One of the most common questions I receive is, “How did you find your job that allows you to live as an expat?”
This is an interesting question to answer because everyone’s situation is different. I would say the most common denominator in all situations I have heard of is networking. I know that isn’t the answer you want, though. Everyone’s advice to all people in any field is network, network, network. Easier said than done.
I have been lucky to have had decent jobs in each industry I have worked in: banking, film, website management. I switched industries three times in my career and networking was most definitely the key to getting my foot in the door in fields which I had no experience.
Finding a job abroad requires a different approach. How do you network with people in a city/country thousands of miles away? It’s nearly impossible.
After I graduated from university I wanted more than anything to work at a major bank in Singapore. The banking industry is booming there and I wanted to be a part of the rise. The Singaporean economy is also very unique in that it is highly dependent upon trade. Singapore’s trade to GDP ratio is among the highest in the world, averaging around 400%.
While trying to set up a job in Singapore, I ran into numerous road blocks which I won’t get into here. Point is, I never made it to Singapore.
So how do you find a job in a foreign country? Or just find any source of income?
This may be easier than you thought. In fact, I think every year it becomes easier and easier to find a job abroad. This is largely due to foreign countries’ tech ecosystems growing by leaps and bounds. There are many programs out there that are seeding funding to foreign tech ecosystems and providing valuable resources to local entrepreneurs. This is especially the case in Latin America. It is not only Latin companies being formed for their local communities, but there are many U.S. startups opening offices in Latin America. This growth has generated a new wave of highly-skilled, international tech companies.
The most obvious open positions at these startups are developers, UI/UX designers, and online marketers. However, there is a significant demand for English-speaking sales and customer service roles.
Given the amount of people who have asked me about work in Latin America, I figured it would be good to break down what the options are. If you want to be an expat tech worker, there are four options:
- Working remotely for a U.S. company
- Working for a locally established Latin American company
- Working for a Latin American startup who targets their local community
- Working for a Latin American startup who targets a foreign market
Working Remotely for a U.S. Company
Working remotely for a U.S. company is probably the most ideal position to be in. U.S. workers tend to get paid much better than those in local markets in Latin America. This leads to a more decent quality of life.
Working remotely is a dream for most, but there are definitely drawbacks which are not obvious at first. By working 100% remotely, you limit your exposure to the field you are working in. If you are working remotely for a U.S. tech company, it can be difficult to stay exposed on a daily basis. Working remotely will also hinder your ability to network in the community you live in.
The new trend of co-working spaces really alleviates many of the issues with working remotely. I have used co-working spaces in the U.S. and abroad and can tell you first-hand how valuable they can be for developing healthy work habits. Co-working allows you the opportunity to network and collaborate with a wide range of bright minds. You might even make new friends in the process. Proximity gives you the chance to “pick the brains” of professionals in your own line of work as well as those in related fields. These spaces also provide hard to come by services, especially in Latin America. Most companies have high speed WiFi, printing services, and ideal work spaces. They are also a great way to avoid loneliness, and believe me, if you move abroad, you will have your moments of loneliness, no matter how extroverted you are.
There may not be as many co-working spaces in Latin America as there are in the U.S., but there are definitely more and more opening each year. Below are a couple that I have heard about.
AtomHouse in Colombia
Areatres in Argentina
Impact Hub in Mexico
Piloto 51 in Puerto Rico
Sinergia in Uruguay
WeWork in Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico
Working remotely for a U.S. company will make it harder to get a work visa, so getting a residency visa is probably a better idea.
Working for a Locally Established Latin American Company
If you would like to work for a Latin company, you need to consider the fact that your salary will most likely be a fraction of what it would be with a U.S. company. Luckily though, the cost of living is also a fraction of what it is in the U.S.
Companies may tend to favor people who can speak Spanish, so this may be a drawback for some. You may also not be working with the most cutting-edge technologies.
The advantages of a work visa, healthy work environment, and stable local salary should outweigh the disadvantages.
Working for a Latin American Startup
According to Cisco, Latin America will lack nearly 500,000 IT professionals by 2019. The most in-demand skills are for video, cloud, mobility, cybersecurity, and software development. If you have experience in any of these fields, you should be able to find an exciting startup to work for. The average salary for tech workers in Latin America is between $2,000 and $3,500 per month. This is MORE THAN ENOUGH to live a very comfortable life anywhere south of the U.S. Workana is a good website to search for positions at startups.
Many startups will hire smart, experienced people who are looking to learn new skills, so do not be turned off if you don’t have the skills listed above. There are even programs that you can enroll in to give you the basic skills needed to work at a startup. Some include World Tech Makers, Desafio Latam, and Digital House. These are great ways to network in the local professional communities. Most employees will speak English, but their products are most likely in Spanish. This is a good way to quickly learn a new language.
These jobs are most likely the best for someone who only knows English. Work will be conducted in English and so will all the products created. Falling into this category could also be U.S. startups that have their office in Latin America and sell to the U.S. markets. Getting a higher than normal salary could be easier at these companies because their products are likely more expensive.
There is no doubt that finding a job abroad is difficult. This is especially the case because many countries do not have the same vast array of online resources that the U.S. has. Attending networking events, meetups, and workshops at universities are the best way to introduce yourself to the community and start networking. I would recommend using MeetUp and Hacker/Founders.
The startup scene in Latin America is thriving and is a great industry to look at for work, especially if that is the one thing holding you back from a life abroad. Each year, more and more positions will be available. Finding a job is a numbers game. You really need to network or connect with as many people as possible until something sticks. The cities that will be easiest to find startups in will be Medellin, Colombia; Mexico City, Mexico; Guadalajara, Mexico; Buenos Aires, Argentina; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Santiago, Chile. These cities are thriving with startups and are also some of the most popular destinations for expats.
I hope this information helped you and is a catalyst for you starting your journey to becoming an expat!
I would like to take a second to recognize the aftermaths of Hurricane Harvey and Irma. Many people in the south have been forced to vacate their homes and will be dealing with the aftermath in the upcoming months. A long time reader of Escape Artist is putting together a relief fund to help evacuate families and supply them with food and water. I would like to encourage you to reach out to Justin Scott at (204) 301-9099 and support his effort in any way possible. Every dollar counts and will go a long way. Thank you.
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