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Taking a Remote Job and Living Abroad

The team at To Exceed includes some adventurous folks, but Director of Operations Matt Haynes is currently “living the dream” of taking his remote work abroad. The native of Shreveport, LA worked with Robert Specian Jr at Nerdy By Design before spending a couple of years with General Dynamics. Matt Haynes initially joined the To Exceed team in the Shreveport office, but then, in 2023, Matt and his wife jumped at the opportunity to move to Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany.

Especially before the pandemic, “remote work” sounded like a fantasy to those of us stuck in a downtown office building. Telecommuting might give workers the freedom to work in remote, scenic locations. Fans of Highlander might want to live in a houseboat with a modest collection of swords. When most office jobs went temporarily “remote” in 2020, a lot of us learned that we’d just be less productive in our pajamas at home, but Matt has kept himself busy, overhauling the To Exceed workflow, earning Meta certifications, and developing products like our Indeed posting service.

To some of us working in our pajamas, it looks like Matt knows the secret. We wanted to learn more about the working from-home from-abroad lifestyle and lessons learned along the way.

How did you end up working in Germany? Have you always been interested in living abroad?

“My wife works as a Speech Language Pathologist specializing in kids. Certain companies in countries like Germany like to hire Americans to work with American military children since they’re native English speakers. I think the primary interest in Germany was because it’s relatively central to a lot of Europe. Instead of having to cross the Atlantic to visit a new country, we can pay a fraction of the cost and spend less time traveling to visit destinations on our bucket list.

“We’ve been over here for the past year and have visited nine different European countries, including Germany. Public transportation, close proximity to these countries, the European Union, and cheap flights have made it incredibly easy to take short vacations or even weekend trips to incredible places."

Remote worker Matt enjoys a mountain view with his wife
Scenic mountains don't always have great WiFi for online work.
Americans working abroad visit Prague in the Czech Republic
Working remotely in Europe made it easy to visit Prague.
yellow flower landscape in Europe
"I remember when all this was cotton fields."—Shreveport Native
Couple working abroad visits the Arc de Triomphe in Paris
Matt and his wife visit the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Scenic park bench in Germany
This is not the Duck Pond in Shreveport.
American couple visits Amsterdam while working abroad
Amsterdam can be a weekend trip when working abroad.

Any advice for other remote workers? What three things should people consider when choosing a place to work abroad?

“It depends on what you want out of the experience. Do you have a limited budget? If you’ve already got a remote job, and you’re thinking about moving out of the country, then I’d recommend thinking about three things: cost, safety, and convenience:"

  • Cost: I’ve heard of several people who want to live in other countries because the cost of living is lower, stretching their income much further. That’s an aspect we considered and kept places like Switzerland from being a possible destination. Don’t get me wrong – the country is gorgeous, and the Swiss were all lovely, but the cost of living was well above that of the United States. Germany is more comparable. For example, fuel is more expensive, but I feel like groceries are about 30% cheaper than they are in the states as of the start of 2024.
  • Safety: Safety is another consideration... especially if you have kids. I was surprised to see six-year-olds walking to school in the dark by themselves on the streets of Germany. Germans are notorious rule-followers and keep each other accountable, which creates an environment that – while stifling at times – is peaceful and quiet.
  • Convenience: Immigration and paperwork is something to keep in mind as well. One of the things we have benefited from is living in a country that is part of the EU. It’s allowed us to travel across borders of other EU countries without having to go through customs. It feels almost like traveling from state to state. If you’re wanting to get the most out of your experience abroad and travel to as many countries as possible, I would consider living in a country that is part of the EU, as it provides the most opportunities to visit other countries with minimal effort. I wouldn’t worry too much about the language barrier. It can be a hassle, but we are incredibly privileged to speak what is essentially a global language. I would hate to travel knowing only Icelandic or Albanian.

Protip: Extra Cash Makes It Easier to Adapt

If you are going to do some living abroad, one of the best things you can do is have some extra money put aside for emergencies. Everyone should have an emergency fund, but I’m also talking about those unforeseen expenses that come with living in a culture different from yours. For example, Germans like to take everything with them when they move – including the kitchen sink. Imagine our surprise when we rented an apartment and found out that we had to buy kitchen counters, a sink, an oven, and a fridge. Fortunately, we had the budget for it, but it’s a perfect example of the sort of bump in the road you can run into when you’re not familiar with the culture you are immersing yourself in.

Do you still feel connected with To Exceed colleagues back in the USA? Do you and Robert still game?

"I do. With the increasing sophistication of online technology, connecting with colleagues is easier than ever. I can jump on a Teams meeting from my computer if I’m home, or join from my phone if I’m out and about. Most of the trains in the EU have wifi, so it’s getting more difficult to blame lousy internet connections on not getting work done. A lot of our team is already scattered around the United States, so I don’t feel like living in Europe is that much different.

“My social life has taken a little bit of a toll. It’s harder to get to know people in a new country like this. We’ve made several friends with American military families, which has been interesting. A lot of my social life exists online, where I still play online games with Robert as well as our other friends. We've been able to continue playing Dungeons & Dragons online. Scheduling is getting complicated now that some of the guys have kids. I'm currently playing a paladin and the group meets once every two weeks."

Gaming allows me to keep up with my closest friends and maintain those connections even when I’m living a quarter of the way around the planet. I've never gotten into mobile gaming, for some reason, but I could probably narrow it down to three main games that have helped me stay connected with friends:"

  • Smite – Mythological combat gets chaotic when your Discord includes several friends on both teams.
  • Overwatch – At its peak, Overwatch offered the same fast-paced action we all enjoyed on Team Fortress 2.
  • DnD – The virtual tabletops on Roll20 load in a web browser. Meeting in-person was fun, but it's hard to beat the convenience of online.
Blog post about job recruiting on a mobile game app
Read about how Marko found hisnew career on a mobile game app.

Any tricks for managing the time zone difference?

“Yeah, that’s the biggest challenge with living abroad while working for people who live in a different time zone. It’s been an issue with gaming as well. I still wake up relatively early around 5am, which is about the time everyone else is going to bed back in the States. I get to start my mornings relatively slow with some reading and grocery shopping. Even starting around 9 or 10 in the morning allows me to get at least half of a workday in before everyone wakes up. It allows me to get a lot of uninterrupted work done. I try to work 4-6 hours and then reserve the last two or three for meetings and collaborative work. Most of the time, it works out really well. Unfortunately, it occasionally doesn’t, but it’s a small price to pay in order to do something like this.

“I think the key is to be mindful of your sleep schedule. If you’re going to get up at 3 in the morning to game with some friends for a few hours before starting work, you’ll want to go to bed around 8 the night before.

“The food is better quality. That, combined with all the walking has increased the energy levels, so the weird sleep schedule doesn’t hit quite as hard as it would have in the States. I’ve also invested in good coffee and creative ways to drink it – making lattes, cappuccinos, espresso. I’ve looked up tips and tricks from professional baristas on YouTube on how to make my own condensed milk.

“All-in-all, I would recommend it for anyone who has the opportunity and wants to do it. It’s an experience that will enrich you and let you see things from other perspectives."

image shows interview participants Josh Shelton and Director of Operations Matt Haynes
To Follow-Up with Director of Operations Matt Haynes,connect with him on LinkedIn