How I Created A Life And Business For Myself Overseas (And You Can Too!)
How I Reinvented My Daily Commute… And My Life In The Process
For four years in Paris, my daily commute was a 20-minute walk across the Seine and through the Tuileries Gardens.
Before that, for seven years, I traveled Irish country roads through green fields bordered by low stone walls to get to the office every morning.
For the past 10 years, I fought rush-hour Panama City traffic each day coming and going from my Live and Invest Overseas offices in the heart of this boomtown.
These days, my daily commute varies.
As I write, Lief and I are spending a month at our Los Islotes property on Panama’s Pacific Azuero Sunset Coast. To get from the house we’re renting (until construction of our own is finished… fingers crossed within the next two weeks… finally!) to our office at Los Islotes, we travel, again, as in Ireland, narrow, winding country roads… some of them dirt…
I’ve been an overseas entrepreneur for the past two decades. I’ve opened and managed businesses in Ireland, France, and, most recently, Panama, as well as in Nicaragua, Ecuador, Honduras, and Mexico.
Starting your work day by walking across the River Seine and then strolling through the gardens Catherine de’ Medici conceived to bedeck the Louvre may sound like a fantasy… and, I have to admit, those mornings when I remembered to pay attention, it felt like one.
However, I’d be lying if I said my adventures in Waterford, Ireland, Paris, France, or, most recently, Panama City, Panama, were part of a well-executed plan.
The truth is, if someone had suggested, years ago, back when I was still in Baltimore, Maryland, where I grew up, that someday I’d be living and running a business in any of the places where I’ve since done those things, I’d have laughed. The idea would have seemed as far-fetched to me then as it may seem now to you.
How did I get from Baltimore to Panama City with extended stops in Waterford and Paris in between? In stages and steps, each unimagined beforehand but leading organically to the next.
I’m not special. I was raised in working-class Baltimore and didn’t take my first trip beyond U.S. borders until I was 18-years-old. That was to Bermuda for spring break. My family has no tradition neither of international wandering nor of global entrepreneurship.
My point is, if I was able to create this life for myself, anyone can.
In fact, it’s easier to make this erstwhile jet-setter lifestyle a reality than ever in history (including when I set out to chase it) and getting easier all the time.
Big businesses and international corporations figured out long ago that geography can get in the way of growth and profits. They learned to move operations and staff where they’re best treated and most well received.
Today, the same opportunity exists for the individual entrepreneur—not only to build a business where it stands the best chance of success but to reinvent your life and take control of your future in the process. You could live wherever you want, embracing the lifestyle that suits you, while building a business that supports the whole adventure.
In 2007, I took early retirement from the company where I’d worked for nearly 23 years. Six months later, I realized that retirement didn’t suit me. I liked being in business. For me, the question wasn’t… what business might make sense? I enjoyed the business I’d already spent 23 years trying to learn.
For me, the question was… where best should I base the new operation I decided I wanted to launch?
In 2007, Panama stood out as the obvious choice. This remains true today, as Panama continues to work hard to attract business investment from around the world, big and small.
That’s one way to approach this—you could look for the best place to start the business you know you want to launch. Or you could show up where you want to be and look for ideas for a business that might be successful in that market.
A friend in Poland years ago learned that Burger King was planning to open up shop there and needed warehouse space for its supplies. My friend bought a warehouse. Burger King became his client. In time, he expanded his storage business to include other clients and other products… and he made a nice living for himself in the place where he’d decided he wanted to live.
Another friend noticed how few coffee shops existed in Warsaw. (This was before Starbucks came to this town.) My friend found a local roaster to roast the coffee beans and then packaged them himself. He set up a combination retail and wholesale operation that was bought by another larger one. That company is still going strong.
Others I know have opened a martial arts studio in Bangkok, Thailand… hotels in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua…a property management business in Cuenca, Ecuador… a beachside bar in Ambergris Caye, Belize… and a wine magazine in Mendoza, Argentina.
The easiest and increasingly common approach is to pursue a portable profession, as a writer or a consultant. For this, all you need is a laptop and a reliable internet connection. Going this route is a chance to go into business for yourself, to be your own boss, and to make your own money… without incurring the hassle and the overheads of a fully-fledged business.
Perhaps, though, you’re up for taking on the liabilities, headaches, and hassles that come along with running a fuller-fledged business. Perhaps you, like me, are interested not only in generating revenue and income, but also in the adventure and challenge of building something.
Running your own business isn’t easy; however, running your own business overseas comes with the enormous upside of absolute freedom, flexibility, and control.
Doing your own thing to generate the livelihood you need to support yourself anywhere, including in the United States, can mean never being chained to a desk. However, doing your own thing in more exotic locales can mean that, instead of being chained to a desk, you’re surfing in the morning, or boating in the afternoon, and hitting the laptop before, after, or in between.
A friend in Panama told me how he once emailed client proposals and presentations from his computer opened on his lap and tethered to his cell phone data connection in a dugout canoe while boating upriver to visit an Emberá Indian village with his family.
Pursuing your entrepreneurial inclinations overseas rather than Stateside can mean freedom in another way, too. Many countries, especially developing ones, don’t have the stifling rules and regulations that developed countries, including the United States, can have.
Have a great business idea and want to try it in any of dozens of countries eager for help stimulating their economies? Great. They aren’t going to stand in your way.
Another friend in Panama wanted to give his young children an international-standard education, but he and his wife didn’t want to live in Panama City, where the international schools in this country are mostly located. So my friend’s wife started her own international school for their kids and others in their area, too. Now they have 40 kids from all over the world attending the school and getting a first-rate education.
Getting all this approved by the Panamanian government? “Piece of cake!” my friend says.
I know many dozens of people who’ve conceived ways to generate the income they needed to support the lives they wanted in beautiful, sunny, exotic, and exciting destinations around the world, from 50-, 60-, and 70-somethings who’ve reinvented their retirement years to 24-year-olds fresh out of school… from older widows to families with school-age children… from divorced guys looking to start over to extended families who wanted to make a move overseas together… and every age and demographic in between.
This works for anyone… for everyone… anywhere…