Optimal Employment

by Louie10 min read31st Jan 2011279 comments

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Related to: Best career models for doing research?, (Virtual) Employment Open Thread

In the spirit of offering some practical real world advice, let's talk about employment rationality. Let’s talk about optimal employment.1

You're young, smart, and hoping to have a positive impact on the world. Maybe you finished college, maybe you didn't. You want to pay your bills but also have time to pursue your intellectual goals. You want a low-stress job that doesn't leave you drained at the end of the day. And it would be nice to earn lots of extra money, because whatever you value, money tends to be a good way to get it.

And it is possible to find easily obtained, low-stress jobs with flexible hours that allow you to save as much money as someone in the USA making $100,000/yr... if you leave the USA to look for them.

Your instinctive reaction is probably that there’s no free lunch, so I must be mistaken or dishonest. And while you may have the right prior, I hope to persuade you that these jobs exist and tell you how to get one if you're interested.

This, I think, is a special opportunity for rationalists, an illustration that we can get better life outcomes from our investment in rationality - better outcomes such as low-stress jobs that leave us with ample discretionary income and enough free time to pursue whatever else we're interested in, obtained by being willing to break habits and think in numbers.

Employment Biases

First, consider some cognitive biases that may be leading people away from optimal employment.

  1. Status Quo Bias - As a rule, we work the same jobs we worked the day before regardless of whether it's still the best option for us. Almost everyone you know is doing the same thing. So you shouldn't expect to be able to just copy others' behavior and end up with optimal employment. Most people stop searching too soon.
  2. Money Illusion - We reason in terms of nominal salaries rather than in actual buying power. This causes us to chase high nominal salaries ($100,000/yr!) even when those salaries are coupled with an exceptionally high cost of living that decreases our overall buying power.
  3. Ostrich Effect - Regardless of income, the average American ends up paying close to 40% in taxes yet consistently self-reports as paying only 3%. In other words, we tend to ignore or deny obviously negative situations when we feel we can't change them.
  4. Conformity Bias, Herd Instinct, "Keeping Up with the Joneses" - Our mimicking behavior is so hard-wired that maintaining autonomy requires actively guarding against the usual practice of mindlessly working the same sorts of jobs and buying the same sorts of products as other people around us. At Less Wrong, we are not conformists, which is probably a good thing in this case. Americans' revealed preferences indicate that they mostly care about boring things like paying lots of taxes, having fat mortgages, driving 2 cars, and owning 3 televisions.
  5. Commuting Paradox - A recently uncovered bias finds that people will consistently endure unpleasant commutes even when the increased earnings don't compensate for the increased costs. A person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money just to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to work. And no amount of money can erase the cognitive fatigue caused by commute related stress. Koslowsky found that even a short commute or using public transportation is associated with increased blood pressure, musculoskeletal disorders, increased hostility, lateness, absenteeism, and adverse effects on cognitive performance.

So the literature on biases is telling us that the ideal job would be something that few Americans are doing, has high purchasing power at the expense of a high nominal salary, will be taxed less than a US-based job, avoids a commute, and minimizes the costs that eat up a typical American's salary.


Welcome to Australia

The USA is not the best place to earn money.2 My own experience suggests that at least Japan, New Zealand, and Australia can all be better. This may be shocking, but young professionals with advanced degrees can earn more discretionary income as a receptionist or a bartender in the Australian outback than as, say, a software engineer in the USA.

Now I’ll detail how to work abroad in Australia because (1) I did it myself (here's my first paycheck), and because (2) I've met hundreds of people working less desirable jobs in several other countries so I have some basis for recommending Australia in particular.

Quick facts:

  1. Australian dollars are currently worth slightly more than US dollars.
  2. The minimum wage in Australia is $15/hr, with $18.75/hr being a more typical starting salary for someone with a Work and Holiday Visa with no previous work experience.
  3. Employers are required to pay 9% extra beyond your regular wage into a personal retirement account, called superannuation, which you can fully cash out after leaving Australia, even if you aren’t retirement age.
  4. Tax withholdings are fully refundable to foreigners after leaving the country (0% effective tax rate) if you earn less than $6000 and report as a "resident" for tax purposes. If you earn between $6000 and $37,000 and file as a resident, your tax rate is 15% (for every dollar earned over $6000). See the full tax structure here.
  5. Hospitality employers such as resorts and hotels in remote areas like the Australian outback are required to provide heavily subsidized room & board ($75/week) and pay supplemental wages in the form of "district allowances" to all workers.
  6. For reference, I was hired as a bartender in Australia on the spot with no resume, no application, and no interview after openly admitting I had no service experience and couldn't operate a cash register.

So let’s compare and contrast Australia with the US:

  US Australia
Minimum wage $7.25/hr $15.00/hr3
High paying jobs Require advanced degree, hard to get, stressful Require no qualifications, easy to get, little responsibility
Income taxes 21.25% of income4 13% of income5
Housing costs 37.1% of income6 5% of income7
Food costs 13.3% of income6 5% of income7
Transportation costs 16.5% of income (need a car)6 4% of income (airplane tickets, visas)8
Compulsory retirement savings

-7.65% of your income into Social Security
good luck getting that back

+9% extra income paid by employer on top of wages
refundable when you leave the country!


Optimal Employment and Less Wrong

This may be of special interest to Less Wrong because most non-rationalists simply can’t reliably take advantage of this opportunity. They will see it as "too good to be true" or "some sketchy advice from the internet" and move on with their lives. You, on the other hand, can evaluate the evidence and make a decision. This kind of problem, where you must assess probabilities and come to a sound conclusion because immediate feedback is unavailable, is exactly the kind of problem that rationality is good for.

Let's compare the discretionary income you're likely to earn with a stressful $100,000/yr salaried job in the USA to the discretionary income you're likely to earn with a laid-back $39,000/yr job in Australia. Our time frame will be one year.

USA: In a $100,000/yr position, your top end tax braket is 28%, but after taking the "standard deduction" and accounting for the tiered tax structure, your effective income tax rate is only 21.25%. In our target age range of 25-34, you're likely to spend 37.1% of your income on housing (breakdown: 23.3% on rent, 7% on utilities, 6.8% on misc housing expenses), 13.3% on food, 16.5% on transportation, and 7.65% on social security payroll taxes. For convenience sake, we'll call the remaining portion of your income - 4.2% - your discretionary income. 4.2% of $100,000 is $4,200.

Australia: In a $39,000/yr position as a bartender or receptionist in the Australian outback, you'll pay 13% in taxes but immediately gain back 9% by cashing in your employer-provided retirement benefits upon leaving the country. Because room and board is heavily subsidized in the outback, you'll pay only 5% for housing and 5% for three excellent meals a day. You'll be commuting on foot because you'll live by the hotel or resort that you work at so the only transportation you'll need is a couple airplane tickets and legal documents, which will cost about 4% of the $39,000 yearly salary. That leaves you with a stagering 83% of your income as true discretionary income, or $32,370!

So working in Australia at a laid-back job with no responsibilities will likely earn you significantly more discretionary income than working at a hard-to-get, stressful, "high-paying" US job. In addition to the personal enjoyment of traveling to Australia, working at a resort in the outback will provide you with a comfortable living situation where all your bills are paid for, all your housing and meals are provided for you, you have no commute and you can enjoy 83% of your $39k salary as discretionary income.

