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EFP 63: Why YOU Should Build Your Business In SEAsia

Justin Cooke September 12, 2013

Business In SEAsiaScrew the US – You need to get your butt over to SEAsia and join thousands of others that have decided to start building their lifestyle businesses here.

We hear from so many people that lament, “If I only had the money” or “When my business is killing it…” and we wanted to go through a few of the reasons why you may not need to wait until some magical barrier or threshold has been passed.

The 3 Main Reasons to Start Your Business Living in SE Asia

In this episode, Joe and I will cover the three major areas – Money, Time, and Lifestyle – to show you why getting your business started in SEAsia may be the best decision you ever make. We also discuss some of the downsides and the fears that keep people from making the move and taking action.

Have you been daydreaming about a travel/work situation? You’re going to want to have a listen to this episode!

Check Out This Week’s Episode Here:

Direct Download – Right Click, Save As

Topics Discussed This Week Include:

  • A bar called the “Hobbit House” filled with little people and blowing up cows with RPGs in Cambodia
  • “Big fish in small pond” investments and the power of a team on the cheap
  • The power of outsourcing your life and why Justin doesn’t know how to fill his own ice trays
  • Laser-focused time and the value of pursuing and deep diving on personal interests
  • Rockstar life and #LivingLikeABoss

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So – what’s holding YOU back from building your business out here with the rest of us in SEAsia? How can we help you get out here! Let us know on Twitter, drop us a voice recording, or leave us a comment – we’d love to hear from you!


  • Dr. Niche says:

    Great podcast guys…don’t forget the $0.75 cent haircuts in the Philippines…lol

  • Mads Singers says:

    Hi guys,

    I’m taking it literally – Arriving in Davao in November, looking forward to it big time and cant wait to be back in the Philippines!

  • toddbeuckens says:

    Great podcast as always. Have to agree with Nick a bit though also as a long-timer here is Asia. I think SEA is great for the right kind of person, but East Asia (And Singapore) offers a lot too. Many boostrappers rush off to the tropics without giving East Asia any thought but you can live in a big city in Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong for about 2,500 US a month and you have so many advantages. The work culture, advanced technology, reliable-fast internet and solid infrastructure are huge boosts work development wise. That 15K may shorten the runway to say six months instead of ten, but you will accelerate must faster. Also, SEA has too many distractions (massages, diving, island hopping) while East Asia has a culture of work and getting sh*t done that is great for bootstrappers and also offers great culture and lifestyle perks too. If you are young, in the development stages, and more cosmopolitan I would consider Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong and or Singapore. (Especially Seoul). These cities bring energy you won’t find elsewhere.

    Oddly, I can’t believe I was in Boracay the same time as Justin and missed meeting the man himself. Have to agree on the Hobbit House. Loved that place and great people and vibe.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Hey Todd!

      Bummed I miss you…was in a van on the way to the boat of Boracay when I got your email, hehe. Next time, eh?

      We know several guys hustlin’ in China and are amazed at the incredible opportunities that present themselves. While I see HK and Singapore as more “big business” cities and lacking a bit when it comes to the bootstrapped entrepreneurial vibe, I do get what you’re saying regarding distractions. Definitely not for everybody, but I think it’s a great starting off point for those that can put their heads down and focus on their biz…

    • Negative SEO says:

      Yeah, but have you actually lived in Singapore? I have…it is extremely expensive…you can live in the boonies for less (far north, far west are cheapest), but you’re in nowhere-ville. You won’t like living in those places. No pristine beaches to swim at…East Coast Park is about as good as it gets…Pasir Ris, not so much. Food is cheap and public transportation is reasonable and abundant, but I’m not sure how bullish I’d be to recommend SG to someone trying to boostrap. You can, however, incorporate there via many services that will act as your sponsor for less than $3k. If you’ve got about $150k in working capital, apply for the entrepass and move, (the min is $50k, but that really isn’t much)…I think SG is better for MNC’s and people with $1m or more.

      • toddbeuckens says:

        Yeah, Singapore is a bit of a stretch. Your points are very valid. Maybe HK too, but Seoul is a great place to get started. The move might be to migrate every six months.

