SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue
Greg Miller spent decades in the San Francisco area, starting up businesses ranging from an audio products rep firm to a Thai restaurant. But last year, at 63, he decided to leave the United States and become an entrepreneur in his wife’s native Thailand. Today, Miller and his wife run a fashion boutique, a travel business and a restaurant in Chiang Mai, their new home. “I enjoy the culture, the food and the friendliness of the people," says Miller, who also relishes the Asian country's lower cost of living and more relaxed lifestyle. "My experience in Thailand is of having a great amount of freedom that I do not have in the U.S.”
Maybe you, too, have a yen to pick up and work abroad, either temporarily or permanently. You might yearn to embark on a new adventure and discover another part of the world — and learn a little about your own resourcefulness. Or perhaps you think job opportunities would be greater in another country, making it easier for you to find work you love, whether you're looking for full-time employment, volunteer activities or a part-time gig suitable for your retirement.
If the life of an expatriate appeals to you, go for it. Just be sure you do the requisite homework before you relocate.
Learn the Local Rules
Start by researching the work and living conditions in your target country as well as the relevant laws regarding taxes (both your new home’s rules for expats and the U.S. rules for citizens living abroad), employment and immigration.
“Everything depends on where you’re going and how you’re getting there,” says Marylouise Serrato, executive director of American Citizens Abroad, a nonprofit representing the estimated 6.3 million Americans living and working outside the United States.
Each country has its own laws, practices and procedures that apply to expatriates seeking work. “Some national policies are very liberal, whereas others refuse employment rights to foreigners,” the State Department notes in an online article about work permits.
Jobs to Consider
If possible, try to secure an overseas job before you relocate. This can prevent logistical nightmares and help you obtain residency and work permits in advance.
Expats say teaching English is one of the easiest ways to make a living in many foreign countries. In Thailand, for instance, companies hiring non-Thais usually must show that they were unable to fill the job with a Thai citizen, but teaching is an exception to this rule. “And there is actually a shortage of good native language English teachers,” Miller says.
Freelancing is another route to explore, especially in countries with tight labor markets.
“Unemployment in Spain is massive and growing, so don't expect to find a job there,” says Victoria Twead, a British author in her 50s who writes books about her adventures in Spain, where she lives with her partner, Joe. “If you can work independently from home, so much the better.”
Where to Look for Help Online
There are many free resources online that will answer your questions about moving abroad for work and educate you about global economies.
The U.S. State Department website, for example, offers country-specific information, including employment statistics, and an overseas-employment guide with job-hunting tips and copious links geared toward expats.
Embassy sites of foreign governments explain their nations’ rules about visas — including, in some cases, retiree visas — and provide details about programs for entrepreneurs, if any. The website for France’s embassy for instance, offers information about a renewable three-year residency card for “talented” people working on projects in France.
Another useful resource is workpermit.com, which provides nitty-gritty specifics about working in a dozen industrialized nations in Europe, Asia, Australia and Canada.
Websites from expats give the lowdown from people who’ve already made the move, and they often include job postings. Here are six worth visiting: expatfocus.com, expatnetwork.com, alloexpat.com, expatforum.com, expatwomen.com and expatinfodesk.com.
Banking and Taxes
Bear in mind that moving to another country for work can play havoc with your finances, since it means adhering to the banking and tax rules specific to that country.
Many foreign banks don't accept American clients because of new U.S. reporting requirements. “We’ve had people who are very much caught in the middle,” Serrato says. It's also possible to find yourself owing taxes on the same income to both the United States and the nation to which you've moved.
Maxim Global Wealth Advisors, an investment advisory firm specializing in American expats, has put together a practical list of financial steps to take before relocating abroad, with advice on establishing bank accounts and credit cards.
Where Expatriates Are Happiest
In 2011, HSBC surveyed expats around the world to find out where they are happiest. France, Thailand and Spain were among the countries that scored high in its “Expat Experience” rankings, and they also received top marks as places for retirement.
At the HSBC Expat Explorer Interactive site, you can determine the rank of countries based on the factors that matter most to you, like income, health care, commuting and feeling welcome at work.
Twead says she moved to Spain for its sunny weather, food, friendly people, low costs and proximity to her native England. Her advice: “Above all, enjoy yourselves. Every day is a new adventure.”
Miller agrees. “Do it before it is too late,” he says. “Overcome the fear of going outside your comfort zone, and learn to embrace it." This kind of adventure, he adds "is what makes life worth living.”
Like this article? Sign up for Next Avenue's weekly newsletter to get more fascinating articles and blogs about work, finance and lifestyle issues geared to a 50+ audience.
Also From Next Avenue:
Why You Need To Take Career Risks