On the other hand, a typical year working a stressful $100k/yr job in the US, if you’re highly-qualified and fortunate enough to land one, will mostly create value for the US government, real estate owners via your rent payments, oil producing nations whenever you fill up your car to commute to work, and retailers such as WalMart who provide household necessities from overseas suppliers. You definitely "create value" by earning that $100k and then immediately blowing it all back out into these giant economic sectors, but are you really executing your own values, or just the values of those around you? Assuming you're not a tax, rent, and car payment enthusiast, this arrangement is probably sub-optimal. That's why you need to learn...


How to Work in Australia

In six steps:

  1. Find an Australian hospitality job (or wait until you arrive; see below).
  2. Make sure you have a passport.
  3. Apply for a Work and Holiday visa.9
  4. Fly to Australia to start working and saving.
  5. Apply for an Australian tax file number.
  6. Open a bank account.

Though you may want to "play it safe," most of the jobs available in the Australian outback will not be listed online. My own recommendation is to skip step 1 and don't get a job lined up ahead of time. Fly to Alice Springs in May when the high season for hospitality jobs is starting to pick up, check into a hostel for a few nights, and look through the physical job boards. The person at the front desk of any hostel will be able to tell you where they are. That's what everyone I met working in Australia actually did to land jobs.

Or, if this sounds too overwhelming, have someone else do the planning for you. The site Oz Work Visa was founded by a fellow LWer (who went to Australia after reading this post) to help other optimal philanthropists and rationalists have a smoother time planning their working holiday abroad in Australia. I definitely recommend the services.

 

Conclusion

Of course, each person must assess the expected utility of this opportunity for themselves. Maybe you have a child or significant other you can't leave behind. Maybe you live with your parents, so you aren't spending much on housing or food in the US, and therefore staying in the US is the quickest way to build up discretionary income. Maybe the math above doesn't work for your particular situation. The USA's financial incentive system is extremely complex and, in the words of Kotlikoff & Rapson, "bizarre."

I don't mean to say that this opportunity will be best for the average Less Wrong reader who is single and in his or her 20s. But I do want to present one particular opportunity that may offer more optimal employment than whatever you're currently doing for a paycheck. I'd also like to suggest that in general, optimal employment might not be found in your home country.

 

Here's me enjoying some optimal employment in Australia:

Me, working at an Australian bar

 

Common Concerns

Q: This sounds too good to be true. How could there be this wage and cost of living imbalance? Shouldn’t the efficient market conspire to eliminate this huge pile of "free profit"?

A: The efficient market hypothesis assumes that humans collectively converge on rational beliefs. But most humans aren’t strategic enough to take advantage of an opportunity like this. They’re on a treadmill from high school to college to a nominally "high-paying" USA-based job + spouse + 1.5 children + dog. The thought of working outside their own country or outside of the field they got a degree in never seriously occurs to them, no matter how smart they are. Also, many people currently believe that working abroad is a bad idea simply because the best opportunities that existed 5 years ago (teaching English, peace corps) actually were bad economic opportunities.

 

Q: So how come all my smart friends aren't doing this?

A: Americans couldn't get these work visas until 2007. Since then, less than 8,000 Americans have taken advantage of the program. Your odds of knowing an American aged 18-30 who went to Australia and did this are very low. By comparison, over 170,000 British citizens aged 18-30 went to Australia just in the last 5 years via a nearly identical visa program. Basically, if you're living in the UK, or lots of other countries in Europe or Asia, the evidence is already beating you upside the head that working in Australia is a great way to save money. You already know several people in real life who can stand in front of you and tell you how great it was for them. I predict that working in Australia after college will be a trendy option for Americans in a few more years, but until it's completely obvious to everyone, you'll actually have to look at the evidence and be rational enough to process it without immediately rejecting the idea just because it sounds amazing.

 

Q: Won’t working in Australia prevent me from gaining experience in my narrow professional sub-field, thus reducing my total lifetime earning power?

A: This is almost certainly not the case for anyone under 30. Companies pay professionals more based on their abilities and their age as opposed to their actual years of experience. And, they pay more for older professionals than young ones just starting out cause they know these people really do have higher expenses and are less likely to quit. So taking a year off in your 20s to work abroad is only exchanging a year in which you would have earned the lowest salary you’ll ever have during your career for a year of higher earning power in Australia. You can always come back to your career in a year and pick up where you left off. Besides; who follows a straight-up-the-ladder career path anymore? Almost nobody.

 

Q: What about Australian culture? Will I like it over there?

A: Australia is a highly educated, robustly secular, extremely developed country. If you have any questions about the desirability of Australia, just ask Less Wrong! A disproportionate number of Less Wrongers are Australian.10

 

Q: I'm really bad at following instructions. What are the biggest mistakes I could make?

A: Don't make the mistake of settling down to work in Sydney, Melbourne or any other major Australian city. Those places all have exceptionally high costs of living, fewer job opportunities, no housing and meal benefits, and predictably lower pay. Make sure you travel to a remote area of Australia like I suggest. Go to the outback near Alice Springs or at least outside Darwin or Perth if you read up on it yourself and know what you're doing. Also, I recommend going to Australia in May when hiring is strongest. April can work too. June and July will work also.  Just don't go in February or March when people aren't hiring yet. One last tip: it's very expensive to be a tourist in Australia (how do you think you're being paid so much?) so I recommend that if you want to combine this opportunity with a vacation for yourself, fly to Bali or somewhere else in Southeast Asia where your money will go 10x further.

 

Q: It says the $295 Visa application fee is non-refundable. What if I apply for the Work and Holiday Visa and then I don't get it?

A: Did you read through the eligibility requirements to make sure you qualify? If you meet their requirements, you'll get it. Australia rubber-stamps American Visa applications. They're working hard to admit as many of us as possible since so few Americans apply to vacation or work in Australia and they want us to be better represented. The application is painless and I was issued my visa in less than 24 hours.

 

Notes

1 Many thanks to lukeprog for his help in writing this article.

2 Note to international readers living outside the US: Although I write much of this from the perspective of an American considering the possibility of working abroad, you can easily substitute “the UK” or any other first-world nation wherever I say “America” or “the US”.

3 Australian minimum wage is $15/hr AUD. Right now, the exchange rate between AUD and USD is basically equal.

4 Approximate, based on the third tax bracket in the year 2011. See the USA rates here, but note that these are nominal tax rates. The actual tax rate is lower due to the standard deductions.

5 An estimate, assuming you file as a resident for tax purposes and earn between $6,000 and $37,000. You are taxed at 0% for the first $6,000 earned, and at 15% for your earnings between $6,000 and $37,000. See here for the details.

6 See the 25-34 year-old age bracket from the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey.

7 Of course, this depends on how much you make, and is assuming you use the highly subsidized room and board offered to you in the Australian outback.

8 My real world costs of going to/from Australia:

$1166 round-trip ticket SFO - MEL (skyscanner.com)

$196 MEL - ASP (tigerairways.com)

$235 Work and Holiday visa

This might look like a lot of money if you’re not currently working or if you’re a broke college grad, but it only takes about 2 weeks on the job in Australia to earn back the cost of emigration, repatriation, and valid work papers.

9 Australian “Work and Holiday” visas are only available to those 18-30. If you’re almost 31, you can still apply for the visa now, have it issued before you turn 31, and then travel to Australia after you turn 31.

10 Based on traffic data for Less Wrong.

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The math here is extremely misleading.

You used the average figures from a dataset of people making an average of about $55,000 a year for the US figure. That is, the people who spend 37% of their income on housing is from people making about half of the amount you hypothesize someone making. Since you can live in the same apartment, eat the same food, and so forth (with some exceptions depending on locale), that gives you another ~$38,000 in post-tax income in the US. You also ignore benefits (and promotion opportunities) and things like expense accounts, which can be substantial.

