Hi folks! Today I am absolutely delighted to share a new series with you. I’ll be featuring people who are either location independent, have gotten international jobs, and/or who continuously travel. They’ll be sharing how they became location independent or how they got jobs abroad, but most importantly, they’ll share how their lifestyle has positively or negatively affected their finances.
The reason for this series is to showcase people who have already achieved what the ThreeYear family is working towards: location independence and/or securing international jobs. Since we’re not sure which route we’ll take, we thought we’d hear from people who’ve already achieved the life, so we can learn more.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to the first person featured in this new series. Mavis is a reader who reached out to me because, as she said, “You guys are on the same path that we are, but opposite! I’m an international teacher, and have worked in Bolivia, Honduras and now Saudi Arabia with my husband and two boys. We have taught overseas for several years and are hoping to achieve FI in the near future so that we can have location permanence for a while.” Mavis and her husband are both teachers, and have taught at international schools all over the world. She’s already been a great resources to me, pointing me in the right direction of the best recruiters and asking any questions I have about teaching internationally.
I asked if she would share her fascinating story, and I know you’ll be as inspired as I was. So, without further ado, Mavis’s story!
How International Teaching Has Provided My Family a Strong Foundation for FI
My husband and I turned to international teaching when we were fresh out of graduate school. We were young, certified teachers, underemployed, adventurous, and ready to travel and experience the world. We were introduced to the idea through a passing conversation with a colleague who had taught at a school in Taiwan. Instantly, the scheming and planning began.
After attending the AASSA Recruiting Fair, we found jobs at the American International School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Our original plan was to teach in Honduras for two years, travel, and come home to Canada to settle into our lives. After these two years finished, there were still no teaching jobs available in Ontario near our family and friends, and we were not thrilled about the idea of moving back in with our parents as a married 28 year old couple. We decided to do two more years abroad, this time in Saudi Arabia, in order to save money, gain more experience and see a different part of the world. Two years soon became three, and now, after a few great job opportunities and adding two new little boys to our family, we have now been in Saudi Arabia for six years. In total, we have been teaching overseas for eight years, and have stopped making future promises of returning home to our families 😉
Working and living overseas has allowed us to get a pretty good handle on our finances. When we originally went overseas eight years ago, we had $80,000 of student debt and our worldly possessions fit nicely into three suitcases. Since that point, we have easily crushed our debt, purchased a cottage, and saved a substantial amount, which we have invested into index funds. Here’s how international teaching has helped to get us here:
Teaching Package Benefits
Overseas teaching packages cover many of the day-to-day costs that families struggle with at home. Often, beyond a base salary, they included a housing allowance, annual flight allowance and health insurance. This means that we don’t need to budget for rent/mortgage payments and can pocket a greater percentage of our salary.
Living/Traveling in Low-Cost Countries
When we worked in Honduras we earned what many would describe as peanuts, yet we still managed to put a significant chunk of our salary towards student loans. This was because the cost of living, like our salaries, was very low. We could have drinks out with friends for a couple of dollars, stay right on the beach for $20/night and catch a bus to a neighboring country for $10. Mind you, we did travel backpacker style, stayed in hostels, caught local buses and ate cheap street food. When we came home in the summer though, we really watched our pennies to ensure that we didn’t blow a week’s worth of work on one dinner out, as the higher cost of living in Canada was a strong reminder of our relative income.
Potential Earnings Versus Potential Savings
In addition to living and travelling in low-cost countries, we also learned how important it is to be aware of the difference between annual salary and the average savings potential that a teacher can expect at a school.
We each made $25,000 dollars annually in Honduras, yet managed to save close to 60% of our salary due to the low cost of living and limited taxation.
It is possible to have an annual salary that may be triple that amount in, for example, Switzerland, yet save much less due to a much higher cost of living. It’s important to be aware of things like: How much will we be taxed (at home and in the country where we are working)? How much does housing cost? What are the day to day expenses that we should expect? Do we need a car? How much will travel cost us?
When faced with a decision between jobs with similar salaries in Dubai and Saudi Arabia years ago, we ended up choosing Saudi Arabia in part because once we examined the costs of living, we calculated that our saving potential was significantly higher in Saudi Arabia.
