- Nina Hobson, 39, is an expat blogger and coach with 20 years’ experience working abroad.
- Remote work from another country can be difficult, personally and professionally.
- She breaks down the four biggest lessons she’s learned.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
I’ve lived in 10 countries. I first moved abroad at 18 to learn German, and I’ve embraced the global nomad lifestyle ever since.
I’ve volunteered in India, taught English in Syria, worked at the European Parliament in Belgium, and soon I’ll be relocating from Britain to Uruguay. I work remotely as an expat blogger and life coach.
As travel restrictions start to ease, I’ve heard many people say they’re considering a switch to working remotely from another country. A recent survey by the expat network InterNations showed the most popular countries for expats are Taiwan, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
While the prospect of cheaper living, adventure, or just a tan might be appealing, from my experience, remote work abroad can be lonely, stressful, expensive, boring, and even bad for your career.
These are the top four things I’ve learned about how to make your overseas remote-work career a success.
Reach out to locals when you research your move
Before moving to Angola, I did a lot of research online, but the information was patchy. So I asked friends on social media. Soon one put me in touch with a local resident. He had all the best advice, from how to avoid rental scams to how to negotiate a fair price for a pineapple.
If your connections don’t bear fruit, reach out to people through online communities such as hobby clubs, expat Facebook groups or professional networks. When I moved to Belgium, a women’s club filled me in on tips varying from the best internet provider to Belgian dinner-party etiquette.
A lot of advice is at best personal, at worst biased, so ask around. Last year, seduced by glossy travel-magazine talk of Ecuador’s low cost of living and stunning nature, I moved there with my husband and our three children, aged 2, 5, and 7.
This was June, so COVID-19 restrictions limited our ability to leave our Airbnb. After two months of feeling horribly unsafe, I abandoned ship and moved back to the UK.
Now, as I prepare my move to Uruguay, I’ve been asking more people for a clearer idea of whether the destination will suit me personally.
Learning the language is essential in really doing this. In Syria, a basic knowledge of Arabic meant I could ask locals all my cultural-etiquette questions. And when I messed up, it made a big difference being able to apologize in their language.
Book your initial accommodation through someone you trust
For short stays, go through a trusted provider such as Airbnb or Vrbo. Don’t try to cut costs by booking directly with the owner. I did this in southern Chile and ended up in a freezing log cabin without hot water and electricity and no option for a refund.
You might like to enlist an agent to help you find a home. In Santiago, mine steered me away from properties that might look good to a newcomer but were actually not safe, noisy at night, or came with hidden costs. Her fees were more than compensated through the reduction in rent that she negotiated.
If you do book privately, trust your gut. If something feels too good to be true, chances are it is. In Munich, I found a fabulously priced apartment — which turned out to be a brothel.
Make a list of the people you need in your life and work hard to build relationships with them
Perhaps the biggest danger with remote work abroad is being out of sight, out of mind.
To combat this, I’ve drawn up a list of 20 key professional contacts with whom I check in regularly.
Whether it’s an email update, a phone call or a Christmas card, frequent reminders of your existence are vital. I used to consider chit-chat with colleagues a distraction. Now I make time for it on
Over the years I’ve built up a bank of people on whom I can rely for testimonials to underline my capabilities. While the pandemic has shifted working norms, some employers might still be reluctant to offer remote work.
You need to show that time zones and distance won’t affect your commitment and that the benefits — for example cost savings and boosted productivity — make it worthwhile.
Maintaining nonwork relationships is just as important. I’ve known my best friend since I was 4. We chat regularly, send each other letters and exchange gifts out of the blue. She’s a beautiful comfort when I’m feeling lonely or stressed.
Seek out new friends, too. I’ve previously relied too much on the only person I knew abroad: my husband.
But that put a strain on our relationship. I now cultivate other close bonds. In Chile, when my child was hospitalized for a severe allergic attack, my friends there rallied to help.
It’s comforting to have people I can call on for everything from a loaf of bread to life-saving medication and a hug.
Start planning as soon as possible, both for the short and long term
Before leaving for Santiago, I put off my admin tasks, thinking I could sort them out later. Only after I arrived in Chile did I realize that, to get my international driving permit, I needed to be in the UK, and to get my Chilean license I’d need documents processed in the UK too.
Nowadays, while I have no date for my move to Uruguay, I’m already in touch with real-estate agents, my documents are ready, and I’m up to speed with my vaccinations.
Plan for the long term, too. I’ve learned the hard way just how crucial it is to really understand your net salary, the cost of living and savings options.
I’m under no illusion that Uruguay will be easy, but for my personal situation it’s the quickest (and sunniest) route to my longer-term goal of a comfortable life in Europe.
Nina Hobson is an expat coach and founder of The Expater, a lifestyle blog for women living abroad.
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