12 Ways to Earn Money & Make a Living While Travelling

I originally wrote this article while sitting on a beach in Koh Tao in 2014, it’s now 2017 and I’m married and living in the USA.  It’s one of the pages with the highest visits, so I’ve updated it accordingly. 

You’ve been travelling for a while on your savings, sooner or later you are going to decide that you need to start making money again.  In Thailand I was lucky, I could live on a relatively low income – around $500 New Zealand Dollars (or 13,000 Baht) per month, but eventuallyI started to deplete my savings account. Later I ended up travelling back home, before moving to the United States where I was not able to work for a considerable amount of time before getting my Green Card.  One of the most important questions any long term traveller can ask themselves is – how can I start to make money overseas, avoid deportation and not go broke!


geckos
When I travelled Europe and South East Asia I’ve done various odd jobs, from DJ, Sound Engineer, Backstage Manager, Promoter, Artist Liaison and more at Clubs, Bars and Festivals. I’ve cold called bars, pubs and venues in the UK from an island trying to sell them the latest in Irish satellite receivers for the football season, attempted to start a backpackers hostel (and failed miserably, losing around $5000 in the process), and more recently settled into a regular routine of online work including blogging, content writing, SEO, WordPress and social media marketing.

Here are 12 ways my friends, housemates and I have made an income while living in South East Asia, that I continued to do while I moved to New Zealand, and now how I sustain myself living in the United States.

1) Freelancing:

I originally started freelancing back in 2014, more by necessity than choice, and started off using the website elance.com which eventually merged with odesk and later became upwork.com.

Other similar websites include freelancer.com (for pretty much any freelance gig), gigster.com (for software developers and web designers), Toptal (for experienced corporate freelancers), 99Designs (for designers), peopleperhour (freelancing for web related projects) Freelance writing gigs (exactly what it sounds like) project4hire.com and fiverr.

Setting up an account is very straight forward, simply fill out your profile, work experience, a portfolio of previous freelance work etc. There are both paid and free options, although the free option does limit the sort of jobs you can apply for if you have a wide variety of transferrable skills. Members of these freelancing sites are from across the world, so you will find yourself competing with some very low priced competition on certain roles. I’ve found that when bidding on jobs from western clients, make it very clear that you are a western, native language/first language speaker and include supporting information to justify your extra expense. You’ll potentially need to do a few cheaper jobs just to get some reputation and reviews on the site, but it was worth it for me, eventually netting a long term client in Australia that I averaged around $300-500 AUD per month in earnings.

I’ve done everything from social media marketing, business consulting, content writing (including a long stint writing about second hand shipping containers) and blogging all from the comfort and safety of my own room.

For time tracking and invoicing, I used Paymo, its got a built in time tracker app, or you can run one natively in OSX or windows.  It allows for time tracking right down to the minute, invoicing in multiple currencies, can handle loads of projects and clients, lets you know when you’ve been paid and more.

For a couple of years here in the USA I worked full time, in order to “exist”, but as of 2017 I’m returning to freelancing full time.  I’m probably going to move to And.co as it’s more in line with my needs here in the US and provides me with functionality such as invoicing, time tracking, contract management and expense tracking.  It has the added bonus of its on, real life virtual assistant,  as well as bot support. I’ll also be using MileIQ to log my milage when travelling to clients so that I can claim it back as an expense when it comes to tax time.

2) Writing & Editing:

While I’ve already covered some writing under freelancing, many people write blogs such as this, and have monetised them through guest posts, advertising, sponsorships or just plain freebees. I’ve got other friends that write for online and print magazines and newspapers, or who cover events as they are happening. It takes a while to build up a portfolio, but for some its worth it. University students will often require editing of essays or assignments (my wife paid around $300 to have her honors thesis edited by someone with a doctorate, which was worth every cent – we found the freelancer on upwork), especially if they speak english as a second language – shops and businesses often have atrocious menus or signage opportunities are endless.

3) Web, Design and WordPress:

For those of us who are digital natives, setting up a CMS based site such as wordpress.com is easy, things get a little bit harder setting up self hosted sites, and even harder for e-commerce based sites. There is plenty of opportunity to set up, manage and write content for peoples websites. Chances are pretty much every business you run into will have an absolutely atrocious, poorly optimised, badly written website – opportunities are endless.  Pick up some decent hosting from Dreamhost (what this site is hosted on), or Bluehost and get cracking.

