Imagine: You wake up to the sound of the ocean crashing on the beach just below your condo. You enjoy a fresh mango smoothie for breakfast while checking email and completing a quick work project. By midday, you’re down on the beach surfing.
Tomorrow, you’ll meet friends for a hike in the jungle before hopping on a late afternoon conference call. No, this isn’t a working vacation: It’s your real, day-to-day life in Costa Rica.
An estimated six million Americans have chosen the expat life overseas, either working remotely for American companies or finding jobs locally. One of the hottest destinations for expat Americans is Costa Rica, a tropical paradise. With a stable government, a low cost of living, friendly locals and easy access to sand, surf and sun, Costa Rica is a “life in paradise” dream come true for many. Plus, a move there is appealing, given the country's multitude of services in place to help expats through the relocation process.
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According to Expat Insider, other popular destinations include Ecuador, Mexico, Malta, Singapore, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Thailand, Panama, Canada and Australia. Many of these countries offer affordable costs of living compared with the United States, making them attractive destinations for both retirees on fixed incomes as well as entrepreneurs or small business owners looking to work remotely and still enjoy a high quality of life.
Still other Americans head overseas to cut their living expenses and pay down debt while still enjoying a high quality of life. (Case in point: this American writer, who moved to Bali and paid off $52,000 in student loan debt in a year.)
Thinking about making the move overseas? While most expats will tell you life abroad is pretty incredible, there can be drawbacks, too. Keep the following in mind before making the big move:
1. Culture shock is real, even if you’ve visited the country before.
Visiting a country as a tourist is a lot different than living there as an expat. As a tourist, minor inconveniences can be charming and “part of the travel experience.” Day-to-day life, however, is different. This is especially true if you’re dealing with a language barrier. Just because you took a few years of Spanish in college doesn’t mean you’ll be able to bargain for goods at the local market or discuss the intricacies of a health concern with a local doctor.
2. Connect with the local expat community.
Don’t try to go it alone! Even if you’re hoping to become fluent in Spanish or connect with locals, it doesn’t hurt to have expat allies. They can tell you how to navigate local government bureaucracies, let you in on where to find your favorite American foods when the cravings kick in and commiserate about the frustrations of living abroad.
Most of all, when culture shock really kicks in and you want to head home, they can provide a valuable perspective on life in your newly adopted home.
3. Set clear telecommuting expectations in advance.
If you’ll be staying with your current company, establish clear expectations in advance around remote work. While wi-fi is widespread overseas, connection speeds can vary, especially once you get outside of tourist hubs. Because of this, it may not be practical for you to have video Skype calls with your team every day or even every week.
If you plan on traveling during your time abroad, you may also have limited email access at times. In order to stay in the loop, consider setting up a recurring weekly call to discuss project priorities and ensure everyone is on the same page. Cloud-based project management platforms, like Wrike, Zoho Projects, and Trello are all great options for managing workflow with remote employees. Finally, keep in mind potential time-zone challenges. Costa Rica to New York isn’t much of a leap, but New Zealand to New York certainly is.
4. Be realistic about working abroad.
Planning to get a job once you arrive and work locally? Be realistic about your options and visa requirements. While many countries are happy to extend long tourist visas to Americans who are working abroad, fewer are willing to let Americans move there for work without a job lined up in advance. Jobs that are readily available, like teaching English or working with a tourist company, may have a much lower salary than what you’re used to. With creative budgeting, however, plenty of expats enjoy a high quality of life on a lower salary. Just don’t expect to be bringing down the same six figures you made before.