This is a guest post from Cassie Browne. Cassie writes about discovering food in Japan at Eaten in Translation.

J.D. has written about how to save for an overseas trip and how to have a vacation on a budget, but if you have time on your hands and like the idea of living in another culture, traveling overseas can be a financial opportunity, rather than a liability.

I’ve spent the last two years working in Japan as an English teacher, an opportunity open to anyone with a college degree. During that time I’ve taken four overseas vacations and several trips within Japan, paid off a small debt and saved another $20,000AU (roughly $15,000 US). Not only have I had the time of my life discovering Asia and studying Japanese cooking, I’ve built up a financial cushion that will give me options later. Meanwhile, friends from college who took out a loan for their first overseas vacation two years ago are still paying it off.

Christina, my coworker from Seattle, is putting the money she earns in Japan towards a housing deposit. “In two years I have saved one year’s salary, which I’m quite happy about,” she says.  ”While living in Japan I’ve traveled, had fun, and experienced a new culture. Saving money is just the icing on the cake.” We meet a lot of other expatriates who came to Japan specifically to make a dent in their student loans. So why does living abroad make good financial sense?

  • Jobs and programs targeted at foreign workers often include subsidized housing and other benefits. My Japanese employer paid for my airfare,  excellent health insurance, and a third of the rent on my Tokyo apartment. When I was backpacking in college, a 6-month bartending stint in London came with a free two-bedroom apartment in the West End, above the pub.
  • A favorable currency exchange rate or low cost of living can work in your favor. In England I met South Africans saving enough pounds on their working holiday to purchase a house outright back home.
  • Most of your friends will be saving for their next trip, and it’s a lot easier to live cheaply when you’re not trying to keep up with your mates’ lifestyle.

If you’re lucky, you might even find a job that pays you to travel. A friend from high school spun his pure maths major into a London-based job auditing multinational companies, spending three weeks each month traveling to European capitals on his employer’s dime. Cruise ships and tour companies are always looking for staff, and international friendship or peace programs can pay your travel costs and give you an insight into local life you might have missed from behind a guidebook.

As with any aspect of personal finance, be sure to do your research. Here are a few starting points:

  • Do investigate which countries you can legally work in, including those with working holiday programs. If your parents or grandparents were born abroad, you may be eligible for a special visa in their home country too.
  • Do ask an overseas employer to sponsor a visa for you, but be aware that if you leave your job, you’ll lose the right to work in that country.
  • Do consider what your salary will be worth in your home currency, if saving is your goal, and make sure it’s enough to live on.
  • Do investigate your tax and pension situation before you leave, and make sure you get all the refunds you’re entitled to when you return home.
  • Do make local friends — they’ll show you a new side to their country (and they know where all the good deals are).
  • Don’t move to a place in which you have no interest just to save money — you’ll be miserable and spend more than you budgeted just to stay sane.
  • Don’t commit to a contract you don’t intend to finish.
  • Don’t pass up new experiences just to save a few bucks — memories are important, too.
  • Don’t quit your dream job if you haven’t been there for long. Get some experience first.

Be careful. If you were bad at managing money back home, you won’t suddenly improve in new surroundings. “Saving money in Japan, like saving money anywhere, is based on your style of living,” says Christina. You might be able to save as much back home, but it’s a lot more fun doing it while you’re seeing the world.

If you have any questions about working in Japan, you can contact Cassie via her Japanese cooking blog, or through the comments on this article.

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