You are also comparing unlike people: one is an average American citizen, who probably has kids and a high discount rate, the other is an individual free to travel to another country specifically searching for a high disposable income job. The fact that the average American does worse is largely irrelevant, because the hypothetical person you're advising is already not-average.

It may well be a great idea to work abroad for a few years; it does sound fun and that's a lot of disposable income for limited skill. But if you're going to make a point with numbers, at least make a cursory effort to use plausible numbers and compare relevantly similar people, or at least admit that you're failing to do so.

These costs match my own cost of living when I was working full-time in the US as a highly-paid software engineer. So you could look at both columns as Louie2006 vs Louie2010 if you want to make it an apples-to-apples comparison.

Also, it's an established fact that people spend a constant fraction of their income on housing no matter how much income they have in the US. Look at the reference for my cost data. Groups with wildly different incomes all the way from $25k/yr to $80k/yr all spend between 32-37% of their income on housing. So until I see research showing me otherwise, I stand by my use of fractional income costs of living for housing, transportation, and food budgets.

Groups with wildly different incomes all the way from $25k/yr to $80k/yr all spend between 32-37% of their income on housing.

This simply indicates that as people get richer, they demand better housing. I live in Manhattan. I could get the same apartment if I go on to be an associate at a law firm making $165k a year or a public defender making $50k. However, if I'm doing the former, I'm probably going to spring for a nicer apartment. If my primary goal were saving money, as is implied in your job comparison, I could easily live in the PD's apartment on an associate's salary.

The fact that most people who can save big on housing choose not to is not applicable in your hypothetical; to the extent that it is, more expensive housing implies higher quality of life.

The numbers you quoted are averages for each ten-year demographic between 25 and 75, plus the tails. There's no mention of variance, and I would expect someone employing rationality techniques to manage their finances to be an outlier.

Personal anecdote: My own finances as well as those of six of my friends fall well outside those bands, with housing costs around 13-23% of income. We're all highly-paid software engineers between the ages of 25 and 30, and none of us have families.

Edit: I forgot to include utilities, so my friends in NYC actually edge the housing cost range up to 23% or so.

5Louie10yBravo! Your housing budget is quite remarkable. I wasn't able to do so well myself back when I was working full-time in the US as a software engineer. Do you track your finances with Quicken or some other software? Could you calculate your remaining income from 2010 after subtracting out taxes, rent, housing, transportation, and food? It must be much higher than the 4% a typical American in your position has left. I'd be curious what the best case real world numbers are for people in your situation who are doing their best to optimize. Also, I'm assuming you aren't just taking money out of your housing budget and directing it into an expensive car right? If you don't mind me asking, what are you directing your excess income towards?

I track my finances directly in a CoffeeScript source code file and use a simple home-brewed software library to compute my net liquid assets and (when necessary) my estimated tax payments and projected tax liabilities. You've reminded me that I really should be using something like Quicken for finer-grained analysis, so I'll look into that and post my numbers later this week (edit: one second thought, it doesn't seem worth the extra friction).

My living costs followed a general upward trend that leveled off in late 2009, but my salary data is extremely messy for several reasons:

  • I had no grasp of what I was worth until 2007.
  • I had no interest in anything beyond emergency savings until mid 2009, and preferred to gamble on startup equity being worth something, reasoning that I was in my twenties and had plenty of time to settle down later.
  • I was too personally attached to the startup I worked at until early 2010.

It's hard to imagine changing my past since it'd mean giving up several of my current friendships, but the decisions I made in reality were emphatically the wrong ones from a financial perspective: I worked at-cost for six years and left several hundred thousand dollars of... (read more)

3gjm4yI think LukeStebbing has long since left LW, but I was just reading the comments on this old post and was struck by his first paragraph: I'm sure it's just coincidence, but it made me smile.

It must be much higher than the 4% a typical American in your position has left. I'd be curious what the best case real world numbers are for people in your situation who are doing their best to optimize.

Which was on response to:

Personal anecdote: My own finances as well as those of six of my friends fall well outside those bands. (Emphasis added.)

You still seem to be missing the point. Statistical averages, even in percentage form, cannot be blindly projected across the entire income scale. Someone making $1M a year does not spend the same percentage on food as someone making $40k.

And what does it matter if he takes money out of his housing budget and directs it towards an expensive car? The point of disposable income is that you get to spend it on things you want. That includes nicer housing, restaurant meals, and fancy cars, the value of which is ignored in your calculations.

Also, it's an established fact that people spend a constant fraction of their income on housing no matter how much income they have in the US.

It's an established fact that people who live in the US don't suddenly decide to spend a year in Australia. Therefore, your plan fails, it just doesn't happen.

3Costanza10yRespectfully, I do not understand what your comment means. I didn't think the author of this post thought that even 5% of the 300 million or so Americans would try to move to Australia any time time soon. But some much smaller fraction of Americans do, maybe even suddenly. The author of this post has offered facts to suggest that this could be rational for some people. For those people, how does this plan simply not happen?

Vladimir was being sarcastic, because Louie dismissed the possibility of optimizing one's expenditures.

