We’ve all heard it before.
“When I retire, I’m going to finally take that dream trip to Europe!”
Or travel around Southeast Asia. Or finally, go on that incredible safari. Or park yourself on a beach in Fiji. The list goes on and on.
While it’s great to have travel-related goals as motivation for saving over the long term, the idea that you have to wait years and even decades to start ticking items off your bucket list can test anyone’s patience.
And even if you can start ticking items off your travel list now, the high cost of overseas travel will likely limit how many trips you’re able to take every year, even with travel hacking. Not to mention getting enough time off to make these trips worthwhile.
All this is to say, most of us will likely only be able to pull off one big international vacation a year.
These limitations are why I much prefer the alternative: having your adventures now while you boost your retirement savings.
After all, why should you wait until you retire to start traveling when those same adventures can be available to you right now – especially when meeting your travel goals can help you financially as well?
Read on to learn how I have worked abroad to help me reach my travel goals and see if working abroad may be right for you too.
How to Use Working Abroad to Meet Your Travel Goals
Barriers to Travel: Time and Money
For most of us living in North America or somewhere somewhat isolated like Australia or New Zealand, the main points preventing us from traveling further afield are the time and cost involved.
While there are plenty of wonderful places to see within these countries and day trips and road trips can be fun, you’re probably quite far away from many of your dream destinations. After all, we often want what is out of reach, and no matter how beautiful our home is, the far-away somehow seems more exotic.
The average American in the private sector (85% of Americans) receives just 10 vacation days per year after putting in a year of service. Even though those numbers tend to increase with more service time, a measly 2-3 weeks off a year may not get you very far.
Not to mention that jumping on a plane and heading to the other side of the world is hardly cheap. This means that even if you do have some vacation days saved up, your savings will likely be hit hard by your travel dreams.
The Solution: Working Abroad
Luckily, there is a way to have the best of both worlds. I know because I’ve successfully done it.
While this won’t work for every career or person, one great solution for those wanting to have a career and travel more frequently is to work abroad.
Working abroad allows you to experience living in another country and the freedom to travel without having to jump across the pond. All the while, you’re earning and saving money.
Let us focus more on travel for a second because that is the main motivator behind work abroad in this article. Specifically, having lived in several different countries in Europe and the Middle East, I’ve had the chance to see places that I would never have gotten to otherwise. Even if I had gotten there, it would have taken me years to see all the places I was able to while working abroad.
How? Because when you’re working abroad, all these distant exotic places become a hop, skip, and a jump away.
For example, when you’re living a short flight away from Tbilisi, it’s not much trouble at all to arrange a weekend away sipping Georgian wine. Or perhaps you’re a few hours from Sri Lanka, meaning you can find yourself waking up on a beach the morning after a long week at work. And getting on a train for a couple of hours and ending up in Paris just in time for dinner is still one of those bizarre, movie-like experiences.
In other words, it’s much easier and cheaper to travel to these far-off places when, well, they’re just not that far away.
And the best part is, working abroad can also have the added bonus of actually being an advantage for your finances.
How Working Abroad Can Be Financially Beneficial
When you consider moving overseas, it’s understandable if you start to think of some of the more well-known ways to do this, like teaching English in Japan, working as an au pair in France, or pulling pints in the UK.
These are all incredible opportunities, but you can also look at working abroad another way. That is, every job (with a few exceptions) that exists in your home country is going to exist in other countries too.
This means that it’s very likely that there’ll be job opportunities in your field of expertise outside your home country. And in many cases, you’ve got a good chance of getting a higher salary or living somewhere with a lower cost of living than back home. Depending on the country, you may also have other added benefits like universal healthcare.
One great outcome of these potential benefits is that, with some careful money management, working abroad can actually be beneficial to your finances as well.
This has absolutely been the case for me. In fact, while my main motivation may have originally been to see a bit more of the world, these moves have worked out really well in terms of how much I’ve been able to earn and save for retirement.
Of course, it can be tempting to blow all those hard-earned dollars (or euros or pesos or…) on seeing as much of your new country and its surroundings as possible. This is why, much like back home, sticking to a budget is and having a plan for your money will be important.
The first step is to understand your money goals and what you want to accomplish. Then, make sure you budget for all the things you must pay for and those you’d like to save for (such as retirement, travel, etc.).
How to Get Started Working Abroad
Unsurprisingly, working abroad isn’t as simple as jumping on a plane and seeing where you end up. This is why, for anyone interested in working abroad as a means to travel more, I’d recommend considering a few key points.
One thing you’ll note is that language is not one of my key points. The reason for this is that while it’s certainly a consideration, the fact you don’t speak the native language shouldn’t be a reason to immediately cross a country off your wishlist.
While it is true that it may not be possible to secure a job without speaking the local language (depending on your field), that’s not always the case (and certainly hasn’t been in my experience).
