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Operating a Business Without a Permanent Address

January 31, 2014
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230807

With a scheduled client call ahead of her, Marisa Murgatroyd raced on a scooter through the streets of Ubud, Bali, toward an internet cafe that usually has a good connection. She arrived to find that a stray cat had fallen on the line, knocking out Wi-Fi. She missed her client call. Soon after, Murgatroyd returned to Los Angeles to deal with late taxes and a lapsed car registration.

Occasional stumbles aside, the founder of branding and internet marketing agency Live Your Message has operated without a permanent address since October 2012--and has managed to triple her annual revenue to mid-six figures, while living the dream of nonstop travel.

"It's an amazing sense of freedom to wake up when I want to, where I want to and do the work I want to," says Murgatroyd, who travels with her husband and business partner, Murray Gray. "Yes, we work harder and often longer hours than people who clock in and out. But we do it on our terms, and that makes all the difference."

Running your own business while traveling full time? It's a cubicle-dweller's fantasy. But experts and expats say that if anyone can make it on the road, it's entrepreneurs--perhaps not owners of brick-and-mortar establishments, but certainly those with tech companies, media production firms, service providers or accounting businesses.

The most successful working nomads are independent and stimulated by new surroundings; most important, they have "a strong method for personal organization," says New York-based psychotherapist Pamela Garber.

A military-worthy command of systems enables Meg McAllister to operate her firm, McAllister Communications, no matter where she may roam throughout the U.S., U.K. and Canada. She subscribes to mobile internet services, rents mailboxes and has a phone service, RingCentral, that converts voice mail and faxes to e-mail.

"Indie consultants worry that they'll seem small-time to a client if they don't have all the trappings a larger company does," McAllister says. "I prefer to present it as a plus to clients. The more overhead I have, the higher my fees need to be to cover them. At the end of the day, my clients don't care where I get the job done, just that I get the job done."

But you may need virtual blinders to stay focused while living on the beach, in the mountains or in some other exotic locale. "You have to learn to develop self-motivation and consistent scheduling habits," says Jimmy Hayes, who moved to Vietnam to produce his travel-gear line, Minaal. "Otherwise it's too easy to get distracted by the fun outside your door."

Where Should I Go?

Some of the best locations for corporate relocation, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, are also the costliest. With their own money on the line, entrepreneurs favor budget-friendly destinations.

Dan Prescher lives in Ecuador and works as an editor for International Living, a publication that caters to expats. "The difference in overhead between the U.S. and here is enormous," he says. In addition to affordable property, "when you factor in utilities, taxes, healthcare and car insurance, you can live for half or less in some places in Latin America."

Besides low cost of living, one requirement trumps them all: dependable internet access. Here are five countries that have these and more.

Colombia Many South American countries earn raves for low cost of living, but Colombia stands out for its proximity to North America, government promotion of technology and physical beauty. The country, says Bogot?-based expat Brian Reale, CEO of software business Colosa, "has a great combination of nature and fascinating cities to explore."

Malaysia More expensive than other Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia makes up for it with flexible visas and numerous English speakers. While the capital, Kuala Lumpur, is "probably not the palm-tree-filled paradise many traveling entrepreneurs imagine, Malaysia has a wealth of beautiful spots that can be an ideal place to work on an online business, including my favorite spot, the Perhentian Islands," says Michelle Stansbury, who traveled for three-plus years while launching InnerBeauty Vitamin.

Mexico Avoid the U.S. border--the frontline for drug trafficking--and Mexico offers a warm culture, easy back-and-forth travel and bang for the buck. Expats prefer handsome colonial cities such as San Miguel de Allende and M?rida.

Thailand The language barrier is assuaged by the existence of large expat communities, particularly in Chiang Mai. Low cost of living is highlighted by affordable healthcare. "I've actually had surgery there, and I wait to get my checkups every year in Thailand, since it's a much more pleasant experience," says internet marketer Marisa Murgatroyd.

U.S. Want nomadic life while maintaining proximity to clients and family? Many 'treps swear by the great American road trip. For four years, Amy Burkert has run her website, GoPetFriendly.com, from a Winnebago View alongside husband Rod, who has a valuation consultancy. "Our businesses are thriving," she says, "and we're having a lot of fun and seeing the country."