Peer to Peer Car Rental

Turo provides peer to peer car rental in the USA. I have rented cars through them before and have found it useful. A big part of the reason I do so is I find the big rental companies pricing so opaque. And if you want something like an SUV the pricing is often very high through car rental companies.

And it isn’t just the pricing that is opaque through the big rental companies, even the rules are crazy. Some seem to block you from renting if you are local (for example, if you didn’t fly into the city) or if you don’t have car insurance (which I don’t because I don’t own a car). It is all just a lousy customer experience to deal with them.

Toyota Rav 4, Skyline Drive, Virginia

My Toyota Rav 4 on a visit to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

You can also chose to rent out your car through Turo. It isn’t really ideal for doing while you travel overseas, as someone needs to deal with the car (get people the keys, check it out, clean it up…). But if you had a friend that wanted to pick up some spending money maybe you could leave it with them while you travel.

When I went on my oversea travel adventure I sold my car before I left. And actually I still would as I planned to be gone for years. But, if you were doing something like going to South East Asia for 6 months, you could possible have your car earning money while you were gone.

Eventually there might even be model where you can leave your car with a location that deals with arranging pickups etc.. I think that would be a nice addition to this business. I think it is also a pretty good business for Turo also. One big advantage is they can sell insurance at a huge markup (so make lots of money) and they also get a portion of the rental payment (I think 20% of it).

Related: Should I Sell or Keep My House When I Become a Nomad?Transfer Money Between Currencies Using New Providers Not Banks And SaveTaxis in Johor BahruMy Early Experience as a Digital Nomad: Part 2

Economics: Digital Nomads, Visas, Foreign Currency

This is a slighted edited version of my comment to someone asking about countries that have laws specifically detailing digital nomads are allowed to work on tourist visas. My background is in economics and investing based on economic understanding.

The question of digital nomads working encompasses legal questions (do I need a special visa etc.), regulatory realities (regardless of what the law says how is it enforced at the ground level?) and economics (I am talking here about the benefits to the country economically from having digital nomads).

I like the economic thinking that should drive what the government’s wish to accomplish. The prohibition against work on tourist visas makes sense when work is defined as it was historically (being hired by a company in the country that otherwise would have hired a citizen). So when I am thinking about it I find thinking about the macroeconomic level view and how that is manifest in laws and policy. From a practical standpoint of being a digital nomad what really matters is how that all gets filtered down to the government employees on the ground making decisions.

Few laws say what is legal, they normally say what is not. I would imagine few countries specifically say it is legal to do work from another country (as a digital nomad, as a employee answering an business email on their vacation, as a private investor reading the news and using the internet to buy or sell a stock, as a writer writing a book that will be published back home, an entrepreneur refining ideas to launch a new business back home or whatever).

The laws usually are pretty clear you can’t apply for jobs and get hired by a company inside that country to do work in that country on a tourist visa.

“Thailand” has said it is ok to work as a digital nomad (work for some company outside the country) while on a tourist visa. But these pronouncements by officials don’t carry much weight with other officials so they are not worth much.

What is helpful is knowing the prohibitions against working are primarily about not having foreigners take jobs of the citizens. Digital nomads don’t do that. So they are not meant to be prohibited anymore than the other examples (an executive participating in a conference call from work while on vacation etc.).

But since it isn’t clear cut it can be confused by officials as something not allowed. It is much easier not to have to get low level officials to comprehend the intent of the laws. They think of it as tourists can’t work in the country and that is essentially true. But how “work” is defined is the issue; and digital nomad work doesn’t fit the description of work in that context.

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Multi-generational Housing Communities

The digital nomad lifestyle is made possible by the modern world. In some ways it harkens back to nomads but not really very much. Another idea that is gaining favor (not as popular as the digital nomad trend) is multi-generational housing.

Our ancestors all lived in close knit multi-generational communities. Normally with 3 or 4 generations of the same family under the same roof (or within shouting distance in a hut nearby).

