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Entrepreneurial Expats: How to Be Your Own Boss Abroad

How to be your own boss as an expat
Yes, you can find creative ways to be your own boss as an expat.

If your dreams of finding a job overseas, complete with a work permit, have been dashed on the jagged shores of reality, don’t despair, just develop a little entrepreneurial flair. Change your focus, alter your perspective, and look into being your own boss in another country. You’d be surprised at how many expats are making a living as entrepreneurs. Besides, I bet you’d rather run your own show and make your own hours anyway. Now’s your chance.

It may seem daunting to start a business in a foreign country with all the potentially Byzantine rules and regulations to worry about. However, if you offer a service to the expat community outside of the local economy, you will generally not have to worry about this. Everywhere I have lived expats were thriving financially by filling necessary market niches catering to other global nomads, by providing the simple personal services we took for granted while at home, but which become much more significant when we are living overseas.


When my hair was starting to get a little scraggly, I was overjoyed to hear about a woman who used to be a hairdresser in Virginia and now cuts hair for most of the men and women in the English-speaking expat community in Ankara. She doesn’t advertise but is booked solid. She works as often as she wants, and earns a good living. If she was overseas without her husband’s full-time job, she could easily support herself and enjoy the pleasures of international life all on her own. Who would have thought that being a hairdresser could be your ticket to a life overseas?

Yoga Instructor

Then there is my yoga instructor. Though not as booked solid, she offers three classes a day and has almost 50 clients who come once a week paying $10 each session. That may not seem like a lot back home, but in many places overseas $2,000 a month goes a long way.

Massage Therapist

And how about training to become a professional massage therapist? I haven’t found one in the expat community over here, but I am sure that someone with magic fingers would be an invaluable resource. Being overseas can be stress inducing at times and having a professional ease the tension would be treasured. Trying to undo my knotted muscles, I’ve been pounded into a pulp by a burly Turkish bath attendant, and I’ve also sampled the skills of a local woman who masquerades as a masseuse, but if you have ever had a real massage by a trained therapist, the difference is like comparing a Yugo to a Rolls Royce.


Another successful expat service I’ve noticed on my travels overseas are bakers who can prepare pumpkin and pecan pies for Thanksgiving, birthday cakes all year round, Christmas cookies, or pastries for special events. In fact, expat bakers all over the world are raking in the dough baking up reminders of home for their fellow travelers.

Travel Writer

There is always the dream of getting paid to write about your travel experiences—which is not as hard as you may think. If I can do it, you certainly can! Granted, it took me 10 years to have nine books published, get a magazine column, and become competent enough to sell freelance articles, but if you have a way with words, this is something to try. It’s best to start as a travel writer while doing other work. If you are successful in getting pieces published, you can eventually develop your scribbling into a livelihood.

Pub Owner

If writing is not your thing, and the expat community is not big enough to support your entrepreneurial spirit, you can always start a business catering to the local community as well as expats. One surprisingly popular way is to open an Irish Pub overseas. One of the reasons this is such a successful way to become your own boss internationally is because of a program initiated by Guinness in 1992 called the Guinness Irish Pub Concept. Deciding they needed to do something about their stagnating sales, Guinness started a program that acts as a venture capital firm lending money to qualified individuals. It helps entrepreneurs establish Irish pubs abroad by bringing together specialists in site location, pub design, staff recruitment, food, and music.

Today, there is a pub opening somewhere in the world every five days as a result of this program and Guinness’ sales have soared beyond all expectations, so much so that other brewers — including Carlsberg of Denmark and John Courage of England are following suit.


Suffice it to say that there are plenty of ways to make a living as an expat entrepreneur. So if teaching English, serving as a Foreign Service officer, working for the Peace Corps, or whatever else falls through, don’t fret; just combine two dreams at once by being your own boss…and living overseas at the same time.

For More Info

Before making the leap to becoming an entrepreneur overseas you may want to look into whether you have what it takes. A quiz to help you to determine if you are an entrepreneur by gauging your personal characteristics can help you decide.

The Irish Pub Concept — Complete information about this program can be found on the website.

Massage Therapy Schools — The most comprehensive resource to locate a massage therapy school near you.

Yoga Schools — A complete listing of yoga schools.

Travel Writing 2.0 — One excellent resource hosted by Tim Leffel that will help aspiring travel writers, editors, and travel website owners is a book called Travel Writing 2.0, which is accompanied by the many fine articles and interviews on the website.

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