Basic design, photoshop and layout are also great skills which you can take with you anywhere and can help you customise websites even more for a higher income. I’ve got a friend making around 12,000 baht/450 NZD for each new self hosted WordPress site he creates (including domain registration, hosting for a year, WordPress install and basic modifications).

4) English Teaching:

Probably the most common job for expats in Thailand and South East Asia, though one I haven’t done due to my strong Kiwi accent. Pay isn’t great, the hours can be long once you count lesson preparation, and office politics can suck. That said many expats love it, and spend years teaching over here – the most popular place to get a job in Thailand is via the Ajarn.com website, in other countries Daves ESL Cafe is also popular. Remember to bring a colour scan of your University Degree, a TEFL or TESOL certificate and references are handy, and some people even get asked for their University Grades, so have everything available and you should find work fairly quickly. This is the easiest way to work legitimately and legally in South East Asia – to get started, you might want to read something like Teaching English as a Foreign Language for Dummies and grab yourself a copy of TEFL Lesson Plans for Dummies to make those lesson plans easier!

5) Scuba Diving:

Banyan Bar

I’ve got plenty of mates who live in places like Koh Tao or other islands in Malaysia, Thailand and beyond who make a living as scuba diving instructors. Often they will go to an island on Holiday and never leave. There are opportunities to teach PADI, SSI, underwater photography, tech diving, compressor maintenance and more. Fully qualified dive instructors are some of the most highly paid people on the islands and the skill is easily transferrable anywhere there is water.

6) DJing :

Golde Koh Phangan

DJ work is fairly easy to find in certain areas, and I‘ve personally spun tunes in clubs, parties and resorts in Croatia, England, Thailand and Malaysia. Touristy areas are always a good start, as they tend to look for music that closely suits the tastes of travellers, don’t expect the gear to be in top notch condition, and be prepared to play on a midi controller if needs be. Local DJs can be protective of their “jobs” even if they suck and can often have all the bars stitched up. Have some mixes ready, always carry USBs with tunes on them, have your Facebook fan page up to date and remember to drink where you want to play. And always be prepared for work to dry up at a moments notice. Its still one of my favourite ways to make a bit of extra cash – personal highlights have been opening for Goldie on Koh Phangan, DJing on the Audio Doughnuts stage at Dimensions Festival in Croatia, massive beach parties in Langkawi, Malaysia and holding down a 3 month DJ residency at Bar Next 2 on Koh Tao. Chances are you won’t get a work permit for this, but normally the bars in SE Asia are pretty tight with the local cops, mafia or immigration officers anyway meaning they’ll turn a blind eye to you DJing without a permit, but be careful – you never know when the next crackdown will be.

7) Acting and Extras:

I’ve got friends who make a living as professional actors, as extras or as stunt people in Thailand. Although this almost never has the protection of a work permit, due to its short term contract nature its very common. There are numerous Facebook groups dedicated to casting in Thailand and Malaysia and all looks, ethnicities and body types are in demand for TV and film in SE Asia. Be careful though, as you could run into issues with work permits doing this.

8) Photography:

I’ve got friends who photograph parties, others who make stock photos of their travels. If you have good camera, some photography know how and an eye for detail, your travel photos could make you cash on a variety of stock photo websites.

9) Tour Guide:

This one is illegal for foreigners in Thailand, and some other countries. That said – typically these countries lack tour guides that can speak anything other than their native languages and English or other common languages. I’ve got a flatmate who often travels to Laos and Cambodia to work as a tour guide for Polish speaking tour groups, as you don’t get many Polish speaking Laos or Cambodian tour guides. I’ve got other friends who have worked for Tour bus companies or even for sail boats in Croatia. Beware though – there have recently been numerous arrests of Russian speaking tour guides in Phuket, Pattaya and other Thai cities, so its not recommended in Thailand.

10) Bar tending, Cheffing & Hospitality:

Chef

Bar tending is another job thats technically illegal for foreigners in Thailand, and you’d never attempt it in places like Bangkok. That said, there are plenty of places where foreigners are able to get away with it, though there is some risk. Look around you and see if its common, places I’ve lived in the past have had a high number of foreign bar staff, especially if the area is remote and has a high expat population.  If you have more hospitality experience you might even be able to land a well paying, legal job as a bar manager in a high end area or as a foreign chef in a hotel, restaurant or your own business – or at the other end of the scale run a pub crawl like my friends in Cambodia.

