Category Archives: Expats

Preparing for the Breakaway: Crossing the Atlantic Ocean

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One of the biggest challenges in preparing to breakaway is hearing others opinions of what you should do. When I decided it was time to breakaway I had just graduated from university and I had been discussing traveling abroad for a while. Luckily I was at the right point in my life where I had no real responsibility yet, other then some college loans I was able to pay off. My biggest challenge in this adventure though was convincing my parents to let me do it. It took a lot of effort to persuade them that this was the right time in my life for me to go and live my dreams and finally after weeks of hostile chats and some disappoints they finally relented.

After they were onboard the rest of my plans were smooth sailing. I knew that I was to move to Amsterdam so I tirelessly researched living and working there. Luckily since I am a Dual Citizen of Italy and the United States I did not need to apply for a working visa for Europe. Packing my belongings to go aboard was a marathon, not a sprint. I had to box up everything I would be leaving in the United States and move it into storage. Packing what I would be bringing with me was also quite difficult, not knowing what I should bring or leave here. I mean how are you mean to know how the weather will be the entire length of your trip or what other trips you may take while your away? I didn’t want to have to buy something while I was away that I knew I had at home, I’m cheap I know this.

The other biggest challenge is deciding how long you’ll actually be gone for, do you want to leave forever or just for a couple years until you find yourself? At first I decided I was only going to gone a year but that year turned into an indefinite period. It has been one of the best decisions of my life, at times it can be difficult especially around the holidays but I have a new family of amazing friends to keep me company. Leaving home is one of the biggest decisions you can make but once you make the choice the rest falls into place.

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Top 10 Reasons to Work Remotely from Thailand

Enjoying a break from the office.

My favorite place, the beach.

I couldn’t escape. After a brief stint in Europe, Bangkok was calling me back. Add this to the winter that was beginning in Denmark, and I was more than eager to jump on a plane. There is something exotic and magical about Thailand that had me hooked. Despite the traffic and the pollution, I was itching to be back.

Legality

For anyone considering remote working from Thailand, first you need to understand this. The law states any foreigner working in Thailand requires a Non-Immigrant Visa and Work Permit. This goes for both paid work and volunteer. After four years of living and working here, I’ve spoken to many people on the subject – lawyers, immigration officers, and other expats. My views are as follows, but definitely do not take this as legal advice. Talk to an immigration specialist to determine the best solution for you.

  • If you are working for a company and going into an office everyday. Definitely yes, you need a work permit. Eventually you will get caught, meaning deportation if you don’t have a valid work permit. Usually it’s a disgruntled former employee who makes an anonymous call to the authorities.

  • Working remotely, where your only connection to your overseas clients is a laptop, it’s a grey area. You don’t work for a Thai company, you’re a freelancer, or are employed by a company in another jurisdiction. So long as your salary is being paid into an offshore account, it becomes very difficult to prove you have actually been working. I have not heard of anyone that was ever caught working remotely, a good number of my friends have been operating exactly like this in Thailand for many years. Ultimately, it’s up to you. 

Now we have the serious stuff out-of-the-way, this is why I love Thailand.

1. Getting a long stay visa is simple

Most countries have strict tourism and immigration rules, and it can be difficult to stay in one place for an extended period of time. Thailand is the same. On a Tourist visa, most visitors get a short stay of only 30 days. You do have another option. A year’s worth of language class will cost around $800-850 USD, buying 4 hours a week of class, and a permit to remain in Thailand for 12 months. If you decide to stay longer, you can purchase additional classes, extending this visa up to three years. This is the easiest way foreigners can remain in Thailand for a long period of time.

2. The start-up community is growing

Four years ago nobody in Thailand knew what the IT scene was. There was no push to develop a community of entrepreneurs outside of Singapore, and it was difficult to find like-minded people. Today, the opposite is true. There are a growing number of successful IT start-up’s based out of Bangkok. What’s also great, the community isn’t too large. You will always meet new people, but you can form strong relationships with the regulars. As it’s developing, more and more entrepreneurs that have had successful buyouts are now onto their third and fourth venture. They are coaching the next round of entrepreneurs to further success. There are strong communities organizing events every week, and large start-up competitions and exhibitions every few months. You won’t be alone over here.

3. Wide variety of places to work

If sitting in your apartment bores you to tears, you now have a wide range of options to get you out. It’s nice to have a change of scenery from the Starbucks and your regular window table. Co-working spaces are springing up all over the city. The first of its kind, Hubba has started a craze with entrepreneurs, both foreign and Thai alike. They bring together like-minded people in a “flexi” office environment. With desk rental ranging from $3 to $6 a day, you aren’t going to find a cheaper location to remote from!

