Living the dream: Can you really work from anywhere in the world?

Sue Hayward
29 January 2019
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Have cold, dark days got you dreaming of ditching the rush-hour commute for a beachside café, or switching cities so you can combine work with a passion for travel? We look at what’s involved and hear from four adventurous Brits who have made the move

The good news is that if you can do your job from your laptop, you can probably do it from anywhere in the world. Working from far-flung places isn’t just for travel bloggers: if your job involves creating websites, copywriting, graphic design, IT or photography, you may be able to switch locations without clients even realising you’re away. But before you get carried away, here are the basics to keep you networking and connected.

Practical considerations

However excited you are at the prospect of escaping grey skies and a long commute, you can’t just pack your suitcase and go, as you may need a visa or work permit, depending on where you’re going and how long you’re planning to stay.

While the UK remains within the EU, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) says: “British citizens can live, work and travel in the EU without the need for a visa under free movement rules.” It is still unclear how this will change after Brexit.

Beyond the EU, any decision on visas and work permits is down to each country’s immigration authority. You can usually get in on a tourist visa, but may need a residence permit if you’re staying longer than a tourist visa allows or some form of work permit, even if you’re still working for a UK-based company.

To avoid potential problems, the advice from the FCO is to check the rules with the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country you’re travelling to.

For more details, visit Gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

Keep costs down

Unless you’re planning to sell up and go for good, you’ll probably want to keep a bolthole in the UK. You could rent this out while you’re away to cover living costs and use Airbnb in your chosen country, or even arrange a house swap.

Sites such as Lovehomeswap.com and Homeexchange.com charge £100 a year for membership, and you can then swap homes with other members as often as you like.

“You can swap a two-bed flat in the UK for a villa on a Greek island”

“Swaps can last anything from a week to a year,” says Kelly Marsden, HomeExchange’s content and communications manager. “And it’s perfectly possible to swap a two-bedroom flat in Manchester for an apartment in Sydney with harbourside views or a villa on a Greek island.”

Insurance isn’t included with Lovehomeswap.com, so check with your home insurer first, but HomeExchange.com does include insurance to cover damage on both sides of the swap.

Check insurance

Most single-trip travel insurance policies cover both business and holiday trips, but check time limits as some only cover trips up to 30 days, while other insurers, such as LV=, provide cover for up to a year.

Another option is international health insurance, (also known as international private medical insurance), which covers both emergency and routine medical treatment while you are living or working overseas for an extended period. Specialist providers include Axa and Allianz.

“You'll need to insure your gadgets”

You may need specialist gadget insurance to protect laptops, smartphones and tablets as valuables cover on travel policies “is typically only around £300”, according to Brian Brown, head of insight at financial information company Defaqto, “and some policies ‘exclude’ business cover”.

Check your home policy as if you have ‘personal possessions’ cover, this can typically cover up to £1,500 per item along with a limit of £1,500 on mobile phones.

Mexico is home to content director Emma Nicholson, pictured with her boyfriend

“I finish work at 2pm and go windsurfing in the afternoon”

Content director Emma Nicholson, 48, swapped London life for Los Barriles in Baja on Mexico’s west coast but still has the same job with communications agency Seven Consultancy.

“I start work when the sun comes up at six and stop in the early afternoon when I go windsurfing or cycling. There are miles of empty beaches where we live, so sometimes we take the dogs to the beach and watch the rays jump or see the occasional dolphin,” she says.

Emma first made the move to Mexico as her American boyfriend had some land there, so they visited for a month, fell in love with the place and, seven years on, they are still living there.

The eight-hour time difference means it is lunchtime in London when Emma starts work.

“I have a London telephone number through virtual communications company Vonage, so as far as most people know I’m still in London. The internet works well and I live close to an international airport in Cabo San Lucas if I need to fly back to the UK,” she says.

While Emma’s role did need some slight ‘rejigging’ as she is no longer able to meet clients on a regular basis, she is busy writing press releases and generating new business proposals, which frees up the client-facing team back in London.

“I do miss the interaction you get with team members but I’m in touch all day through Messenger, email and WhatsApp, and we live in a very sociable town so there’s often a party or event going on every night,” she adds.

Emma is still a UK taxpayer and her salary’s paid in pounds, so on a daily basis she relies on money transfer companies to move money between the UK and Mexico as well as using PayPal and Mastercard.

Keep connected

There are many ways to stay connected even when you’re on the other side of the world.

Technology expert Carl Reader from D&T Business Advisors (Team-dt.com) suggests free apps Slack and Zoom although you can pay for upgraded versions.

“Slack is great for sending messages, on both a one-to-one or group basis and Zoom is a convenient and reliable online meeting tool,” he suggests.

If there is a time difference, Boomerang can be a helpful tool as you can schedule when to send emails, so you’re not mailing clients in the UK at 3am.

