The Top 6 Places to Build a 'Laptop Business' Overseas
A contributor with decades of experience working overseas recommends places like Singapore, Portugal and Chile.
In today’s world, you can live almost anywhere you want and support yourself using only a laptop.
Working as a freelance writer, online teacher or tutor, blogger, professional consultant, drop-shipper or day-trader (perhaps as little as four or five hours per week), you can generate the cash flow to support a new life in the place where you most enjoying spending time.
Where, then, should you consider launching your overseas adventures as a laptop entrepreneur?
Based on the 30 years I've spent writing about living and investing overseas, I would recommend the following six places as my top choices for where to base yourself and your laptop business. My criteria include quality of life, cost of living and two factors of particular importance to the would-be entrepreneur abroad: the reliability and available speed of the local Internet and the local approach to taxation.
Average upload speed: 5.61 Mbps/ average download speed: 12.8 Mbps.
Colombia is a global success story, evolving in just two decades from one of the most violent places on Earth to a model for urban innovation. Medellín, for example, was recently named both City Of The Year and World's Most Innovative City.
As the outdated image of Colombia’s troubled past fades, tourism expands. The country saw more than 3 million tourists for the first time ever in 2017, up 20 percent over the previous year.
Exports are expected to grow by more than 10 percent overall in 2018. Inflation rates are on track to hit the stated target of 3 percent by the end of the year. Unemployment rates are declining. Meantime, Colombia’s currency is one of the most undervalued in the world, making life there a bargain for anyone with U.S. dollars. And the lifestyle you’re buying can legitimately be of a luxury standard.
Colombia taxes are based on worldwide income if the country considers you a tax resident. However, you can spend up to 180 days a year in the country before you achieve that status.
Alternately, you can remain in Colombia on a tourist visa, issued upon arrival at the airport, for 90 days. If you’d like to stay longer, you’ll need a residency visa. The country offers two easy options: qualify for a rentista residency visa by showing 10 times the Colombian monthly minimum wage (currently about $3,000) in income per month. Or you can invest in a local company. Yes, your own company qualifies. The minimum investment required to qualify for residency this way is $30,000.
Average upload speed: 6.80 Mbps/ average download speed: 32.41 Mbps
Most laptop entrepreneurs are one-man (or woman) operations. If you’re thinking bigger, a primary point to address when considering locations for where to base your business is the local labor pool. Will you be able to source qualified, affordable, English-speaking staff? In Panama City, the answer to that question is a hard yes.
Panama’s capital city has evolved over the past six years into a global melting pot. In addition to Panamanians, and Americans, who have been a part of this landscape for more than 100 years, today’s Panama City is home to a fast-growing population of expats from Europe and across the Americas. All have migrated to Central America’s most developed city in search of employment opportunities.
One reason may be that, in 2012, Panama’s former president, Ricardo Martinelli, issued an executive order creating what’s become known as a "Friendly Nations" visa program. Overnight, Panama was targeted not only by opportunity-seekers from neighboring countries but by eager, educated, and English-speaking 20- and 30-somethings from North America and Europe.
Thanks to the Friendly Nations program, they can easily obtain residency and work permits. Anyone holding a passport from one of the 50 countries on the Friendly Nations list can apply to live and work legally in Panama almost immediately.
The infrastructure there is the best in the region, thanks in part to the decades-long U.S. military presence while our nation ran the Panama Canal. This is a safe, stable, affordable country that uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, meaning no exchange-rate risk for dollar holders. The standard of living is comfortable, even luxury level, if your budget stretches to allow for it.
You’re considered a tax resident in Panama if you spend 183 days or more in the country or have established permanent residency. And, unlike Colombia, Panama taxes you only on income earned in Panama.
Average upload speed: 8.75 Mbps/ average download speed: 43.67 Mbps
Chile is a developed world alternative in Latin America, offering the region’s highest standard of living. The water is drinkable, phone and internet are fast and reliable and the public transit system is modern and efficient. The highways are modern, fast and well-maintained.
In something that's uncommon for this part of the world, the culture is honest, and corruption is not commonplace. This can be an important advantage for running a business.
The country stretches 2,650 miles from north to south and offers an array of settings in between. From seaside resorts to small beach villages and mountains (with wintertime skiing), to the Lake District and the sophisticated scene in Santiago, an array of lifestyles are available, as well as an array of climates. This is a top option if you want to live overseas but still enjoy four seasons.
A downside for the entrepreneur-in-residence in Chile, as in Colombia, is that you could find yourself liable for local tax based on worldwide income (which is the worst possible tax scenario). This is the case if you’re deemed a tax resident; that occurs if you spend six consecutive months in the country in a single year or more than six months in the country in total over two years.