4. The food

Without a doubt, the availability of food is a fantastic upside. Most Thai’s eat out three times a day because it’s so easy to get great food, and its ridiculously cheap. At midnight you can find awesome seafood restaurants still working, many stay open all night to cater for the night owls in all of us. My personal preference is local markets, you can’t beat the taste of hot cooked food from a street vendor. I also love the prices, a freshly made som-tum salad or a chicken-rice dish sets you back about a dollar.

5. The location

Bangkok is huge. With 9.3 million people living here, it has all the traits of a big city. Traffic congestion, problems with litter and pollution. But its location is fantastic. Drive two and a half hours north and you can relax alone in a national park. An hour and a half east and you’re on the beach at Pattaya. Or simply book a cheap flight and go anywhere in South East Asia. Cambodia is an hour away, Singapore is two, Hong Kong three, and in four hours you can be on the beach in Bali. My last trip to Cambodia was $130 return. Why not right?

6. The islands

What I love most is the islands, especially in the south of Thailand. There are so many places to visit you will not have enough time to explore them all. After 4 years, I’m still not even halfway through my to-do list! Koh Surin, Koh Similan, or Koh Lipe, all have beautiful beaches, and unspoiled reef just offshore. The best part, is that cell phone reception will be bad on the island, giving you a perfect excuse to unwind and catch up on that book you have been wanting to read.

7. The people

The land of smiles. The old catch phrase is quite adequate in describing the way people are here. Everyone is very relaxed and accepting. Whatever you want to do, be, look like or have, most Thai’s won’t even blink. They are so friendly to you, that soon you will have a large network of local people who remember your favorite dishes in their restaurants, or even just smile and say hello when they see you.

8. The cost of living

I touched on it earlier, but the cost to live here is ridiculously low. A decent studio apartment will set you back around $300 a month. I used to spend this in a week in Sydney! In an apartment building, rent normally includes internet and TV, and a maid service a couple of times a week. The only other bills are power and water, blasting air conditioning all day it’s going to add another $100 on top of your rent at the end of the month. This is insanely low compared to anywhere in the Western world, and means you can live here on a much lower salary, and also save a greater percentage of your monthly income.

9. The weather

It’s 30 degrees. Everyday. OK, maybe an exaggeration, it ranges from 27-32 throughout the year, but never strays far from this benchmark. Insane right? It’s always summer, perfect weather for a weekend trip to the beach, or a hike into the mountains.

10. The women

Let’s face it, there are so many western guys with beautiful Thai women, this one had to make it into the list. I’m happily married, but definitely appreciate this last reason that brings many guys over to Bangkok. Thai women are typically easy to get along with, love to laugh, and see western men as ‘exotic.’ Most single guys that come to Thailand soon find themselves in a relationship. For the girls, I’ve yet to meet someone here who has said Thai guys are the reason they first moved to Bangkok, though have met quite a few who are in happy relationships with a Thai.

I arrived in Thailand with a two-year contract. Without a long-term plan I wasn’t opposed to staying longer, until an opportunity came to leave. After six months of European weather, closed stores over the weekends and expensive beer, Thailand drew me back. I have never been happier. October 2013 marked my fourth year in the land of smiles, and I am looking forward to many more to come.

Author: Travis Bennett

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My biggest challenge in working from home

Laptop and Home Office Desk

Staying motivated while the TV is calling in my home office.

A handful of us have made changes in life that seem bizarre to normal people. ‘Crazy’ is a term regularly used to describe the choices I have made. I threw in the towel, giving up a well-paying management role to relocate over 8,500 km into a country with no idea of my next step. I was in need of something new, however in hindsight I do agree this was a rather extreme decision

I justified the choice to my wife, my family (and most importantly my mother in law) with a need to recharge, revitalize and discover a different type of income that would give me both flexibility and freedom. I had savings to get me through the dry spell in the beginning, reassuring the largest doubts in my mind. I was also lucky to have fantastic people close to me, and received phenomenal understanding and support through the transition. Would I recommend this path to everyone? Probably not. I jumped off the deep end, and failure was an outcome I had to stare in the face each and every day.

Fortunately, there are less dramatic options for those of us seeking something new. Even a small change can be a very good thing, revitalizing our passion for the job and recharging our batteries. When you want to keep your day job but take more control, I recommend negotiating a work from home arrangement with your employer. Conducting business from your sofa in your pajamas is a dream of many office employees. I have been consulting out of my home office on-and-off for over a year, but believe me, it comes with it’s own unique set of challenges.