I can understand many reasons why many of us moved to our more independent way of living (especially in the USA) as we got rich enough to afford to do so.

There are really interesting (small) efforts to do this in non-related multi-generation households. I think there are very good reasons for it. And for people like me that would rather not live in the same house with these others it can even work in a small group of homes. Often with shared kitchen… Sometimes older people can share some financial burden (young family gets cheaper housing). And younger people can help with yard work, repairs… Cooking can be shared. Childcare from elderly can help free up the kids parents and can give some personal contact to elderly (that can otherwise be socially isolated). Kids can get more contact with people in the small community and may has less time just sitting in front of Netflix (especially small kids).

I learned about the resurgent movement for co-housing while I was living as a nomad. To me it really seems like another form of trying new ways of living that are not the common living arrangement for most people today. It seems to me it has the potential to be as life changing and enriching as many find the nomad lifestyle to be.

Of course there are all the issues you have with people being together. But there are some pretty good things about it too.

Related: Union Corners Cohousing in Madison, WisconsinShould I Sell or Keep My House When I Become a Nomad?Design coalition multifamily housingHousing Savings by Living as a Nomad

Medical Tourism

Medical tourism (traveling overseas to get medical care) is growing and likely to continue to do so. The USA’s extremely high costs of medical care push people to find more reasonable health care solutions. Also in some countries the very rich seek out advanced treatments outside their country.

Seeking more cost effective and more customer focused health care options are likely to lead to booming markets in catering to these customers. Many countries have seen this as a smart market to focus on. And I think they are right.

It is a booming market and the USA’s mess of a health care system doesn’t seem to be getting any better and certainly isn’t getting cheaper. In Europe the demand is largely driven by services that have very long waits if done using their national health system. Those that can pay, can pay to have it done where they live, or they can travel and have it done much cheaper.

The jobs provided in countries serving medical tourism are very good. And it brings in a great flow of foreign currency. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Mexico are putting forth smart governmental efforts to boost this industry in their countries.

photo of Raffles Hospital in Singapore

Raffles Hospital, Singapore by John. See more of my photos from Singapore.

Most of the time health insurance won’t pay for optional (emergency care while you travel depends on your policy) health care internationally. So most medical tourism is paid for by the person being treated. This is a somewhat silly policy as insurers could save a great deal of money even by only paying say 50% or less of what they would pay locally for those who were willing to travel.

And some insurers are letting people travel for health care (and even giving them incentives to do so). The governments seem willing to pay inflated local prices and so use things like the fear of untrustworthy foreign health care as unsuitable. And then they work with local health industry interests to restrict covered health care options. There is some sense in worrying about abuse but there is also hundred of billions of dollars that countries like the USA could save by letting people seek out health care solutions much more cheaply overseas. Europe could also save a great deal.

Some countries are doing smart things. At the same time Singapore is building up medical tourism for complex medical solutions (drawing people from SE Asia and further away) they are also working to boost the use of Malaysia to provide less complex medical solutions to Singaporeans. As is often the case, Singapore’s government is acting wisely.

Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines are going after the large market for reasonably priced basic health care. Which is smart for all 3. They are also looking to move up-market (especially Malaysia and Thailand) which is also fine, but there is likely to be great competition and a much smaller market so I would suggest they do so, but do so with caution.

India has potential but has the general problems with infrastructure and a difficult business climate. The potential is huge though. Other countries targeting this market include Brazil, Hungary and Costa Rica.

Related: The Growing Market for International Travel for Medical Care (2013)Traveling for Health Care (2007)Finding an International Business Bank as a Digital Nomad

Transfer Money Between Currencies Using New Providers Not Banks And Save

One of the annoyances of travel and even more so with business (for digital nomads or expats) is converting money between currencies. It actually is fairly easy now for a traveler but can be costly. When you have a business and need to convert between currencies it can be very costly.