7jhuffman10yLouis is contrasting his personal experience with both his personal experience and demographic averages. What Louis did is not average; and there are other outliers who are not spending 32-37% of their income on housing. In fact, when he suggests moving to the outback he is simply rephrasing a suggestion of "spend less on housing". Moving to the outback and getting a job as he describes is one way of doing that. Living under a bridge and showering at your gym every morning might be another.
1Louie10yI'm sure you didn't mean it, but your comment strikes me as pretty harsh. Could you explain what you mean?
9datadataeverywhere10yI had a fairly similar response. I spent $900/mo. on rent when I was making $33k, and I am now spending $600/mo. while making $92k. Obviously whether or not someone spends a constant fraction of their income on housing is an individual decision, just as whether or not someone heads to Australia is. I'm actually really shocked that you spent more than 95% of a $100k+ income. Even on a $24k student salary I managed to save around $6k/yr., and indulging in all the luxuries I care for I spend less than 35% of my current after-tax pay. I don't feel like I've ever had to "micromanage" my finances or spend more than a few extra minutes a week to do this.
6Vladimir_M10ydatadataeverywhere: The trouble is that students (including graduate students) have ways to live extremely cheaply while maintaining reasonably high status. For people who are beyond that stage in life, either because they're too old or because they have families, there are no such options. As a general rule, unless you're living in the middle of nowhere, housing costs are very high in all places nice enough to provide a respectable middle class environment for raising kids. Even if you don't have kids, pursuing cheap living options beyond a certain age tends to signal low class and/or disreputability.
3datadataeverywhere10yYour point is well taken. Not only do I not have children or dependents, and not only am I still somewhat in "grad student mode", but I plan on eventually going back to school, so I don't really intended to leave that mode before then. In fact, I probably have an even more extreme form of this condition. I've never been too bothered too much by signaling low status, but I've actually been pained when I signal high status. My first (and only) car bothered me because while I bought it extremely cheaply, it was still in good shape. I feel like I ought not to be driving a vehicle that has working door handles, heating and A/C. My car certainly doesn't signal high-status, but it doesn't signal low-status as strongly as I'd like. All of that said, the idea of spending 95% of a $100k salary does not sound instrumentally rational at all even if status is a highly-held value. I object a bit to My parents together usually made less than $20k/yr. while I was growing up (usually fluctuating around the poverty line). I don't know how much they spent on housing (probably a large fraction of that), but I went to an expensive private high school (on scholarship, of course) and didn't mind bringing home friends that came from $250k income families. I really don't think my housing situation was bad even to their tastes, and it certainly isn't somewhere I'd mind raising my kids.
9wedrifid10yHe is attempting to equate the micromanagement of optimal spending practices within a US city environment and culture with the big leap to go ahead and move to the Australian outback. Neither or these things tend to happen so he claims the right to say 'you too' on your 'fail by default' point. Unfortunately this obscures or ignores the critical insight into human psychology that you allude to here with respect to setting up 'succeed by default' scenarios, particularly with respect to choosing critical culture and environmental factors.
1Vladimir_Nesov10yIf we are constructing advice for typical Americans, then this post presents good advice. But the target audience is stated to be the people who can follow counterintuitive pieces of reasoning, which is why insights into human psychology that oppose explicit reasoning shouldn't be the issue (for the stated goal). From the post:
2wedrifid10yThere nevertheless remains an enormous difference between the big, perhaps drastic but more importantly intrinsically decisive changes to environment and a commitment to try to resist cultural and environmental pressures as they are currently experienced. Both are big hurdles but their nature is very different. Once they have made the choice to make the drastic decision they will succeed by default. Once someone has made a choice to try to resist ongoing cultural pressures they could perhaps succeed by the application of ongoing injunction by the rational part of their mind. I still don't particularly recommend moving to the outback and working in customer service. You will 'succeed by default' at doing something that isn't all that desirable anyway. :)
0diegocaleiro10ySo as not to forget considering different options, multiple locality can be a weird-funny-cheap option to save part of those 32% for a while. Consider for instance hospitality exchange websites, where I have met people who lived for 100 days with 90 dollars while travelling with internet access... But most importantly, working remotely has been one of Tim Ferriss most interesting suggestions, and I really want to know if anyone here has actually tried to do what he did online. So I posted this in Discussion: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/448/on_the_effectiveness_of_ferriss/ [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/448/on_the_effectiveness_of_ferriss/]
0[anonymous]10yI, for one, would much prefer a single really good argument to a bunch of pretty-good arguments all scattered about. I think your post would be much more persuasive if you removed the stuff that people object to and put in more solid reasoning.
5shokwave10yThe minimum wage point alone is probably enough maths, honestly. The hypothetical person here is far more likely than the average American citizen to be on or near minimum wage.
6katydee10yI'm not sure if that follows. Why do you believe that?
5erratio10yBecause it's possible to live extremely comfortably on the minimum wage here as long as you don't have dependents. This creates a disincentive towards going out and getting a higher paying job that requires far more actual work. eg. Last year I was covering my costs of living in Sydney by working three days a week at minimum wage and was still able to go out to nice restaurants and so forth fairly regularly.
4katydee10yAh, okay. My mistake-- I thought shokwave's "here" referred to LessWrong as a whole, not Australia.
3shokwave10yThe people I know who are similar to the results in the survey linked in the top level post are disproportionately on minimum wage or near minimum wage jobs - particularly casual or part-time.
2jsalvatier10yNot to mention that a high minimum wage suggests it might be hard to find a minimum wage job.

It does suggest that. The unemployment rate far more strongly suggests the opposite.

5David_Gerard10yFor the curious: One of the reasons why the wages in Australia seem so high is because Australia largely dodged the credit crunch, having put suitable controls on its financial sector well ahead of time. So the currency has stayed up - particularly compared to the USD, which has gone down the toilet. Conditions may equalise with time, but right now there's a huge discrepancy. (I moved from Australia to London when the AUD was worth half what it is now, when it was about AUD$3 to GBP£1.)
1jsalvatier10yAh yes, I forgot that Australia largely avoided the current recession, that explains a large part of it.
2David_Gerard10yAnd to make it stranger - cash register prices (food, etc.) in AUD have approximately doubled in the last ten years, the time in which the dollar has grown to twice the size. So in USD or GBP, stuff has gone up in price by about four - but it doesn't feel like 4x in Australia. We have a pile of first-world economies that are not in fact all that closely coupled, except when two countries both do similar stupid things, e.g. letting the financial sector run rampant.
6jsalvatier10yFWIW, the idea that "letting the financial sector run rampant" was the cause of the current recession is not uncontroversial. I and others think poor monetary policy is much more to blame.
0[anonymous]10yHere I was thinking those two factors were reasonably closely related.
0[anonymous]10yI agree. It's foolish not to "back" your money with paperclips held unredeemable in an impenetrable fortress.
-3David_Gerard10yYes, if only Australia didn't exist in the context of that question.
6jsalvatier10yMaybe this isn't the place for this discussion (I'd be happy to do it elsewhere), but I'm not clear on what you mean here. Are you claiming that Australia refutes the idea that poor monetary policy was a major contributor to the recent recession? In fact, many judge Australia's monetary policy to be better than average and to be responsible for their non-recession (for example [http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=3851]).
-6Petro10y

Given that I'm an American currently living (and working) in the Outback, well there's some flaws in your argument.

There is a lot of employment opportunities here (Alice) because LOTS of people leave after a couple years here. They do that for a reason.

There are basically two economic drivers in this area--tourism and The Base (I'm neither a gardener nor a cleaner, I'm a sprinkler head technician). The Base mostly brings in Americans with very high clearances to do gardening and cleaning, and spends a significant amount of money in Alice for related goods and services.

Tourism is largely due to it's proximity to Uluru/Ayers Rock, and, well, being the only sizable "city" for, well, Darwin is about 1500k north of here, and Adelaide 1500k south.

Alice is a town of about 26k residents. Small town. Very small.

EVERYTHING here, except (oddly enough) pecans, is more expensive than I was paying back in St. Louis MO.

Gas is something like 1.30 a liter. A case of Strongbow is ~50 AUD. A 700ml of Makers Mark is about 40 AUD. Some of the costs are hard to map because GST is 10% and included you don't notice it, you just see it's more expensive, so you really have to keep that in mi... (read more)

4Hul-Gil10ySo if I obtain high security clearances (how?), and have experience as a gardener or janitor or some such job... I can clear $100K/year by working at U.S. bases in Afghanistan?!
2lukeprog10yGreat details, thanks.
1Psy-Kosh9yHey, are you still in Alice?

I honestly think that this is a very good reality check. I don't think that most people should do it, as I think that there are many better options in the US, but I definitely think that anyone who doesn't feel that they have better options than the one Louie is describing, for instance, anyone who thinks that they are trying to make money but doesn't find that they can save $20K in a year, really should do it or ask themselves some serious questions about why they don't.

I don't expect anyone to do this, because I think people including people here have almost no tendency to actually act in ways that are theoretically more rational. I hope that rather than confabulating reasons whey they don't though, people reading this can at least acknowledge the size of the gulf between their actual motivational structure and their story about it.

9shokwave10yAnything that will subsidise or cover your living costs while paying you a non-paltry wage (so something like the Army, or oil-rigs, or work in a remote area - surveying?) should be on the same order of magnitude as this idea. And it may be easier to get such a job in America rather than moving to Australia. Truthful over basically every non-trivial situation I can think of. Once EY's book is published this website should focus more heavily on instrumental rationality. Developing at least sequence-quality posts on that topic would be valuable.

You're not writing my book, so why not start posting on it now? (As indeed many are already doing.)