Managing distractions is simply the hardest thing to do. For anyone even considering this change of lifestyle, you will not succeed if you cannot take responsibility for your own actions. Before you take that first step, ask yourself if you are ready to handle being your own boss. You will have no one in your lounge room forcing you to turn off the TV and focus on work, no colleagues to keep you on track when you hit a slump after lunch. This is what I personally have struggled with, staying on task when there are so many other things to do!

My house is my castle, and unfortunately, coping with the call of the latest Xbox games, fantastic movies queued up in Netflix  or my dog calling for attention means that it can be very difficult to remain productive. In the last 12 months I have learnt how critical it is to be disciplined, otherwise nothing ever gets done. Being strict with yourself is very, very hard. In the beginning I thought that I was doing incredibly. I was always ‘busy’ and the day’s seemed to fly right past. Looking back, I know now I could have achieved much more in my first months. Time and goal management needed to right up top of my priority list, as I was now my own boss. I realized the change in my lifestyle would also require a change in me. Success hinged on my ability to adapt, and only I could bring this change in myself.

Today, I am more scheduled than I ever could have imagined. I start my day at 7 am, with a ridiculously large coffee and build a task/reward list. This is what I developed to keep me motivated and on track, essentially its a to-do list with a reward for finishing each task. Some are small, like reading all of my new emails before I can send one. Other tasks are much larger, like finishing this article before I can head to the gym! I have found that making sure I achieve something before I can go for lunch, turn on the TV or even walk my dog is an excellent motivator. It forces me to get things done when otherwise I will have an empty belly or a grumpy puppy on my hands.

Working from home is a fantastic change, whether its for yourself or for your employer, make sure you understand the challenges involved before you take the leap. You won’t get anything done if you think checking your emails while you watch 4 hours of daytime soaps is working. Learn to manage your time and you will find that both your lifestyle and happiness will improve. Remember, working from home is a privilege you get from your employer. It’s not a right, and you need to earn it. Once you earn it, make sure you continue to deserve it.

It’s challenging to be your own boss, but the rewards are phenomenal.

Author: Travis Bennett

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Filed under Expats, Motivation, Preparing to Breakaway, The Breakaway, Work and Business

Turning Nomad: Motivated by inspiration

Believe_Inspiration_Stones

It takes inspiration, but requires motivation. Sounds like something you would hear at a life coaching seminar to change your life, and while it is a bit bumper sticker slogan, it is actually true. To make the move that will change your life both in terms of location and economics it always takes a dream (the inspiration), and throughout my life I have always been well acquainted with dreaming. Motivation has been more of a stranger to me, but more on that later.

Growing up in a small town in South Wales, UK, people are faced with two choices; stay and have a normal and perfectly healthy middle class life, or leave and have a different kind of existence. While most stay, I always dreamt of the “more” and wanted to explore the world that I loved so much when I was younger. I loved exotic locations I would see on TV and was particularly passionate about animals, so it stands to reason I wanted to leave a country where it rains all the time and the most wildlife you´ll see is a sheep or badger.

Ironically I have come to appreciate Wales for the small jewel it is in recent years, but perhaps that´s another story to be told. Anyway… I spent much of my youth and early adulthood deep in the dream of escaping my boring life when actually I was sleepwalking into being an engineer and living in the area I was born, probably one street from my parents.

The normal chain of events for someone becoming an expat and becoming financially free is meeting someone, a girl, a guy, you know how it goes. For me it was slightly different as the profession came first when I realized that I was a very capable writer while studying engineering in university. I left my course and waited a year to enroll in a different degree program for creative and professional writing, which I guess is why I am here now, writing this for you.

Then there was the girl (what? You thought there was not going to be one?). Of course, we fell madly in love and she helped give me something I had never had until then, motivation. She lived in Spain, me in the United Kingdom, and her life meant that if anyone was going to move, it would have to be me. Obviously the idea appealed to this 15 year veteran of dreaming about the big escape to another country.

My degree studies meant that any permanent move was off for about two years, which meant we would have to travel to see each other. My explorer’s heart finally got to do what it craved, and I traveled extensively over the next two years to various locations around the world to see my new girlfriend. The seed had been planted and as they say, I got the bug. I now wanted to travel more, so in-between the times I would see my partner I would travel to other places, and even came up with a few grand adventures (again, another story).

