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how i became location-independent

(Last Updated On: June 1, 2021)

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location-independent? what the f is that?

As you probably already know by visiting this page, I have a serious case of wanderlust. That, coupled with my disdain for American healthcare/education/political climate, has had me on a mission to become location-independent

What is location independence, you ask? Put simply, it’s the ability to work and sustain yourself regardless of geographic location.  The digital nomad lifestyle is a highly appealing one to many – check out the top jobs for digital nomads in 2021!

BEST LAPTOPS FOR DIGITAL NOMADS

Every traveler’s dream, being location-independent facilitates a nomadic lifestyle while still being able to pay the bills.  Not to mention, you don’t need to save money to go on vacations. Stated somewhat more romantically, location independence is when life *is* the vacation.

I can remember daydreaming as an adolescent of being a ‘permanent vacationer.’  At that time, it meant sipping coladas on an island, living my best life, being fanned with giant palms by men who looked like they stepped out of an Abercrombie catalog (did I date myself with that last one?). 

To some people now, those thoughts might inspire visions of Instagram influencers setting up tripods and getting up at four in the morning for that Insta-perfect shot, with not another soul in sight.

Now, for me, it means being able to explore other lifestyles and other cultures long-term, learn more about the world, at a slower pace. To be completely immersed in another culture, figuring out what fits. To be on a (perhaps) permanent quest for something that suits me. Some of the best destinations for digital nomads will offer a completely different lifestyle than the one you’re accustomed to – which is great – you learn so much about the world and yourself in the process of creating these remarkable experiences!

While my ideas around this notion have evolved, the concept remains the same.  I’ve never felt like I fit in with the American lifestyle. The thought of working the same job, every day, to pay the same bills, and go home to eat the same dinners, and watch the same television shows made makes me want to puke.  Seriously. The very idea is nauseating to me.  

Maybe that’s why holding gainful employment and settling into a permanent routine had never come easy to me.  

Thinking about taking the plunge? Be sure to check out my long-term travel essentials list!

my story

Fast forward to 2018.  I’d been working as an environmental scientist for two years, my first ‘real’ job.  Running a little late to the game, as a recent college graduate already in her early thirties, I didn’t feel as though I had the leeway to travel freely.  Still, I began finding cheap flights to obscure places.

Woman posing and smiling next to a sign for Cajas National Park in Ecuador
1st big trip since beginning remote work – this is Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador

I was fortunate to have a job that gave me the time off that I requested, regardless of whether I had the accrued hours.  In my boss’ words, “Sure, you can take the time off – I just might not be able to pay you for it.”  

That was fine with me!  I’d 100% rather struggle a little more, and be able to experience other parts of the world, and then go home and go back to work – than to be comfortable in my living room without having that experience.

I traveled quite a bit in 2018, but still something was lacking.  In autumn of that year, my partner in my department at work put her notice in.  My boss and I were chatting about possible replacement options for her. He said to me, “Here’s a thought – what if we didn’t hire someone else, and instead bumped your salary by X dollars per year?  I’d have to run it by the VP, but it’s a thought. What do you think?”  

UMM, yes!  I began getting excited at the prospect of greater financial stability as well as more independence at my job.  Well, sad to say, the VP did not go for it. He insisted on having two people in my department.

Which, I understand – better to be over prepared than under prepared. Still, this left me with a lot of downtime, and struggling to even make 40 hours a week without dying of boredom.  

I spent much of my ‘downtime’ at work daydreaming of how to get the fuck out.  I knew that the travel bug had bit me, hard. How could I make this into something sustainable?  To start, I created this website over Thanksgiving break.

This blog started as a great outlet to share photos, stories, and precautions to fellow travelers. Not to mention, putting it all down ‘on paper’ (on screen?), was sort of validating.

But, websites take a lot of time to build a substantial audience, and longer still to monetize.  Nevertheless, I worked my ass off, often an additional 30 hours a week of writing, social media marketing, SEO optimization, keyword research, editing photographs, etc.

Then came the opportunity that would actually facilitate a location-independent life.  At some point during the summer of 2019, I stumbled across an advertisement for VIPKID.

vipkid

VIPKID is a China-based company in which young Chinese students (aged 4-15) are paired with native English speakers via an online classroom.  The company boasts pay of $14-$22 an hour, plus numerous monetary incentives offered by the company.

These incentives can boost your hourly rate to up to $26. You can physically work from anywhere in the world.  Sound too good to be true? It did to me, too. It’s not. VIPKID is what facilitated my transition into becoming location-independent.

requirements

  • You must be a US or Canadian citizen – the North American accent is highly coveted
  • A degree is required (BA/BS) – your major doesn’t matter (mine is in biochemistry). Don’t have a degree? Here are some companies where you can teach English without a degree.
  • You must have some sort of teaching experience – mine came in the form of teaching yoga and private tutoring. It could be coaching, mentoring, etc.
  • Internet connection is obviously a must!
  • You will have to submit to a BCI – you’ve gotta be able to pass one!

I began with VIPKID on September 15, 2019.  I am writing this post on February 21, 2020.  On January 29, 2020, I left my job as an environmental scientist to take the plunge and try my hand at the digital nomad lifestyle. 