And you can still have a local UK phone number for clients to call, even when you’re abroad, with companies such as Vonage, a cloud-based communications company. There is no line rental, contracts or installation and it offers unlimited call packages.

“New York is my dream place to live”

“New York is my dream place to live”

Stella Bayles lives in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York and regularly works from rooftop locations around the city.

“I’m a director of a software company CoverageBook, and the whole team is based in Brighton, apart from me. I’ve always wanted to live in New York and, after coming out to talk at a conference last year, I fell in love with the city, made friends, and moved here in February. I’m on a business visitor’s visa, which allows me to stay for a year, and I can then apply for an extension,” she explains.

“Technology has really made this happen as I can jump on video calls with the team in Brighton using Zoom (a video conferencing facility), or our shared working platform, Basecamp. In fact, I think we communicate better now I’m here than when we sat at desks next to each other, and we make sure we use our crossover hours wisely.

“I love this style of working and you never know who you’ll meet. I take my dog, Boss, to the park at lunchtime and last week got chatting to the owners of the dogs he was playing with. One turned out to be a Broadway musical writer who had just finished a new show set for Broadway release.”

Dip your toe in the water

Working from a beach bar with your laptop may sound idyllic, but life may get a little bit lonely if you don’t have a bunch of friends or colleagues for company.

This is where companies such as Be Unsettled (Beunsettled.co) come in as they offer short-stay ‘workation’ trips with an instant network of friends.

“You can schedule emails so you're not mailing clients in the UK at 3am”

You can live like a local for a month anywhere from Tuscany to Bali, Marrakech or Cape Town and, while it’s up to you to organise work, you get a place to stay plus shared workspace and a new bunch of friends on tap.

It costs between £1,500 and £2,300, which includes accommodation, airport transfers, shared workspace, weekly dinners, workshops, and trips and events, but, as it is pricey, it is probably only an option as a one-off to check out your chosen city and make some contacts.

Rich Wooley (top left and right) loves Kuala Lumpur (above) and the chance it offers to travel further afield

Watch out for time differences

One problem you may encounter when working abroad is having to plan your time around different time zones.

Rich Woolley, 30, is the founder of Paperclip, which builds and runs student marketplace websites for universities.

He has spent two months living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, doing his day job, which includes checking the company finances, design work and marketing, while visiting his girlfriend who lives there.

“The time difference is seven to eight hours ahead of the UK, so I clock on and work from around 8am to 6pm. But just as I am clocking off, the UK team is starting work so it can be hard to ‘switch off’ if I get messages from them about potential problems. I’ve sometimes worked 16-hour days, so I have to be tough and just go offline for an evening or ignore my phone.”

“It is hard to switch off if I get after-hours messages from the UK”

However, Rich says it is worth the inconvenience.

“Home in Kuala Lumpur is a two-bedroom apartment with a pool and gym that I found through Airbnb. It costs £29 a night and is double the size of my flat in Cardiff city centre that I rent out to a friend while I’m away.

“I love it as it takes me away from everyday distractions such as watching Netflix every night. In Kuala Lumpur, it’s always hot so I spend my days in flip-flops and shorts and regularly use co-working spaces as a way to meet people. For keeping in touch with the UK, I tend to use Slack, like Skype and WhatsApp combined,” he explains.

“Being in Asia has meant the chance to travel further afield, and I was recently able to go to a friend’s wedding in Thailand, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I was in the UK,” he adds.

Jonny Lott at the Alcazar Palace in Seville

“I worked on my laptop during a 10-hour trip across Spain”

Jonny Lott, 28, is the lead designer at travel money company WeSwap.

“I work in the travel industry but recently realised I don’t have much travel experience, so I approached my bosses with the idea of working remotely for three months, while I took a road trip across Europe with my girlfriend, Em, and our cat.

“There were a few hoops to jump through including writing a report to show my bosses how I’d manage my time, but luckily it got approved and the travelling began. Since then, we’ve stayed in Milan, Cannes and Seville.

“The timing was perfect, as the contract on our London flat was coming to an end, and we’ve used Airbnb the whole way across Europe. It’s so easy, and most owners reduce their prices if you book for a month, which saves around 25%,” he adds.

Jonny and Em have used Em’s car to travel around but tend to keep the travelling or exploring to weekends.

“I usually set myself fixed hours for work so I can stick to a schedule, although it can be flexible. If I want to work from a different café or explore a local neighbourhood, I’ll make up the time later on.

“Most days I work from our Airbnb rather than local cafés, as this way I’ve got stable wi-fi, but if the weather’s good, I’ve been known to sit on the beach with my laptop. And with tools such as Slack, Google Hangouts and Trello (a ticketing system for keeping tabs on projects and progress), I’m still able to make meetings and stay in the loop although technology isn’t yet at the stage where you can always guarantee perfect video or audio,” he adds.

Sue Hayward is a freelance consumer journalist and broadcaster who writes for a wide range of magazines and has a 'Money Talk' column in My Weekly

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