A Year (Or Two) Abroad?
May 10, 2021 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out the viability of my current pipe dream - working remotely for a US-based corporation for a year or two, outside the US, with my family (and small dog).

Currently I'm employed and living in an expensive area of the country. It doesn't look like I'll be going back into the office for a while yet, and we have a 9-year-old that we don't necessarily want to send back to school if vaccines aren't widely available for kids.

I'm now thinking about the possibility of taking a year to travel to a country, home school the kid, and work remotely. If I was single this would be a no-brainer and I'd probably already be in Barbados now that I'm vaccinated against COVID-19, but the family and dog bit makes it more complicated.

The current thought, which is probably not all that well-formed given that I've just started thinking about this yesterday, is that we'd head to a Spanish-speaking country (say, Mexico), live there for a year on my income while spouse homeschools the child, we all learn the language a heck of a lot better than we would in our current location, support the local economy, create memories, etc. and potentially save up a bit of cash because the cost of living looks to be half of what we currently pay. We'd store things we want to keep with local family/a storage unit, and we currently rent so the only other property we'd need to worry about is a car which could potentially be sold.

There seem to be a lot of sites out there that outline a lot of the basic facts. I'll definitely need to join some forums and Facebook groups if this goes further. But. A lot of what I'm seeing is young, white, fit people with no kids. My family is also white, but we are fat nerds and I'm visibly trans/queer (FTM), the kiddo has ADHD, and also the aforementioned small dog would need to come chill with us eventually.

COVID aside, is this a dumb idea? "Yes" is perfectly valid. I'm just curious and asking around before I put in a significant amount of time into researching things.
posted by daikaisho to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to whether it's a dumb idea or not (it doesn't immediately strike me as one), but I will say that you should not take it for granted that any given US-based corporation will be happy or even able to employ you in a foreign country. There are significant tax and legal implications to having employees in different locations (not just countries, but also states within the US), and it can be expensive, time-consuming, and risky for a company to do this if they don't already have employees there. I am not saying that you can't find a job that would let you do this, but you definitely can not assume that your current job will allow it if you haven't already talked to them about it. And I think you may find that it significantly limits your opportunities with other companies as well. You only need one, so this shouldn't be a showstopper, but I would put finding a job that will allow this near the top of your to-do list if you're serious about it.
posted by primethyme at 11:57 AM on May 10, 2021 [9 favorites]

You should look at whether or not your current employer (assuming you don’t plan on looking for a new job) would be willing to let you work outside the US in your current capacity. YMMV, but I know that for my technical role, I’m not even allowed to take any work devices or access anything on our internal networks from outside the US without a lot of red tape.
posted by evoque at 12:20 PM on May 10, 2021

Best answer: I love this idea! I have lived overseas twice with my kids, and I'm generally in favor of things like this. There are certainly folks who do and have done this. I'd not think about homeschooling, though. If you want your kid immersed in the culture and especially the language of that other country, I'd strong recommend you send them to a school in that country. Honestly, I'd recommend you send your kid to a school in that country even if the language of instruction was English. Your kid can have an incredibly rich and meaningful experience this way, much more so than you all, isolated in your house. They'll make friends and learn the language so fast, much faster than with a tutor coming to you all. You want to build community, and school can be a great way to do that for families. Tuition can be expensive, but if you find a local school (not one that caters to expats), then it might be cheap. Otherwise, I'm worried your kiddo might be pretty miserable, without a way to connect with other kids.

Another issue that can come up: reliable electricity and internet.

I do think it might take some work to find a place that's cheap and will be welcoming and comfortable and safe for you. Like, if you're going to a developing country, you might need to find an expat enclave there. I might focus on that to begin with. Those places can be a bit pricier, though.

I know it's easy to eschew the idea of living someplace overseas with a big expat community when you're in the US, but there can be can real advantages. The first time I lived overseas, I worked with a lot of people from that country and a lot of Americans and definitely had access to a lot of expat amenities. It was still challenging, but that community was a great resource. The second time, I did not have access to many other Americans in my community. We were much more immersed. It was much more challenging, and it took a lot more work. It was a tougher experience for my kids too (who were older at this point). It was fantastic, and also... exhausting.

Would it work to give this a try for a month this summer? I know that doesn't save you money on rent, but you could scope out some possible places right now, before school ends, and go there for a few weeks or more this summer and just see how it feels, talk to folks about renting, etc.

Also, could you think about doing this in a less expensive place in the US? What would it look like to temporarily relocate to a small US town? Perhaps your spouse could get a part-time job there? You don't have the language exposure, but you'd save money, and maybe it would scratch that itch to explore someplace new?

I realize Covid makes this all more complicated in ways I haven't even considered, and I don't mean to discourage you at all. I'd try to find queer-friendly places overseas with robust internet, and go from there.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:37 PM on May 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm going to come at this from less of a reasonable, more of a 'life is too short', type of angle.

