If you’ve ever wondered how to quit your job and move abroad, you need to know France Francois. France is a certified boss. Born in Haiti, she immigrated to Miami when she was young, snagged herself a career in social development and conflict resolution, then at 29 decided it was time to quit her job and move to Panama.
Yes, she was 29.
She opted to spend her days within walking distance of the beach, immersing herself in the local culture and learning Spanish. In exchange for marketing and social media help, language school Habla Ya offered her three months of language lessons and a place to live. She decided when her Spanish gets to a conversational level, she’ll go job hunting. But she doesn’t seem particularly panicked about it.
Why? Because France was smart. She didn’t just decide to up and run without a plan. And let’s be clear: she came up with and executed that plan entirely on her own, without a trust fund to fall back on.
So how did she do it? We were wondering the same thing, so we chatted with her to get a better understanding of how a 29 year-old quits everyday life and moves to the beach.
Dissatisfaction Sparks An Idea
France was working in international development in Haiti for years following the 2010 earthquake. When she was on the fence about quitting, she says two factors pushed her toward her final decision: “I no longer enjoyed what I did or my work environment, and I didn’t believe in what I was doing anymore. More specifically, I didn’t believe what we were doing was helping make a positive impact in the lives of people in developing countries.”
While 29 may seem like a young age to become an ex-pat, she says, “It felt like the perfect time in my life to start anew and develop professional goals that were more in line with the legacy I want to leave behind in this world.”
She fell in love with Panama years before she moved there. While she considered moving to a few others places, Panama had everything she wanted.
The opportunity to learn Spanish? Check.
The opportunity to live by the beach? Check.
A culture she could dive into? Check.
“Habla Ya has a campus right on the island of Bocas del Toro where I can walk or ride my bike to the beach every day after class if I’d like,” she says. “The Panamanians have also welcomed me with open arms, making me feel right at home in their country.”
But before she could start crafting her legacy, she needed to figure out how she could support herself through her journey.
Forming A Getaway Plan
Once France decided to quit her job, she gave herself a year to get her finances in order before jumping ship to Panama. She paid off all her debts and gave herself a budget via Mint. She also cut back on things like dining out and Uber, and started a free investment account with WiseBanyan.
The goal wasn’t to make herself miserable through saving. Instead, she tucked away enough money to kick start her awesome adventure. And she believes anyone can do the same.
France explains, “I often get the response you must have been rich to quit your job and move. I could never do that. Raised by immigrants, I learned that you build your wealth through saving.
“While I’ve never been rich, learning how to save and invest have been essential factors in helping me accomplish my goal and move abroad, something that seemed initially out of reach for someone like me.”
When she had enough of a financial cushion to get herself to Panama, she headed over and never looked back. She immediately noticed the cultural differences, but they were differences she loved:
“In Bocas del Toro, everyone says hello to you and good morning, whether they know your name or not. Unaccustomed to this sense of community, when I first arrived here I’d walk into the small fruit shack without greeting the other customers and everyone would turn and stare at me quizzically.”
What’s the situation like today?
“I’ve learned to engage in these small acts of kindness and community. I wave emphatically and say hello to everyone I meet!”
As for regrets, she does have a couple.
“I regret not packing a wider array of bikinis,” she laments. “I learned too late that SPF is much easier to apply in a spray can rather than as a cream. Did I already miss the latest season of Game of Thrones?! No? Okay, in that case I have no other regrets.”
France is now making another change: going from island life in Bocas to metropolitan living in Panama City. As she writes on her blog, “I’m nervous and excited to be in a city again – and back in high heels.”
France’s story is the perfect example of how planning and a couple of small investments can lead to a huge payout.
“I’m not even good at math, so if I can learn to put money aside to invest, anyone can do it! Even investing $20 a week in your dreams makes a difference,” she urges. “Never doubt what you will be able to accomplish. Your faith in yourself should be bigger than your fears.”
Header photo credit: Pablo Garcia Saldaña
Follow France Francois on her blog and on Twitter @frenchieglobal