03/18/2013 07:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Working -- And Making It Work -- Abroad

As we said in an earlier blog, moving to another country with a lower cost of living is a great way to make a fixed income go as far as possible... but you may also find many opportunities there if you don't have a sufficient fixed income stream or simply want to keep working and earning no matter where you live.

In fact, in many cases it may be even easier to start a new career in a new location.

Take 50-year-old Juli Puryear. She always dreamed of spending a year on the road... being the vagabond for a while, going wherever the road led her... and eventually returning home.

But as they say, life is what happens while you're busy making plans.

"After traveling in Mexico, Europe, and North Africa, I only intended on spending a few weeks in Belize," says Juli. "But I ended up staying for four months. I just fell in love with the place. I found the locals friendly and welcoming, and the whole country seemed like a small town. When I went home to San Diego, it seemed foreign to me. I had thought that while I traveled I'd figure out what I wanted to do with my life, but I felt kind of lost."

Then a friend in Belize emailed to say there was an Internet café for sale in Punta Gorda, a small coastal town in southern Belize.

Juli jumped at the opportunity.


"I had absolutely no prior experience owning a business, but I wanted to move back to Belize and I saw the business as a way to fund my life there," she says. "Basically, I was buying myself a job."

But even in Belize there can be competition, and when another Internet café opened in town, Juli shifted gears, and took a friend up on his offer to run his chocolate company.

"There have been challenges," Juli says, "but I finally have a successful, growing business. I make chocolate every day!"

And after eight years in Punta Gorda, Juli says her favorite things about living there are never having to close her windows because it's cold and wearing flip-flops every day of her life.

Like Juli, Jim Finegan didn't expect to settle where he did. While traveling through Costa Rica with a couple of his friends from Pennsylvania, Jim and his buddies decided to head down the coast to Panama. Their plan was to hike the dormant volcano near Boquete, then spend one night in the town.

"When I first saw Boquete, my planned 24-hour visit turned into two weeks," says Jim. "The beauty of the area captured my attention immediately."

Jim began returning to Boquete frequently, introduced his wife to the area, and eventually bought property to build a home. "My home is on a hillside with views of the Pacific Coast," says Jim. "I have a million-dollar view without the million-dollar price tag."

Jim still makes his living in the U.S., where he owns two seasonal tiki bars in Pennsylvania. But every October he heads south to Panama, where he has started another venture as a coffee farmer.

"Coffee grows like roses here, so I decided to try my hand at farming. I bought 1.2 acres from a local farmer," he says.

Jim processes his coffee beans the old-fashioned way. He dries the beans in husks and uses a friend's machine to remove the shells. Jim labels his brand 'Bad Ass Coffee Beans'.

"As far as I'm concerned, there is no better place to live than Boquete," says Jim. "For now I'm here six months of the year, but when I retire, the move to Panama will be permanent. I have coffee beans to grow."

Scott Zimmerman was born and raised in New Jersey and is fond of two things: surfing and playing guitar. What he doesn't care for, however, is the hectic lifestyle of a restaurant manager. Scott's previous 12- to 14-hour work days were stressful and left little time for what he really loved. When friends suggested a trip to Barbados in 2000 to get away from it all, Scott gladly went along.

"All I knew about Barbados at the time was that it was supposed to be a surfer's heaven," laughs Scott. Scott spent his vacation exploring the different surfing beaches around the island. He was impressed by the variety and that fact that each had its own personality.

At night he ventured out and found the Barbados music scene, and that pretty much clinched it. Scott canceled his return flight to the States and decided to make this tiny Caribbean country his new home.

He landed music jobs in bars and restaurants across the island, and while playing one night he met Steve Campbell, who owned Surfer's Café on the southern tip of the island. Scott became the manager there in 2009. Three years later, he jumped at the chance to buy the 50-seat café and have his own piece of paradise in Barbados.

Running a restaurant in Barbados proved to be much different than in the U.S. "The work days are shorter, a bit easier, and there is no rush or pressure of the industry here. People in Barbados take their time and savor the food, the scenery, and just the whole experience of sharing a meal," says Scott.

Steve loves the job -- and loves living in a country that reflects his personality. "Barbados offers a much slower-paced way of life, and it has been a good environment in which to raise my kids, Kayla and Ethan, both of whom were born in Barbados.

"I never would have had time for this type of lifestyle in the U.S. Here I have it all: a thriving business, a fulfilling life with my kids, a connection to my community, and I play music in my own café and surf when the waves beckon. I can't imagine anything better than this."

Liz Cowley moved to Montevideo, Uruguay, when her husband, Richard, was appointed Director-General of the Anglo-Uruguayan Cultural Institute. While Richard worked, Liz enjoyed showing out-of-town guests around.

When Richard retired, he got a job as a destination lecturer aboard cruise ships, and Liz went on several cruises with him. "The ships would dock to let passengers off in Montevideo, and I had the idea to give tours," says Liz.

She worked on her speaking skills and learned Montevideo's history inside and out, then started approaching passengers coming ashore. The business developed, and within a few years Liz was up and running as the owner-operator of Real English Tours.

Her specialty is English-language, historic walking tours in Montevideo's Ciudad Vieja (Old City). Liz calls her historic walking tour "The Making of Montevideo." She carries a flip chart with maps, drawings, period postcards, and old photos to help illustrate the city's history for her tour customers.

During busy times, she provides two tours a day. The tour lasts two to three hours. Her ideal group size is six to eight people. She charges $120 for a group of up to four people, plus an additional $20 for each extra person over the age of four.

In addition to attracting customers via her website, she gets business from her network of local English-speaking friends, embassy workers, and business-people. She's also published two companion guides, which tour customers can buy: The Making of Montevideo and How to Discover Her Treasures.

"The best part of the business is the work," says Liz, "showing people around Montevideo and sharing the city's rich history," says Liz.

Doing what you love, and loving what you do. That seems to be a recurring theme among expats who've found ways of making a living abroad. And if you have the sense of adventure to move abroad in the first place... how much more would you need to make a living out of it? Just the imagination to try.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

10 Great Places To Retire Abroad