How Being a VA Helps Me Travel the World

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Different virtual assistants have different reasons for choosing this route.

For some, the flexibility of being a VA helps with parenting arrangements.

For others, it’s all about leaving the 9-to-5 corporate mayhem behind.

For Lori, today’s guest poster, becoming a virtual assistant meant being able to switch to a life of slow traveling outside the confines of short vacations.

Here’s how Lori is using her virtual assistant position to get more flexibility for traveling and living life on her own terms.

Take it away, Lori!

Right now I’m on the verandah of our rented beach house, listening to the waves of the Indian Ocean roll in smooth and slow. Am I on vacation? Nope. I just logged off client work for the day.

My client is based in Tanzania, East Africa. I’ve been here for about five months too, working for them as they sit in their office further south down the coast.

During this time my husband and I popped over to Kenya for a week. And I kept working at my “office,” poolside. I went to meetings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with my client. That opportunity certainly wouldn’t have happened had I still been in Canada. And now my husband and I are off to explore Southeast Asia. My client also has operations over there.

How exactly did this come together? Here’s what worked for me:

1. Leverage Your Current Situation and Skills

I started as a virtual assistant with a small research firm when we were living in Tanzania about seven years ago. The field of socioeconomic development work was totally new to me, but of course my English language skills weren’t.

I helped with administrative tasks and project management, and put my dusty English degree and ability for spotting errors to good use by providing copyediting, proofreading and writing assistance. This worked for me because many expats doing development work overseas don’t have English as their native language, and of course neither do the local experts who usually work with them.

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2. Find Clients Working Overseas

You could go the route of acquiring clients before you start traveling, of course. But I found clients that were already overseas.

Here’s my advice:

Check out your local or national charitable organizations to see if they do any international work. They often have branches overseas, or partner with other organizations who are managed by expats on the ground in other countries. Check out job sites like Development Aid or DevNet Jobs to get names of organizations and drill down from there.

On your next international vacation (if you should be so fortunate!) chat up some of the local expats. Many are involved in tourism, which is another avenue to pursue. Others are often involved in some sort of community development project, or small business, or both.

3. Niche and Niche Again

How Being a VA Helps Me Travel the WorldI developed a niche – you could say a niched niche. As a virtual assistant, I got to know the development landscape in East Africa, the language of development work and the way donors operate, and I specialized in working with non-native English speakers.

When we moved back to Canada for three years, this became a side gig on top of my day job. By that time, I had established a solid relationship that I could take with me regardless of distance or time zones.

In fact, the time difference was a major bonus for my client, who could wake up to see a fully edited report in her inbox that I had worked on while she slept. Sure, I lost some evenings and weekends, but it was worth it.

4. Expand Your Skills

I took advantage of paid courses through my day job, as well as working on my writing and editing skills. I took Gina’s 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success. (Confession: I took it twice, because, ahem… I didn’t actually implement all that great information the first time around.)

I enrolled in an editing certificate program at a local university. And I stopped my overwhelm in its tracks and got a basic website up and running fast using 7 Days or Less to Branded Website Success.

5. Commit to Your Decision and Start Preparing

Once my husband and I made the decision to roam the world for a while, it took a year of more intense preparation: paying off debt, saving, and letting go of possessions. All income from my client work went toward this, and helped with the purchase of a new laptop and other tech equipment for the road.

For the love of Lucy, don’t forget to purchase emergency medical insurance for travelers. And take advantage of any existing health benefits you have before you leave and get all your dental work and eye examinations done.

6. Play Spin the Globe, but Know What You’re Getting Into

This is the fun part, deciding where to go!

Investigate your internet options and cost of living. The crowdsourced site Nomadlist will tell you this sort of information, along with average costs for rent and groceries at hundreds of places around the globe. You can also do a cost of living comparison between cities and countries at Numbeo.

We chose Tanzania first because it was familiar, and we have friends and family there. And my client just happened to be there. We prepared for  the inevitable power outages with his ‘n’ hers portable ChargeTechs, and set ourselves up with a portable Wifi modem that operates on the cellular network—but with satellite backup just next door.

Look up the types of visas in your countries of choice by visiting their embassy websites. How long can you stay? Can you enter on a tourist visa if you aren’t working locally? Do they have a business visa option?

Don’t forget the boring stuff like setting up a signatory on your bank account (I have my sister), updating your wills, setting up tax filing online, and knowing the tax rules wherever you land. Is there a tax treaty in place between your destination and your home country so you aren’t double-taxed?

Before you go, consult with an international tax accountant or lawyer.

Know how you’re going to get paid. If you’re Canadian, set up a US-based bank account, as USD is often the currency of choice for companies based internationally. If you can’t access PayPal, investigate money transfer services such as TransferWise or billing services for freelancers from the international payment company, Payoneer.

7. Know that It Takes Two

For those with a partner, it can get way more complicated. I’m lucky that my husband set himself up with a work-from-home arrangement that went on for two years before we left. By that time it was easy to convince his boss that he could work from halfway around the world just as well as from around the corner. Even better really, with that time zone advantage.

8. Bring Your Sense of Adventure

Oh right. Did I say you need to be adventurous? Absolutely.

But you don’t need to take huge risks and have a fat bank account to fund months of travel. Build on the skills you already have, make connections in the world of work overseas, and take your virtual assistant business on safari. With technology and a decent skill set, you can put corn flakes on the table from anywhere in the world.

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It’s not all unicorns and rainbows as we discovered living in a thatch roof beach house during the rainy season.

But when you have a Skype call with head office and they catch a glimpse of your palm thatch roof in the background and ask if that’s your office, you can say, “Why yes. Yes it is.”

Have you ever taken your business abroad? If so, what has your experience been like?

Lori is a virtual management assistant for a development research consultancy and an aspiring freelance writer. She is currently in Southeast Asia with her husband, her laptop and a large backpack. Look for her at the newly minted blog to see what she has got herself into, and where she will take her business next.

6 thoughts on “How Being a VA Helps Me Travel the World”

  1. This is so interesting! I love that as a freelance writer Ivan take my business anywhere, but in the few “workcations” I’ve tried, I’m more stressed than ever. It’s good to see how someone relate makes it work!

    • Hi Janet!
      If I can do it, anyone can…just be as prepared as possible, but know that there will always be glitches, so in the end you just have to roll with it.

  2. Great article, Lori! I traveled for nearly two years (I love Zanzibar!) and am now building things up to be able to work remotely (I’m also a writer/proofreader/copy editor/admin). It’s been very bit by bit for me so far, and I guess the thing is just to stick with it. Thanks for the article.

    • Hi Bridget,
      Thanks for commenting! Absolutely…just keep at it and know that it’s very doable with these kinds of skills. It sounds like you’re already a seasoned traveller so this would be no problem for you, even from Zanzibar!
      Cheers, Lori

  3. Although this article is over a year old, it was fabulous to read. To think of the adventures being experienced and amazing memories made, all due to being a virtual assistant. WOW!
    Gives encouragement and confidence to those just starting out!

    Thanks for sharing!

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