One fact I am mildly proud of is that I have flown on a plane countless times, but have always traveled alone, I have never been with a companion on a flight. I wear that as a sort badge of honor to show off my nomad tendencies, but I doubt anyone actually is that impressed by it.

My now fiancée is from Argentina and just as the move to Spain was shifting into gear she had to move back to her homeland permanently. That was no issue really, I would just move to South America instead, but what would I do for a job?

The truth is, the idea of becoming financially independent did not occur to me at this point. By the way, I do not class financially independent as being rich, if that´s what it means, where´s all my money? Instead I class it as having the freedom of profession to be able to live anywhere and generate the same income. At that time four years ago I sat a number of TEFL teaching courses which allow you to work as an English teacher in foreign countries, this I thought would be my career in Argentina.

This was just a little concerning because on those courses I was a frankly terrible teacher who passed because, well everybody passes. I arrived in Argentina pretty sure I would not be a teacher and by that point not speaking a word of Spanish. What possible career could await me I thought, but then I found the courage to explore my talent.

I decided I would write for a living and through the days and months I built up a portfolio by doing painstaking jobs until I had a reputation in some circles as a good freelance writer. I now work full-time doing that and am developing a publishing business and get a good if unspectacular income here in Argentina. I work from home, I largely work when I want to, and if I was inclined to I could move to a different location tomorrow with ease.

So what´s the moral of my story? Well, I guess it is that the inspiration is fine, without it you will never get the independence of location and finances. However, don´t dream too long and instead find the motivation, find your path to achieve your dreams, because trust me, even though there may be a few stumbles, you do have a path.

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Turning my life upside down

Deck chairs by the beach. Perfect office space.

Southern Thailand, I can’t imagine a more beautiful office space…

A roller coaster. The most adequate description of my life over the last four years. My decision to break free and take control of my destiny came as a result of a series of unexpected events, that led me from Australia, to Thailand, to Denmark, and back again to Thailand.

The first step is to begin at the beginning, and in the beginning there is always a girl. We met in a company training session in Copenhagen, and fell head-over-heels for each other. The flight back to Sydney was terrible, I knew where I wanted to be, and who I wanted to be with. Unfortunately for my parents, this was not in Australia! Two months later, with a freshly signed expatriation contract, I boarded a plane to her hometown of Bangkok. This first shift was painless. As an expat, your hand is held through every difficult moment associated with an international relocation. Visa, work permits, and even your belongings are taken care of, one day you just wake up realizing you are indeed quite far from home.

The second shift reflected another opportunity. To Copenhagen with us both on expatriation; tackling exciting projects, our life was surreal. However crunch time always hits, hitting hardest in the midst of the financial crisis. I found myself alone in Denmark after her contract was terminated, and 30% of our workforce had been made redundant. Looking to my colleagues, I realized that experience, ability, and skills counted for little. People whose life had been this company, counted for naught. My friends who had invested their entire careers in this business were now out of a job, out of options.

It was this point that was critical for me. During yet another round of farewell beers, I decided that I never wanted to be trapped in that position. I never wanted to give another person the ability to influence my life to such a degree. I never wanted to rely on anyone but myself. My financial future, my life, and ultimately my happiness needed to be under my control.

Handing in my resignation sealed my fate. I threw in the towel with the company that had trained me, where I had grown from an entry-level trainee to management, and built my career over the course of six years. It was not a decision made lightly, and my advice for anyone considering a digital nomad lifestyle is twofold. Have a back-up plan in place, and have some money behind you. Your savings will ensure you can put food on the table, and a back-up plan provides peace of mind during the transition. I had savings that could fund my life in Bangkok for 12 months, 18 at a stretch if my earnings were zero. This provided peace of mind to myself, as well as my family, who at this point were thinking that their son had lost the plot. I also talked in detail with my previous managers in Thailand, and had received an open invitation to return to my previous job. This greatly reduced the risk that involved, making it much easier to take my first leap.

Selling 99% of my belongings was a freeing experience, it opened my eyes to the materialism that is mind-numbingly forced down our throats in modern society. The scary part, is that most of us never even realize. My 20 kg baggage allowance on the return flight to Thailand did not leave room for sentiment, and I was brutal. I moved to Copenhagen with a twenty-foot container jammed full of my life, almost a ton of accumulated “stuff” that I had given value to. I returned with a suitcase.  

Touching down in the heat of Bangkok, I had no idea on my next steps. No plan, no 5-step guide.

I was definitely in the deep end, but I had never felt more alive.

Author: Travis Bennett

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Filed under Expats, Motivation, The Decision