Making a Living Abroad
Let’s consider your possibilities for making a living. Obviously, if you’re a writer or a visual artist, you’re in business. You can do your work (almost) anywhere. Or, if you have money to invest you might get into rental property or a business. This is trickier and, having failed in a couple of businesses myself, I wouldn’t recommend it. The European bureaucratic obstacles can be formidable, and doing business here requires a lengthy, expensive learning process. Can your work be done over Internet? A lot of jobs can these days. If that’s your case, then you’re home free.
We recently met a couple from Oxford, U.K. They are both IT consultants and work in London. They said they used to spend five hours a day on the train getting to work and back. I couldn’t believe it. “It must be one of those great trains with desks for working, Internet connections, a great bar and all that, no?”
“No,” he said, “none of that. It’s a train, you know, a train…” They moved to Granada a couple of years ago and now do most of their work from here. When they do have to visit London they get one of the great cheap flights from Granada to Gatwick airport in an hour and a quarter and are actually in their offices in less time than it used to take them to get there from Oxford. They think they’ve died and gone to heaven.
It Takes Creativity and Conviction
Can you teach, build, consult, train, design, program, photograph or cook? There just might be a job for you in another country. We know people who have made it in Spain in the most unlikely ways. One 50-year-old woman from Kansas turned up in Spain on vacation and decided she wanted to stay. “How are you going to make a living here,” jeered her husband, “you don’t even speak Spanish!” “No,” she said, “but I speak English.”
She taped up some signs around the neighbourhood and started giving English lessons in their apartment. Little by little the network of students expanded to the point where she had to rent a suite of offices and convert them into classrooms, and hire a couple of teachers.
A British sheep farmer came to Andalusia a few years ago, bought a farm and started raising sheep here. Eventually he wrote a book about his experiences, and had a big success with it. It didn’t go to his head, though. He still raises sheep and guides occasional walking tours. That is to say, with a bit of creativity, hard work, and luck, you just might be able to make a go of it in a new country. But you’ll never know unless you try.
More People Who Re-invented Themselves Abroad
An American friend of ours from Chicago showed up in Spain 40 years ago with a backpack full of books. He gave English lessons and did translations for the first few years, before deciding to study Arabic at the University of Granada. Eventually he got a PhD in Arab studies and wound up as a Spanish university professor. Though he has just retired, he continues to write and has just published a new book.
A British woman we know owns two infant schools in Granada. How did she start out? She was originally a tour rep in the Sierra Nevada ski resort for a British travel agency. She married a ski instructor there, and when their son, Scott, was two years old she couldn’t find a suitable, English-speaking pre school for him. So she opened one herself. The boy has just turned 14 and has just been selected to go to Madrid to join the Spanish national golf team’s intensive program for young golfers, and his mum has expanded her nursery school three times.
Expatriation Helps You Stay Young!
Obviously, age is a factor in any expatriation project. If you’re older you’re going to have to work harder to learn the skills you need to prosper in your new country, starting with the language. This is not to say it’s impossible. Some of the youngest people we know are chronologically old, and I firmly believe that forcing one’s self to deal with change is one of the best ways to stay young.
I heard a fascinating interview on the radio this afternoon with an elderly Jesuit priest. He’s been retired for years, but he’s never stopped. He’s currently working with young offenders in Spanish prisons. “The first thing I make clear to them when we meet is that I’m not doing them any favors, that they’re helping me just as much as I’m helping them,” he said. “I’m 86 years old. If it weren’t for them I’d be spending my time sitting on the sofa watching television or on a park bench chatting with old priests. It’s a tremendous privilege for me to be in daily contact with these young people, working together on worthwhile projects, their lives.”
A major issue for people about to move to a new country is the language, and you would do well to get started on it now, unless you already speak the language of your new country, or your new country speaks English. There are some powerfully attractive places where English is spoken: Canada, for example, the Scandinavia of North America; or New Zealand, perhaps the most pristine place left in the world.
So you see, expatriating yourself and saying goodbye for good is not as complicated nor as traumatic as you might have thought. By going about it calmly and systematically you have a good chance of making it happen. It’s just a question of doing your homework, making your plan and then working it, never taking your eye off your goal. ¡Buen viaje!