My plan was to live abroad for a year so that I could learn another language well, broaden my horizons and have some independence. I wanted to do this in a couple of countries, actually. In fact, that's what I was meant to be doing this year. I'd been saving for a while. Unfortunately just at the turn of this year and out of the blue, one family member I lived with got very, very sick and now has to live in a home. I am suddenly the sole breadwinner and my mum is a kind-of-dependent (she's in her late 70s). I can no longer live my dream because I can never just leave my mum here alone and jet off to wherever I want. Ever. I certainly cannot go and live abroad for a year. I will likely now only be able to do this when I am 70 myself.

It's not just the loss of an opportunity but the loss of a mindset. I am now around 99.9% more risk-averse than I ever was.

So I am saying go and do it. You have no idea of what hell is around the corner. Life can be a savage bastard and you might not always have the opportunities that you have now. If you are adventurous and fearless, enjoy it and take full advantage of it. It's a state of mind I would give my left arm to have back.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 12:38 PM on May 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: One point of clarification - I'm in the process of checking to see if this is viable with my employer as well, so I've got that angle covered.

I'm also not particularly interested in scoping out other places in the US at this time; mostly because I've already lived in several states, red and blue, in areas varying from completely rural to major city. There are still places I'd like to visit, mind, but if I'm staying in the US I might as well stay where I am as it's a place I love (other than the cost of living).

Thank you for the answers thus far however!
posted by daikaisho at 1:11 PM on May 10, 2021

You will likely run into HR troubles if you establish residency overseas. It complicates the tax situation, and sometimes you have to become a contractor and lose benefits (but then, can you use your health insurance abroad anyway?)

If you can keep residency in the states but just live abroad, then you just have everything connected to your US address and pay US taxes etc. (Just make sure you're getting direct deposit!). So long as HR looks the other way, you can be "in" the United States while you're living abroad.

If you have a friend or relative who can let you use their address as your address (e.g., put the electric in your name, so you can remain a legal resident while you're gone) then that would be enough to maintain residency for the legal purposes required by HR.

One of my colleagues worked "from Portland" for years while he lived in Mexico City. He kept residency via his parents, who would also forward / scan him any relevant mail that got sent to him.

I have no insights into whether or not it's a good idea to live in Mexico though! It does look like it's pretty simple to take your dog there though: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel/by-country/pettravel-mexico
posted by dis_integration at 1:35 PM on May 10, 2021

live there for a year on my income while spouse homeschools the child, we all learn the language a heck of a lot better than we would in our current location

Just wanted to second the previous comment about considering not homeschooling. You're not going to learn much spending most of your time at home (well, maybe unless you have the TV on all the time) -- learning a language takes a ton of high-frequency exposure and high-quality interaction. The type of language learning you'll do if you restrict yourself to tourist-type or consumer-type outings is likely to be limited and superficial.

Personally, I think it's a great idea in principle, but I'm not sure "covid aside" is realistic right now, especially wrt Central and South America.
posted by trig at 2:23 PM on May 10, 2021

Best answer: (I am not an immigration lawyer.)

It's not a dumb idea but it does get into some gray areas of tax, employment, and immigration law that are starting to get more scrutiny now that remote work has become more common. It's not clear to me how you would qualify for residency abroad (vs. obtaining a work permit abroad, which is related but not equivalent) and given you have a partner and school-age children that is worth thinking through.

The completely above-board path is to obtain a work+residency permit via taking a job with a local company (or local office of a US company) that can sponsor visas for you and your family. The job itself may still be remote or partly remote while you are in-country, but the visa gives you all the right to reside there (and attend school, interact with government services, etc.). The application process is time-consuming but if you are a skilled worker with a university degree or higher this is a good path to investigate.

Otherwise, assuming you don't qualify for residency through some other route you will be living in the digital nomad gray area of a tourist visa. It used to be that as long as you could show financial means, did not seek local employment, and did not overstay the visa term continuing to work remotely while abroad was kind of a non-issue (being a White US citizen doesn't hurt either). However, some countries are starting to apply more scrutiny and will look at whether you are really there as a tourist/visitor or actually are establishing de facto residency (by, say, working a regular 9-5 job remote or otherwise). This is solidly in "talk to an immigration lawyer" territory. Also note that while US citizens have access to visit a wide range of countries, visitor visas tend to me 3-6 months so think about how much you and your family want to move around or do "visa runs" to avoid overstays.
posted by 4rtemis at 2:30 PM on May 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

So I did this (US -> NL) in the middle of Covid. I eventually had to get a new job to do it.

I used to work for a multinational corporation that has an office in the Netherlands, but they still told me I had to move back to the US by March, so I got a new local job with a Dutch company instead. Paying people across international boundaries is an annoyingly hard problem, even between pretty friendly places like in my case the US and the Netherlands. Even when the corporation is international and already has branches set up abroad.
posted by pmb at 2:58 PM on May 10, 2021

So long as HR looks the other way, you can be "in" the United States while you're living abroad.