Using ATMs to get cash in the local currency normally give better rates than you can get in most other ways. And you are unlikely to be outright swindled any more than large banks do (which if you follow the news is a great deal, scandal after scandal of illegally taking from customers in violation of the law). The transaction costs of ATMs can be ludicrously high. In Thailand all banks seemed to have agreed to charge foreign cards $6 for a transaction. That is crazy. But you don’t have much leverage.

Schwab, and a few other, financial institution will reimburse you for ATMs fees. Many digital nomad and international travelers make sure to get such an ATM card which is wise.

And you can occasionally find banks that are must more customer friendly. The MayBank in Siem Reap, Cambodia didn’t have ATM charges for me. And I found a bank in Hoi An, Vietnam that didn’t charge either (I can’t remember the name). It may well be that they just didn’t charge do to deals between the banks so I don’t know who else it would work for.

Even though the currency exchange rates are normally not too bad on ATMs or using a credit card they are still weighted in the banks favor. And I don’t know of any banks that disclose how wide a profit margin they take for simple currency transactions (and I am sure it fluctuates depending on the situation).

When you need to transfer money (for example if you are paid in US$ but have a bank account elsewhere or if you are making a big purchase in another location) and convert currencies you can find the financial institutions taking advantage of you. There are several currency exchange services that have stepped into this business opportunity created by the large margins financial institutions have been taking from their customers.

One such service is Transfer Wise. As Transfer Wise says “Banks charge 5% in hidden fees. People on TransferWise pay 0.5%.” While banks might want to argue they don’t disclose the hidden fees and bad exchange rates they use so they don’t have much in the way of an evidence based argument to make.

TransferWise saves you money by matching your money at the mid-market rate. There’s just a small service fee and it’s all shown upfront. You can read more about our pricing here.

To demonstrate the possible savings you’ll get by using TransferWise, an average bank fee and exchange rate is shown. It’s based on independent research from Charterhouse Ltd, obtained on November 2014. The research looked into the costs of sending 1000GBP from a UK bank account, to another bank account in Germany. From this data, other currency route savings, fees and average exchange rates are worked out as well.

They still serve largely the USA and Europe but hopefully will expand further (they are also in India).

CurrencyFair is another good option and they posted a blog post looking at the costs of using old banks and even TransferWise – Money Transfer Companies Compared. The costs (including hidden costs of the banks are huge). The costs between these two are close (Currency Fair said at the time for express service they were significantly cheaper). CurrencyFair is actually a peer to peer service to match people needing to make transfers that balance each other out.

photo of currency: China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, USA

SE Asia, and beyond, currency: China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, USA. USA currency is used in Cambodia for most things and USA currency is used most airports to pay visa fees to the governments. Photo by John Hunter, see more photos of my travels.

If you are moving large amounts of money it definitely makes sense to seek out protection from old fashion banks ripping you off. These are the same banks agreeing to likely over $500 million in fines for currency manipulation (because even these huge profits on the backs of customers couldn’t satisfy bankers demands for multi-million dollar bonus for hundreds of employees at these banks every year).

CurrencyFair offers a peer to peer marketplace that lets you set a offer price and if someone agrees you can even been market exchange rates. Of course, if your currency happens to be a bit under-demand at the time you may get a bit less than market price. TransferWise sets the price based on the forex markets and then it is just up to supply on the demand on their marketplace to determine if you can find someone to take the other side of the trade.

Related: Negative Interest Rates and the US DollarFinding an International Business Bank as a Digital NomadCredit Card Currency Conversion CostsMicroFinance Currency RiskWhy the Dollar is Falling (2009)

Housing Savings by Living as a Nomad

When I started by overseas adventure I lived in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Among the reasons I chose to move to Malaysia was to save money (from the costs of living in the USA) and to travel in SE Asia.

In some ways it worked well. Living was as cheap as I expected, which actually surprised me. I figured I would find costs were not as low as I was able to estimate from online sources. I didn’t travel as much as I planned though.

The lack of travel could be overcome by just being more diligent about making it a priority. But I tried and it just didn’t happen. Partially I think I subconsciously delayed things due to cost. I starting looking into a nomadic lifestyle and decided to give that a try.