6shokwave10yGood point. I was thinking of the book as being a capstone or some end-of-the-road marker on the subject of epistemic rationality - like once it was published, LW could say "that's that" and focus on something else. In retrospect, that is trying to make the world look like a story.
6Louie10yI suggest easy, low-stress occupations like working at resorts because high-stress reduces cognitive performance... and many Less Wrongers want to do research or other intellectual pursuits when they aren't working. For this reason, I think joining the Army or working on an oil rig is an inferior choice.
3datadataeverywhere10yJoining an army, particularly the US Army, risks a very stressful situation, but I don't think there's much stress unless one gets deployed. All of my friends in the military have commented on how boring their days are when home, and most "work" (required gym time, inspections) only a few hours a day. On the other hand, I don't think joining the Army is quite as general as your proposal anyway. Unlike hotels in Australia, the Army is suspicious of overqualification and is unlikely to let you in unless you are applying to an officer candidate school. They also don't let one quit quite so easily!
3Kevin10yThere's almost no reason to join the military for compared to getting paid 3x as much as a major metropolitan police officer.
0datadataeverywhere10yI wasn't actually suggesting it! Regardless, I would be really surprised if police officers get to take home three times as much. A $20k salary is pretty small, but given a $12k housing allowance and a $3,500 food allowance plus special tax breaks and deals on everything from meals to airfare, I doubt many first-year police officers are that much better off. If there wasn't a possibility of getting deployed into a war zone, I think it might be an unreasonable choice. Soldiers really don't have to do much, whereas most police officers seem overworked. Socially, I think people have a greater aversion to police officers and more praise for soldiers, though both sentiments apply to both groups. However, the prospect of deployment entirely shifts the balance to finding domestic employ.
1Petro10yPolice officers in larger cities make decent scratch to start with (IIRC 60k in some areas of California), and then have significant opportunities for overtime and "moonlighting" as security. In some cases there are Bay Area police making over 120k a year. And as far as "soldiers really don't have to do much". Yeah, I don't wanna get banned here, so let's just say you have no idea of what you're talking about.
3datadataeverywhere10yGiven cost of living adjustments, this is still nowhere near three times as much as soldiers start making. I haven't the faintest idea why you'd get banned for correcting me. I'd be happy to have you give me greater clarity. Here's where what I said comes from: I have a (half) brother and two good friends in the US Army; I of course have several other acquaintances in the Army through them. They report "not having to do anything", and have talked about just hanging out all day on base. One friend is a medic; he works out for three hours a day, mans a medical station (where he reads, since people rarely come in) for another three hours a day, and then goes home. My brother maintains equipment, and I gather has a similarly uneventful schedule; I don't know about my other friend, but he has lots of time on his hands and is usually bored and never stressed about work. My SO's brother-in-law is a newer recruit, and currently deployed; he didn't have nearly as much free time prior to his deployment, but he was in training constantly prior to that. Please note, I'm not talking about danger and fighting! I was talking about a counterfactual world where soldiers are never deployed. This is not our world, and I thought I made it clear that this changes everything! All three men that I'm talking about, and most of their friends have been been deployed for several tours of duty. None of them have significant physical injuries, but all bear serious psychological damage. It's broken their families and torn apart their lives. Each of them knows more people who have committed suicide than I hope to ever know. This is not okay, and not something I recommend as a "low stress" position.
1Michael_Sullivan10yYou have to be careful with counterfactuals, as they have a tendency to be counter factual. In a world in which soldiers were never (or even just very very rarely) deployed, what is the likelihood that they would be paid (between money and much of living expenses) anywhere near as well as current soldiers and yet asked to do very very little? The reason the lives of soldiers who are not deployed are extremely low-stress and not particularly difficult is because of deployment. They are being healed from previous deployments and readied for future deployments. In the current environment where soldiers are being deployed for much longer periods with much shorter dwell times, it's very likely that the services are doing everything they can to make the dwell time as low-stress as possible. 3 hours at the gym and 3 hours doing a relatively low-stress job in your field sounds like what a lot of people I know who are "retired" do. It sounds like a schedule designed to make your life as easy as possible while still keeping you healthy and alert, rather than falling into depression. In a counter factual world where the army was almost never deployed, they would surely be used for some other purpose on a regular basis, police/rescue/disaster relief/etc. or simply be much much smaller, with pay not needing to be as competitive. We've even experienced this to an extent -- during peaceful times, the active duty military shrinks dramatically, and most of our army is in a reserve or national guard capacity, where they have day jobs, and do not get full time pay from the army unless they are called up to active service. This is still to most accounts a pretty good gig (especially if you use it to get free college tuition) even though it can't replace full time work -- as long as you don't get called up. In fact, I think that's what some of the people my age that I know in the service were expecting when they joined in peacetime. Very rare callups for crucial work they felt obli
1datadataeverywhere10yI agree that this scenario is pretty unlikely; it seems at least possible if there was a high-level policy change that hadn't caught up to military funding and structure, but made active troop deployment very unlikely. Your second to last paragraph disagrees with this; does the US military really shrink that much when we have fewer wars going on? China seems much more the model of a country with a large military that rarely is deployed, and they do seem to match your description; lots of manual labor, disaster relief, building infrastructure, etc., with less competitive pay. I agree that this is the natural balance for a country that's not engaging in wars on a regular basis. This might not have been true, and probably won't be true even once we get back to peace time, but if it was, it seems like a pretty good reason to join, and follows the OPs intention. Still not my recommendation!
2MichaelVassar10yI think Bay Area police get over $120k/year fairly quickly and reliably. Like soldier's there's retirement at near fully pay after 20 years, plus full benefits to begin with. Unlike soldiers there's also overtime. Move up the career ladder quickly and work 60-70 hr weeks and it looks like LA cops can make over $300K after a decade's experience by getting up to captain or commander (and advancement is largely IQ based with a typical incoming cop at IQ 100), then retire with over $200K of income after another decade. http://www.joinlapd.com/career_ladder.html [http://www.joinlapd.com/career_ladder.html]I don't have equivalent data for SF on hand, but I think the average in the Bay Area is 6 figures without overtime and without counting benefits.
0shokwave10ySame, but I couldn't come up with any low-stress jobs in America that would subsidise your living costs.
6Psy-Kosh10yHuh. Actually, reading through this I'm actually considering it. Will need to research it a bit more, but it's definitely something for me to look at. Though I am concerned about what knb noted [http://lesswrong.com/lw/43m/optimal_employment/3fwz] re tax laws and such. (There is also, as far as longer term concerns, the issue of "distance to nearest cryo group"/"how quickly they can get to you if needed before it's too late")
0taryneast4yI'm coming in late to this discussion but... The nearest cryo group will be located in South East Australia... if you have a medical emergency, you'll be evacced to Adelaide - which isn't that far away.
6[anonymous]10yWhat, for example?
9MichaelVassar10yPolice or fire fighter in the San Francisco Bay Area is a low barrier to entry high salary high status job and not very dangerous. I think small retail is an even better deal than that. Terribly run stores in SF stay in business and well run ones prosper ridiculously. Many LW readers are coders who could be Google quality if they worked at it a bit, though the outback might be a good place to get practice without distractions. PUA enthusiasts can obviously make money selling instruction in Game, and should be able to make money in sales in general.
7John_Maxwell10yGiven that being a good software developer is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the internet [http://www.cafepress.com/+good_programmer_shirt,268252639], whenever possible one should make programming a social activity so one has a social obligation to code. But traveling to a different part of the world to work on something specific sounds like an experiment worth trying. I'm adding it to my list.
5MBlume10yThanks for that. Getting back to work now.
5Will_Newsome10yYou mean buying an existing business and running it better or starting a new business entirely? Either way, can 70th percentile instrumental rationalist LW folk realistically raise that kind of capital?
2MichaelVassar10yEither and 'yep, if they tried at all'. I'll be happy to talk in some detail with people who are actually serious about doing so.
0Kevin10yAlmost definitely yes if they are old enough to have very good credit and are willing to take on the capital as a personally guaranteed loan. You typically don't get startup type investments (where you aren't personally responsible for losses) for starting or buying a small business.
2jacob_cannell10yI'm curious about this one (PUA-instructor) - it seems to be a limited niche (as a specialized personal training service), it's already colonized by early adopters, and it requires artfully developed social skills. But sales - yeah.
3knb10ySomething pretty similar to Louie's suggestion is working on cruise ships. There is a degree of premium pay because you have to be away from home for so long. And of course they provide you with meals and room and board by necessity.
1gwern9yI've only take one cruise in my life (2 or 3 years ago), but I actually got the impression that things were quite the opposite for a lot of cruise ship roles. The cleaning staff seemed to work hard and continually, and our assigned waiter worked his butt off amusing us and serving us, doing a remarkable job (everyone loved him) - as did all the other waiters. The acting troupe on board seemed pretty good to me as they put on multiple complex shows, and so on and so forth. And where I could tell, the workers were quite international, suggesting fierce and widespread competition.
5Psy-Kosh9yWell, as far as expecting anyone to do it or not, I just submitted my visa application.
0gwern9yWhat do you plan to work at in Australia?
2Psy-Kosh9yA couple possibilities (I'm not yet fully decided). May do at least part of the time what the OP (Louie) did. At least part of the time will be staying with a friend in Adelaide (so, even though not explicitly heavily subsidized housing costs, the housing costs will be shared/divided) so depending what work was available there nearby at the time, that would affect things. Possibly some of the time doing harvest work/grape vine training/etc. (the grape vine training thing was actually suggested by my friend). But I had to submit the visa application right away because in october I hit the age cutoff.
0taryneast4ySo... how did this go? (Note: for all I know I've met you in person... I'm not good with names/pseudonym matching) :D

