Do you wish you could live abroad in a foreign country? What if I could tell you that traveling and living abroad isn’t as hard as it seems? There are many ways you can pull it off; study abroad for a semester, apply for a work holiday visa, or start freelancing and become a digital nomad. That’s not the hard part. The thing that holds people back is taking action and knowing how to do just that!
In this guide, I’ll show you exactly how to live abroad and travel the world as a slowmad. Having lived and traveled overseas for the past 7-8 years myself, I am confident that by the end of this article you’ll be feeling like taking the leap and packing your bags to experience expat life in a new country.
At the end of this post, I’ll share with you my inspiration for traveling abroad and living as a digital nomad and exactly how I was able to keep it going over the years.
Here’s the ultimate guide for how to live and travel abroad!
The Complete Guide: How to Travel & Live Abroad
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I don’t remember where I took this but on my way to somewhere exciting, no doubt!
What Does It Mean to Live Abroad?
To live abroad means to live in a different country that is not your home country. That can mean overseas or the country next door to you.
In 2016, the UN estimated that there were around 245 million migrants living internationally. The countries with the most emigrants are India, Mexico, Russia, and China. The United States estimates there are around 9-10 million American citizens living abroad.
When someone says they live abroad, it can be unclear as to whether it’s permanent or temporary. For example, I pretty much live abroad permanently, but I haven’t made it official because I still have US residency. In other words, I’ve kept my permanent address in the States, at my sister’s house, and that’s where I file taxes, receive bills, and mail.
If I were to permanently move abroad – as in changing my residency – then that would give me much more flexibility in how I live abroad, for how long, and the rights I have in said country.
For example, I have lived in Mexico for the past 3 years but not as a resident. Instead, we have exited and re-entered on a simple tourist’s permit (i.e. 180 days allotted in the country visa-free). I have not applied for the Temporary Residence Visa, as I don’t have the need to live here for four consecutive years without exiting. Since we travel often and exit the country 1-2x a year to visit family, we are able to come back with a renewed 180 days.
People who live abroad permanently change their official (home) address and are given additional rights in the new country (i.e. buy and register a car, get tax benefits, better health care, eventual citizenship, etc.).
Now that you know a little bit more about the meaning of living abroad, here is how you can live abroad for a few months.
How to Live Abroad for a Few Months
Arriving at Annapurna Base Camp (Nepal) after 7 days of trekking!
For me, the easiest way to travel and live abroad is by becoming a digital nomad (i.e. working remotely online) and temporarily living in different countries. This allows you to get a taste of the local culture while not being tied down to any one place.
However, there are several ways to live abroad for a few months that might be more suitable for your situation:
- Study abroad for a summer, semester, or year.
- Get a working holiday visa.
- Freelance and work remotely.
- Get hired by a foreign company.
- Buy a van and travel overland.
I have done 3/5 above. I’ve studied abroad multiple times in France, Netherlands, Colombia; studied/worked abroad in Nepal and Belgium; traveled overland across Mexico/US border and Canada by van; and now I freelance/work remotely online as a digital nomad. I have yet to do a working holiday visa, although that is still in the cards.
When deciding on where to live abroad, you should consider each country’s visa requirements. Mexico is easy because most foreigners receive 180 days visa-free for tourism in-country, but most countries offer less than 90 days, sometimes 60, or even 30.
For example, If you wanted to live in Spain or another European country, you would only have 90 days visa-free in the entire Schengen Zone before you’re required to leave. Then, after the 90 days were up, you would need to either proceed to apply for a staying permit or permanent residency via one of the available visas (i.e. student, entrepreneur, retiree, freelancer, etc.), which you would need to do from the Spanish consulate dedicated to your permanent address in your home country. (In other words, you can’t just stay beyond the 90 days and apply for residency within Spain).
Studying Abroad as a Student
As a student in France, I got to travel cheaply to other European cities, like Barcelona (Spain).
If you’re a student, one of the easiest ways to experience living abroad for a few months is to enroll in your university’s exchange program. For Europeans, this may be the Erasmus program or for US students this will be the Study Abroad & Exchanges Department of your uni.
I would recommend you to speak to a Study Abroad Advisor at your school to talk about opportunities for you to see how well a semester or year abroad can benefit your major and credits. As for funding, you can rely on financial aid, departmental scholarships, or external scholarships. If you’re short on funds, there are a few part-time under-the-table “jobs” you can do to help pay for your life abroad, such as nannying, teaching English as a second language (TESL), tutoring, and more.
If you’re a student living abroad, you may also get access to the country’s health care system and you can also open a bank account. I’ve had accounts in France, the Netherlands, and Nepal.
Getting a Work Holiday Visa
Canada is one of the top choices among travelers seeking to live and work abroad
There are around 60 countries that offer working holiday visas that allow you to live semi long-term in the country while undertaking part-time employment. A work holiday visa encourages young travelers to explore the country as a tourist while contributing to the workforce.