11) Hostels:

This will depend on place to place, and again the work permit situation is a big one. But hostels are a great place for someone to work, either for cash (don’t expect much) or in return for accommodation. Common sense is required as there are often crack downs on these places in Asia, but if the owners have a good relationship with local authorities it can work out for you. Just don’t try to start one, I did that, wasted 3 months of my life without pay, spent a few thousand dollars and almost ended up with some run ins with immigration and the cops while waiting for my business visa and work permit to get processed!

12) Referrals:

Long term stay in a hostel or touristy area is an ideal way to make commission based cash and kickbacks from introducing tourists to tour operators, pub crawls, activities and more. I’ve made thousands of Baht in commission just in referring people I’ve met to a friend in the dive industry – not bad for just having a conversation to someone in the street.

For those of you who are already travel blogging, consider first moving your site off WordPress.com and make it self hosted on something like Dreamhost, I recently used WPBeginner to migrate mine across.  One you’ve done that you can get to work setting up a decent advertising friendly theme, and can have a crack at some affiliate marketing based on your travels and adventure, or the equipment that you use.  Here are some of the programs I use to fun this site:

  • Commission Junction (So far I’ve had the best success with this, and the site did $2,000 in sales in the first week, all from Expedia since this went live, netting me approximately 5% commission)
  • ShareASale (I’ve just joined this one, and it seems to be a tier below Commission Junction in the sort of Brands, but represented a product that I’ve used and wanted to promote)
  • Viglink (This turns all outbound links into affiliate links if that link is part of a program viglink is part of, handy if you can’t be bothered joining programs, but want to blog)
  • Amazon Affiliates (I recommend using the excellent Easy Azon Pro plugin if you go down this route)
  • JVZoo (I had to use it for one of the products I wish to promote, but know very little about it)

Heck, there are even referral links in this post. Like the one below! Click on it, and if you book a trip to Thailand I’ll make some money.


geckos

Other Things to bear in mind:

Work Permits, Tax and the Law.

Often the biggest barrier to work is legal or work permit situations, especially in South East Asia. Getting a work permit here in Thailand can be an expensive and time consuming situation and working without one is technically illegal and can result in deportation. Generally speaking though, if you are working online, or working from home it shouldn’t be a problem. The same goes for english teachers working in schools, though the risks are always there. There are some regions of various countries that are more “lawless” when it comes to foreigners working, these will be pretty obvious when you visit them and notice that all the bars are run by foreigners rather than locals! Don’t forget about tax, some countries tax you for your overseas earnings (although they might be hard or impossible to prove if they are in cash or a foreign bank account). You also have very few ways to ensure that you actually get paid if you are working under the table. The best place to keep up to date with changes to the law regarding work in Thailand and other nearby countries is Thaivisa.com

How are you going to get paid:

If its cash thats easy, grab your brown envelope and spend it – but what about if you are working online for a company overseas. Make sure that you have all your banking details sorted before you go overseas, set up a PayPal account, but also a Skrill account (which is excellent for transferring money internationally) combined with a local bank account for lower transfer and withdrawal fees.


geckos
So how do you earn money while you live and travel overseas long term?

17 Responses
  1. All of this was very helpful…do i need a license to barber over in thialand…is it like flea markets or something …and how much money do i need to start out on…American usd…or Asia’s currncy….

    • There is no “Asia’s currency” there is a currency for each country in South East Asia. You can live fairly frugally off $500 USD per month in Thailand, though $1000 USD per month will give you a lot more options. To work legally in Thailand you need a work permit, which requires around $40,000 in the bank in capitalisation plus around 5 Thai staff in the company officially. Most foreigners with work permits have dodgy papers drawn up by a friendly accountant in the area. This is just how it goes. Though if you are working online or something where you aren’t face to face you will have less of a problem.

      As a barber is a job that requires a shopfront and customers, you’ll need to do it all legit, or you’ll end up bribing local officials. Considering I could get a haircut for 50 Baht (about a dollar) on my street, you’ll want to ensure that whatever you can provide is way different to what the locals can – and aim for the hi-so market, but this will require considerable capital investment to make it worth while. Why would someone pay you X amount when they can pay a local considerably less. What is your point of difference etc.

