How To Move Abroad And Start A Business After Graduation

The following is a post that I wrote for the NEU GO Blog.


One week ago I attended a members lunch at Hubud, the co-working space that I'm a member of in Bali. The long lunch table was surrounded by fascinating and talented people from all over the world, and crucially for me, fresh sushi. Between bites of tuna sashimi I learned that the person sitting next to me, Caitlin, is an NEU student. I told her that I was on exchange at NEU in the Fall semester of 2012 (I am from the great white north), and that I had fond memories of my time there. Through our conversation we discovered that we actually took a class together with an unforgettable & eccentric prof (who shall remain nameless). The serendipity both blew my mind, and reminded me why I adore travel. Travel gives a person the space to grow as an individual, yet it can also deliver unexpected moments for the traveler to connect with oddly familiar faces, and sometimes to develop as part of a larger group. This is possible from the comfort of Boston or your home town, but I find that travel supercharges this experience.

My main reason for writing this piece is to encourage you to seriously consider moving abroad after graduation and starting a business. I will explain to you why moving abroad can be a financially smart decision, and give you ideas on how you can start earning income from your bungalow on the beach (or the top of a mountain if you prefer).

Now, I know what your probably thinking: ‘I have mountains of student debt,’ ‘I need job security,’ ‘I don’t know how to start a business,’ ‘my parents think I should get a safe secure job in a stable company,’ ‘I studied art history, not entrepreneurship,’ ’I don’t know anyone or have any contacts in [insert gorgeous tropical destination of your choice].’ It is 100% true that you have a million excellent reasons to not start a business or move abroad after graduation. And for you personally, moving abroad with the intention of starting a business may be a horrible choice. It really depends on you as a person, but don’t let fear be your reason for not trying. If you are somewhat adventurous, enjoy a challenge, like to chose what hours you work as well as how many vacation days you get a week, or want to surf and do yoga every morning (as I do) before buckling down on your projects, then read on.

When I graduated from University I took a job at a bank. At first the stability and the opportunity to learn about finance (I studied communications and political science) was a big draw for me. However I soon felt restless and after nine months I quit. I’m glad I had the job as I did learn about banking, and more than anything, what I want my life to look like. At the bank I learned that I need control over my hours in a day, I want do work that is location independent, and live in a tropical climate where I can eat delectable food for only a few dollars (eating is my primary hobby).

As my work is computer based (more on this later) I knew that I needed to be in a place with a fast internet connection. On a personal level, I also knew that working in front of a screen all day in the confines of my room is horrible for my well bring. After a bit contemplation I came to the conclusion that I ought to find a co-working space in Asia. Very generally, I chose Asia because I love the diversity of cultures, the cost of living is low, and in many parts it’s easy to get great eats on the cheap.

Through my research I learned that I should find a reputable co-working space and setup camp there. This would allow me to instantly tap into a tech-savvy and entrepreneurial community, as well as give me the fast internet that I required. If you don’t know what a co-working space is, it’s basically a fully functional office, complete with water cooler banter, but minus the boss or employer. I ultimately settled on a co-working space called Hubud which is located in the tropical island paradise of Bali. If you are at all interested in building a business and living abroad then I suggest you find a co-working space in your destination of choice. The co-working movement is still young, but there are places like Hubud all over the world.

If this sounds great to you but you’re worried about student debt or the very real uncertainty that accompanies any new business venture, I would still encourage you to go ahead. You need to realize that you have about ten years in front of you where you can afford to try new things and repeatedly fail. This is key. In my experience, starting a business can be like throwing spaghetti at a wall. Most of the pieces will fall to the floor, but a few pieces will stick. Always learn from your failed ideas, and run with the ones that work. The key is to fail forward. And because you are still young (trust me, you are still young) you can throw caution to the wind in a way that may be ill advised or downright dangerous later in life. Ultimately, if you decide that you prefer to live and work for a company in the U.S., your international and entrepreneurial experience will make you stand out from the crowd, and your coworkers.

There is one more important point that needs to be made, and this has to do with the cost of living. Large U.S. cities are expensive places to be. To live in this context (never mind to live well) requires a substantial income. This makes trying exciting new business ideas, or taking the week off to go surfing, very risky financially. However, in many locations internationally your cost of living will be a fraction of what you pay in the U.S. To give you a figure, you can live well for around $1000/month in Bali. The point is that in purely financial terms, living overseas may be the most fiscally responsible decision.

Your final concern, assuming you don’t already have a location independent income, is how you will bring in enough revenue every month to pay for your scooter rental and fresh coconut water. In my opinion, the easiest thing to do is start as a freelancer. Go to fiverr and look for gigs that you think you could offer. Start with this immediately, so that by the time you go abroad you will have good reviews, and a stable income. You can also create a profile on Elance and offer your services. Studied english? Great, you can bring in money by editing other people’s work or by ghost writing. Studied accounting? Awesome, you can offer your services as a consultant. Studied Communications or Political Science like me? Become an expert in Squarespace or Wordpress (this can be done in a few months if not faster), and offer to build websites. Once you have some income coming in you can then branch out and try new business ideas.

Your goal should be to try many different types of businesses, and as I stated earlier, fail forward. And please don’t evaluate your level of ‘success’ to early. Give yourself a minimum of 6 months to a year before you decide if this lifestyle and way of doing business is right for you.

I will leave you with this. The hardest part in this entire process is making the decision to go. Work hard and be adventurous, good things will happen.

Want to learn more traveling and entrepreneurship? Check out the book recommendations on my blog: 20+ Books That Every Entrepreneur Needs To Read and The 25 Books Every Traveler Needs To Read.