Since I graduated business school back in 2003 (how’s that for feeling old!), I have never held a job in France. I have worked legally in jobs loosely related to my administration degree in Guatemala, Spain and the UK, before I opted for location independent jobs and started freelancing from my laptop.
Freelancing is a great way to become location independent while having a decent salary, compared to becoming a bartender earning just above minimum wage under the table in third world countries. Take Guatemala for example. Small bars and hostels in touristic towns pay around $1.25 per hour plus tips, maybe a meal if you are lucky. Few will give you a free room on top, but some will charge you $100 or so for the room, which is quite cheap.
Instead of settling for that, I sent a few resumes and worked as a manager in a boutique hotel (with a decent salary, free room and board), then as a business consultant for a major law firm. I was 23 and was making around $2,500 a month, which was huge for Guatemala, and sometimes even more than my classmates were making in Paris. Safe that in Guatemala my rent for a 3 bedroom duplex in the best area of town was only $500, and a maid would come clean it for $5 a day.
Working abroad in something related to your field of studies is not as complicated as it may seem. In Guatemala, once the firm hired me, they just hired a lawyer to process my work visa, and I was able to work legally from day one, although it took about six months to have the work visa stamped on my passport.
I interviewed for a lot of companies, and would say that my return on resumes sent vs number of interviews I got was much higher than in France. People were happy to get a person who spoke English and French fluently, who has learned about business abroad and could apply some of the principles to their local business.
The main reason travellers are not working abroad legally is because they don’t want to work full time, or for long periods. Hostels will require a one month commitment, and be pretty flexible about the days worked. You can take off for 3 days to explore around. But on the flip side, you are barely making enough to support your local lifestyle, and saving for a flight ticket back home can take a year or more. AND you have to get out for a visa run every three months, which is costly, annoying and risky if you get caught.
This is why I have always preferred to work abroad in something I would earn a reasonable wage doing. One option is asking the company you are working for if you could relocate to their Dubai or Rio office. Chances are slim but they could say yes. If they do without them asking first, forget about the expat package (free rent, free tickets twice a year, free international school for the kids…) although you can certainly negotiate a bit.
With the rise of highly educated bilingual professionals in developing country, the only advantage you have is your in-house knowledge. Show them how they would benefit of sending you to Bali rather than hiring a $500 per month local to do your job.
If your company says no, look where you can work with an easy visa. As a European Union citizen, I can work in any EU country like a local. It is amazingly convenient, particularly the unemployment system that allows me after working abroad to go back to France and claim unemployment and social security if needed.
Work-holiday visa agreements are also in place for people under 30 in a number of countries, so you can go work in Australia for example, with the only condition that you must also use part of your 12 months visa to explore around. It allows you to work anywhere, so you can find a “real” job instead of bartending.
Lastly, you can save enough to live off savings for the time of a tourist visa (3-6 months depending on the country), move there, and send as many resumes as humanely possible. In Guatemala, international companies such as Nestle or Cap Gemini are known to pay foreigners a bit more than local companies, as you are saving them the cost of an expat package yet bringing your multicultural background to the mix. Teachers can work at the international schools, and hospitality workers can go one step up targeting management jobs in better hotels. If you plan on working for 6 months or more, I strongly advise you get a job related to your degree. It will help you save more so you don’t have to work as much next time you get back on the road.
Working under the table is convenient but dangerous. If you get a work injury abroad, and cannot prove your employment, all costs will run for yourself.