Could You Start a Business Like This From Where You Live?

I’m able to live in Buenos Aires, Argentina, thanks to my mini “import-export” enterprise.

As I wrote yesterday, when I want a break from Buenos Aires, I hike to the villages in the north to negotiate delivery of llama wool hats, scarves and shawls—direct from the villagers who make them.

I try to choose unique crafts and carve out my own non-competitive niche. The most popular products are quirky hand-painted wooden animal masks made by the Chané tribe in northern Argentina—each jaguar, marmot, and parrot face has an original character and style.

I assess what’s practical to carry in my luggage. Jewelry and textiles are the easiest to transport, while beautiful palo verde wood platters are heavier and occupy more space, but are still worth it.

It’s all trial and error—you have to work out the kinks and make the best of things. I fell in love with a style of rustic, black pottery from the Diaguita tribe in Tucumán. But not only was I charged an overweight fee for my bag, there were also heavy casualties. Making the most of it, I used the pottery shards and some sand for a creative display around my wares and shoppers flocked to my table.

I have to consider if I can sell for a fair price. I do a quick calculation in my head: one third—fair price for the artisan; one third—pays for my plane ticket; and one third—proceeds to Cultural Survival, the non-profit that organizes the bazaars where I sell my wares.

At customs, U.S. citizens are allowed to bring in up to $800 of merchandise without paying a duty. After that, it’s 3% import duty. Whenever I source a new craft, I buy a small amount to take back with me and see how well it sells before committing to bulk orders.

I also vary my inventory to cater to both budget-conscious shoppers and high spenders.

I market the crafts in three ways:

1. Directly to friends and at parties
2. At a shop by consignment
3. At crafts bazaars

The holiday bazaars are cozy and festive, while the summer bazaars are held outdoors in destinations around New England, often near beautiful beaches. I really enjoy these events.

The secret is keeping my operation small, just enough to subsidize my plane tickets (I profit between $800 and $1,500 on each trip. A round-trip ticket runs about $1,200). I stay under the threshold of bureaucratic hassle—import duties, licensing and shipping. I could turn it into a viable full-time business or non-profit if I wanted to, but for now I like to keep my life simple, flexible and full of adventure.

Editor’s Note: If you like the idea of working or making money overseas, you may be interested in a free e-mail newsletter we recently launched. It’s called Fund Your Life Overseas. You can get a free subscription here.

 

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