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!
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.
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 became upwork.com.
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.
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. 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.
5) Scuba Diving:
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 :
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
So how do you earn money while you live and travel overseas long term?