You don’t have to be a whiz web designer, SEO expert, or web entrepreneur to work abroad. In fact, the freelance and remote jobs industry is exploding in all kinds of interesting and unexpected fields. Let’s take a look.
I really want to travel on an open-ended ticket, but I don’t have the cash to take a sabbatical and I don’t have the skills or desire to run a web-based business. How can I get work abroad without doing the standard web design stuff? – Trevor
I get this question all the time. Although the groundwork for location independent lifestyles was originally laid by entrepreneurial web designers and bloggers, the playing field is much broader now. In this article, we’ll examine some industry trends around remote work, what kinds of jobs and industries are well-suited to work abroad, and the skills you can develop to give yourself the best chance of getting work abroad without having to run your own business. We’ll even cover on-the-ground jobs you can do that don’t involve even opening a computer, much less being web-savvy.
PART ONE: REMOTE WORK ABROAD
There are two general categories of work abroad with a travel-centric lifestyle: remote work abroad, and on-the-ground jobs. Let’s first look at remote positions, and keep an open mind – you’d be surprised at the kinds of jobs you can do remotely.
According to studies, telecommuting is exponentially on the rise – the number of telecommuting employees in the U.S. has more than doubled in the last 10 years; and this trend is showing no signs of slowing down.
It stands to reason. Imagine not having to spend hours a day commuting and having more freedom with your schedule and working hours. We are not all most productive between 9am and 5pm either; having flexibility not only creates happy employees, but it also fosters more productive ones.
The logistics of telecommuting are also getting easier. Communication is simple with sophisticated video conferencing tools, telephone, email and internet, and virtual private networks for security.
If you have an office job that you’d like to take on the road with you, talk to your boss about the benefits of telecommuting, even for a trial period. Otherwise, there are plenty of telecommuting jobs available on the market in a variety of industries. This list of fully remote jobs includes positions such as Executive Assistants, Transcribers, Project Managers, Customer Support, Copy Editing, Travel Consulting, and more.
Still not convinced you can fit the bill? Think outside of the box; there are jobs you may not have imagined were possible to do remotely. Check out this list of surprising flexible jobs, many of which can be done via telecommuting, including Ophthalmology, Neurosurgery, and Axe Throwing!
Here are a few websites where you can find telecommuting work abroad:
- Virtual Vocations
- Working Nomads
- And if you can’t find something good on any of those sites, here’s a list of other places where you can find remote work abroad.
The shift over to freelancing is a monumental trend. The days of lifelong employer-employee loyalty have been dwindling for decades, and today it’s almost unheard of for somebody to work at the same company for life.
In addition to companies restructuring their workforce, they’re also increasingly not hiring employees, in favour of freelancers (also known as contractors). It saves them from having to foot the bill for things like healthcare and pensions, and is also a response to a workforce seeking even more flexibility beyond the telecommuting structure.
According to this study, people are quitting jobs that lack flexibility in hours and location. It goes on to predict that in less than 10 years, 58% of the workforce will be freelancing.
Freelancing is a hybrid between telecommuting and running your own business. You’re your own boss in that you choose your clients and the sort of work you do, but depending on the sorts of jobs you take, you have to market yourself and hunt for paying clients. Although it’s not quite as complicated as running a full-on business, it helps to have some basic entrepreneurial skills like marketing, client retention, customer service, basic accounting, etc.
In addition to browsing the telecommuting sites above (which feature freelance-friendly jobs), you can find freelance work and list your services on websites such as:
Skills for Remote Work Abroad
You don’t have to be a web-genius, but if you want to work remotely as a telecommuter or freelancer, you’d best be familiar with some basic programs and applications (or have the ability to learn/adapt to them), such as:
- Word processing (eg: Word, Excel, Powerpoint)
- Instant messaging (eg: Slack, Skype, Chat)
- Project Management (eg: Trello, Basecamp)
And because you’re not punching a clock with a manager breathing down your neck, you will need to be a self-starter, able to set and reach your own goals in a disciplined fashion.
Drawbacks to Remote Work Abroad
While the advantages of remote work abroad include freedom of both location and schedule, this comes at a cost, such as:
Time Zones. If your employer/colleagues/clients are in a different time zone, you may have to adjust your working/waking hours to theirs, especially if online meetings are required. This is especially onerous if you’re in Asia (as so many digital nomads are), and you’re coordinating with people in North America.
Work-Life Balance. It’s a term so common it’s practically a cliche, and yet it’s often used because it’s such a bear. Combining a travel-centric life abroad with work is more difficult than it looks, and can be even more challenging if a family is involved. (See also: Work-Life Balance on the Road)
WiFi and Workspace. Forget about working on the beach; you’ll probably try it once before discovering it’s impractical in too many ways. In fact, when you’re living and working on the road, the search for even the most basic of necessities – being strong WiFi and an ergonomically friendly workspace conducive to productivity – can be hard to find. (See also: How to Maximize Productivity While Travelling)
Isolation. Most remote work abroad involves a lot of time on a computer. While you may be communicating with people via email and phone/video calls, it’s not the same as interacting with people in-person, and after a while it can feel isolating – especially if you’re travelling a lot and not connecting with local people.
While your work abroad may not involve blogging, you’ll want to take heed of some of the concerns listed here: 17 Reasons NOT to Blog About Your Trip.
PART TWO: ON-THE-GROUND WORK ABROAD
If working remotely isn’t for you, that’s okay; you can work abroad in other ways. Here are a few ideas:
Working on Boats
Take to the high seas and work abroad with this job that literally travels with you! You’d be surprised at the employment variety within the nautical world, with jobs on small sailboats, medium mega-yachts, and gigantic cruise ships. (For more information: How to Get a Job (or a Free Ride) Working on Boats)
Working Holiday Visas
This one is for the young(er) folk; up to the age of 35, you can get one-year working visas in a variety of countries, that allow you to apply for whatever jobs you wish. Although many working holiday visa-goers opt for seasonal work, you can apply for any job you wish. Australia and New Zealand are popular working holiday visa destinations. (For more information: The Ultimate Working Holiday Visa Guide for Canadians)
If you’re comfortable flying by the seat of your pants and have some transferrable skills, you can try your chances at finding odd jobs along the way. When I started travelling full-time, I was with a partner who did this; he worked as a bartender in Canada, a server in Hawaii, a handyman in Australia, and a warehouse manager in New Zealand. Be forewarned: if you’re going to work odd jobs, you may at some point end up doing so for cash under the table, which isn’t always ideal (or legal). (For more information: How to Land Jobs Along the Way While You Travel)
Skilled Occupation Search
If you have your eye on a specific country, check out their immigration website. Sometimes they have a “skilled occupation list” that details skill sets for which they’ll grant working visas. While this option is best for people who wish to relocate somewhere as opposed to simply travel the world, perhaps the change of scenery is all you need.
For the most part volunteering is just that – working for free. However in some cases you can get something in trade for your labour, and in some cases it can be (more than) enough to pay the bills. Cuso International offers work abroad for skilled volunteers; in exchange, they cover all your expenses and provide a stipend.
Or, if you’ve got a bit of cash saved up for travel but want to stretch it as far as possible, you’ll find volunteering in trade for free accommodation incredibly rewarding on a number of levels. (For more information: How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World)
More Information and Ideas
Dear Nora, digital nomad, freelancing, remote work, telecommuting, work abroad