filled with clever inventions, my favorite is Jefferson’s office, which adjoins his bedroom. He could roll out of bed and get to work at his desk. Of course, in Jefferson’s time, home-based businesses were more common than long commutes. But still, he must have created the shortest commute ever. During the decades following World War II, home offices all but disappeared as people went off to work in someone else’s office.
When Anke and David Doehm, both 53, were looking for a place to open their clothing boutique, they had a few requirements. It had to be in a spot with good tourist traffic, be a safe location, and be a nice place for their four kids to grow up. And as residents of Hawaii for seven years, they figured a beachside location wouldn’t hurt, either.
Upon arriving in Koh Samui, Thailand, on vacation in 2003, Jacqui Ashley knew she’d found the ideal location to raise her children abroad. “As soon as I landed, I had an overwhelming feeling of being home,” she says. “We were greeted with smiles from the Thai staff at the airport, and during the holiday we were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people.”
Vikki Gold from Colorado is delighted with her move to Costa Rica. “I love it here. I’m at peace. There’s beautiful scenery, a great climate, and so much wildlife. It’s our little paradise,” she says. She came here just over a year ago after she and her daughter, Hollee, bought and renovated a boutique hotel in the jungle.
It was sports that first brought Jim to Panama in 2004. “I lived in Boston and was running a sports-marketing company for American football. I handled recreational events, tournaments, leagues, and celebrity events. “While coaching a start-up flag-football team here, I first met my wife Priscilla. We went back to the U.S. and worked together in sports marketing, but when we decided to start a family in 2009, we returned to Panama and made our new home in Las Tablas. We wanted to be near Priscilla’s family.”
Any location that finds favor with expats ultimately needs a place for them to hang out. There is a ready market of people who want a menu of familiar food—like burgers, hot wings, or a juicy steak—prepared in familiar ways. Put their favorite music on the jukebox, and they’ll be drawn in. Offer them NFL football or a pool table, and they’ll become good regular customers.
With a laid-back lifestyle and increasing access to modern amenities, it’s easy to see why a growing number of expats are calling Granada home. This colonial city in Nicaragua has year-round hot weather, brightly-painted buildings and colonial-era architecture in the historic center, and diverse natural surroundings. It’s not surprising that it is becoming Nicaragua’s tourism hub. What is interesting, though, is how it is growing as a wellness destination.
Vikki Gold is delighted with her move to Costa Rica. “I love it here. I’m at peace. There’s beautiful scenery, a great climate, and so much wildlife. It’s our little paradise,” she says. She came here just over a year ago after she and her daughter, Hollee, bought and renovated a boutique hotel in the jungle, which they renamed Villas de Oros (Villas of Golds in Spanish—a play on their last name).
Many travelers who return from a tropical holiday on the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali start thinking how wonderful it would be to quit their job and move here permanently. And lots of them do, including me. I’ve run a guesthouse and restaurant on the northern coast of the island for four years. But before you join us expat business owners, there are a few things you should know…
A mid all the traditional German sausage stands in a small food market on the edge of the Black Forest, American Geoff de Forest, 43, decided to open a taco truck. He believed there was a need for really good Mexican food in his locale…and he was right. The business is now making good money. Last year he started the Holy Taco Shack, a food truck that sells tacos, quesadillas, and burritos at markets and special events in the Freiburg area, which is in the extreme southwest of the country near the border with France and Switzerland.
It’s easy to look at the 19th-century writer, artist, and social activist William Morris and wonder how he got so much done. During his lifetime, he produced a dazzling body of work not only in writing but also in architecture and textile design. His intricate textiles and wallpapers are still sold today.
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