When I graduated from college, I took a job at a global public relations agency earning $25K per year. I wanted to live in Manhattan, so I rented a one-bedroom apartment with a roommate and we shelled out $200 to put up a divider wall. It wasn’t ideal, but in the late 1990s, if you wanted the best job prospects, you moved to New York, San Francisco, London, or Tokyo.
Fortunately, the situation today is a bit different. Now that we’re in the era of virtual work, you don’t necessarily have to live anywhere urban to make a good living. But if you do like city life, there are less pricey and overwhelming options to set down roots.
Swedish entrepreneur Patric Palm is an expert in distributed teams and has developed several products that serve them. He works with team members and other entrepreneurs all over the world and travels frequently, so he has had the opportunity to observe the standard of living in places like Lima and Uppsala versus places like London and New York. He first discovered Uppsala when he attended the oldest university in Scandinavia there. His interest was piqued by the emerging video game development scene, as well as the city’s status as the “think tank of Sweden” due to its prestigious higher education opportunities and plethora of biotechnology and material science jobs. Uppsala has served as a strong base for Palm to meet like-minded founders and launch his latest company Favro, a planning and collaboration app that promotes agile workflow.
In South America, the business cities that come to mind first are usually São Paulo in Brazil and Santiago in Chile. However, Palm encourages technology-proficient careerists to consider Lima, Peru. “Telefonica‘s startup accelerator Wayra inaugurated its Academy in Lima,” says Palm. “In addition to accelerating 10 Peruvian tech startups, the initiative has attracted other founders, mentors, and angel investors. Other signs that Lima is becoming a tech hub include the formation of the entrepreneurship community Lima Valley and the launch of networking events such as Lima Tech Meetup and First Tuesday Peru.”
If research and development is more your speed, you might think about relocating to Tsukuba, a city located in the northern Kantō region of Japan. Known as the “Science City,” Tsukuba is a major hub of scientific discovery and progress in Asia. It hosts 300 public and private institutes, laboratories, universities, and firms, employing a total of over 20,000 researchers.
All three of these under-the-radar cities have less congestion and lower living costs while remaining close to international airports and other amenities. Home ownership and education eat considerably less income than they do in typical urban centers, resulting in a better quality of life if you have or plan to have a family. The cities also have their individual perks: Lima currently has the hottest restaurant scene on the continent, while Tsukuba boasts world-class museums and parks.
If you’re an enterprising professional who fell in love at first Google and wants to relocate and work in one of these cities, how should you prepare? Palm says the first step is to research the companies based in the city you’re considering. “Reach out to decision makers at the companies that appeal to you and set up meetings. Uppsala, for example, is less formal, so you can often identify an opportunity simply by inviting a founder or manager to coffee.”
As a foreign national, you’ll want to assess a company’s global presence and ambitions before committing. “If a company is bound to a particular geographic location, there won’t be as much room for you to grow within the organization,” says Palm. Plus, if you don’t end up loving the city, your options will be limited. Instead, pick a company with people based all over the world, so you’ll have the freedom to move around as necessary.
You might be tempted to do all your networking virtually, and could even land a job offer without ever setting foot in your target city. Don’t accept it until you’ve scoped out the situation with an actual trip first. “You need to speak to people who live there and visit local accommodations to understand what the community is really like,” Palm advises. “If you’re still employed, one option is to work remotely out of a Base 10 in Uppsala or WeWork elsewhere.” This type of arrangement ensures that you won’t be rushed while you weigh the pros and cons of what could be the adventure of your life.