I'd like to raise a "dark arts" objection here. This article is written with a lot of presuppositions, strawman attacks, appeals to character, and other interpersonal but non-rational attempts to convince social humans.

For example, the article leads with "You're young, smart, and hoping to have a positive impact on the world." While that may be true of the majority of less wrong readers, the article does not discuss why these qualities are relevant. In fact, the article suggests ways to have less impact on the world - working through a service position - than other careers (such as existential risk reduction). This leads me to believe that this opening line is nothing more than a compliment intended to endear the reader.

The following wording reads like a sales pitch and is highly suspect: "And it is possible to find easily obtained, low-stress jobs with flexible hours that allow you to save as much money as someone in the USA making $100,000/yr... if you leave the USA to look for them."

A classic promise - easy money, with a small catch. Can you rewrite this is as a description of the work you personally experienced, rather than an ambiguous promise?

You... (read more)

For example, the article leads with "You're young, smart, and hoping to have a positive impact on the world."

Writing in a conversational tone attempting to empathize, establish rapport and maintain interest. That barely even qualifies as grey arts. It is more 'not pretending to be a Vulcan so as to prevent dark arts accusation".

I'm not advocating everything in the original post - it is a good post but far from perfect. But this objection was an (ironic) abuse of the 'dark arts' label and something that I would wish to discourage.

This doesn't pattern-match to a sales-pitch at all. What does Louie stand to gain by you following his advice?

As your post stands, you make six whole paragraphs out of cherry-picked quotes and "this sounds persuasive". Most egregious of all is your conclusion:

There are many ways to optimize one's income and savings rates.

As if this is somehow a point against Louie!

7nuckingfutz10ySelf promotion is a form of sales. Had this been posted directly on Tim Ferriss's blog, I'd have not noticed a difference in writing style.
0shokwave10yHow is this self-promotion? Louie makes the argument generally, and then provides a specific example he has on hand (himself), but I'm going to need more evidence than an accusation to believe the purpose of this post was to self-promote.
7Kevin10yWhy is your way better than Louie's way? It's tone, the writerly voice, which is quite individual. Persuasive writing is in no way automatically dark arts. Though I did tell Louie that this post needed more entertaining anecdotes.
3sakana10yWould you care to elaborate on your personal example? You said what you earned, but not how you did it..
9nuckingfutz10yI went to an ivy league college, learned an economically scarce skill (IT security), found contract positions that paid a high hourly wage with no clause to continue the work. I was otherwise frugal. I am not conventionally attractive or charismatic. Louie is. He will find it easier to find work as a bartender without a resume or reference than I will.
0Andi9yAssuming 25% in taxes, you lived on 1562.50 a month- including rent, food, utilities, and other luxuries. That is not including taking out SS or health care costs and months of vacation. Where, sir, do you live?!? A one-bedroom where I live and transport 1 hour into work is 1200 a month with utilities adding around 150... that is not even including food, gas, car insurance, rent insurance (or home), plus health care. If I could live somewhere that 1550 or so took care of all of that....
1thomblake9yAt one point I was living on a bit over $100 a week, in New Haven, CT. The apartment was huge - we paid around $900 a month and split it 4 ways, but we could have fit more people (it was a 4-bedroom, but we were usually couples and used 2 of the bedrooms as extra living space). I took the bus to work for about $35 a month, had to pay part of the electric bill, and the rest went to food and sundries. I relied on cheap staples like rice and tried not to use too much soap at a time.

I think a large contingent on LW would be more interested in what an optimal employment scenario looks like after graduating with a high-value degree. I know I am.

[-][anonymous]10y 22
  • Step 0: Get a high-value degree.
  • Step 1: Get a high-paying job with your high-value degree.
  • Step 2: Save a lot of money. Invest intelligently, but mostly save truckloads of money.
  • Step 3. Profit!

Most people fail at Steps 0 or 2. I think Step 1's the easiest, although in another comment my friend Luke explained an innovative way to fail at it.

Warning: the rest of this comment contains hard numbers. If you're averse to hearing/sharing financial data, stop reading now.

"High-paying" doesn't have to be zillions of dollars, although that would help. I graduated with self-taught C++, a bachelor's degree in computer science, and an accepted job offer. I'm now 27 years old and I've been working for 6.5 years. My income has increased from 74k to 112k. (I'm very lucky - this is more than my father ever made after 25 years of continuous employment.)

I achieved Steps 0 and 1 by luck (I never thought about becoming a programmer before I went to college, and until I was hired I was planning on going to grad school). Step 2, I think, requires the most rationality.

The income effect is your enemy: the more you make, the more you're likely to spend. In my amateur opinion, this has two mai... (read more)

this is my current plan, and I think the step 2 has a variety of methods to it that people fail to use.

  1. acknowledging the treamill that causes you to increase your spending, but hacking it via staying 1-2 raises behind in your living standards.
  2. not moving into higher income areas just because you can, where you will be a small fish in a big pond and exacerbate 1.
  3. focusing on relative (zero-sum) signals of success instead of on having good experiences.
  4. erroneously assuming you will always be able to make at least as much money as you currently do.
  5. not taking direct/real satisfaction in having a large cushion. This can be accomplished by thinking about how many years you can get by without needing to work on your current cushion. This is easier for entrepreneurial types as it is also "how much time I can spend working on my own projects if I find a business opportunity/co-founder".
  6. not setting up systems of investment where you don't even see portions of your income and/or not taking advantage of tax advantaged or employer contribution programs (roth IRA, 401k, etc)
  7. not contributing to SENS :p (many years of mental alertness > few years of mental alertness)

If anyone has anything to add to this list please comment.

