From Chile to Thailand – My Transition from Employee to Freelancer

The journey

Not long ago, I was working full-time at a tech company in Santiago, Chile. I really liked what I did: the culture was great and I had amazing colleagues. However, everything changed in March 2023 with the onset of the pandemic. Suddenly, we found ourselves confined to our homes. Fortunately, I was sharing an apartment with a friend. But those three months of lockdown were not easy. I found myself working longer hours, sometimes up to 16 a day, and the stress piled up.

When the lockdown lifted, Chile announced the opening of its borders. A friend in Brazil sent me a selfie from an amazing beach. I felt so jealous! Then I thought, “Since I’m working remotely, why not do it from Brazil?”. A week later, I landed in Salvador de Bahia.

But soon after, I learned about my impending layoff, which eventually happened. I felt so insecure: Should I go back to Chile? Should I start looking for a job? What should I do next?

I realized this was actually a blessing in disguise. With the severance pay, I decided to extend my stay in Brazil. And after three months, I returned to Santiago briefly to sell my belongings, say goodbye to my family and friends, and continue traveling.

Back in Brazil, a friend in Thailand told me about the high demand for English teachers there. So, along with another friend, we ventured to Southeast Asia. Despite the initial mandatory quarantine (with high associated costs), we quickly found work. And, lucky us, we were told that the classes would be online. A colleague recommended visiting Koh Tao. So we packed our stuff to spend 10 days there. I was instantly smitten with the place. So, when we were confirmed to continue working remotely, I decided to settle there.

By the end of 2021, we were asked to return to in-person classes. But I was already charmed with Koh Tao, with its nature, beaches, and incredible people. I decided to resign and, with some savings, began looking for freelance jobs. A few friends introduced me to freelance platforms like Upwork and Fiverr. It was challenging at first, but I gradually found more and better opportunities.

In early 2022, I started working part-time as a Project Manager for an architectural design studio in the U.S. Even though I hadn’t held that specific position before, I had relevant experience from previous positions.

The real change came when an islander friend introduced me to an opportunity with an Australian company. This new role not only let me to stay in Koh Tao but also doubled my income.

Today, I work 20 hours a week remotely from Koh Tao, earning twice what I earned in Santiago.
Reflecting on my journey, I’m reminded of a phrase that goes something like: “Remember where you are now is where you wanted to be years ago”.
And indeed it is. It happened. And I feel so grateful for it.

10 Key learnings that helped me in my transition

  1. Embrace uncertainty: Life is unpredictable. Being open to change can lead to unimaginable opportunities. You never know where your next client might come from.
  2. Talk, talk, talk: Share what you seek and what you offer. Don’t share your CV. Tell people about your achievements and what you have done. Tell your friends, post it on social media. If you want to increase your luck, you have to be willing to put yourself out there.
  3. Trust your skills: trust in your abilities and experiences. Even if you haven’t held a specific job title, your skills can be valuable across various roles and industries. Create a list of assets. If you’re unsure about what to sell, just open up Fiverr and see if there’s any offer that you could easily replicate.
  4. Leverage your network: connections and friendships can lead to unexpected opportunities. Building and nurturing relationships can be a significant asset in your journey. And don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.
  5. Be financially prepared: Especially early on, when securing clients and your rates will usually be lower. Try to have always at least 6 months of savings. Having a financial cushion can provide the freedom to make choices that align with what you’re seeking.
  6. Optimize for Learning: Initially, I took varied jobs in different industries. Focus not just on income but also on learning how to attract clients and refining your fulfillment processes. Stay updated, learn new skills, be curious, experiment.
  7. Know your limits: If you’re not willing to work from 11pm to 6am, then don’t do it. Please don’t do things you hate, you’ll end up hating your life. And don’t work for bad clients. You’ll learn along the way how to spot them. Avoid them at all costs.
  8. Be like water: The ability to adjust to new environments, cultures, and ways of working is key. Flexibility can make your transition smoother and more enjoyable.
  9. Resilience is key: Facing challenges, like the stress of the pandemic or the uncertainty of job security, can be tough. However, bouncing back and finding new paths requires to be resilient.
  10. Stay optimistic: The world is vast and filled with opportunities. Venturing outside your comfort zone can lead to enriching experiences. There’s always someone ready to help. Stay positive pays in the end.

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