Monday, January 25, 2010

Portable Careers

When I gave up my copywriting job in the U.S. to come to Switzerland as a trailing spouse, I tried to look at the situation as an opportunity for myself as well as for my husband. But who are we kidding? In reality, I was so scared to be almost jobless that I threw up the night I made the decision to move abroad. After all, I was an American copywriter. Could I really become a Swiss Hausfrau? Ich glaube nicht!

During my first few weeks abroad, my days were spent dragging my recyclables and groceries around town in a bright orange IKEA cart (yes, that's me...). Instead of lamenting my fall from American Career Woman to The Bag Lady of Baden, I wish I would have realized sooner that as a writer/copywriter, I have one of the most portable jobs around. And sure enough, it wasn't long before I found a job at an ad agency in Zurich, never mind if I didn't speak German (never mind, indeed!) (Alas, that's a story for another day.)

Anyhow, in Paul Allen's soon-to-be-published book, Should I Stay or Should I Go, The Truth About Moving Abroad and Whether it's Right for You, he interviews Megan Fitzgerald, founder of Career By Choice. She provides a lot of helpful tips for considering careers abroad. Her list of portable careers includes:

Graphic designer
Interior designer
Web designer
Computer programmer
Virtual assistant
Online business manager
IT services
Online storefront owner
Online course designer
Social media strategist
Online community manager
Digital media specialist
PR/marketing specialist
Online event organizer
Online researcher

This list makes me curious how other expats transformed themselves. Did you already have a portable career when you moved abroad? Or did you take one up after not being able to further your former career in your new location? I know a lot of expats who became writers and artists after formerly being lawyers and account executives in their home countries. So if you're a writer, what's your story? Writer Abroad wants to know!


  1. Have I mentioned how much I love your writer abroad logo??! It's so perfect - fitting for you!

  2. Coming from a Diva, I take that as a big compliment! Thanks! But to give credit, I have to say, I am keine Artistin. The artwork was done by Tom Kees, a Swiss art director. I'll pass along the praise.

  3. Portability is one of the main reasons I am writing. I love that I can write regardless of where I am living at the moment, instead of just Hausfrau-ing it until we move back to the States and I can go back to being American Career Woman, as you put it.

  4. Is it great to be able to work anywhere. Sometimes I wonder if I hadn't moved abroad if I would be writing as much as I am. But I think yes, no matter what, a writer writes. I would just probably be writing about much different things.

  5. I do not live abroad but I move around a lot. Just last year I spent 9 months in California even though I "live" in NYC. When I began making "life changes" a couple years back, I realized that I could have the life I wanted (adventure, travel, writing, etc.) I just needed to not be afraid of what that might look like. Once I let go of what I thought a paid job should look like, things started getting a lot better for me. I still don't have it all figured out but I try to trust that things will work out and I can make my own job, my own experiences, my own pay checks.

  6. Problem is, I had a job on that list (primary school teacher at a bilingual school - and I was a damn good one, might I add), but schools here in my part of CH won't hire you unless you have a work permit. The canton won't issue you a work permit unless an employer sponsors you. Catch 22? Yup. So I spent 8 months as a live-in au pair, 4 months as a Hausfrau (while sending out applications for writing gigs), and have finally landed a job. I've been commissioned to write an ESL textbook for a Taiwanese publishing company. Crazy huh? I write from home. I am a writer. God that feels good to type...

  7. Hi Rebecca, I struggled with what you are talking about too as far as "what I thought a paid job should look like". That's great that you are figuring things out and are free to live anywhere.

    Amanda, congrats on your commission! That is awesome. Yeah, the whole work permit thing in Switzerland can be really frustrating for so many expats. I don't understand any of the rules, I'm just grateful for my first advertising job here which got me the permit.

  8. Hi Chantal,

    Thanks for the mention here!

    Truly more and more jobs are becoming portable everyday - it's very exciting! And I love that I get to help more people free themselves to explore the world while making a living at the same time.

    I look forward to continuing to learning about your own experience writing abroad.

    All the best for 2010,


  9. I can definitely relate to the comment about "what I thought a paid job should look like". I love to travel more than anything else and have lived abroad on a few occasions, but still struggle with trying to reconcile my desire to explore the world and break away from the more traditional path that many expect you to follow with supporting myself financially and building a career. I loved this post and many of the perspectives offered in the comments :)

  10. Hi Megan, thanks for stopping by, it's an honor. Your blog is an inspiration and I'm glad to have discovered it through Paul's book.

    Hi sestafford, thanks for the comment. It's so hard these days to try to break away from traditional paths, but I think moving abroad, at least in my experience, makes that easier because by being away from your peer group you are more free to explore rather than try to "keep up" with them. You can really try to become the person you always wanted to be.