5Prismattic9yAt least in the US, the biggest reason for moving into a higher-income area is because the quality of public schools tends to track the median income ( and schools are funded mainly through local property taxes). If you are already taking --step 0. Do not have children--, then that can probably save you more money than several of these other steps combined. But it's not really helpful advice for the people that do decide to have children.
0patrissimo10yStep 0: Get a time machine Step 1: Go back in time and tell yourself not to waste time on a degree, but to go invent Google or Facebook or something useful Step 2: Profit!
4TheOtherDave10yOr perhaps: Step 1: Go back in time, etc. Step 2: Profit! Step 3: Build a time machine and go back to before step 1 and give it to yourself.

we'll call the remaining portion of your income - 4.2% - your discretionary income. 4.2% of $100,000 is $4,200.

You optimized spending in the Australia option, but didn't in USA option. Instead, you used typical spending, which is misleading. I wonder how much less one can spend if that is set as a goal, and if you take into account the apparent single/no kids/lives in apartment assumptions of the Australia option.

Short explanation:

This is not me being misleading in how I present data. I'm presenting what happens by default in both options, not one optimized and one non-optimized option. What you discovered here is that, the plan to save money in the outback is robust and succeeds by default, while the plan to save money in the US is fragile and fails by default.

The longer explanation:

The Australian outback option isn't optimized. It's an off-the-shelf option that is heavily subsidized and in a bizarrely awesome economic climate... something I don't think many people here knew existed.

I think it's fair to compare a typical US job to a typical outback job because this is what you get when you don't put much effort into optimizing your budget in both cases.

The difference is that the outback is already incredible without you having to do anything.

It's actually pretty unfair to compare an outback working budget to the best-case US scenario where you spend tons of time in the US managing your money well to get the cheapest rent, best car prices, lowest food costs, and execute convoluted tax dodging strategies that most people couldn't figure out. It's a very tricky plan that requires lots of thi... (read more)

What you discovered here is that, the plan to save money in the outback is robust and succeeds by default, while the plan to save money in the US is fragile and fails by default.

But as you noted above, there is a lot of resistance by default to exercising the Australia option. So the Australia plan fails by default too.

Once you've opened the door to considering those rare Americans who might decide to uproot and move to unfamiliar lands across the globe, you might also consider those rare Americans who can manage their money and don't consistently make irrational decisions. In the context of here, I wouldn't doubt they're the same people.

7Louie10yHere's a more abstract analogy: Imagine a hypothetical world. Every night, when you fall asleep, you experience the same horrible nightmare. As you sleep, you're approached by different sets of con-men and con-women who do whatever they can to rob you and steal everything you have. This happens every single night. The twist is, the money you're carrying on your semi-conscious, disoriented dream-projected self is actually your real money from your real bank account in your real waking life! Different people carry different amounts on them but most have somewhere between 1/300 to 1/400 of their yearly income on them. To cope with these nightly robberies, most people in nightmare-land ignore their situation. With the small part of their mind that allows them to acknowledge what's happening, they mostly hope that one day they can earn enough money to stop the constant robberies from taking everything they have... not realizing that because they're ignoring the problem completely, the money is actually a fraction of their income and the solution of earning more money will never help them. But the more adept people in this world learn advanced lucid nightmaring techniques. They spend large chunks of their day preparing themselves for their nightmares so they'll remember how not to get robbed. It takes constant vigilance and is incredibly stressful, but it works more and more often over time. These people are still robbed occasionally, but mostly get by with only partial robberies instead of losing everything like their peers. But one day after a couple dozen years, you're offered a chance to leave nightmare land and live in "dreamland" where there are no nightmares. The only catch is that in dreamland, people earn 50% lower nominal salaries. Hmm... if you think you're especially good at navigating nightmares, perhaps you could continue using your nightmaring skills rather than leave? But why would you? Dreamland sounds so much better. Having these nightmares sucks e

Don't burn out, Louie. This is Less Wrong, of course there's going to be some pretty intense criticism. It's only worth getting angry if you think you're right but your posts/comments are negative on net.

It seems to me more like folks are pointing out that things aren't all that nightmarish in actuality, and your analysis to show otherwise is flawed. If you would rather make fun than improve your analysis, there are other places on the Internet where that sort of thing is more welcome.

5Vladimir_Nesov10yI might even agree with your conclusion, but would point out serious issues with quality of your arguments regardless. Off-the-shelf property, for example, is a good argument for taking it (if no downsides are present for your case) instead of trying to devise a more complicated or less apparent-at-the-moment plan, but not for the absence of alternative off-the-shelf solutions. Instrumental vs. epistemic rationality.
6gwern10yEvery plan has the problem that if you don't execute it, it fails. In this respect, the two are exactly equal. (And in degree, they may not be too far apart - given all one would have to do to carry out the American plan.)

"the plan that lets you save money in the US is a life-engulfing minefield of time-consuming bargin-hunting, self-denial, and tax evasion."

I work as a software developer in the US, have never made a 'budget' for myself or tried to analyze my finaces before now, I pay taxes normally, eat out often, and have no trouble saving lots of money. I'm going to substitute my expenses and pretend I only make 100k and see how much I'd still be able to save (living in Seattle).

Rent: 16.8k instead of 23.2k Utilities: 2k instead of 7k (how can you spend 7k on utilities if you're a single person in an apartment?) Misc house expenses: 0.5k instead of 6.8k (what are these misc expenses that other people supposedly spend so much on?) Food: The estimate of 13.3k is reasonable for food, although it's easy to spend a lot less without hardship. Transportation: 4.6k instead of 16.5k (who spends 16.5k per year on transportation? Just don't buy a new BMW every 5 years and you should be set. I bought my car for $9k, 5 years ago).

Apparently it's pretty easy live well in a large US city and save 33.9k per year without really paying attention to your finances. If you're a good software developer you should be able to make a lot more than 100k and therefore save much more per year.

0taryneast4yI spent $5800 on utilities last year... it happens when you live in an area that simultaneously gets below freezing point (and thus you need to spend on heating) and also gets above comfortable living point (and thus you need to spend on fans or air-con). I'm pretty reasonably frugal on both... I don't set the aircon super low, I don't set the heating on high... but utilities are pricey. I also count "internet" as a utility. When I lived in a warmer climate I spent $2800 "Misc house expenses" include things like fixing a broken toilet... or other general repairs. If you're renting you may not have to pay that. Or maybe you do if your landlord is dodgy. I spent around $8K on "transport" - which includes car payments (I bought a new but small hatchback 3 years ago = $22k), fuel, insurance, repairs, servicing and parking costs. I can well imagine that a family with more than one person (and thus more than one car) easily pays twice as much as me.

Spending less than 37% on housing doesn't require

tons of time in the US managing your money well

It requires you make a correct decision once a year or so about renewing the lease. The reason people have little discretionary income is that they habitually commit themselves to spending plans such as five years of a car payment - but that spending plan itself is a choice.