There are a few restrictions, however, concerning the work holiday visa and all countries will have slightly different regulations, so check before you apply. The most common restrictions of the working holiday visa are:
1. Age limit: You typically need to be between the age of 18-35 to be eligible for this opportunity.
2. Finances: You should be able to show proof (sufficiency of funds) that you can support yourself while in-country for the allotted period.
3. Employment: You won’t be qualified to apply to any type of job and the visa restricts you to certain types of work as well as the amount of total income you can earn, plus the number of hours you can work per week/month.
Again, not all countries will have the same policies or restrictions, so make sure to do a bit of research!
As for where you can live abroad on a work holiday visa, you have quite a few options. Like I said above, there are over 60 countries that have signed bilateral program agreements.
The most popular countries to receive applications for work holiday visas (and are available to United States citizens) are:
- New Zealand
- South Korea
Freelancing & Working Remotely
Coworking space in Tulum, Mexico
One of the most freeing ways to live abroad is to work remotely with your current employer or become a freelancer.
There are many freelance jobs you can do that allow you to travel, but I’ll just jot down the top ones below (I will make another guide just for this, so subscribe and stay tuned!).
Freelance Writing: With more businesses and blogs getting started every day, there’s such a high demand for freelance writers to write articles (similar to this one). You can also write copy for product listings, social media accounts, website pages, emails, and more.
Freelance Teaching English Online: Thousands of digital nomads are able to support themselves, live, and travel abroad thanks to programs like VIPKid or PalFish. All you need is a wifi connection and you can earn money to simply teach English to kids and adults living abroad in places like China, Taiwan, or Latin America.
Freelance Graphic Design: Have a knack for designing logos, websites, or general digital illustration? There are many people who do freelance design online in order to live and travel abroad.
So how do you land freelance jobs? I got started by setting up an account on Upwork.com. This is where I get all my clients and where millions of others do too. You can also find freelance work on Fiverr.com or Freelancer.com.
Easiest Countries to Move to Temporarily (Visa-Free)
A small boy putting colorful powder on Paul during the Holi Festival in Kathmandu, Nepal (2016)
As a US passport holder, I am able to travel to many countries without a visa. Below are countries and how long you can stay and travel in them visa-free. This list may not be complete, but gives you an idea of what’s possible.
(Note: the below visa lengths may not apply to you if you have a passport from a different country.)
12 months (365 days): Georgia* (*may have changed due to new Covid regulations), Albania
6 months (180 days): Mexico, Canada, Peru, UK, Armenia, Panama, India, Trinidad & Tobago* (*with extension).
150 days: Nepal
3 months (90 days): EU countries, Colombia, Malaysia, Argentina, Jordan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Turkey, Costa Rica, and Thailand* (*60-90 days with extension).
1 month (30 days): Indonesia, Philippines, Belize, Vietnam* (can extend to 3-6 months max), Bali** (**can extend to 60 days).
Cheapest Countries to Temporarily Live in
If you want to live abroad for a few months but don’t want to break the bank, then you should look to travel and move to a country in either Latin America or Southeast Asia (with a few exceptions).
Mexico is the North American destination of choice if you want to live an affordable but pleasant lifestyle (yep, it’s not in Central or South America despite popular belief!).
You can move to a charming beachside pueblo, mountain town, or modern colonial city and get by on a budget. It is one of my favorite countries and cultures in the world, thanks to its people, natural diversity, stunning landscapes, cost of living, history, and traditions. Oh, and not to forget its incredible cuisine!
Mexico is also convenient to get to from my home in the USA yet it feels nearly worlds apart because of the vibrant and colorful culture. I also enjoy living in countries with foreign languages, or at least where English is not the first language. Living abroad is how I’ve been able to learn both French and Spanish.
We have been averaging about $1,500/month in Mexico, although you could spend much less depending on where in Mexico you live.
Vietnam, Thailand, & Cambodia
Vietnam is such an alluring country for remote workers and digital nomads because it’s extremely beautiful, exotic, and affordable! The melting-pot coastal city of Hội An is a popular digital nomad hotspot. You can live in Vietnam as a couple for as little as $1,200/month.
Thailand, with its stunning beaches, limestone cliffs, and dirt-cheap street food, is another country that attracts a lot of people who want to live abroad somewhere inexpensive and exotic. You could live in Thailand for more or less $1,500/month.
Cambodia has been an off-the-beaten-path choice for digital nomads for quite a while, but that’s quickly changing. Cambodia has mesmerizing ancient temples, nature, and islands that most people don’t know about and where digital nomads like to hide and work in peace. It’s also one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia to live in for a few months. You could temporarily live in Cambodia comfortably for $1,000 or less per month.