  11. Hi Chantal, glad you're not the bag lady of Baden anymore. Also in awe of you landing a job in a language you don't know.

    I feel extremely luck to be an expat who writes -- it's not only given me a sense of continuity in my career but also a channel for working through all kinds of life changes and a way to discover my place in my new surroundings -- that can be surprising.

    In fact, my first book Expat Harem was Turkey's answer to my expat survival plan of writing a self-involved memoir...

  12. Hi Anastasia

    Thanks for stopping by, I'm interested to read your book. I agree that writing is a form of therapy that helps get me through the challenges of expat life and I feel grateful that I can share that in my monthly magazine column.

  13. Hi Chantal:

    I found your blog through Toma, the Antiques Diva. I'm a journalist who will be traveling to Paris in February and we're trying to schedule a day together. My beat is design/architecture but I also have a serious blog, which I've listed you on. Hope it will spread the word about your terrific blog! (

  14. Welcome Saxon! Glad to have a fellow journalist on the blog. The Antiques Diva is a great tour guide, you'll have fun in Paris! I was there with her back in October and it was wonderful. Will check out your blog and thanks for the listing.

  15. Hey Chantal,

    I am not an expat but I am the mother of a child with a chronic illness and I tell you I feel like i have absolutely struck gold by being blessed to have a job that can go anywhere there is internet access. I love it. Matter of fact I have done work from a hospital bedside. My portable office all I needed was a cup of coffee to complete it.

    I do have a long term goal of living in another country so it is a wonderful prospect of being able to carry my career with me. Even in a bright orange IKEA cart if I want to lol.

  16. I'm an expat freelance writer (South African living in Germany) and I can't believe I've only just found your blog!

    I was a journalist back in Joburg when my husband and I moved to Germany. He was working for a Large German Software Company. Out of desperation, I took a job at the LGSC as a documentation developer, which was soulless but paid well. I stopped after four years to start our family but when my second child was one, I started a freelance business. The LGSC is now my main customer.

    That work is the bread and butter. I am currently on the third draft of a mystery novel set in South Africa. I'm also trying my hand at short stories and have starting submitting them for the first time this year.

    Lovely to find you, Chantal. Will be bookmarking you and coming back to visit.

  17. Hi Toya

    I agree that portable careers are the best way to go--especially in this global world. And yes, you can easily stuff them in a bright orange IKEA cart and still have room for groceries :)

    Hi Charlotte

    Thanks for stopping by. Actually, this blog isn't very old, it was just launched a couple of months ago. Your job story sounds similar to mine, just switch out a few countries. That's great that you are now focusing on freelancing. Isn't life more fun when you figure out and are brave enough to do what you love? Good luck with the mystery novel!

  18. I think the only reason I pulled off being a "trailing spouse" was because I was at a point where I wasn't in a career, or at least, in what I wanted for a career -- I was working a job that was just a space holder while I completed my MFA. I had completed my degree in January, got married in May (to one of my fellow MFA classmates) and was in Italy in June.

    I also don't think that I would have gotten out of my previous job and taken such large steps toward an actual, and portable, career had I not have moved overseas and out of my comfort zone. I have been blogging almost nonstop ( and, have been doing much more creative work and sending it out, have been exploring freelancing, started doing book reviews and have been teaching (English in people's living rooms, but experience is experience).

    While this has been a difficult journey, mainly because I didn't take well to being a financially dependent pseudo-housewife for those first few months, it has turned out to be great in terms of my writing and its growth and development.

    Thanks for the wonderful post and the amazing blog! I am so happy to have found it!

  19. Looking at your list, I'm in awe of the number of portable jobs I do and have done, some before even moving abroad: artist, writer, photographer, copyrighter, online researcher, journalist, web/graphic designer. Mother, too. It makes me wonder if I chose these things in some way to accommodate one day living overseas, if on one level I gravitated towards multiplicity for this reason. I never had anxiety about being an artist and moving overseas, but found it hard to follow a prescribed order to make it happen. I prefer being multifarious. Thanks for drawing attention to this idea of a portable career!

  20. I think the problem (or solution!) with being an artist is that there is no right path, no right or wrong way of doing things. Sometimes it just takes a lot of trial and error or of putting your hands into different projects to see what works. I know I do this as a writer.

  21. AnonymousJuly 11, 2012

    Thanks for posting your experience. This inspires me!

  22. Instead of lamenting my fall from American Career Woman to The Bag Lady of Baden, I wish I would have realized sooner that as a writer/copywriter, I have one of the most portable jobs around blackberry classic review - gadgets in Pakistan

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