Spend 89 days a year (or less) in Chile as part of your global circuit, and you won’t have to worry about a local income tax obligation.
Average upload speed: 15.40 Mbps/ average download speed: 30.70 Mbps
Slovenia, the second richest of the 13 Slavic countries, is nestled in among Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, in the heart of Central Europe. This is a mountainous country, with 47 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline, occupying an enviable position at the center of four major geographic points: the Alps, the Dinaric Alps, the Pannonian Plain and the Mediterranean Sea.
Slovenia's past is long and turbulent. This piece of earth has been shuffled among the world's major powers, starting with the Roman Empire and evolving to the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg monarchy. The country was annexed by Germany during World War II, made a socialist republic under Yugoslavia and finally emerged as an independent nation with multiparty democracy in 1991. It went on to gain EU membership in 2004.
Charming, Old World capital-city Ljubljana is the heart of the country, literally and figuratively. This small city of 275,000 people is modern, with the amenities of 21st century living; has easy access to both beaches and ski resorts; and offers the best of all worlds in its lifestyle options.
A historical crossroads and key trade route, Ljubljana is home to Germanic, Slavic and Mediterranean cultures and influences. Venice is only two-and-a-half hours away, and the country's small coastal villages are indistinguishable from those of Northern Italy.
Slovenia considers you a tax resident if you spend 183 days or more in the country; the country taxes based on worldwide income.
Average upload speed: 36.13 Mbps/ average download speed: 64.49 Mbps
Portugal is at the edge of Europe, but it's at the center of the global map thanks to its water trade routes.
It is also one of the oldest countries in Europe having held the same defined borders since 1249. The name "Portugal" first appeared in 868, during the Reconquista. Indeed, Lisbon is four centuries older than Rome and the second-oldest European capital, after Athens. The city was settled by the Phoenicians around 1200 B.C. They recognized the excellent transport possibilities offered by the River Tagus.
Indeed, half of the New World once belonged to Portugal. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas gave Portugal Brazil, Africa and Asia. The Portuguese Empire was the first global empire in history, and its colonial period was one of the longest lived, lasting for almost six centuries, from the taking of Ceuta in 1415 until Macau was handed over to the Chinese in 1999.
Somehow, this great and grand country, with its long and illustrious history, fell from off the global stage, but these days the world is rediscovering all Portugal has to offer.
The country has been identified as having Europe's best beach, along with some of the world's best golf, hiking trails, surfing, universities and wines. The weather offers 220 sunny days per year in Lisbon and 300 sunny days per year along the Algarve coast. The country is also one of the safest countries in the world, according to the Global Peace Index.
For living purposes, its healthcare system is world-class, as is its education system. Plus, thanks to the long alliance with Britain, English is commonly spoken there. The food is local, the diet healthy, Portuguese wine is enjoying growing notoriety, and everything -- from the food and wine to rent and utilities -- is surprisingly affordable.
For all these reasons, Portugal is a great place to base a business and take advantage of the option (because of the nature of the business) to live there full-time. This is one of the easiest places in the world to establish residency. Simply show enough income to support yourself (currently, 1,200 euros in income per month), and you'll qualify for a residency permit. This residency status requires you to spend at least 183 days in the country each year. This, in turn, makes you a tax resident.
Portugal also offers a program called the Non-Habitual Tax Resident regime, which effectively eliminates most taxes in Portugal for most people, for 10 years. You can live there full time, running a business and earning an income tax free.
Average upload speed: 170.99 Mbps/ average download speed: 186.56 Mbps
Singapore is a super-modern, squeaky-clean country of parks, beaches and enough activities to keep you busy for a lifetime. Health care is as advanced as you'll find anywhere in the world and affordable. The government is stable, the economy growing and crime practically non-existent.
Located at the southern tip of Southeast Asia, the city-state of Singapore is less than 100 miles north of the Equator. This means the weather is consistently warm, the humidity high and precipitation frequent year-long (no distinct wet and dry seasons).
Singapore is not a budget destination, but, in many ways life there can be as good as it gets, not only in Southeast Asia but worldwide. If your business idea targets an Asian audience, this is the place to base yourself. If your target market is broader, Singapore remains a top choice.
One challenge for an entrepreneur with customers or clients in the Americas is the time zone issue: It's tough to provide good customer service when you're faced with a 12-hour time difference.
Americans and EU passport-holders are granted 90-day tourist visas upon arrival in the country. (Other passport-holders receive 30-day tourist visas.) You can apply for a work permit, allowing you to remain longer in the country, when you're working for your own company and paying yourself a salary of at least 3,600 Singapore dollars (about $2,650).
To establish residency in Singapore, you’ll be considered a tax resident if you’re physically present in the country for 183 days or more. The good news is that Singapore, like Panama, taxes only the income you earn there in Singapore.
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