I don’t think I am particularly well suited to a nomadic life. I like the stability of a home. I do like to travel, but I also do find I put it off or just don’t get around to it as much as I would like (while I had a real job it was even worse, which is part of the reason for moving to SE Asia in the first place). But while I am not particularly well suited to the lifestyle I also figured I can possibly try it (while for many it just won’t work at all).

View from the porch of my cabin in Luang Prabang, Laos.

View from the porch of my cabin in Luang Prabang, Laos. I had a 20 Gb data cell plan that was excellent for under $25.

One of the big advantages of a nomadic lifestyle if you want to travel is you eliminate your primary housing expense. So when you are traveling your housing expenses are just the place you are staying while you travel not that plus your main housing.

One of the big attractions to a nomadic life in low cost areas, for those from high cost areas, is the financial savings. People can go very cheap for housing or middle of the road or enjoy luxury housing they couldn’t afford in a high cost area. I go more for the middle of the road choice, which to the budget people seems extravagant luxury and the those getting very nice places for much less than they could at “home” see as unnecessary hardship.

I had a somewhat nice condo in Johor Bahru on the 16th floor with a view of Singapore and a pool and basketball court. I could walk to places downtown or take short taxi rides for a couple US$. That cost about US$850.

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Negative Interest Rates and the US Dollar

US $ are accepted in many countries. Often visa fees in SE Asia are quoted in US Dollars (USD) – they may or may not accept other currencies. In some countries the USD is the regular currency or the main currency anyway.

For example, in Cambodia the USD is used for almost everything but for change under US$1 local Riels are used. For the US this can actually be a nice benefit. US currency serves as a loan to the US government. When the USA prints dollars and distributes they avoid issuing bonds or treasury bills for their spending.

When interest rates were 10% on long term bonds if the USA had an extra $800 billion in currency floating around outside the USA they saved $80 billion every year in interest payments (when interest rates were 5% they would have saved $40 billion a year). In addition if those bills are destroyed or lost that open the way for the USA to put new USD into circulation and avoid that much borrowing.

image of the front of the current USA dollar

It really doesn’t amount to a huge amount of help given how much the USA government spends but still it is a benefit. But with negative interest rates the reverse would be true. Currency offers what is normally seen as only 0% but in the crazy new world created by the central bankers bailing out the too-big-too-fail banks all over the world (creating massive amounts of liquidity [cash]) they started a path that has now led to the crazy situation of negative interest rates.

A negative interest rate means that say the German government borrows $10 billion today and pays back less money in 5 years. So if they got $10.5 billion today they would only have to pay back $10 billion in 5 years. This seems crazy mainly because it is.

Now the USA rates are not negative yet for long term rates (I think maybe in some really short term bills – under 60 days – it may have been). But negative interest rates have spring up in Euro denominated bonds from Germany (and a few other countries).

I find it funny that in such a case the USA would actually be giving those using their currency around the world a higher yield than those holding their long term bonds.

According the US Federal Reserve there is about $1.2 trillion dollars of USA currency in circulation (July 2013). The Federal Reserve estimates that the majority of the cash in circulation today is outside the United States.

The increased demand for the USD abroad also helps keep the USD value from declining in the face of huge trade deficits. To some extent we ship dollar bills to countries and they ship us food, cars, smart phones, etc..

Countries that use the USD as an official currency (though they may also have a local currency at least for small amounts – often under US$1): Panama, Ecuador, El Salvador, Zimbabwe and East Timor.

In some places it may seem on the ground that the USD is the official currency but it is really just the currency used without an official declaration: Cambodia, Peru and Uruguay

Related: Finding an International Business Bank as a Digital NomadCredit Card Currency Conversion CostsWhich Currency is the Least Bad? The USD (2012 post)

Reverse Budgeting: Money that Must be Spent

I realize that being reluctant to spend money isn’t the normal problem people have. This is especially true where I grew up: the USA. But I do have trouble spending money, my default desire it to save money.