As you can see, it took me approximately four months to get comfortable enough with my VIPKID schedule to quit my job and move across the Atlantic.

Message written on online English teaching platform from student - you are beautiful every day.
Never having been much of a ‘kid’ person, I am amazed every day at how much I love these children. Notes like this don’t hurt, either

I lived in Rhode Island at the time I began teaching for VIPKID. That’s EST – Eastern Standard Time. VIPKID (and every other teaching platform operating in China) is scheduled according to Beijing time. That means, for us East-coasters, I taught Monday-Friday from 4am-8am during Daylight Savings Time and 5am-9am otherwise. This is BJT 5pm-9pm. Afterwards on weekdays, I’d go to my job at the lab at around 8:30am.

On weekends, I worked as much or little as I wanted. Though, because my sleep schedule was already so odd in comparison to my friends’, I didn’t go out much anyway, and I worked a lot on weekends. Saturdays and Sundays I would usually work 2am-8am.

schedule

By far, one of the best parts about working for VIPKID is the ability to have complete control over your schedule. No requesting time off, no minimum/maximum hours – you do you, boo.

Each VIPKID class is 25 minutes long. So if you work from 7am-8am, you get a break from 7:25-7:30 and end at 7:55. When we discuss base pay being between $7-$9, that is per 25 minute class, NOT per hour!

Lessons are provided for you, so there is minimal work to do outside of your scheduled class times.

beijing time

One very important thing worth noting is that scheduling is on BJT (Beijing time). The students take classes between 830am and 830pm BJT. Classes are not offered outside of those hours.

Depending on where you live, your hours will vary. In the US, East Coast seems to be the most popular hours. I prefer teaching from Western Europe so that I don’t have to get up quite so early, but am still done teaching for the day at 2pm. Ideally, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic would suit me best, haha!

Many digital nomads call Southeast Asia home, for both the cost of living and the scheduling. Working in Southeast Asia obviously puts you closer to BJT – I personally like working in the morning and having evenings free, but, to each his own.

getting paid

VIPKID is a constantly evolving company.  The pay-scale is slightly different than when I was hired.  Each teacher gets a base pay between $7-$9 per 25-minute class. They offer a number of incentives that are very easy to hit (though, the incentives that were in place when I began teaching in September of 2019 have since changed to a tier-based system). 

Woman working on laptop in a treehouse in Ecuador.
My sweet set-up from a tree-house in the middle of a cloud forest – Mindo, Ecuador. I’m not actually teaching in this photo (more likely working on this website – clearly I have wine and a sleeveless shirt on, haha)

In addition to incentives, each teacher gets an extra $5 for each trial conversion (trial student who signs up for VIPKID) as well as a $100 referral bonus when each new teaching applicant teaches their first class.  Pretty sweet deal!

Infographic for VIPKID payscale

As part of the reason for the high applicant referral incentive, current teachers help guide their referees through the (slightly convoluted) hiring process. For whatever reason, VIPKID offers little information to applicants, so finding a good referring teacher is imperative.

SO, if you apply, you should use my referral code (JADE00064) or apply via this link! I will help you through the process step-by-step and guide you to get the highest base pay possible.

While making this much money may not be feasible in the United States, you’d be amazed at just how far it will go abroad. Check out this cost of living comparison to see how your city measures up with some of your most coveted destinations. It’s SHOCKING!

Update** I currently live in beautiful Romania, here is a complete breakdown of what it costs to live in Romania.

when do i get paid? how do i get paid?

In terms of pay frequency, you have options. VIPKID offers the option of getting paid weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly with no stipulations. I choose to get paid weekly. My incentives show up on whatever paycheck the 1st of the month falls on.

You must have an American or Canadian bank account for direct deposit. I am on the weekly pay schedule and get paid every Friday. If you are paid monthly, I believe it is around the 10th of the month.

'You are my favorite' message from a student on an online English teaching platform.
Gahhhhhh, my heart! <3

taxes

One thing regarding pay that you must be aware of – as an independent contractor, you deal with paying your own taxes – nothing is deducted. There are no benefits you might find with more traditional forms of employment. If you are a US citizen, you should set aside 30% of your pay to account for taxes owed each spring.

other ways to become location-independent

VIPKID not for you, or maybe you don’t fulfill some of their requirements? Here are some other ways people have found location independence:

~ House/pet-sitting

– Online travel agent

~ Managing AirBnb or other rental properties

– Create a blog/podcast/YouTube channel

~ If you’re female – finagle your way next to a rich-looking older gentleman on your next flight and casually scroll through your nudes for the next few hours. I’m 98% kidding, but, you do you. Here are other great jobs for digital nomads.

woman grateful open arms to the sky

OK, I have minimal experience in the aforementioned paths to becoming location-independent (excluding the blog). I’m content with VIPKID as it has QUICKLY enabled the life of full-time travel I’ve always dreamed of.

Message me with any questions you may have! Becoming location-independent is the easiest way to become a full-time traveler. Also, be sure to email me if you use me as a referral so we can begin working together!

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6 thoughts on “how i became location-independent”

  1. I really enjoyed this blog. It has given me greater insight to you and, to your thought processes.
    I think that you are incredibly brave and destined for a happy, fulfilled life.
    ♥️

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