All Over the Place

Why the “Quit your job to live abroad for cheap” propaganda is not for everyone

November 3, 2017

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for the Lifestyle section of CABINZERO about ten best cities in Asia for Digital Nomads. The cities were ranked according to high internet speed and low cost of living which was loosely based on NomadList ranking. I gave Hangzhou, China the highest rank for having the “cheapest” monthly cost of living (US$762) and relatively fast internet at 35Mbps.

As I was writing the piece, a question was lingering at the back of my mind. “How and where am I suppose to earn that amount from if I were to live the lifestyle of a digital nomad?” Similar to those who do both work and travel to places of their own choosing.

Recently, in the Lifestyle Section of Forbes, Laura Begley Bloom wrote an article about quitting your job to live abroad for cheap. She started a very strong and attractive proposition in the form of a question.

Have you ever fantasized about quitting your job and moving to a place where it’s so cheap that you barely need to work — if at all?

With an opening line of that caliber, there is just no way you would skip reading the article. Who wouldn’t want to quit a job to live somewhere else where everything is cheap and the quality of life is so amazing? Rainbows and unicorns. Sign me up for that, please.

Until I started reading the list of the eight cities she ranked according to that criterion. Having Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo at the bottom of her list for US$850 total monthly budget per person, the seventh and the sixth can only get more expensive.

One by one, my bubbles burst and the question of where to get that amount from pops up. But more on that later.

I don’t know when was it published but it only appeared on my Facebook timeline now, which prompted me to write this article. You can read about the essay in full here.

Being subscribed to Matt Kepnes’ (Nomadic Matt) newsletter, I received a very enticing email this week with a drool-inducing subject – “I’m giving away a free trip around the world!”

That’s right, I’m giving one winner $18,250 to travel the world!

But there’s a catch. It’s an essay-writing contest of sorts. You have to write a 500-word essay and you have to buy a copy of the third edition of his bestselling book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. (That’s my Amazon affiliate link, by the way. Buy from it and I earn a few cents at no additional cost to you.)

Sounds fair right? Only there’s another condition, you have to be a resident of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia and Canada. Which just about answered all of my hanging questions. All these quit your job and live abroad for cheap propaganda is never, and had never been, for everyone. Especially not for the Filipino average wage earners.

Why? Because we don’t earn US$50 per day. And just how much do we earn? US$10 more or less. Usually less. Per day.

A blogger from my circle once wrote that when she was hired in 2014, her starting salary was PHP12,000. With the current exchange rate of approximately PHP51 to US$1, her salary was about US$235. When she passed the probation period and became a regular employee, she received a salary increase of PHP1,000, and when finally promoted to another position, her salary became PHP16,100. Around US$320, tax and other mandatory fees not yet deducted.

Granted, that’s only the minimum wage. Usually for entry-level, rank and file employees.

In my last vacation, one of my friends who was able to work his way up to the senior ranks shared that his salary is now around PHP40,000. That’s roughly US$785. For sure, he could live in Hangzhou, China and still have US$15 left but only if he doesn’t have a wife and two kids. Which he does.

On the contrary, there are other companies that pay their employees more than the average. But they are not as common.

And let’s be honest here. How does one earn those hundreds of US Dollars elsewhere if one is to leave his or her corporate job in the Philippines? Surely, the boss won’t send an employee US$850 monthly for sipping piña colada in a beachfront in Kota Kinabalu.

The quit your job to live abroad for cheap propaganda is geared towards the Digital Nomads

But then again, and I’m not completely sure about Kepnes’ book; mine and Bloom’s articles are specifically geared towards the digital nomad community.

Digital Nomads. Those whose jobs can be done in the comfort of one’s home or some farfetched island in the Pacific. Those type of jobs that can be done as long as there is a relatively fast internet. Language teachers, email and social media marketers, virtual assistants, professional bloggers, content and copywriters, and the likes.

Digital nomads should not be confused with those who quit their jobs to travel the world. Although digital nomads may be a part of the same group, they are usually distinguished as those who have left their typical corporate nine to five jobs to pursue a location-independent career. None of them quit, they just switched careers.

The bottom line is, should you decide to quit your job and travel or live elsewhere in the world, you must have saved enough to support your nomadic lifestyle. Acquire a job that wouldn’t require you to be in a fixed location. Join the ranks of the digital nomads. Otherwise, you’ll only end up going back to the usual corporate jobs that you have hated ever so passionately. Worse, be among the “begpackers”, an equally sensitive topic that deserves a separate discussion.

Do not be just any digital nomad

Recently, a cringe-worthy Internet-based recruitment company started parading Facebook ads flaunting their pool of highly skilled Filipino talents who can be hired for as cheap as US$200 to $300. So here you are dreaming of moving to another city where the monthly cost could be as “cheap” as US$762 and you got a manpower pooling company flaunting your worth for just as low as US$200. Good luck with that!

But let us not focus only in the Philippines.

If you go to Fiverr, you’ll be surprised to find designers offering vintage logo for as low as US$5. I randomly screen captured a series of six five-dollar vintage logo offers as seen in the image below.

5-dollar logo design at Fiverr

5-dollar logo design at Fiverr

For their privacy, I have blurred their user image and names, but their country of residence, as disclosed on their profile pages, are as follows.

