A remote worker from Miami secretly moved to South America without his employer's knowledge.
It's allowed him and his husband to save money and pursue a more exciting lifestyle, he said.
Here's why he recommends other remote workers try the same, as told to reporter Hannah Towey.
This as-told-to essay is based on conversations with a remote worker from Miami. He requested to remain anonymous in order to protect his job, but his employment has been verified by Insider with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
My husband and I quit our in-person jobs to accept remote positions and secretly moved to South America about four months ago.
Our Miami budget was getting squeezed tighter and tighter each month. Over the last two years, remote work allowed for a huge influx of new residents to Miami, including Californians and New Yorkers, whose much-higher salaries (based on their local regions) caused our local cost of living prices to skyrocket. Unfortunately, our Miami-based salaries didn't get the heads up to increase too.
Our rent rose from $2,150 per month to $2,700 per month, and that was with the landlord being "generous." He said he could have charged closer to $3,200, and he would have been able to get it with the current market.
We weren't able to pay down our debt (it was around $41,000 and growing with interest). We were keeping up with it, but not in a very effective way. It just felt like a weight strapped around our ankles.
These price increases, coupled with post-pandemic inflation, and our general inability to really attack our debt month after month, gave us the idea to pursue living abroad in order to 1) enjoy a nice, travel based lifestyle, with something new and exciting to do each weekend, while 2) simultaneously being able to catch up with our debt and establish proper savings.
That's where this experiment came to fruition. We realized we could actually spend so much less money and at the same time live a more fun lifestyle where we're not in the same place every single weekend.
We used Reddit to learn how to become 'digital nomads' and conceal our location from our employers
We researched a ton prior to getting started and ended up finding a Reddit section dedicated to "digital nomads." This was our main point of instruction in order to find out how to set up the proper technology to keep our location private from our bosses.
We use an external VPN router through which my work computer connects. Paying for VPN software itself wouldn't be sufficient, as the work computer would easily allow the company to see that the software had been installed. We needed it to be an external router whose location is set to Miami in order to make the computer think it is still US based. A few months in, and it seems to be doing the trick.
We also did a ton of research on different countries. We needed a country that had a similar time zone to Miami. It didn't have to be exact, but it needed to be close enough. We didn't want to start out in Southeast Asia with a 12-hour time difference.
On top of that, we really dug around to see what prices were like in each city. For instance, Costa Rica has a relatively strong economy so you're not seeing as many benefits with the currency exchange. Another huge factor was just the weather.
We ended up in Quito, Ecuador. That was the first city that we landed in and set up our base. You could get lunch for $2.50 every single day. You would spend less money in that entire week than on one meal in Miami.
We had already moved abroad when I accepted my current position. I paid more than $1,000 in flights to go pick up my new work computer (which was mailed to Florida, where I was supposed to be) and then fly back to South America.
Our reasoning for wasting that much money on flights to pick up a work computer? It still financially made more sense when compared to continuing to live in Miami, where the basic cost of living was already in the thousands of dollars each month. (Our rent in South America, when averaging all of the nights of our Airbnbs so far, floats around $500 a month).
It feels like we've somehow been able to make a dream come true that we didn't even realize existed. We didn't realize. that you could travel the world and actually make more money than living just in one city.
There are funny, and sometimes awkward moments when trying to fly under the radar at work
My boss and coworkers have no idea. It's kind of surreal.
There are funny, and sometimes awkward moments when trying to fly under the radar at work. Like my colleagues noticing my tendency to wear long-sleeved clothing on the occasional video meeting: "oh, that's because my husband has the AC on!" (it's because we're high up in the Andes mountains and it's 40 degrees outside), or the usual question of "how was your weekend?
"Did you and your husband do anything fun?"
"Oh, not much, just went to the beach and stuff" (actually, we attempted to summit a 20,000 ft active, snow-capped volcano using ice picks, crampons, 4 layers of clothes, and other snow-climbing gear).
What is one thing that Ecuador has that Florida doesn't have? Earthquakes. That was a huge thing that I was unprepared for. I've never in my life been in an earthquake and in July, there was an earthquake in the southern part of the country and the tremors reached Quito.
I had a video call with a client and all he can see is my face start freaking out and I'm looking around the room looking up and down, the house is shaking. I had to let him know "well, actually, this week, I'm in Ecuador." I tried to blow it off and make it seem like it wasn't a big deal and that I was just on vacation. Which turned into a bunch of laughs and hopefully not something that he was too concerned about.
One of my homework assignments for October was to make sure I had a story lined up for what we did "in Miami" for Halloween.
My only regret is that I wish we started doing this two years ago
I recommend that people do this because it's potentially a once-in-a-lifetime thing that previous generations did not have access to. At the end of the day, it's your work. It's your job. If you're doing the amount of work that you are supposed to be doing, I think it's completely ethical. I wish we had started it sooner. My husband and I would have probably put thousands of dollars in our pockets over the last year or two if we had been doing it earlier.
We are about to leave Peru to head to Aruba and then pop home for two weeks to see my parents. From there, we hope to jump down to Brazil and after that, hopefully start out in Spain and then travel around the coast there.
My spouse and I joke that, since my company is fully remote, I may not be the only one quietly abroad and keeping up a ruse. What if I run into my boss in the middle of Peru?