You don’t hear much about wellness practitioners living and earning money overseas… Maybe it’s because we’re the free-spirited types, or maybe we’re just more motivated by the healing aspect of the work rather than the earning potential (or so we say)…
Many of us got into the healing profession—be it in massage, nutrition, yoga, or fitness—because it’s something we can take with us around the globe. But in certain places, like Costa Rica and Bali, the market is saturated with yoga instructors and massage therapists.
These countries have been hippie tourist destinations for well over 30 years… While they’re wonderful places to complete training courses or exchange healing modalities, it’s difficult to make a living in either as a wellness practitioner. The competition is too steep.
Countries like Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama (where I’ve lived and worked as a wellness practitioner for over 13 years) are fairly new to the health and wellness movement, and the future seems wide open for health-minded entrepreneurs.
What Is A Wellness Practitioner?
A wellness practitioner is someone who is licensed to offer holistic services or specialty skills to help others optimize their health on a whole body level. This includes life coaching, nutrition, personal training, counseling, massage therapy, yoga instruction, and so on.
How To Take Your Practice Overseas
One of the easiest ways to take your wellness practice overseas is to seek employment with an already established business, like a hotel or spa. Normally, they charge a commission on your treatments, but, in general, you can expect to earn US$25 to US$45 per hour.
Many websites advertise overseas postings for wellness-related jobs. Yogatraveljobs, for example, will help connect you with future employers for a US$19 annual fee; Yoga Trade will do it for a US$36 annual fee. These sites offer opportunities for different types of wellness practitioners (not just yoga instructors), and browsing their job postings is free.
Providing counseling or coaching services via Skype or Zoom is more possible now than ever before thanks to increased internet connectivity all over the world. You could charge your clients from back home your normal rates… but perhaps incorporate a sliding scale for clients in your chosen area. It’s a nice way to make your services accessible to locals. I generally give a 10% to 15% “community member” discount on my massage treatments.
You can also develop course work and trainings or share your classes online through services like Insight Timer, which is a free meditation app with over 4.5 million users. Teachers receive 80% of income from courses, donations, or subscription memberships and also get lots of exposure.
My favorite business model is the “hang a shingle” technique. This consists of either renting a space for your practice or visiting existing hotels and spas to let them know about the freelance services you offer. Fliers and bulletin boards still go a long way in tourist towns full of curious visitors.
If you offer five-star services in a tourist destination, you can generally charge the same as you do at home. If you cater to guests at their hotel (freelance) they may expect to pay slightly more, which helps cover any commission the business may be charging (generally 15% to 20%).
What About Permission? The Nitty Gritty Of Owning A Business Overseas
You’ll need to pursue certain legalities depending on how established you’d like your business to become. In Panama, the first step is a business license, followed by a bank account, residency, and work visa. Then there’s the dreaded Panamanian health card (but that warrants its own separate article).
Want to go big? I owned La Buena Vida—a hotel, restaurant, and wellness facility, so I understand the sentiment. Running a bigger business will bring more financial opportunity but also more responsibility. A full wellness facility would most likely require staff and the legal obligations that that entails. Panamanian law states that only 10% of your workforce can be foreigners, so your employees will be mostly nationals.
If you’re doing more than administering your business, you’ll also need a Panamanian work visa for yourself. Learning about local tax and labor laws is important regardless of where you land. A good attorney and accountant are invaluable when you’re in the beginning stages of creating your dream job overseas.
Finding Your Niche And Getting Started
Studying already-established companies in an area and creating an innovative business that sets you apart from the competition can go a long way. Finding your niche will help build your own distinct brand and client base as well as acceptance in your new community. The best time to get started is when your new destination’s tourist season begins.
The good news is there’s still lots of room for yoga studios, retreat centers, spas, and training facilities overseas. In Panama, I’m happy to see the wellness community growing and more like-minded people migrating here all the time. If you have something positive to share with the world, I encourage you to move in that direction… Maybe our paths will even cross at some point.
Michelle Miller Shogren