All you need is access to the internet to become a digital nomad! That’s what Brian Hawkins did when he asked his manager, on his performance evaluation form, to leave his office cubicle in exchange for the expat lifestyle and to get a taste of working abroad. Here is his story.
1. Where are you from originally?
I was born in Tokyo, Japan, but that didn’t qualify me as being Japanese to gain citizenship there. Most would guess that my folks were in the Army, as I lived my first two years in Japan and then two more years in South Korea. But my father actually took an expat job to work abroad for Bank of America. My grandfather as well worked as an expat in Japan where my dad learned to speak fluent Japanese.
2. Where do you live now?
I live in Winchester, MA just outside of Boston in the U.S. We are living the American dream with a big house, yard & two cars. Unlike Europeans, that see “less is more” and don’t give in to the American “super size” everything needs, which I got to experience first hand living in the Netherlands, while working at KPN’s telecom headquarters in the Hague which is about an hour south of Amsterdam.
3. What first attracted you to your new home? Did you try anywhere else on the way? Did you move for work or for lifestyle?
The company that I work for, iBasis a KPN company, has offices worldwide. I compared options in various cities knowing I wanted to live and work remotely for a month or so. I used several expat sites to help compare housing costs to figure out what option made sense. We ruled out UK and Hong Kong as the cost would have been much more than our cost of living in the U.S. While my wife dreamed about living in Paris, we didn’t have an office there to report to work, so we picked the Netherlands.
4. What kind of property do you live in now? Will you stay here? What’s your ideal place to live in within your new country?
We found are rental from AirBnB, a site that people list their own houses for rent. We rented from a woman that was working abroad in Brazil and her home was available for rent. The apartment was located in the Duindorp neighborhood in The Hague, which is only a few blocks from the beach and twenty minutes from the city. Luckily, it had two playgrounds for our kids to enjoy. The playgrounds even had livestock, which would be very uncommon to find sheep and goats on playgrounds in the states!
5. Are you speaking a new language? If so, how did you learn?
You know the phrase its all Dutch to me? Well that is how I felt in the Netherlands, all the words are about 100 characters long. I’d try to tell coworkers where we were going on the weekends or get advice for places to see, but I couldn’t pronounce the places. Instead, I just said that tourist place that has lots of windmills or flowers.
I had a translation book, but only learned a word or two from it. Most of the people in the country speak English, so we got by.
6. What do you do for a living? Where do you physically work from? Do you work with clients/customers back in your home country or your new one?
For the last six years I’ve been marketing Pingo.com, a virtual telecom service that helps expats save on international calls abroad. It’s part of the retail division of iBasis, a KPN company.
I work from the iBasis main office in Burlington, MA. While abroad, in order to communicate with my co-workers back in Burlington, I had to work some late nights to make up for the six hour time difference in Europe.
7. Do you work online? If so, what is the internet connectivity like? What software do you commonly use on day to day basis? What would be your top tip for online working from your new country?
I’m online all the time managing an ecommerce site. I had no problem getting internet access in the Netherlands. In fact, it’s commonly available on the trains. I did some video conference calls to help stay connected with face to face like meetings.
8. Are you paid in your new home currency or in pounds/dollars/euros? Do you exchange money often? If so, what service do you use?
We got killed for exchange rates. Money transfer places were giving us 1.44 US to the Euro. It was hard to grasp a 44% increase in prices. Plus, you have to pay to use the public toilets, so that’s $1.44, which adds up when your traveling with a 1 & 4 year old! ?
I’d highly recommend planning ahead and getting a European credit card that has the gold strip. Most places wouldn’t take Visa and Amex wasn’t as popular there. Looking at my Visa bill they gave us decent exchange rates but wacked us with extra fee’s that added up to $2 to $6 per transaction.
We mainly used our Bank of America ATM card, which usually charged $7.50 every time we took out the max amount of 250 Euros.
9. Do you have children? If so, how did they adapt to the move? How are their schools? Are they bi-lingual? Are their good future career opportunities within your new country?
As mentioned, we traveled with our 15 month old and 4 and half year old daughters. It was crazy to try to travel with two kids and two suitcases, so we kept the kids but ditched one suit case along the way!
10. Did you bring any pets with you? Or leave any behind? How did this work out?
I’ve heard some countries like Singapore, where I’ve worked as an Expat, that you have to quarantine your dog for a year before you can get it back to ensure that you don’t bring any diseases into the country.
But our dog, a Yorkshire Terrier named Captain Suizo, stayed back in the U.S. with very good friends.
11. Is your life better than it was before? If so, how?
I always say that traveling is like winning a lottery ticket. While it’s good to be home now, my life is better. I appreciate what I have and it’s always good to see the world from a different perspective.
12. What are the best things about living in your new country? Has the move been good for the whole family?
Living in a new country is kind of like being a four year old all over again! Every thing is new, yet some of it might be slightly familiar. You might not know where you’re going or might not know what you’re eating, but it’s all good because it’s about the journey not the destination! We embraced the new experiences, like a child that tires something for the first time.
13. What are the most challenging things about moving to and living in your new country?
Missing home was the most challenging aspect of living abroad. I market an immigrant targeted phone service, and we see that first generation has more roots to their home country because they tend to have a longer duration on calls home. While second and third generations simply don’t call back as often. So, the first few years living abroad can feel lonely, but there are several expat community groups to help you feel connected to home.
14. Are you here for good? If so, why? If no , why not?
Most people take the one to two year assignments and then head home. Others take it and never look back again. Our journey had to end for now, we but do hope to travel again.
15. Any partings word to people thinking of moving to your country?
If there is a will there is a way! So just make it happen! Don’t let your townie friends distract you from packing a suit case and just going. There are many clever ways to make it happen. You can find volunteer abroad opportunities, freelance work, job swaps, and house sitting.
It doesn’t have to cost a lot. In fact, we rented out our home, which paid for most of our travel and lodging. So, if you factor in our usual cost of living expenses we had very little additional expenses. Don’t let money be a factor in making this happen!
Brian Hawkins is an Internet Marketing manager for Pingo.com with iBasis, a KPN Company. He markets an affordable virtual telecom service that helps expats stay connected to home. You can read his blog about it at www.Pingo.com/Blog. He also manages a global expat community blog at www.AffordableCallingCards.net
Mr. Hawkins has worked at two leading marketing agencies before becoming a father of two amazing daughters. He has been fortune enough to have traveled around the world twice and has lived abroad in Japan, Korea & Singapore. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/BrianHawkins
** Please note that the answer’s provided in this post are just his own personal experience and opinion and in now way represent the company that he works for directly.