The main reason I have the ability to have a digital nomad, long travel lifestyle now is not some incredible business bringing in lots of cash. It isn’t have made a huge fortune that I can now live on. It is mainly because I don’t need to spend a huge amount now. And I have saved up money by not spending a huge amount before. Investing that money well also helped.

But I do also have trouble due to my desire to not spend money even when I might like the result (when the cost just seems too high for what is offered). I have taken to a “reverse budget” where I have set money that I expect to spend. And I add to that balance each month and if it grows I have an increasing pile of money I am suppose to spend.

So when I think about getting a guide for a trip in China and I am put off by how much it costs, I can look at my balance and say if I have to spend that money there really isn’t anything I want to spend it on more than hiring a guide. So then I can spend money in the way that benefits me and I can escape the trap of saving more than really makes the most sense when you look at the overall picture.

sunset from boat

Sunset from boat tour in Kuching, Borneo, Malaysia. I may well not have taken this evening boat tour if I didn’t have money I “had” to spend.

Some people will put some amount into a checking account each month to limit their spending to say $2,000. I do something similar but for the opposite purpose to segregate money to spend. I move the decision from whether I am better off saving or spending that money to this is the money that has already been allocated for spending, so now go spend it on whatever is the best use for it.

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Finding an International Business Bank as a Digital Nomad

Dealing with banking issues is one of the most difficult aspects of a small digital nomad business. Finding a bank for a small business isn’t easy. Add to that dealing with international banking and things get very challenging.

Finding a bank that will accept deposits via wire, provide a credit card for your business, has good online tools and you trust isn’t easy. I ran across a very useful post recently:

The Best Offshore Banks of 2014 which includes a good deal of information on the 30 best banks according to them, for example:

Butterfield Bank

Established: 1858.
Jurisdictions: Bermuda, Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Guernsey, UK.
Minimum deposit/balance: 5,000 BMD/USD/GBP for business banking, 250 – 500,000 BMD/USD/GBP for private banking.
Personal banking: Residents preferred.
Commercial banking: Yes, international.
Private banking: Quite strong.
Remote account opening: In most cases.
Mobile app: iOS, Android.
Cards: Full coverage, available in USD and GBP.
Website: http://www.butterfieldgroup.com/

All things considered, the finest bank in the Caribbean and Bermuda. 2009 to 2010 were rough years for the bank, but they bounced back to profits by the following year. Although the share price took a massive dip, but the Butterfield signature quality was never compromised.

Card services are some of the best in the region, with two airline partnerships being available (AAirways and British Airways).

Internet banking is strong but the mobile banking app, although light-years ahead of other banks in Bermuda and the Caribbean, leaves a lot to be desired.

It provides enough information for you to screen through and find some good options for you. And then you can do more research and pick one to try out. I would definitely do more research, you shouldn’t trust 1 internet post to find a bank.

Singapore Merlion with the financial district in the backgound

Singapore Merlion with the financial district in the backgound

Finding a bank that accepts EFT deposits from the USA makes a big difference but this can be a challenge. Many internet companies still are stuck a decade or two ago as far as banking is concerned. Many only pay via EFT or check. Some will also pay via paypal. The options are limited for people in many countries (with poor mail system and paypal is also not available to people in many countries).

Of all my efforts in creating a digital nomad existence banking has been by far the biggest negative surprise. It has just been a huge hassle. I may well look to using one of these banks if I can find a better option for me.

Some that look interesting to me for digital nomad businesses are: Butterfield Bank (Bermuda, Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Guernsey, UK), Crèdit Andorrà (Andorra, Panama), DBS Bank (Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia/Labuan, Taiwan), FirstCaribbean International Bank (Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands), Standard Bank (Isle of Man, Jersey, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Angola, Singapore, South Africa, UAE)

It has been awhile since I created this blog and haven’t posted to it, but my plan is to be more active posting here in the future.

Related: International Migrants: Economics and BankingPrivate Foreign Banking Deposits by CountryThe Importance of Long Term Disability InsuranceGoing Nomad in SE Asia