It’s important to do your research to see whether or not that’s a must-have in your target countries before crossing those countries off the list.
Other than language, here are my 3 key points to consider when deciding on a country to pursue work abroad.
1. Determine Where You Can Go
In most cases, the first step to working abroad will be figuring out where you’ll likely be able to get a working visa.
In addition to checking any working arrangements offered to citizens of your country of nationality, it’s also good to consider countries with certain arrangements targeted at foreign workers.
A great example is Australia, which actually has a list of hundreds of jobs for which foreigners with relevant training can more easily get a visa. This list of jobs includes anything from hairdressers to accountants to plumbers, so it’s highly likely your field of expertise is on there or is similar enough that you could potentially fulfill that position.
For anyone with their eye on Europe, a German freelance visa is also an excellent option. There are a few steps to follow, and it’s mainly suited for those interested in working in certain online jobs, but it’s a relatively easy way to base yourself in the center of Europe.
Another great option is the Gulf countries, particularly the UAE. These countries are extremely favorable to foreign professionals in fields like teaching, engineering, or any medical-related area. While the cost of living is high, salaries are tax-free, so many people immediately find themselves at a financial advantage here compared to their home countries.
No matter your area of expertise or your desired country, the first step in the journey to working abroad is to make sure you’ll actually be able to live and work in the country of your choice.
2. Will the Finances Work?
Now that you’ve narrowed down your list of possible countries, it’s going to be important to check that the financial side of things also works out. While living and working abroad can be beneficial for your finances, the opposite can also be true.
Cost of living will be important here, as this can vary significantly from place to place – even within a country.
You may also find yourself paying for expenses you didn’t have back home. For example, paying for health insurance may be a requirement for you to stay in the country if your new employer doesn’t cover it.
Similarly, any visa renewal fees that you and your family are responsible for can add up once you start spending a few years away.
I’ve found Facebook groups containing people who’ve moved to your intended destination to be incredibly useful at answering these questions and many, many more.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, make sure you thoroughly research the various costs associated with your potential destinations to ensure that your budget and new salary will align.
3. The Other Side of the Coin
At this point in the article, you’re probably rearing to go and begin researching your new life abroad. While I fully recommend working abroad and using your work as a springboard to meeting your travel goals, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about some of the drawbacks to living and working abroad.
The one warning I would give to anyone considering this is to keep in mind what you may end up missing.
Don’t get me wrong: being able to have all these adventures now rather than waiting years has been amazing. But there will inevitably be events back home, both happy and sad, that you won’t be able to make it back for. Just like traveling abroad from your home country, it will be tough to drop everything and hop on an international flight.
For these reasons, if you have loved ones who are elderly or sick, or some other reason you may need/want to come home regularly, then working abroad may not be right for you at this time.
There are also moments of intense frustration, especially when you’re still figuring things out. You’d never think that you would miss your supermarket back home until you find yourself standing in front of rows of milk cartons with strange writing on them, wondering what on earth the difference could be. It’s a huge adjustment living in a new place, let alone a new country.
Lastly, keep in mind that moving abroad likely means you must give up your social circle and support system. Social media and technological advancements have made it easier than ever to stay connected, but there is no replacement for in-person connection, as we recently learned. Working abroad will mean getting to know new people and creating a new circle of friends and support. While fun and exciting, this can also be scary and challenging.
While these drawbacks are very real, I’ve found that as long as you’re aware of these points, it makes them much easier to manage when they do arise. I also wouldn’t let these points necessarily stop you, but rather be aware of and plan for.
The idea of packing up and moving to the other side of the world can be, to put it mildly, pretty daunting.
But it’s also good to ask yourself as you mentally add to your bucket list: why wait years to start ticking items off?
Why not start your travel dreams now by moving and working abroad, where you can have the best of both worlds. And this is especially the case when moving overseas could put you seriously ahead from a financial perspective. It means that not only could you be putting your passport to good use years ahead of schedule, but you could be significantly reducing your working life too by putting your savings toward achieving financial independence.
Sure, you could wait years (and save thousands) to have the chance to be able to see a few European highlights. Alternatively, you could jump on a train on a Friday afternoon and, in a few hours, be in Amsterdam or Munich.
Or what about going for a Saturday morning hike in Oman or a beach escape in Zanzibar?
Moving overseas to work, even just for a few years, is absolutely a big decision to make, and like anything, it’s important to do your research and be fully aware of your options.
But when you have the chance to see the world and boost your savings all at the same time, it’s fair to say that this is definitely worth a second look.
Tawnya is an elementary special education teacher by day and co-blogger at Money Saved is Money Earned by night.
She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University. She has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer.
Tawnya and co-blogger Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. They teach people how to save money, make money, and understand money.