There are better places to raise a family than the United States. Places with lower costs of living, better schools, and more intellectual freedom. However, one has to eat.
The most significant question is one that arises anywhere: should you work for somebody else or for yourself? Be a wage-slave or an entrepreneur? Given that wages are low by definition in places that are cheap to live, the balance overseas is even more favorable for investing and entrepreneurship. The person with capital to invest will get better returns, especially in this age in which the central banks have driven interest rates down to nothing in the developed world. This article addresses Ukraine, but the principles are the same everywhere.
By all means, if you can avoid it, do not go overseas expecting to look for a job. Get somebody to send you. Let them pay for your relocation expenses and language lessons. Most companies will offer you an American salary, and if you are lucky they may give you an overseas differential and provide benefits such as housing. Every major city has some US-based law firms and accounting firms. Most have international schools for expatriates, and those schools recruit teachers in the United States through job fairs.
For the English speaker arriving on his own without special skills there are always low-paying jobs teaching and proofreading English. If you speak the local language you can translate and perhaps write for local English-language newspapers. However, competing with other expats and hungry, talented locals will not make you rich.
Henry J. Kaiser’s credo was “Find a need and fill it.” Each of us has a unique set of resources—intelligence, skills, education, persuasiveness, connections, access to money and so on. Each of us is continually surrounded by opportunities, needs to be filled. The entrepreneur is the guy who can profitably match the two sides of the equation.
The same holds overseas, but the balance is different. Command of the local language is usually worse. Some of your skills and credentials may not be valued in the local market. On the other hand, your knowledge of English, appreciation of how things are done in the West and problem-solving skills may give you an edge.
Ukraine enjoys several advantages. Young people here are intelligent, hard-working, and speak adequate English. Ukraine is culturally European and close to European markets.
Wages are low. Locals have yet to overcome the wage-slave mindset related to the country’s Soviet legacy. There is a lot of corruption. But…in chaos there is opportunity. There are no customs agents on the Internet. Businesses dealing exclusively in intellectual property can thrive. The biggest such business here in Ukraine is software development. There is a lot of programming talent. Danes, Dutchmen and others who know their home markets well are able to sell the services of Ukrainian software developers.
Ukrainians are geniuses with design software such as Adobe and CAD/CAM. They can do amazing graphics, animation and videos in support of advertising, receiving the requirements over the Internet and sending the product back by the same. A Ukrainian friend with no capital but a good knowledge of English and a gift of gab via Skype has built a solid business over the past year and a half producing advertising animations.
It takes only an office and a telephone to get started. Besides being low wage, Ukraine is right-to-work. There are no unions, no diversity issues and little government interference. The benefits on the employment side offset the hassles with payroll taxes, tax reporting and corruption.
2. Import and business services
Many Europeans have succeeded with very traditional businesses. One acquaintance imports goods such as silverware, ladies’ clothing and handbags for distribution through Ukrainian retailers. Another founded a freight expediting service serving primarily Northern European companies shipping goods into and out of Ukraine. These guys’ asset is knowledge of the business and clients. They hire people to handle local language communications and interactions with government.
3. Agriculture and food
Ukraine’s agricultural sector continues to grow. The business model exploits the defects in Ukrainian law. It is hard for a farmer to sell his land and illegal for a foreigner to buy it. The workaround is leasing. Half a dozen large agricultural companies have acquired leasehold rights to great swathes of farmland. They buy fleets of modern equipment, brands such as John Deere, International Harvester and Claas, bring in Dutch agronomists to consult on crop rotation, seed selection and all such issues, and do a very good job of factory farming. There are opportunities in providing them professional services.
One is amazed, shopping in the Ukrainian markets, at the huge array of cured meat products and cheeses available. But few of them have brand names or distinctive flavors. Compare with France, where Camembert, brie, Roquefort and Gruyere are unique and command high prices. There is a niche to be exploited creating artisanal cheeses and meat products in Ukraine.
Specialty foodstuffs could grow the same way as fashion has. It requires intelligent, creative designers, a low-wage workforce to produce the clothes, and proximity to market. Just in the last five years several Ukrainian fashion firms such as Vovk and Olga Egorova seem to have come from nowhere. For the moment they are taking domestic market share from European exporters, but they will soon be competing in Europe and the United States.
4. Real estate and real estate information
Raw land prices have fallen as much as 75% on account of the 2007 crisis and the war. Apartments and rents have fallen somewhat less. The upshot is that residential real estate will yield a fairly good return both in current income and future appreciation. Residential land titles are secure, registered via a comprehensive land cadaster.
Mortgage money is scarce and expensive in Ukraine. It keeps prices down, an advantage for an investor able to borrow in his home market at a rate close to zero. Structuring such deals—convincing foreigners that the reward of foreign land ownership offsets the risk, and setting up deals—is an entrepreneurial opportunity.
There are no national real estate companies like Century 21. There is no widespread information service such as Zillow to help standardize pricing. Therefore, there are more pricing anomalies to take advantage of in Ukraine. Less efficient markets mean that more opportunities for people who are willing to do their homework.
The pieces are in place to establish a real estate information service. There are three major online listing services. One could pull information from them to compile a comprehensive database of real estate for sale. The best source for actual sales prices would be registries with the land cadaster. Any system that employed algorithms such as Zillow’s to estimate the market value of property for sale would be a tremendous benefit. The business model might be advertising based, or premised on selling information on a proprietary basis to real estate investors.
5. Offshore Education
American higher education is a slow-motion train wreck. It continues to use a nineteenth century model – stand and deliver teaching in a classroom. It is fraught with systematic problems:
- It is customer driven, but the customers often do not recognize or want quality.
- Costs have risen far more rapidly than inflation.
- The mandate to educate all comers drives quality down to the lowest common denominator.
- The leftist professoriate is politically out of touch with the country.
- There is a pervasive bias against men and marriage.
Education is the process of imparting knowledge, ending with the issuance of a piece of paper attesting to it. It is actually the student who must develop the knowledge within his own head. The University just midwifes the process through a system of lectures, assigned readings, laboratory experiments and discussion sessions.
The disadvantages are obvious. The rising generation is exempted from responsibility as they are bathed in anti-establishment thinking and social justice rhetoric which renders many unsuited to the workplace. This is a Kaiser-sized need to be filled. Ukraine could do it!
Ukraine is an ideal place for a residential, campus-based education serving both foreign and Ukrainian students. Ukrainians want to study in the English language and to obtain an American diploma. Americans will be attracted by the low price. Americans will also appreciate the lack of political correctness, forced diversity and anti-male bias. This is a society that accepts that men and women are different, amply demonstrated by attractive and traditional Ukrainian coeds.
The entrepreneur can arrange to use MOOC (massive online open course) lectures that are already available for free from a number of leading universities. Inexpensive and public domain E-books can serve as textbooks. The Internet can serve as the campus library.
The primary human interaction, as on most campuses, would be with teaching assistants. In the USA these lowly paid graduate students lead small group discussions of the lecture and reading material and grade written assignments. In Ukraine it will be easy to find better qualified teaching assistants for less money.
American colleges and universities are fighting over a shrinking pool of qualified students. Convincing one to expand overseas and make a dollar or two in the process should not be hard.
The best way to make money overseas is as an entrepreneur, whereby your income depends on your human and material resources rather than the level of prevailing wages. Every country offers a number of entrepreneurial opportunities. It is worth investigating doing it overseas. The opportunities are different, startup costs are lower, and foreign countries offer better opportunities for finding marriage partners and raising families.