A portable career is a career that you can take with you, wherever you go. It gives you the freedom to choose where you want to live and can provide flexibility in how, when, where and with whom you work as well.
Why a portable career or business?
Choosing a portable career or business can help someone overcome the obstacles preventing them from enjoying life abroad while doing what they love at work.
If a lack of language skills was preventing someone from finding work in their country of choice, an internet connection would allow them to work with and reach those that speak their language. A work permit is no longer needed if they can sell their products or services online or their delivery is not location dependent.They may have credentials such as a law degree that are not recognized in their new home abroad, or their skill sets are not in demand in their desired location. In those cases sometimes they can still leverage that knowledge or those skills by providing services in markets that do recognize or need them via free VOIP programs like Skype.
But there are other clear benefits to building a portable career or business.
For someone who moves country often – for example spouses of people in the foreign service, diplomats, global executives or staff of the United Nations – having a portable career or business eliminates the need to start over professionally every time they move to a new location. The portable career is something they can take with them from place to place relatively easily.
Given the amount of stress, distress and frustration that comes along with losing your professional identity when following a spouse from country to country, the impact of having continuity in your professional life cannot be understated.
And then there are those that want to travel the world but need an income to support their adventures. A portable career or business would not only give them the freedom to live where they want, but also allow them to move from place to place in a way and pace of their choosing.
What types of careers are portable?
By now you are likely asking – what types of careers are truly portable?
In the past, there were few careers that could be described as portable. Such jobs included those in teaching, nursing, childcare and some administrative jobs.
But now, with technological advances and marketplace demands being what they are, the list of possible portable careers is much longer. Here are just some of them:
• Graphic 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
How do I know if a career is portable?
There are several factors that can help you determine whether or not a career is truly portable.
One primary factor is one’s ability to do that particular work using technology and the internet. This is not always required – but it is often the case.
The proximity to a person’s employer is also a factor. Countries in Europe for example are fairly close to one another – sometimes just a train ride away. Often people can work abroad but “commute” from time to time to their former home to do work that could not be done remotely.
Having skill sets that are in demand can also determine a particular job’s portability. Some skill sets are so in demand in some countries because employers cannot find them locally. As a result they are willing to provide work permits right away. In many cases governments recognize these skill shortages and have created skills migrant programs to reduce barriers to immigration of these valued workers. Nurses, teachers and engineers are examples of such careers.
Language skills are also in high demand in many places. Those that can perform professionally in other languages are quite valued and are also afforded the aforementioned “preferential” treatment when it comes to work permits.
Portable careers generally do not involve work that requires having a physical office or storefront (as opposed to just working in one). Leasing or owning property can definitely limit a person’s ability to move from place to place with ease.
And as mentioned above, location specific credentials can also limit portability. For example although doctors are in high demand in many countries, many medical degrees are not recognized across borders. Doctors who have upwards of 15 years of medical training and get paid handsomely in their home country can essentially be rendered unemployable overseas.
Is a portable career really possible?
With an increased demand for skills and top talent globally, employers are becoming much more flexible about the way in which their employees can work. Remote working in the world of technology is already very common. And as mentioned above, those with certain skill sets will not face the barriers of work permits that may have thwarted their attempts to work abroad in the past.
As technology continues to evolve and marketplace demands increase, it will become increasingly easy for even the least tech-savvy person to provide services or sell products over the internet. Hence a life and career abroad will be something that many more people have the possibility of pursuing.
About the author: Megan Fitzgerald is an expat and international career coach, founder of Career By Choice and expert guide to the world of global careers. She has two decades of experience supporting professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and organizations in 40+ countries. Megan uses a strategic, 360°approach to help expats become highly visible, sought after experts and leaders and succeed abroad. She’s been featured in Fortune Magazine, CNN Money, Wall Street Journal Online and numerous expat and career books and publications. You can read more about expat careers at her blog.