Does working remotely overseas sound interesting to you?

A work desk against sunset by the beach

The realities of life catch up with your dreams and you know working remotely long-term without making drastic work and life adjustments is not possible. There are tax and living implications for living and working remotely. The pandemic has inspired many changes in our lifestyles and one of which is the dream to work elsewhere since no one was going to the office anyway. With people starting to head back to the office, the window of opportunity for someone to work remotely overseas may be diminishing. However, that again depends on the work you do.

We were working remotely for three months in Phuket Thailand in 2021 during the pandemic. It was a tedious process to go through the documentation for visas to Phuket. We work full-time as permanent employees and when we got approval to work remotely overseas for three months, we were elated. I’m sure getting that pass may be easier or more challenging depending on where you work and what you do but this is based on our experience.

House/Apartment

Can you put your house or wherever you live up on Airbnb and do you have someone to help you manage it while you’re away? Are you currently renting on a long-term lease (at least 1 year to 2 years)? If so, there may be penalties for terminating your lease earlier if that clause hasn’t been included yet on the contract.

Money

Do you have a steady income and enough savings? If you are working remotely, you may be receiving a steady income. Having at least 6 months of savings based on your average monthly budget, depending on your lifestyle is important. When they say money makes the world go round, they aren’t kidding. Having enough allows you to be able to discover and travel with more options.

Transportation

So that’s a segue into the topic of transportation. Transportation isn’t cheap in some places and I guess that’s relative. In Phuket, cost of taxis and ride hailing are more expensive than commuting in Singapore. We explored the option of renting a car, but did not wish to break any laws or get into any trouble should we get into any accidents while overseas. If you are open to the risk, do ensure you have your International Driver’s Licence as that’s the only overseas licence recognized there. Additionally, the International Driver’s Licence is probably more widely recognized worldwide for a short-term stay.

Insurance

Getting a good travel and international health insurance helps you to travel with a peace of mind. International health insurance may be expensive but there are some alternatives like travel insurances which cover COVID.

Pets

Do you have a pet or pets? You will need to put them in a boarding house for a few months while you are away. That means additional cost unless you know of a few kind souls willing to allow your pet(s) to board for free. There’s also the element of missing your pets a lot while you are away. Depending on where you are based, bringing your pets with you on a trip and then taking them back may not be easy depending on the regulations. For us, taking pets out of Singapore and bringing them back requires the pets to go into quarantine at a facility for up to 120 days.

Medications

If you are on any long-term medication, it is good to bring a prescription and depending on the place you may be going, there may be compromises on the exact drug type. There may be alternatives with similar ingredients but not the exact drug. There are some vitamins and supplements which aren’t easily available where you may going. If you are looking to ship them to where you are, you’ll need to consider the various import tax and customs duties.

Portable equipment

Have good portable equipment is essential for working remotely overseas. If you are like me and like having multiple screens when you are working or researching, you’ll want to find a good portable screen. I’m currently using ViewSonic and be prepared to pay about SGD350 for a portable monitor. It has a C-type cable which doesn’t require the screen to be plugged into power for some laptops like the Dell and HP. However, it doesn’t work with my Microsoft Surface. You’ll need to have a USB to USB-C for power transfer. I’ve tried the MSI portable monitor as well and love the sleek screen but I do not love the lack of a proper stand. It’s difficult to prop your screen up as the stand doesn’t hold up well. There are some options for a magnetic stand which you can get.

Everything adds up. I have a portable mechanical keyboard which I absolutely love for how light it is. I highly recommend the Kirin V2 from Tempest.sg. You’ll find customizable mechanical keyboards which come with a semi-hard case for travelling/portability. My husband is more particular about his work station, and he’s brought an actual 24″ monitor with the stand on the trip.

Expect the unexpected

Overall, expect things which aren’t expected, and go with the flow. We’ve moved villas twice in the last three months since we’ve been in Phuket, and the villas are next to each other. The first was due to the pipes and we couldn’t use water in the villa for a while as they fixed it. So we were moved next door. We moved back after four days and a few weeks after, we had a rat problem. Apparently when they fixed the pipes, it’d probably disturbed the homes of the rats. We noticed that a couple of our bananas were gouged out and it seems to be the work of mice or rats. The next day, we noticed the bottom of the storage door chewed which I assume was the work of the rats getting out of the storage into the house. We heard some rattling of the plates in the sink one night when we were in our office working late and came out to find a rat running to hide. Thereafter, we’ve seen traces of their poop around in the house.

Another thing to get used to if you aren’t staying in a hotel for a few months, is the number of times the power goes out. We’re close to the mountains and probably prime habitat for rats, spiders and lizard. The other thing is the power going out almost every time there’s a storm or heavy rain. There was a day when even our mobiles had no cell reception for half a day at the same time when there was a blackout, as the power outage affected two out of the three cell companies here.

Brownouts happened a few times too when we were here – when some power outlets work and some don’t and they may not be working to 100% capacity. For example, you could have lights but they may flicker in and out like there’s a poltergeist in the room. One thing I’ve learnt in the power outages is to always keep your devices charged just in case. Especially if you need your mobile phone as a flashlight and for the internet.

Travelling with creature comforts. We are rather fussy our pillows and I’ve many variations of pillows and the only one which had worked for me was a Tempur pillow which is now in storage. (I do miss it!) So, being mobile as we are trying to be now, I’ve an alternative by Bodyluv. I’ve had it for close to three-quarters of the year now and it’s starting to flatten. But yes, I brought it with me to Phuket and I’m glad I did as all the pillows we’ve had so far have been really uncomfortable.

Last but probably not the least (I’m sure you’ll have more to add-on as not every experience is the same), is ensuring that you aren’t bringing back more things than you’ve arrived with. That’s a tall order as most of us end up buying things when we travel. But I’ve brought some older clothes with me which I wouldn’t mind leaving behind to offset the additional I’ll be leaving with. And I’ve depleted some of my food, supplements and skincare supplies which I’d packed.

Additionally, if you are working remotely overseas, consider the space you might want to have. Do you have sufficient space for work? At the last location where we stayed, my husband and I did not have separate work areas, especially for calls. So we had to take turns working at the hotel’s restaurant which was not ideal.

A work desk against sunset by the beach
Our busy work desk at the villa

Due to taxation policies, there are certain considerations around the duration for working remotely overseas. Our 3-month overseas work-play experience ended a little too soon for us.

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