      Note that this article is out of date now since the Thai coup and military junta taking over the country. You are more likely to have problems as a foreigner operating a small business. There is/was a lot of nationalism and anti farang sentiment and many long termers have left the country. Unless you are teaching, or working a proper expat profession, much of what you’ll do will have to be on the down low – or require cooperation from local authorities which might exist in a less than legal status. I.e when I was DJing (as with others who worked on the island), the bar paid off the local police and immigration authorities to turn a blind eye. The cops on that island made around $40,000 USD per month just in bribes.

  2. Gustavo Vergetti Reply

    Hi Mike,
    Congratulations on money making skills and thank you for your tips.
    I would also like to travel through Southeast Asia while at the same time making money. I am a Brazilian citizen based in Poland, i speak pretty decent English, besides Portuguese,Spanish,French and Italian,moreover i can communicate also in Dutch and Polish.
    I wonder if could recommend some serious travel agencies which hire guides with any of those languages.
    Thanks and keep up the good work,
    Best regards,
    Gus

    • It would be illegal for people to hire you as a tour guide in Thailand, and many other countries due to their visa laws. That said, if you hang around hostels long enough, you’ll find the right people.

  3. ‘University students will often require editing of essays or assignments, especially if they speak english as a second language – shops and businesses often have atrocious menus or signage opportunities are endless.’ Mike – is this something you also do through elance? How do you manage to find people needing these services/enable them to find you? Thanks!

  4. im a dj producer from australia currently in bangkok on a double entrance visa i would like to dj at a few clubs if possible apart from going in and asking the manager speaking with dj’s etc how would you go about landing a gig legally what is the process to get a work permit

    • Short answer: you won’t get a work permit. And if you do, its only valid for the venue its issued for (i.e. you can only be a resident DJ). They’d also have to have X amount of cash in the bank, be paying taxes, have a minimum salary, X amount of local staff etc. It’s simply not viable to do it legally.

      The good news is the local bars all pay bribes to the police, so if its in a busy area you’ll be fine if they book you. That is until you are not. Such is life in Asia.

  5. Hey man, very nice article!!
    I´m a photographer from Sweden and I´m planning on a trip to Thailand during the winter.
    I was thinking about doing freelancing/ 1 day assignments for hotels, clubs etc while I´m there (since I suspect I might need to in order to stay that long)
    I was planning on leaving out businesscards/showing portfolio to the venues in order to find temporary assignments (photos for website/social media etc)).
    Would this be a bad idea without a work permit?
    If not where in Thailand do you think this could work…Chiang Mai? Bangkok? or the islands?
    Would it matter if the venue owners are Thai or Farang?
    Thanks

  6. Really helpful mate, looking to DJ a bit myself. Any bars/clubs you could recommend? Im from the UK and play a mix of disco, house, R&B and hip hop.

  7. Hi there what trouble could i get into if i used a photographer for a wedding in thailand that does not have a work permit for Thailand?

    • It’s technically illegal (then again so is doing your own gardening), providing you aren’t openly advertising it you *should* be fine. There is a huge difference between the letter of the law and how it’s applied, and this depends on what area you are in, what you are doing etc… the corruption goes both ways 😉

  8. Hi Mike!

    Thank you for such a great and inspiring article! I’ve been hoping to do a couple of things that you’ve done such as DJaying and Bartendering. The thing is, I’m a Thai native, but I speak fluent English and study in the UK for university. So, I’m only in Thailand for summer, and I plan to work on these kinds of field outside Thailand as a part-time job. I’ll be working as a bartender through my cousin in Samui soon, and I was wondering how do people work for famous pub crawls/ promoters in Thailand? Is it all about networking and knowing people?

    2) Since I’m studying in the UK, I know it’ll probably be harder for me to get a legit official job, so I’m looking into being a promoter or working in nightclubs since it is what I enjoy as well as earn a lot. I really need tips in networking with people… I’m usually a social person but I want to know if you could give me advices in HOW you did you land yourself jobs Dj-ing places/ bartendering/something similar everywhere you go? THANK YOU:)

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply