How To Work For Yourself as an Expat

How To Work For Yourself as an Expat

It’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times.

It’s the best of times because you can live a life that was impossible even 20 years ago. With enough luck, hard work and intelligence, you can live better than any king.

It’s the worst of times however because there is no path anymore. Boomers had it easy in this regard. Work a boring job, pay your bills, get married, buy a house and raise a family and maybe travel 2 weeks a year to the beach.

Then retire when you’re 60. That path does not exist for anyone and you’re a fool to seek it or to buy into it.

Become a digital nomad

If you’re young and penniless you have by far the best chance of anyone else to become a happy and successful digital nomad. As a young person you have no obligations to anyone or anything other than yourself and becoming the competent individual society as a whole wants and needs you to be.

It only gets more difficult as you get older and more established, so it is best to get started before you get too deep into a career path, a relationship and life purchases that tie you down (like a 1 year lease on an apartment or an expensive car you bought 2 years ago).

What is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad from my perspective is someone who works online and lives abroad as a self employed person. Typically the goal is to arbitrage your currency by living in place with a lower cost of living to increase your buying power and quality of life so you can travel more and have great experiences.

Getting a job in a foreign country does not count as being a digital nomad in my opinion.

Sure you can work at a bar or hostel, teach English, work on a yacht or become a travel guide but you’re not really a digital nomad. You can’t just pickup and decide that you’re going to go live somewhere new for example.

Which is the nomad part of “digital nomad.”

Active Income and Passive Income

To become a digital nomad goal #1 is to figure out a way to trade your hours for dollars that does not involve you having to be in any particular place at any particular time.

I know everyone likes to talk about passive income, but passive income comes after learning a skill and how to provide solutions to peoples problems first.

Passive income is really business income and it’s what you do after you are serving a market and have figured out what problem to solve. The real work comes with first with developing a skill.

As I said, you have to sacrifice for what you want so that mean you’re going to have to give things up. The main things being video games, weekends out with friends drinking beer and social media.

Picking a Skill to learn

You need a skill. No way around it. Yea yea, I know there are stories of this person starting a blog who then began traveling or that person doing Amazon FBA. It can work, don’t get me wrong. But for most people your best bet would be to develop a skill where you can work remotely.

What I do is SEO audits, user testing, creating websites and I teach English online too. This forms my “reliable” income. The income I can count on each and every month. My passive income is higher and I can live off it now, but it’s still weird for me to rely 100% on affiliate marketing and ad revenue. I still enjoy the the security that client work provides.

What skills can you do remotely as a nomad?

You should jump on Upwork and Fiverr and take a look at what is selling. Whatever is selling means that’s where the money is. In general, your skill is going to be doing some sort of service that business needs and is willing to pay for:

  • Blog and YouTube
  • Marketing Agency
  • Content Writer
  • Translating text
  • Creating Websites
  • SEO for Clients
  • Facebook Advertising
  • Freelance Travel Writer
  • Graphic Designer
  • Programmer
  • Virtual Assistant
  • Teach English Online

Blog and YouTube

I'll lead of with how I personally make my living. I run blogs and a profitable YouTube channel based around creating tutorials and how-to content for people.

Yes I blog here and I have a travel vlog (the edge of david channel), but those two things are a hobby and creative outlet and don't provide me with enough revenue to live off of. However my blogs and tutorial videos do.

I make money primarily through having a lot of content that ranks for various keyword phrases that people are looking for. I make a good reliable income from ad revenue, affiliate marketing and sales of my own product.

Building these two assets took years, it was not quick and not overnight. I started out like you, having to work a job to make money and work on everything on the side. Then as my income grew I was able to quit my job and replace it with freelance work.

I continue to do freelance work on Fiverr to this day. Freelance was my secret weapon for that transition to self employment as I had more control over scaling it up and down to free up my time or to help me make money to pay rent.

Marketing Agency

You can run a marketing agency where you sell consulting services for companies and individuals where you help them increase their sales. You can do this through running paid ads, outsourcing blog content for someone, helping to improve their sales process and so forth.

The best marketing agency is one where you've done the grunt work and know what companies struggle with. I've meet a lot of Amazon FBA sellers who now turn agencies to help beginners sell more effectively as an example.

Content Writer

A content writer is someone who is paid to write blog posts in a nut shell. This is an in demand position because people who build websites simply don’t have the time to write a hundred blog posts and it’s much easier for them to simply outsource the bulk of the writing.

