Find Fulfillment by Starting a Business Abroad

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.

He did well, so he decided to stick and moved his wares to a shelf in a donut shop. Then he moved to his current location in a restored colonial building. I haven’t been back lately but following the store on Facebook, I see he’s expanded into the space next door and business is thriving.

It’s gratifying to see someone find their true calling…to be able to make a good living following their passion. And that’s just one of the many expat businesses I’ve seen on my travels in places like Belize…the Riviera Maya, MexicoCosta Rica…and Nicaragua.

There’s the mother-daughter team who took over a small hotel in rough shape on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast and restored it into a charming boutique getaway in the rainforest, surrounded by wildlife. They love being hosts and figuring out inventive ways to market their accommodations online—they’re learning as they go.

Then there’s the couple who left behind busy and stressful lives in Florida to take over a popular beach bar on Ambergris Caye, Belize. The view from their new workplace can’t be beat: nothing but beautiful blue Caribbean waters.

Or the young man who had worked in restaurants all his life in New York but could never afford to open a place there, who now has the most hopping restaurant and nightspot in Puerto Morelos, a small beach town south of Cancún.

What unites all these folks is that they had a dream and made it real. They’re living in beautiful locations, truly enjoying life. And though it helps, previous experience is not a prerequisite.

Abroad, the start-up costs are a fraction of what they would be in North America. Operating costs are lower thanks to cheap leases, affordable real estate, and low labor costs. And because the cost of living is lower, you don’t have to make as much money to live well and be successful.

The key to success is to find a gap in the market.

In emerging—and even established—destinations it’s not hard to do. For example, the tourism market in places like Belize, Costa Rica, and Mexico’s Riviera Maya is strong and continues to grow. In Nicaragua, it’s just getting started in earnest, with the government actively encouraging investment with incentive programs that give you very generous tax breaks.

And that means a need for business serving those visitors, like tour companies, charter fishing boats, coffee shops, surf schools, restaurants, B&Bs, vacation rentals, property management…there’s so much opportunity.

Starting a business abroad is not a cakewalk, of course. Any business requires dedication. But the business owners I’ve met say they have a better quality of life. Work doesn’t seem like work. And they’ve never been happier.

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