Getting Smart with Our Money
Since we were faced with a few financial dilemmas by going overseas (tax implications, lack of a pension plan, transferring money home, etc.) we were forced to become more knowledgeable about financial planning early in our careers. I feel that, had we stayed in Canada, it would have taken us much longer to have a conversation about, let alone set, long term financial goals simply due to living the status quo and fighting the uphill battle that student loans present. Granted, we have still made our share of financial mistakes, but the more we understand our finances, the more confident we feel about our financial future.
We have moved three times in the past eight years. Each time we move, we evaluate the items that we pack up, and purge those things that we no longer need, use or that aren’t worth our time/energy to bring with us. Because of this, we are very mindful of the things that we do bring into our home. Knowing that eventually we will pack up again for a new destination, we know that accumulating too much stuff only means that it will take more energy to move the next time around. We are lucky that we don’t have a garage or a basement full of things we haven’t looked at or used in eight years. Living a semi-nomadic lifestyle has allowed us the freedom to buy fewer household items, which means greater capital to invest in the areas we feel are important.
Being Removed from a Consumerist Culture
Living in a Muslim country, Christmas is not a holiday that is celebrated. Nor is Valentine’s day, Easter, or Halloween. It is up to us to choose the traditions that we want to celebrate as a family, instead of being caught up in the advertised “sales” or holiday expectations. Because of this degree of separation, we have been able to reflect as a family on what is important to us: experiences over “things.” We first went overseas to travel and experience different cultures, and that hasn’t changed one bit. Since we prioritize taking trips together as a family, we choose to spend our money accordingly, rather than on things that our kids don’t need. For example, this past Christmas, we met my family in Ireland and spent an unforgettable week together. For Christmas, each of our children received one small gift with some travel activities. I would wager that we didn’t spend much more than an average family on this holiday season, yet it is one that I’ll always remember. No shiny new things, but the Hills of Moher were breathtaking and a Guinness with my Dad was extra tasty.
Exposure to Different Ways of Thinking
Meeting people from all different walks of life, from all around the world, has shown us so many different ways that people can choose to live their life. It really is quite amazing to constantly engage in dialogue and understand life through differing perspectives.
Taking a year off work? Cool! Moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone? How exciting! Quitting your job, without having another one lined up? That’s the reality of an international teacher’s career!
Living abroad has taught us that there are alternatives to having a huge house, expensive kids, purebred dog, the newest car, and a 9-5 job until we’re 65.
There are many different life paths to choose from, and taking a different path than the societal ‘norm’ is okay. This way of thinking is truly freeing from a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mindset, or being preoccupied with what someone else might think about how you prioritize your time and energy.
Currency Conversion Working in Our Favor
We currently are paid in a currency that is pegged to the U.S. dollar. What that means is that when we convert our paycheck to Canadian dollars, we score! Although currency conversion is a risky game to play (we have also been on the losing end when the Canadian dollar was strong in 2011), right now it is working for us. The key is that we do not rely on the current rates to establish our budget, nor do we allow it to inflate our lifestyle. Currency conversion is also a factor when we travel – last year we went to South Africa where the Rand was weak, and we were able to spend much less on an amazing trip because of this. We know we are fortunate that we have the luxury to travel, but traveling in affordable countries, and within our means, has also made a big difference in our budget.
Defining What is “Right” for Our Family
Going hand in hand with the exposure to different ways of thinking, is being able to make choices based on what is best for our family. While we originally went overseas for adventure, we have stayed abroad for the career opportunities, educational opportunities for our kids, financial security and the lifestyle that teaching abroad has provided us. We know that our perspectives have changed for the better and we also know that an international perspective is part of what we want for our kids. Best of all, we are able to decide what continues to be ‘right’ for us, as our current financial discipline means that we have the freedom of choice, as opposed to the burden of debt and lifestyle inflation.
While teaching internationally may not be for you, I highly recommend extended travel, volunteer, or work experiences abroad that push you beyond your comfort zone. I guarantee it will change your perspective, and potentially, your financial future too.
Mrs. ThreeYear here. After reading Mavis’s story, I am inspired. I especially love the financial implications of living abroad that I’ve never considered, like avoiding North America’s hyper-consumerist holidays or being naturally minimalist with your possessions because you move so often. Mavis’s family has managed to work toward financial independence while living internationally, and doing so on their terms. Pretty cool.
If you know of someone who’d be a good candidate for this series–someone who’s location independent, can work from anywhere, or has an international job and lives abroad–let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to feature them.
After reading Mavis’s story, what’s your one burning question for her? She’ll be replying to all your comments and questions, so make sure to leave her a comment!