This is where you come in. From press releases, to SEO blog posts, writing is what you’ll be doing. It could be a profitable gig too. This girl make 6 figures a year as a content writer.

Translating Content

If you are fluent in two languages this is a fantastic opportunity for you. You can get paid anywhere from $20 to $70 an hour to translate text from one language to another.

This can become quite lucrative particularly if you land a client that needs regular translation services. If I wanted to translate my tutorial videos into Spanish, I would be looking to hire someone long term who's reliable and provides good work.

While you won't get rich doing this, it can become a reliable side income that can be leveraged in addition to something else.

Creating Websites

Web design can range from something as simple as a $200 WordPress website all the way up to an agency that can charge big brands thousands of dollars.

Creating WordPress websites for individuals is a fairly easy way to make $1000+ a month online. If you charge $250 a website, you only need 1 client per week to meet that goal.

With tools and software, creating a great looking website is not too hard, but there are many who would be more than happy to outsource this task to someone instead of doing it themselves.

SEO For Clients

Creating websites and doing SEO for your own content may seem simple enough after you’ve been doing it for a year or two but so many business have no clue how to optimize their website for Google.

This is where you come in. You can provide SEO services in the form of either on page optimization or you can manage their link building efforts so their content ranks organically in the search engines.

Advertising and Social Media

Social media is a pain for most small business. They want to focus on business, not posting stuff on Facebook and running ad campaigns.

What you could do is simply mange the social media profiles for companies. Put them on a retainer where they pay you a few hundred dollars every month for you to do something specific like publish blog posts and post to social media.

Running ads for small business is also an annoying task and if you're able to effectively run profitable ad campaigns for someone then it's an easy sell because they make money while not having to run ads themselves.

Freelance Travel Writing

The toughest one to break into on the list. You typically can’t just jump into this one without having traveled before. This one is a good option for travel bloggers who have a small audience and a track record.

If this is you, as you continue to grow your own website, reach out to other publications with a well developed media kit explaining why they should hire you as a freelance writer.

Jodi over at Legal Nomads got her start making money online this way and has since continued to grow her online presence.

Graphic Designer

A good graphic designer can easily charge $90 an hour or more. My sister was a freelance graphic designer before having children and was making thousands of dollars from her own clients before accepting a job. She got married and wanted security.

But if you got talent for graphics, that is one skill that is always in high demand. Sure, individuals can’t afford you because they think you’re just drawing a picture why should they pay that amount of money for something that will take you 30 minutes to do, but business know the marketing value of getting your branding right.


If you can program or have a talent for learning this, I envy you. Programmers can get paid a high hourly rate and not have to work that much. I meet so many digital nomads who worked 15 hours a week and got paid $2,200 a month to code.

To get started leaning how to code you should check out Chris the Freelancer. He’s a guy who taught himself how to code, then got a job and then went nomad. Building his own brand along the way as to not have to rely so much on freelance work.

Virtual Assistant

A virtual assistant is someone who manages tasks and schedules on the behalf of a client. A virtual assistant usually works for a successful individual who needs help managing his or her busy life. Tasks like making appointments, following up on emails being the gatekeeper to your clients attention are typical expectation of a virtual assistant.

Learn more here about the day in the life of a virtual assistant.

Teach English Online

Teach English online – it’s a great way to earn an income online that can supplement another income stream all together. To get started you will need some sort of experience working with kids as well as a bachelors degree and the completion of a TEFL certificate at some point.

Expect to make $20-$25 an hour teaching English online.

Passive Income as a Nomad

Once you have a skill in place and a ready to live and work abroad the next thing you should be working on is building passive income for yourself.

The best forms of passive income to get started are to create courses and ebooks on what you know or building a blog or YouTube channel that can make a good income from display advertising and affiliate marketing.

As you have experience doing something specific based on your skill, it’s a good idea to turn that knowledge into a blog where you can build an audience and sell products to or a YouTube channel.

At a minimum, if you’re not the technical sort at least publish a few books for Amazon Kindle and create a handful of courses for Udemy.

These two places are marketplaces for products that don’t require you to have a built in audience already. Once you have passive income and your active income set and are making money then you can begin to invest and explore other business opportunities.


There are so many ways to work for yourself. The first step is figuring out a way to get paid so you can break free from cubicle life. You do that by being excellent at something and solving other people's problems.