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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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.
No one worries about what day it is in a gorgeous tropical location like Roatan. Every day is just like a Saturday and it’s always a good time for fun in the sun. It’s a great place to earn a living because you actually feel like you’re living, not just working to survive and simply pay the bills. And one of the best ways to earn a living in a tropical location is to socialize with the crowds.
You roll out of a bed at…well, whenever. No alarm clocks here. Just bird song and the sunlight filtering through your windows. Now it’s time for a bit of coffee and a walk on the beach. Back home, you check some email, update some Facebook pages, scan your accounting software…maybe message your web guy to update your site for the weekend. You do all this from home, or that little café down the street on your laptop as you greet friends who come in for their morning cup of Joe. It takes an hour or so.
Adrienne Greenwood had a choice. Stay in wet and rainy Whistler, Canada, close to the poverty line or go elsewhere. That’s when she discovered the tropical beach town of San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. “Nicaragua has everything I need: warm, friendly, family-oriented people and a good yoga-and-wellness community, full of colorful and quirky individuals who have also chosen an off-the-beaten-path existence, and a sunny tropical climate all year round. I love that,” says Adrienne.
Beverly Nelson has a passion for holistic health…and for Mexico. That’s why she opened a retreat center in San Miguel de Allende, in the country’s Colonial Highlands. Today, she enjoys a life that is fulfilling both personally and professionally. She welcomes clients from around the world who come for workshops and lectures, individual and group retreats, and healing modalities like acupuncture and various types of massage, including Ayurvedic. During her free time, she and friends enjoy San Miguel, going to concerts, films, gallery openings, the theater, or dinner at someone’s home or in a local restaurant. “There is so much to do here in San Miguel, there is never a lack of choice,” she says.
Living in Costa Rica has been great since we moved here last year. Each day my wife, Kelli, and I drink coffee—grown on a farm five minutes from our home—on the deck while we watch the birds get their breakfast. Our monthly expenses have been cut in half from what they were in the States, and we’re making plans to build a modest home here to cut that budget even more. And our life has become much quieter in the sense that there is less to worry about.
A couple of years ago, I visited Cassis—a harbour town on the French Riviera’s lesser-known western end. Fishing boats and the crystal-blue Mediterranean, yes. Langoustines and palest pink rose wine, yes. But the last thing I expected to find was a poetry shop. Handwritten on marbled paper, the poet had hundreds of musings on love, life, and friendship to choose from. And his little shop was busy. Maybe the French have a deeper romantic streak than other nationalities, but I think he was tapping into nostalgia. In an age of computers, anything handwritten now has rarity value.
Dick Walton, 53, and his wife, Dawn, 47, have always loved to travel. And they knew for a long time that they wanted to retire to English-speaking Belize…the tiny Central American country on the Caribbean sea. But when Dawn had an aneurysm in 2009, the couple pushed up that timetable to escape the stress and fast pace of life in their hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Over time they visited a few places in the country: the island of Ambergris Caye and the low-cost retiree haven of Corozal. But nothing struck them.
There’s an old joke about the tourist who gets lost on the back roads of Maine. He comes across an old farmer and asks, “Do you know how to get to Portland?” After a long pause, the farmer replies, “E-yup. But you can’t get there from here. The farmer’s nonsensical response offers an important lesson to those who wish to live life on purpose…work at what they love…and follow their own road. I spent seven years commuting 90 miles a day to a management job in a large corporation.
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