Costa Rica & Panama
Costa Rica is a tropical paradise teeming with wildlife, beaches, volcanoes, mountains, and more. It is more rugged, but its Nicoya Peninsula is abuzz with surf towns and creative internationals living abroad. The cost to live in Costa Rica for a few months would set you back $1,400-1,800/per month or more (depending on your lifestyle).
Panama certainly attracts the digital nomad with its modern cities and boho beachside towns and islands. It is not one of the cheapest countries to live in (expect to spend around $2,000/month) compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, but you could still pay much less than in your home country (again depending on your lifestyle).
Bali, Indonesia is one of the top digital nomad destinations in the world, and with good reason. It has all the creature comforts one may want while living abroad while also offering rugged natural landscapes like volcanoes, rice fields, jungles, and beaches that are simply breathtaking. Depending on where and how you live, you could spend as little as $1,000/month up to $2,000+. Ubud, Canggu, and Seminyak are popular places to live in Bali.
Nepal & India
When I moved to Nepal in South Asia, I experienced quite the culture shock. Life there was unlike my travels abroad in Europe. And wow. Living in Kathmandu, Nepal for a year changed my life (for the better). I became more open-minded as I experienced daily life, observed other ways of worship and living, and made efforts to learn the local language as best as I could.
Nepal and India are really not your typical expat destinations for just experiencing life in a different country for a few months, but both of these countries have pretty cheap living costs. You could easily get by on less than $700-1,000/month. In fact, at the time I was living there, I was earning a “salary” of $150/month (the “local” wage)!
Both Nepal and India have a substantial backpacker and expat community, just less so than other countries. It also depends on where you go. Goa, India, for example, is a popular hippie-chic beach destination for nomads and travelers.
In any case, it takes a certain type of person, I’d say, to move to either India or Nepal. If you’re fiercely curious about experiencing a wildly new culture than your own, are open to spirituality, and don’t mind sacrificing a few of those creature comforts, then I’d recommend traveling and living in either one for a few months. (Of course, I’m a bit biased because Nepal helped me grow as a person and taught me many life lessons. I can’t wait to go back there.)
My Journey Traveling & Living Abroad Full-Time
Living in Groningen, the Netherlands
The first time I moved abroad it was to live as a student in France. I applied for a summer program in Chambery, in Savoie, France, and then moved to the city of Lyon where I spent my final two semesters of exchange.
After my time in France, I returned home to finish my senior year in college in North Carolina. I sorely missed my life abroad and so when it came time to graduate in May 2015, I began looking for opportunities abroad that interested me. I found a listing on the humanitarian relief website for a student/grad assistant position in an institute in Kathmandu and decided to apply.
Before I knew it, I was moving to Nepal with an oversized suitcase and our 1-yr old cat in tow. Paul joined me a month later and together we braced for culture shock. Eventually, the program/employment I had didn’t work out and so, knowing at this point I wouldn’t ever really be happy just moving back to the States, I decided to apply to a master’s degree program in Europe. That program led us to live in the Netherlands, France (this time in Aix-en-Provence), and Belgium.
In between, I moved to South America for the first time (to Bogota, Colombia) to conduct “thesis research” but I spent most of my traveling along Colombia’s Caribbean coast and its lush Zona Cafetera (coffee country).
After interning for a humanitarian aid organization in Belgium, and after I finished my degree, we decided it was time to move somewhere “new”. I did all the research I could about where a US and French citizen could jointly move to without any visa requirements, and as I mentioned earlier, Mexico was one of the few who allowed us both in the country for up to 180 days.
So then began our adventures in Mexico in 2018 and here we are today living and traveling around the country!
Finally – to give a bit of extra context – living and traveling abroad is how Paul (a French citizen) and I (a US citizen) are able to stay together without having to be separated by visas (as we are not married). Travel has become our life! Any fellow international couples out there?
Ready to Live & Travel Abroad?
Standing atop Calakmul Mayan Ruins (Campeche, Mexico)
So, by now are you itching to buy a plane ticket and jet off to live somewhere exciting abroad? I hope so!
Even though travel is complicated and limited right now, even amidst the covid 19 pandemic, you can still make your plans to live abroad in the future. Get started on your action plan today, don’t wait!
Once travel resumes again, you’ll be that much closer to living your dream life abroad. Maybe on a tropical island or a white-sand beach somewhere. Sounds pretty sweet, right?
Finally, if you ever make plans to move abroad, make sure to get covered! I use SafetyWing – a digital nomad travel health insurance that covers you for emergency medical and travel accidents while abroad. You can get it for as little as $40/4 weeks and it covers covid-19 and short return journeys home. Check it out!
If you have any questions or doubts about moving, traveling, and living abroad – feel free to shoot me an email or drop a comment below! Thanks for reading and good luck on your adventures abroad!
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