So you love to travel, observe other cultures, meet new friends from other nations, eat diverse cuisines, and venture into nature’s islands and landscapes that take your breath away. Somehow, you feel the urge to do it not just whenever there’s a long weekend or a holiday; you dream of doing it more often. I have a definite tip for you: work as an expat in your country of choice! I have been doing it for a year now and I’m eager to share tips based on my experience and encourage you to pursue your dream to travel.
Moving To Vietnam
Four years ago, when people asked me if I wanted to live outside the country, my answer was “No!” with an intense conviction. I explained that I didn’t have the need to, and I love my country; why leave it? But the more honest answer would be because I was afraid of the uncertain, and quitting my job meant my life might fall apart.
Ask me the same question now and I would be on fire to share that life is too short and the world is too big to stay in one place. My perspective changed when I started traveling the islands of the Philippines and abroad for work. One day, after days of praying and seeking God’s blessing, I finally submitted my resignation to the corporate world. It was a leap of faith which led me to soar high.
A month after my last day at my previous job as a product manager for my previous employer, I went to Vietnam and fortunately got a teaching contract for a year. Although I originally hoped to pursue a job that is related to social works, I couldn’t ask for more. It was a year of doing everything that I’m passionate about: I taught lovely (sometimes annying) kids during weekdays, traveled during weekends and holidays, met and shared my life with new friends, and wrote for my own website and for other clients during my spare time. In Vietnam, I scaled mountains alone and with groups, I learned to drive the motorbike, I backpacked solo, I lived with people with different skin color than mine, I got into accidents, and more importantly, I enjoyed learning about life. All these as opposed to my previous life of closing deals to reach the monthly quotas, meeting people to do business with them, waking up too early to avoid traffic, and going home too late also because of traffic. Don’t get me wrong, I loved doing my previous job, beating its challenges and enhancing my social skills and character through it; hence I stayed for around 3 years. But it was not something I imagine myself doing until I die.
As a disclaimer, though, I didn’t leave because I wanted to earn more money, or because I don’t like Manila anymore. I ventured outside the Philippines because I believe I was called to do it. I had a passion for nations. And even while I wasn’t pursuing material things and comfort, I actually got blessed with them . Read here why I loved Vietnam even before I lived there.
A different approach to traveling
The typical Asian mindset when we say “travel” is to get something like a 3 days/2 nights vacation in a popular tourist spot, bring our wheeled luggage, sightsee, do activities and shop, then go home to report for work the next day. I, however, longed for a deeper immersion in the culture of my target destination; one which doesn’t happen over a weekend. I have to live there like a local. The best way to do it was to settle in that place for a longer time. So you see, my motive for going abroad was not mainly to earn money (that is just a bonus), but to earn experiences and gain friends which, I believe, is of far more value than material things.
In the following sections, I would answer questions that you might be asking about working in another country, which I also asked myself before pursuing this kind of lifestyle.
Which country to go to?
One of the most important factor to decide on is the place where you are going to move. From there, you can evaluate other factors such as budget, visa and work. In picking which country, you must have positive responses to the following questions.
Do I have a heart for this country? Is it a place you dream of visiting? Is their culture something that interests you? Are there activities for you to do on weekends aside from staying in the city? Do you have compassion for their people?
Is it hassle-free to get a visa? What does it cost to get a working or business visa there?
Do I have contacts there? Is there someone there willing to extend a hand in case you need help or advice?
Do they welcome expats? Are foreigners welcome to work there? If most companies prefer locals, then may have a smaller chance of finding a job.
Do current expats have good feedbacks about working there? Do people who are currently working there as foreigners happy about their stay? This one you can search online through forums or facebook groups.
For me, Vietnam had a very positive response to those questions. I had been there once and I loved it. I had Filipino contacts there from the church community, I had enough opportunities as an expat, and it was pretty easy to deal with visa (which I will share about later). There are a lot of other countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia which are exciting places to travel while working.
What work can I do?
This is something only you can answer. You can figure this out by looking at your strengths and maximizing them to increase your value. This way, you will get paid for doing what you love. You must also be willing to invest on yourself. Here are some of the things you can do abroad, but you are not limited to them.