  • Nick Halde says:

    You know, I can’t help but not agree with most of the things that you’ve said in the podcast. I live in Singapore, have been here for the past 20 years. And, I know for a fact that, it really is not as easy or as cool as it seems to be in SEA’s less developed region. Philippines has corruption everywhere (no offence but its true). The Filipinos know it themselves too. The SOL and QOL is not as high as you’d might imagine, electricity and wifi is a major problem. The amount of underhand transaction required, I’d rather be doing business with the chinese. I’m not saying I don’t agree its cheaper, but it’s most definitely as rosy as it seems. I would generally recommend Singapore. Taxes here go up to a mere 13% at max, you can hire a maid to do your laundry too, and the infrastructure is well established and clean.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Hey, Nick…

      No worries – I know where you’re coming from. There’s no question that corruption exists in the Philippines. (Although, I’d say that Joe and I have a business here and haven’t had to deal with much, if any…thankfully) It’s also true that there are some serious infrastructure issues…especially when you get outside of the major cities or regions.

      Still – there’s a “Wild West” feeling that’s just awesome, from my perspective. Some of the reasons I really dig the Philippines are the same reasons I really don’t like Singapore, actually. Every time I’m in Singapore I feel like things are too polished…too clean…too…dull. I think it just comes down to preference.

      I’m interested to hear why you would argue people should NOT get started building their business in SEAsia, though. I get the lifestyle preference…but what are your business reasons? (I know Singapore is technically SEAsia – but it definitely feels like an exception)

    • Nick, I think it’s great that you disagree and can clearly articulate the reasoning! Feel free to bring that sort attitude to any of our posts or podcasts. It encourages an open discussion which is really what we would like to do.

      In the regards to the Philippines, you’re right we didn’t cover the negatives in this podcast. Perhaps we should in another episode. Still I think using Singapore as an alternative is a non-starter in my book. Dollar for dollar, your money just won’t go as far there. Factor in the cost of labor, rent, and most bootstrapping entrepreneurs simply can’t afford Singapore.

      Though I will say the food is better! 😉

      • Negative SEO says:

        Exactly. Taxes, as Nick mentioned, are a plus and getting a maid for $600-850/mo is a nice luxury. However, the workforce, with current exchange rates headed for parity with the US dollar by 2015, is too expensive for most beginners. If you’re in need of IT talent, there are a lot of places in the region that are much less expensive. Malaysia would be a better choice if you ask me, and still close enough to SG that you can move there once your business takes off. Moving to SG to bootstrap is like saying ‘move to London/Paris/Sydney/NYC/Tokyo/Moscow’…it is one of the most expensive places to live on the planet.

        • Justin Cooke says:

          I love and agree with your response here, for sure. We like to make sure we have some wiggle-room when it comes to employee costs…enough flexibility to make mistakes. Places like the Philippines (or Malaysia as you’ve mentioned) allow us to do that.

          I also think you’re spot-on with your Singapore-London/NYC/Paris analogy. I’ve been visiting Singapore for 15 years (5-6 times or so…about a week at a time) and have seen costs rise dramatically. It’s an awfully expensive city and, I think, only worth living there if you’re on the company’s dime or you’ve already made your “F#%@ You” money…

          • Negative SEO says:

            Thanks Justin…yep, the saying is that ‘Singapore is a country owned by a handful of Chinese billionaires’…look behind the facade and you’ll see who really owns the real estate. 😉

          • Justin Cooke says:

            Yeah, the city is just absolutely dripping in wealth! With the high tax you pay to have a car in Singapore, the % of amazing/awesome luxury cars is just insane, hehe.

  • Dave Starr says:

    Excellent job as usual guys, and a subject really near and dear to my heart. years ago a guy in the USA made a comment to an American a friend of mine there in the Philippines, “You could have been a millionaire if you had stayed in the US”> Threw me for a loop, and it still does. If anything it is easier to make a million overseas than in the USA today, not harder.

    Broaden your scope, guys and gals, and whatever you decide, don’t wait until you are a genuine OF like me before you try things. The time to take risks and make money is when you are young … don’t wait for ‘someday”, as “someday” has a habit of not showing up unless you make things happen.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Hey Dave,

      Yeah…the “someday” issue rears its ugly head in all kinds of nasty ways. I’m hopeful, though, that my generation (and the next) are realizing that we don’t have to do what we were told to or are “supposed” to…that we have the choice of actually forging the path we choose for our lives.

  • Taylor White says:

    One note about living overseas that I think is important to point out that sometimes gets overlooked in regards to cost, especially with peeps in Se Asia as costs are lower than most other places and it’s easier to get around.

    The longer you live in one place – the cheaper it gets over time.

    If you are living the location independent life, with a laptop business, and you stay a few nights here, a few night there, pretty soon those $30, $40, and $50 a night hotels, airplane tickets, taxi fares, non working internet, etc…starts to take its toll and add up.