The local tax authorities may have their own opinion on this. E.g., while I'm not an expert in Canadian tax law, my understanding is that, under most circumstances, if you're there for more than half a year, you will be deemed to be a resident and subject to local income tax. Ethically, it's pretty drastically uncool to live somewhere, take advantage of local services, and skip out on the taxes that support them.
posted by praemunire at 3:28 PM on May 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Right, you need to find a place that's queer-friendly and where it's easy to get a resident visa for you and your family. If you have an employer in the country (as I did in my times overseas), they'll process the visa for you. So find the expat communities because those will be places that people have figured this out.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:07 PM on May 10, 2021

Best answer: No, this isn't a dumb idea, and is probably easier to do than ever given the growing acceptance of telework and the number of countries offering new remote work/"digital nomad" visas. You'll want to do some research into finding a good fit, but this absolutely is not an experience open only to childless skinny white straight-passing folks. I have a lot of exposure to some of this stuff through my job so feel free to send a message if you have any more specific questions, but it sounds like you're prepared to do the research so long as this isn't an inherently bad idea (which it isn't!).

Two caveats: transporting pets has gotten more difficult since the pandemic began, at least to certain destinations not well-served by airlines. I think it's still easier if the dog is small enough to travel in-cabin (and certainly cheaper), but if it has to go under the plane it's tougher. Some airlines stopped accepting animals as cargo due to the extra handling/staffing they require, and others have tilted their routes toward smaller planes (which often don't accommodate pets in the hold). Another thing to keep in mind: a lot of the countries offering visas explicitly geared toward digital nomads seem to be islands, which often have much stricter requirements for importing animals (quarantines, etc) to avoid introducing non-native diseases.

Second - you say that part of your reason for wanting to do this now is not wanting to send your child to school until vaccines are widely available for children. That makes sense, but keep in mind that the places that meet your requirements are likely to have far lower access to vaccines than the U.S. for the foreseeable future, which means not only are you not going to be comfortable taking the (well-considered) advice you see here to send your kid to local schools, you may also be unwilling to send your child to local clubs, sports, camps... You know your kid and I don't, but I think for a lot of young people it could be really difficult and isolating to be in a new country where you don't speak the language or understand the local context, and not have access to the social opportunities that would help you learn and integrate. Even if your child is fine being homeschooled and hanging out with you and your spouse and doing socially distanced travel around a new country, it seems like a bit of a waste to have this amazing opportunity but not be able to enjoy a lot of the social experiences that would make it worthwhile. I would think through your boundaries around what activities you'd be comfortable with your child doing when you're abroad, and maybe even consider whether this is an adventure that would be better a couple years down the road.
posted by exutima at 4:21 PM on May 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

One thing to consider if you are going to try to use a IS address as your “residence” while residing abroad - I use a lot of tools at work that specifically require me to say, be in a certain location or on a certain VPN. The internet has definitely made it easier to be mobile, but sometimes the internet tattles on you
posted by itsamermaid at 8:49 PM on May 10, 2021

The classic answer a decade or so ago for would have been San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. (I’m not sure what the current political situation or its LGBTQ friendliness is like though.)
posted by oceano at 6:53 AM on May 11, 2021

Best answer: Hi! I do this, more or less. I keep it simple.

So most countries arent going to give you a tourist visa for a whole year, so you'll either have to visit several countries or find one that will let you leave for 24 hours and come back. 90 days is the usual visa limit, so make sure you're able to make a quarterly trip elsewhere to renew. Central america is my go to for that. Canada will let you stay 6 months, but you'll have to wait until the border opens to non-residents. Some islands in the Bahamas actually were offering remote work visas for a year, but that was during Covid and I'm not sure if the programs are still running.

I wouldnt bother trying to get residency of it's only a year or two. Its a pain, expensive in some places, and the tax liabilities can be crap if theres not a reciprocal tax agreement with the US, so basically you'll pay twice. There are some great loopholes tho, so make sure you find a good accountant who can deal with international tax issues. But dont get your hopes up about avoiding taxes entirely.

So the main advantage of not establishing residency is that you'll file and pay exactly as if you were still in your previous state, no double tax or dual filings. For this to work, you will need to maintain a mailing address in the states for state tax purposes (I advise against pretending you live in a tax-free state if you dont already, the penalties can be harsh). I would suggest getting a digital virtual mailbox service which will open and scan all your mail. You can request anything you need to be forwarded to your foreign address. Not always cheap, but worth it.

I will warn you that many places in central and south America arent very LGBTQ friendly. You may not get physically bullied, but it may be difficult to make friends. The more progressive areas Ive been to that come to mind are Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, San Jose Costa Rica, Roatan Honduras, and Granada Nicaragua. Do NOT go to Belize or El Salvador.

Message me if you have questions!
posted by ananci at 9:20 AM on May 11, 2021

Response by poster: For what it's worth, I did get the go-ahead at work, so now we are looking at a potential move next year... vaccines and COVID willing. Thanks for your input, everyone!
posted by daikaisho at 10:21 AM on June 5, 2021

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