Because I still work and my business is based in the US, I do the expat time zone warp—I work in two different time zones (sometimes three).
While some expats are retired and get to spend their days deciding between golf, tennis, shopping, and, of course, where to eat lunch or dinner (one of my favorite activities), many of us are still working, whether we have decided to become residents of our current country or are digital nomads, hopping from place to place.
SEF (Portuguese immigration) released their 2020 report on immigration statistics and I was surprised to discover that while there are over 650,000 foreign residents living in Portugal, fewer than 5,000 are American. (We’re not even in the top ten. Brazil and the UK lead the pack.) If you hang out in expat groups or read the glossy international magazines, you’d think that you couldn’t turn around without meeting up with an American. Turns out, not so much.
And we’re not all retirees. Two-thirds of all Portuguese immigrants are between 20 and 50 years of age and the 65 and olders make up about 10% of the overall immigrant population. That means that most of us who move to Portugal are still working in some way.
One of the most frequently asked questions in the expat groups I participate in is earning money in country. I entered Portugal on a D7 long term stay visa. (D7 covers retirees as well as remote workers.) Employment opportunities are limited here, and Portugal, naturally, wants those jobs to go to its citizens.
While you can find work here, it is best to come with either retirement funds (minimum monthly income over $900 (Social Security, retirement accounts, investments) or guaranteed work that pays that much. Additionally, you need to have about $10,000 in funds available in Portugal.
Living in Two Time Zones (or More)
For those of us who are working, whether it is for ourselves or for a company, we are living in two time zones. Portugal is five hours ahead of the US East Coast, eight hours ahead of the West, and coordinating meetings involves a little math. I keep my laptop clock, Zoom account, and Google calendar on US East Coast time. I glance at the time frequently and have reminders set for every meeting. (Yay Google calendar.) Every so often my fitness watch, which is synced to both my Portuguese and American phones, picks up a different time zone and at that point, I have no idea what time it is anywhere. No joke.
Working with East Coast clients is fairly easy. A morning meeting for them is afternoon for me. West Coast is a little less convenient—a 9:00 am meeting is 5:00 pm for me. At that hour, I want to wind down for the day and frankly, I’m not at my best. (To be fair, I’m not at my best anytime before 10:00 am either. It’s a narrow window. Coffee is my friend.) Scheduling group meetings with people who are scattered across the States is not horrific although the people on the West Coast sometimes need to be early risers. Having lived in California, I know that many West Coasters are used to running on East Coast time. (If you’re doing anything with the stock market, you get up at an ungodly hour every week day.)
The Downsides of the Time Warp:
As noted, I am sometimes not at my most energetic when I have meetings scheduled for after 5:00 pm my time. At that point, I have worked all day and I’m ready to veg. Additionally, many webinars are scheduled at 7:00 or 8:00 pm Eastern and there’s just no way I am staying up past midnight for a webinar. Fortunately, there is usually a replay.
Every so often I need an answer to something—how does the client want this or that—and I have to wait to contact them. In my business, very little is urgent. If I am working with an author on a book launch, for example, there are times when I can’t move forward with what I’m doing until I get input from the author or in some cases, the formatter or editor. My business is never life or death, although book emergencies do happen. (You wouldn’t think, would you?) Some things you can control, some things you can’t. It seems that book emergencies happen after 9:00 pm on Friday nights, no matter what time zone you are in.
I have given up working with anyone in Australia (or Hawaii for that matter). The time zone difference is just too much for me. Yeah, you can make it work if you have to. Over the years, I have had only a few clients in Australia and a couple in Hawaii, so it’s not a large part of my business.
I attempted to work with a VA company based in Australia and we couldn’t even find a decent time to set up the initial consultation. VAs are everywhere. There’s no need to become a time contortionist to work with someone who is supposed to make your life easier.
If you work with people who are more than eight time zones away now and moving will add another five, be aware that you will be giving up some sleep. I have listened in on webinars where the person being interviewed has stayed up to the wee small hours of the morning to accommodate US followers. It’s not fun but it can be done.
The Benefits of Time Zone Hopping:
As I hinted at, I am NOT a morning person. Living five hours ahead of the US East Coast is fantastic for me. I can wake up, take my walk, load up on coffee, settle into my day, and by the time an afternoon meeting rolls around, I’m almost pleasant.
If I have a project that I have promised to get to a client by a certain date, I have an extra five hours, sometimes eight, to finish up and double check it before I send it off. If I forgot to upload my weekly posts for one of my social media groups, no one knows. I have more time to prep for meetings which means I come to them with a set agenda, leading to shorter, more productive meetings.
I can send emails in the morning and not get into that back and forth email ping pong game. (A great time management hack is to ONLY check your email four times a day: first thing, just before noon, mid afternoon, and before shutting down for the day.) All those wonderful technological innovations have made us immediately available to everyone. That means you now have constant interruptions, totally disrupting your productivity. The time zone difference forces a delay. Most things don’t need an immediate answer and the delay gives me time to compose more comprehensive emails, either when sending or responding. I have the time to anticipate, research, and take care of contingencies in the original email or response, rather than just firing off email after email. Sometimes, by the time I get to an email, the situation has resolved itself. #Winning
The biggest benefit is I can get in a full day’s work before the East Coast wakes up. The average office worker is productive for two hours out of an eight hour day. I can work undisturbed for four hours before I have to talk to anyone about business. If I have any meetings scheduled, I am relaxed, I’m usually not under any deadline pressures, and I am prepared. Most days, I’m done with my work by 3:00 pm my time. That’s the direct result of having that big chunk of undisturbed time in the mornings.
The Time Warp Can Work for You
If you’re working a remote job with a company or if you have a lot of client interface, you will be running on US time. That’s kind of the deal. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t set your hours with the company—for example, 7:00 am to 3:00 pm Eastern as opposed to 9:00 to 5:00. You may only have to show up for weekly meetings or occasional client interface in which case, as long as you get your work done, it’s all good with your employer. Think about how much of your job requires you to “be seen” (office meetings, client interface, trainings, etc.) and figure out how to work those things in—or better, out. Corporations are a lot more friendly towards the idea of remote work in 2021 than they were in 2019.
If you’re self-employed, you can make your own hours almost as conveniently as you did in the States. We tend to have more personal relationships with our clients and most will understand that you don’t want to have meetings at midnight. ALL of my clients were excited for me when I made the move. I work to ensure I can accommodate their hours but my Mountain and Pacific time zone people are particularly kind about scheduling morning meetings.
Do know that you will be living in at least two time zones if you’re working remotely—you will be doing the time warp. I am constantly checking to see what time it is “there.” On the other hand, it is not yet 6:00 am on the East Coast and I have my major piece of work done for the day. I feel like being five hours ahead gives me a bit of an edge on getting my work done. While it’s still a bit disorienting (I’m eight months into this), I feel a lot less stress around work.
The oddest sensation is being basically “done” for the day, looking at my laptop clock, seeing it is 11:00 am on the East Coast and thinking, “I should be doing something.” Nope. It’s done. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but it’s sort of like getting a half day off or early release from school. I feel like a little kid getting away with something. And that’s kind of fun.