From top left to right: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Pakistan
From bottom left to right: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Germany

As you would notice, the offer at the top center even came with a 12-hour completion guarantee.

So to be able to offer your design work for as low as US$5 a piece and be able to live the life of a location-independent digital nomad, say in Hangzhou, China, you’ll have to be chunking out 153 logos a month. That’s seven logos a day if you’ll only work five days a week. And that comes with the assumption that you’ll be able to close seven logo design deals every weekday. Which is quite possible except that there are thousands of other profile out there offering the same five-dollar logo design service.

While it is best to give your best, you should never underestimate your value if you are to keep up with the nomadic lifestyle.

The bottom line

Should you wish to quit your job to live abroad, you must either have saved a boat-load of money, have a well-established business to keep you financed, or have a regular paying location-independent job while living the life of a digital nomad.

The bottom line is you need money to keep yourself afloat in your so-chosen life away from the usual nine to five corporate jobs. You’ve got to be properly prepared.

Sure, a lot had taken the plunge and never regretted it even once. Be sure you’ll be one of them.

Going back to the topic, this “Quit your job to live abroad for cheap” propaganda runs in a general premise: first world income well spent in a developing third world country.

Let’s all be honest here to some extent.

  • Reply
    sumit walia
    November 7, 2017 at 7:44 AM

    very well written , one of the finest thoughts on this topic tht i have read till date



  • Reply
    Anaj Fidelis
    November 7, 2017 at 3:05 PM

    I love traveling but since I don’t know if I’ll be able to quit and and move in another country…

  • Reply
    Alexander Popkov
    November 7, 2017 at 5:33 PM

    Agree! Very good points! I was a bit of a victim of these propaganda. Was not prepared well and as a freelancer, was spending a lot time looking for work. Now I am working full time, but most of this time remotely.

  • Reply
    Ann Yamagishi
    November 7, 2017 at 9:23 PM

    This! You nailed it! Hey, I bought the book using your link! Thanks 🙂

    • Reply
      Noel Cabacungan
      November 8, 2017 at 4:50 PM

      Thanks @annyamagishi:disqus. Where in Japan are you now? Should I get a visa next week, I’ll be in Kawagoe sometime in November. How’s the fall foliage so far?

  • Reply
    Neha Verma
    November 8, 2017 at 12:09 AM

    I totally love practical and well balanced writeup that you have put here. Things like quitting a day job and settling at a dream destination sound so glamorous and but they are not always that easy to do, one should know their situation well and also weigh their options very cautiously before taking any such steps.

  • Reply
    November 8, 2017 at 4:07 PM

    So true… you nailed it…
    I took a career break for 3 months but I was able to survive for 5 months, then I came back running to search for a job… The lesson that I’ve learned from the career break is to really establish a business and have more passive income… otherwise, I’ll be working for life 🙁

  • Reply
    Noel Cabacungan
    November 8, 2017 at 4:54 PM

    Thanks for the honest responses, everyone. I really thought it would be taken negatively. But hey, it’s not really easy. The most important thing here, I think, is to be properly prepared financially. Specially if you’re supporting a family.

    You’re all awesome guys! @louiela:disqus @disqus_kkhQhOaltS:disqus @annyamagishi:disqus @alpopkov:disqus @anajfidelis:disqus @sumit_walia:disqus

  • Reply
    Vyjay Rao
    November 8, 2017 at 7:52 PM

    This is a very relevant post and indeed about a subject which is so relevant in today’s world.. There are so many scams out there and people ready to do work at dirt cheap prices, sometimes it becomes difficult for genuine and quality workers. You have done a nice job of exploding so many myths about the “quit your job” syndrome.

  • Reply
    Amit Sharma
    November 9, 2017 at 4:31 AM

    I have to agree with you completely but my perspective of this post is different as I did quit my job and started tot travel the world back in 2010 and only returned home in late 2016. However at no point was I digital nomad. I had to get regular jobs in countries my visa’s allowed me to work. I was only able to travel because I worked in these countries and for months on end I would do no traveling, the only difference from being at home was that I was in a foreign country doing it. This is a really good write up for people who have their eyes lit up by the propaganda.

  • Reply
    Jim Jones
    November 9, 2017 at 6:57 AM

    Great post – and good for you that you’re presenting a dose of reality. The digital nomad life seems interesting and fun, but the more I learn about it…well, it’s just not for me. I fear that there are some people who dive straight into it without considering the cost, and they do so at their peril.

  • Reply
    Johna P.
    November 12, 2017 at 9:47 PM

    To be honest, I would love to quit my day job and pursue my love for travelling. But right now it’s not practical and Ive accepted that. Right now what I’m doing is Im working hard at my office job to support my passion, travelling.

  • Reply
    Vy Tran
    January 25, 2018 at 8:42 AM

    I appreciate your writing this. More so because I think a lot of people forget that the ability to even travel is a privilege that many people don’t get. There’s a lot of romanticism that is attached to the “digital nomad” lifestyle and not always a lot of substance when it comes to down to earth resources and expectations. Like anything, it takes a lot of work and endless drive to really achieve.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.