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Four Steps to an Encore Career As an Expat Business Owner

photo by William Friar

William Friar

Whether due to a need to supplement their retirement income or simply due to the same restless spirit that led them to move overseas in the first place, more and more expats are choosing to use their time abroad as an opportunity to begin an encore career in the tropics.

It’s a great way to experience new things and make friends in your new home.  It’s also the ideal way to let your expat life pay for itself. 

The idea of launching a new career in a foreign country or starting an expat business might seem daunting to some.  However, with these help of these tips, the entrepreneurial expat is sure to find the right enterprise to suit his or her city and situation.

expat career

Rita Willaert

Step One: Do Your Homework.

Before you choose a business, or even a city to start it in, it’s best to find out everything you can about the area and its requirements.  You’ll want to research local labor laws and employment practices.  Find out what permits and licenses you’ll need.

Embassies and chambers of commerce can be helpful for this.  They can also help you get referrals for credible attorneys, accountants, and other business contacts.  Find out about your tax liability, if applicable, and your options for structuring your business.

Explore your visa options and make sure you won’t have any trouble finding an immigration path that will allow you to work or do business.

Step Two: Learn the Local Culture.

Doing all your research from afar is great. But there’s no substitute for actually getting your boots on the ground in your destination city so you can pick up on some of the more subtle nuances of the culture.

Talk to other business owners.  Talk to local working people.  Find out how difficult it is to find reliable employees and how high the turnover rate is.  You’ll need to know where to find good employees and what is the best way to go about recruiting them.

You’ll also need to know what makes your employees tick.  What’s important to them and what incentives will help them work to the height of their ability? What’s their idea of a satisfactory work-life balance, and how big of a commitment can you expect from them?

Even if you won’t be hiring help, it’s still important to get to know the ins and outs of the area where you’re moving.  If you’ll be shipping (or receiving) products, you’ll want to know the cost and timeliness of deliveries.  If working online, it’s important to consider how reliable the internet service is.

photo by William Friar

photo by William Friar

Step Three:  Choose Your Venture.

You’d think this would be the first step, but oftentimes it isn’t.  While some expats may know from day one that they want to open a surf school, others may prefer to be a little more strategic and make their choice of business contingent on the location they choose.

In other words, when starting a business or career as an expat, you have two options.  You can either search for the best place to start the particular business you’ve always dreamed of launching.  Or you can open the type of business you think might be successful in the one place you’ve always dreamed of living. 

Here are some common paths expats take:

  • Resume your same field overseas.  There are many fields that transition easily from North to Central America.  Retired medical professionals open small practices in their new city.  The same goes for financial advisors and other professional services.  Teachers can easily find jobs at international schools.  Many workers even find they can continue their same jobs working remotely from overseas.
  • Open a franchise.  By opening a branch of an already established business, you can save a lot of time and headache.  Chain businesses often have a proven business model, marketing strategies, and plenty of support to help you get started.
  • Start an online business or website.  Because of the low startup costs, Internet-based businesses are a great option for expats.  Examples include consulting services, blogs, and other professional services.
  • Fill a niche.  Because the Latin tropics are still developing, most areas have a number of specialty product and services that aren’t available but that might be welcomed by other expats as well as the local population.  You could open a wine shop, a yoga studio, or a restaurant serving up a specific cuisine the area lacks.
expat career

Delwin Steven Campbell

Step Four:  Take Advice from Other Expats

When becoming an expat business-owner, there’s no better resource than other expats who have already paved the way.  There’s much you can learn from their mistakes and successes.  They can refer you to trusted attorneys and other professionals, advise you on business options that might not be viable, and fill you in on a number of invaluable tips and tricks.

Owning a business overseas can be rewarding on many levels.  But it’s not a venture to be entered into lightly.  Doing your due diligence and seeking sound advice from folks who know can help ensure that your expat life is as profitable as it is pleasurable.

Further Info

Viva Tropical founder Josh Linnes recently interviewed Patrick Vlaskovits, author of the New York Times best selling business book, The Lean Entrepreneur. They discussed this very topic and gave several great tips. Click here to learn how to start your own profitable business in paradise.

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