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7 Businesses You Can Start When You Retire Abroad

They range from owning a wine shop to selling local real estate

By Kathleen Peddicord

(This article originally appeared on

Starting about 32 years ago, I went to work in the publishing industry. Back then, we did it the old-fashioned way — with paper, ink, envelopes and stamps. Today, my business — Live and Invest Overseas — is virtual. Nowadays, publishing companies (like mine) don’t want to be liable for a full-time salary and the associated employer taxes, health benefits and workspace. It’s easier and cheaper to find a freelance worker with the required skills.

The reality is that there are now opportunities like these awaiting entrepreneurs almost everywhere in the world, often in retirement. You can turn a hobby into an income and become part of the new mobile, global workforce, living the life you want wherever you want to live it.

About nine years ago, I took early retirement from the company where I’d worked for more than 23 years. Six months later, I realized that retirement didn’t suit me. I liked being in business. For me, the question wasn’t: What business might make sense? (I enjoyed the business I spent 23 years learning.) It was: Where best should I base the business I want to launch? (Panama stood out as the obvious choice.)

What kind of business could you start abroad? Here are seven ideas:

International Business Idea No. 1: A Franchise

A franchise can be an easy way to hit the ground running with a business model, strategy, branding, marketing and support already in place. An already proven successful business can give you a leg up.

One franchise business opportunity in Panama crossed my desk recently. The regional manager for the Mailboxes Etc. franchise was looking to expand. Mailboxes Etc. is well established in Panama already (with 18 stores) and was interested last year in adding a store to service the Playa Blanca area near Rio Hato.

You may be interested in neither Panama nor the Mailboxes Etc. business. However, I’d like to walk you through some numbers here, for your general reference. The total startup cost for a Mailboxes Etc. is $60,000 to $70,000. You don’t have to speak Spanish to open one of these operations; most of your customers will be expats like you. Several non-Spanish-speaking franchisees already run stores in Panama and Costa Rica.

A Mailboxes Etc. does not require much staff. A typical store can be run with three local employees. Mailboxes Etc., like any franchise, provides training and operational support leading up to, and during, the opening of a new store and then ongoing support.

What kind of return could you expect? The franchise manager explained to me that stores in this part of the world typically reach a point of monthly profitability after six to eight months. Earnings are typically $3,500 to $5,000 per month the second year and $6,000 per month thereafter.

International Business Idea No. 2: A Tourism-Based Business

A tourism-based business (a bed and breakfast, dive shop, bar, restaurant, souvenir shop, ice-cream parlor, coffeehouse, wine store, etc.) can be a good choice depending on your interests (Do you like to interact with people day-to-day?) and your location (Are you interested in living in an active tourist destination?).

International Business Idea No. 3: An Expat-Based Business

If the place where you want to launch your new life overseas is home to a decent-sized expat community, the best way to identify an idea for a business to launch can be to think about all the things you miss from home. What products and services do you wish were available? Chances are good that your fellow expats long for these same things.

An American I know in Argentina, for example, has been very successful with the Mexican restaurant he opened because he missed Mexican food. Turns out, other expats in the area did, too.

I also know expats who have opened a fitness center (on Ambergris Caye, Belize), wine shops (on Ambergris, on Roatan and in the Dominican Republic)  and short-term storage facilities (in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua). In each case, these were services they wanted that didn’t exist in the places where they wanted to be.

International Business Idea No. 4: Real Estate

Real estate is an industry many expat entrepreneurs gravitate toward. In fact, I’ve known more gringo real estate agents in more developing countries than I could shake a stick at (and, often, that’s just what I’ve wanted to do to these guys).

Gringo real estate types in sunny climes tend to get a bum rap, because, often, they approach emerging-market real estate as a get-rich-quick plan. If you’re up for taking a longer-term view of things, however, this could be a good business to consider. You bring an understanding of the efficient real estate market to places where the real estate markets are typically anything but.

International Business Idea No. 5: Import/Export


Almost everywhere I travel, I notice something that I think might have a market someplace else. Garden urns and antique furniture from Ireland…hand-carved wooden santos from Ecuador…uniquely woven baskets from Panama…leather jackets from Argentina…sweaters from Peru…hand-painted tiles from Colombia…wood furniture from Indonesia…silk from Hangzhou…

These are all opportunities for the would-be importer-exporter.

A great deal of research and planning is required to pull this off on anything grander than a suitcase-by-suitcase scale. But buying something cheap in one part of the world and selling it for multiples of that price in another is a real and viable opportunity to make money to fund a life of adventure.

International Business Idea No. 6: A Business Geared Toward Locals

A friend of mine who started a retail/wholesale coffee business in Warsaw really was on to something. He saw an opening in that city’s local market and went for it.
Making a success of a business geared for the local market requires that you first understand the local market — what do they like, what are they already buying, and, critically, what might they buy if it were available?

The best case is when you can import or transplant a business idea you’ve known to be successful somewhere else but that doesn’t yet exist in your new place of residence. This is what my friend did in Warsaw. He didn’t invent the coffee-shop business…but he recognized that, while people in Warsaw like and pay for coffee, at the time, no Starbuck’s-like coffee venue existed. He identified a market niche and, as well, a successful business model he could transplant to fill it.

International Business Idea No. 7: A Laptop-based Business

A laptop-based business (consulting, copywriting, travel writing, photography, programming, teaching or even bookkeeping) is the easiest to launch overseas. It lets you work from anywhere you can get a reliable Internet connection.

In Conclusion

After eight-plus years with my overseas start-up, I can tell you that it’s not easy, but I don’t regret a single day of the experience. In fact, my only regret is that I didn’t get started at this sooner.

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Kathleen Peddicord is founder and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas Read More
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