    Espeically at first, if you can pick a home base to work from, get a longer (and cheaper) all inclusive lease, don’t need to worry about as many travel expenses, your runway can be extended by a great deal.

    You save time from checking in/checking out, flying here and flying there, to getting a business going.

    Extend those weekly stays to monthly, 3 months, 6 months…do a Visa run if needed…and get back to your home base and back to work.


  • bobdak says:

    Location, Location, Location – I live in the DC area and I dying to get out of the area .. right now I have a great job but will be retiring in 8 to 10 years. I was actually looking to go to the Caribbean. You made quite a convincing argument for the Philippines .. My dream is to live on a sailboat … Hows the sailing and the marinas?

    • Taylor White says:

      @ Bob,

      I have stayed considerable time in both the Caribbean and SE Asia – and for me – SE Asia wins hands down. SE Asia is much less expensive, much better quality of life for the money, and so many more options (lifestyle/personal/biz) than the Caribbean. About the only major drawback I would mention is that its (obviously) much further away.


      • bobdak says:

        Taylor … I will have to take your word for it ..When I turn 60 and retire distance is going to be a big factor … but maybe I should do my best to give it a shot .. I wont count it out yet … I leave for Aruba in Oct. – and will make plans for SE Asia in 2014 .. thanks..

        • Taylor White says:

          @ Bob,

          No worries, have fun. Some people like Mexican food best, some people like Italian food best, at the end of the day they are both good, its all about what best suits you.


  • JakubHanke says:

    I think you can have king-like lifestyle for $1200 – $1500 a month in Thai/Vietnam etc. I guess one would be more than happy to spend 50% of it while getting business out of the ground 🙂

    I’m from Europe, living in Australia for three years. That disconnection with friends back home is bummer. Although my best friend is still my best friend. Going to make some noise to Bali in November :). So it’s not 100%.

    I want to go to Chiang Mai or Philippines once I close my personal black hole sucking money, time, and life out of me (read: useless college). Cheers! Jakub

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Hey Jakub, thanks for the comment!

      I think quality of life on different budgets is pretty relative. I was just reading from some who live on the $500 – $1,000 per month range in places like Chiang Mai, the Philippines, etc. You can do it, but it might be a bit rough.

      Good luck with finishing college and we’ll see you out here soon, eh?

  • I would really love to move my business over to the Philippines. One, because I feel that my business could really take off from there, Two, I could hopefully finally meet you guys in person :), and Three because I’m filipino and I feel like I would fit right in! I’ve been working with outsources since early 2012 and I definitely feel that just being there would make working with my team much easier.

    Actually I really heavily considered doing this in 2012, but in the end my wife and I were not able to pull the trigger. Now, we have a baby coming along so if moving to the PI is ever going to happen, it will have to wait until after the birth… well, maybe one day we’ll be there.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Funny, Josh…I thought of you when I was writing the show notes for this, hehe.

      I used to think it was a bad idea to move away with a wife + kid(s) but I’ve met quite a few that have done so and are loving it. The fact that you can have a nanny, maid, etc. here in the Philippines would (I think) make raising a baby SO much easier.

      Would love to meet up with you if you come out, man…let me know!

    • Dave Starr says:

      Josh, take a look at your tagline … “Form Your Future” and think about them meaning of the words. You’re having a baby soon? Great. You’re waiting until after the baby is born before you make the move? Why, pray tell?

      Do you think it will be easier or that you will have more spare time, more spare cash _after_ the birth? It doesn’t work that way. If “Krazy Kanos” like Justin and Joe and I and a whole list of other foreigners I know can come to the Philippines (many having and raising their children here) and do well, as a Filipino you have even an easier path, trust me.

      To me this is a MUCH better place to raise children than the USA, and as already pointed out, you can afford help here as you probably can’t back in the US. Form Your Future. (It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?.

      • Yea, I see what you’re saying. My wife is just already set on a physician that she wants and our family is all here. Moving over is something that does interest me, but I also still feel that I can run the business just fine from where I’m at as well. It will just be a little more difficult.

  • John Gibb says:

    hey guys,

    I feel like [“Big fish in small pond” investments] is the most exciting part of today’s show.

    And to answer your question…

    I’d say – personally, I have family commitments, cannot travel the world or establish elsewhere, although
    business wise, I envision myself running it in New Zealand once toddlers start growing a bit…


    John Gibb

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Hey John…thanks for the comment!

      I get the family thing, but I WOULD say that I know some families with kids that are out here as well. Your priorities on where to live/stay change a bit (where are the best hospitals, schools, nannies, etc.) but it CAN work if it’s something you’re shooting for. 🙂

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