Teaching English. Filipinos are probably the only Asian citizens that are also preferred by English center employers next to the native-speaking westerners. You can get a TESOL or TEFL certificate which will vouch your teaching skills. The week after my last day at my corporate job, I took a TESOL course which really helped me in my applications in Vietnam. Although the contract I got was teaching computers to primary students, I also got extra earning opportunities to teach English.
IT/Web Design/Graphics/Engineering. If you’re good in technology, you will probably get paid nice as a foreign employee. Although a lot of the expats I met in Vietnam were teachers, a significant percentage of them also belongs to the IT/Engineering industry.
Marketing. With all the popularity of social media, marketers adept in modern media are in high demand. You can increase your credibility if you have attended courses about digital media marketing.
Freelancing. Any skill that you can offer remotely can be utilized as an earning opportunity. I have recently started to do freelance writing and although it alone would not yet sustain me monthly due to the little volume of clients, it really pays good for sitting down and doing what I love. 🙂 There are a lot of people though who call themselves Digital Nomads who already have established a consistent income out of online jobs and that is what I’m hoping to achieve. Imagine having the freedom to work anywhere, without a constricting office desk!
Do I need to have a job when I get there?
It is preferred that you do, but if you are courageous and adventurous enough, you can go there as a tourist and apply for jobs during your stay. This is exactly what I did. Although I have already been applying online while still in Philippines, there’s more chance of getting a job when the employer can interview me face to face. Since Philippine-passport holders have 21-day free visa in Vietnam, I took advantage of my stay there to apply. I prioritized applying over exploring Saigon first. When I had to extend the 21 days, I would just go to the Cambodia border to do a visa run, and I would have another 21 days to stay. I did visa runs (cheaper) until I got the contract which enabled me to pay for 3-month business visa, and consequently travel around Vietnam.
I also have some friends who already got offered a teaching job in Vietnam while they were still in the Philippines.
How much do I need?
This is a very tricky question as the answer depends on your lifestyle and resources. If you already have a job offer upon entering the country, then this is not much of a concern. But if you are doing as I did, then you should count the cost first and see if you have the means to live there. Personally, I had a very good friend who hosted me during my first two months in Vietnam so I only needed to think about food and transportation. I had $400 only when I entered Vietnam but since I found English tutorials and part time jobs before I got my teaching contract, I hardly consumed all of it.
The most important thing.
When things get hard, you would always go back to the question “why am I doing this? Why am I here in the first place?” If you don’t have a good answer, then you would just find yourself on the brink of giving up when you face tough times. But if you know in the first place your purpose for being where you are, then no matter how hard the situation, you can be resilient.
Personally, the answer of why I am in Vietnam is because I love the nations and I know that God has called me there so I could experience his love and provision during my uncertainties while traveling in a foreign land. Indeed my stay in Vietnam has been the best year of my life so far. Although it wasn’t always smooth, but I experienced great wonders during my time there.
What’s the next step?
Blatantly, the first thing I did was to resign and pray hard about this big leap. Because if I still had a job and a salary expectation, I would just be complacent bout applying and planning. I flew to Vietnam only after one month since my last day at work! I was that urgent because I already had the peace in my heart that God was sending me there. 🙂 But maybe you are not adventurous as I am, so you can skip to the following steps 🙂
Research about the country
Invest on your skills. Power-up your resume.
Connect with online communities, especially in FB so you could get a glimpse of the expat community there.
Apply online. Be diligent in finding online platforms where you can contact employers. Send unlimited applications until you run out of job posts to apply! For me, I found my employer’s job post through craigslist. Hardwork is key!
Book a ticket. If you are
As I’m writing this, I have already finished my one year contract in Vietnam and am currently asking God which country to go next. So I myself would go to the same process and steps that I wrote about in this post. There are ridiculously a lot of places that are in my heart like Nepal, Africa, Thailand, Pakistan, South America to name a few; that’s why I need someone to direct me which way to go. 🙂 I would love to share more of my experiences should you have questions.