9Psychohistorian10yYou may have an excellent point about the costs/benefits of your perception of working in the US. I don't think you have much of a point about actually working in the US, and that's what all these comments are getting at. Even at much lower salaries, it isn't that hard to save a lot of money if you care to. (I'll throw in my own data point: my last serious job before law school gave me about 50k a year in disposable income, working 20 hours a week.) While I'm at it, "time consuming bargain hunting, self-denial, and tax evasion" are all rather prominent parts of your own plan. You're moving across the globe to find cheap living. You're living in the middle of nowhere, with undoubtedly limited access to goods and services. And you're evading paying US taxes (or maybe you actually have to pay them on your return; I don't know). Plus, you're working in a job that has no real benefit for your future career, away from friends and family. I laud the suggestion for people to do something different and potentially lucrative, but methinks you're weighing options on less-than-accurate scales here.
3Vladimir_Nesov10yOpaque potential for devising a plan might look worse in comparison to a specific worked-out plan. But unless you seriously think for enough time about that potential direction for developing new plans, and don't come up with any simple plans, you can't declare your own plan's superiority over the other potential plans. And the argument for this difficulty must reference such effort and rationality of its conduct, ideally should describe the reasoning process that comes to a failure in every considered class of options. You can perhaps point out a particular plan's superiority over the painful process of trying to come up with an alternative plan, so that if the plan is clearly an improvement over status quo you should just take it and skip the thinking-about-alternatives part. This is a good reason, if you don't expect to be able to come up with a sufficiently better alternative plan whose superiority compensates for the effort spent of devising it, but then again your argument should refer to this fact, and not just to status quo. In short, your post is useful, since it gives a constructive lower bound on how good you can do, but your argumentation for it being the thing to do is lacking.
3Vaniver10yStrongly disagree. Or, at least, it doesn't seem to apply to the people you're marketing this plan to. I won't go through my expenses, but let's just say that I'm saving money on a grad student's salary, and don't project my annual expenses doing anything more than doubling for the foreseeable future. Except for taxes, pretty much any salary increases for me will go straight to wealth accumulation.
1loqi10y...how frequently?
0Vaniver10yIn real terms? Once. I'm not going to speculate on inflation. There are, of course, plausible scenarios in which my expenses increase much further, but they have a pretty low probability at present.
2shokwave10yNote that spending on housing and such is optimised because of subsidization. Most Australians will be spending similarly to the American option.

One other question-- if this opportunity is so good, why did you stop doing it?

5mhsiah10yBeing Australian, I can only relay what I've heard from foreigners that I've met in Australia. With that proviso, I believe that the working holiday visa that Louie was talking about is valid for a maximum of one year, non-renewable. Staying after the term of the visa would require either (i) getting officially sponsored by an Australian company or (ii) marrying an Australian. Even in those two cases, you're likely to be forced to return to your home country to apply for the new visa.
0Bluehawk8yAs an Australian with an American partner: Australia has slightly different rules about relationships than the U.S. does. Getting married is one way to do it, but if you and your partner live together in an exclusive relationship for the span of a year or two you can be recognised with "de facto" status. It's a legal step between "single" and "married", and it's another legal basis on which you can apply for a longer-term visa in Australia and CAN be done from within Australia. It is, however, just as expensive to travel back to the U.S. and apply for the de facto visa from there (Flights + ~$2k), as it is to apply for the de facto visa from within Australia (~$3k). And of course you need to be able to show that you've been in that relationship for a year or more, and that the relationship is both long-term and stable, which is out of the question for most Work/Holiday visa holders. The de facto visa also gives you the right to live, work and study in Australia for two years, after which if the de facto relationship is still stable, exclusive, etc. you're then eligible for permanent residency.
2wedrifid8yWell damn. That's inconvenient. How about "still stable, exclusive and any time we have sex with others it is because we are Bad People and cheating"? ie. It would be a shame if polyamorous people in stable primary relationships were penalized for using different moral vocabulary.
1private_messaging8yWell, they aren't exactly going to be checking who you have sex with. I'd guess the exclusive clause is to prevent one person from inviting several in such a manner. That being said, migration law is absolutely despicable in general; i can understand the pragmatic point of operating the developed countries as a rich gated community to keep the proles away, but that doesn't explain why US/Australia/EU migration would need to be encumbered.
2Kawoomba8yI'm not exactly up to date on these things, but don't you need a conviction to be sent to Australia?
0matt10yThere are self-sponsored skilled migrant visas available (which cost more, require more official qualifications, and take longer to process). At least some don't require you to leave the country. (In passing: these visas are several kinds of wrong. My government spends time and money trying to keep clever people out of my country, and requires me to spend time and money to get employees in.)
[-][anonymous]10y 16

Upvoted. This is really interesting.

I'd very likely not do this myself, though. I've noticed there are two kinds of attitudes toward jobs (and I've seen rationalists of both stripes). Some people really want their career to be an extension of their interests and identity and perhaps their prestige: "I'm a scientist," "I'm an artist," "I'm a programmer," "I'm a doctor," "I'm a teacher," etc. They wouldn't want to make the same money in less time by a different route, they want to work in that particular field.

Some people, on the other hand, basically see their job as a source of income, which they can use to pursue their interests elsewhere. They're optimizing for money and free time, which means they look at a much wider range of money-making possibilities. (The most extreme example would be The 4-Hour Workweek, in which the money comes from a passive income stream, not a "career" at all.)

Your advice is geared more to people in the second category. I'm in the first. That doesn't mean it's not good advice -- if you want money and free time to pursue an interest, then hospitality jobs in the outback sound like a great idea, given your evidence.

I'm curious, though -- does anyone think that one attitude is better than the other? Or is it just a matter of individual preference? Job-as-income-stream, or career-as-personal-identity?

8Louie10yI'm glad you brought this up. I actually anticipated this question and wrote up a responses in an earlier draft of this article but it didn't end up making the final cut because it's more my intuitive opinion rather than a well-established fact.
4[anonymous]10yPersonally, I'm still hoping to create economic value from new ideas. If that doesn't work, of course I'll need money, and I'll try to remember to be flexible.
1nuckingfutz10yYou haven't addressed the main issue: I prefer to work on things that interest me intellectually. This is worth more to me than any wage. Service labor does not interest me. How does this economic disparity aid a rationalist who has desires other than money?
1datadataeverywhere10yI think his reply actually does address this, claiming that maximizing the interesting things you can do intellectually is best achieved by making a lot of money in a simple and not time-consuming or stressful way, and using the rest of your time to do those other things. I think this claim might even be valid for some people, but for me (and possibly you) it isn't. See my other post [http://lesswrong.com/lw/43m/optimal_employment/3g0a]. If neither of those considerations apply, then part-time service labor might actually be the best way to work on things that interest you intellectually.
7Mycroft6553610yI've always been interested in why personal identity was tied up in a career. If you self identified as a mathematician, why couldn't you earn more money being a bartender in Australia while spending your free time doing math and participating in the mathematical community? I know "scientists", "artists", and "teachers" who identify as such and make their money doing other things. At the extreme end, if you identify as a teacher why not spend 15 hours a week making a very high income doing XYZ and maybe 35 hours a week volunteering/working for low wages at a tutoring center? You're undeniably a teacher, and you likely have more disposable income.
[-][anonymous]10y 12

The straightforward answer: you can do a lot more with an interest, and use social reinforcement to your advantage, if you're plugged into an institution. Trying to go it alone is a serious challenge: you're isolated, you'll have motivation problems, you'll have a higher probability of getting yourself into eccentric dead ends if you don't have guidance.

Also, a lot of people really care what others think of them. We seem to disapprove of that on LessWrong, but I don't see why it's any more selfish or venal to want approval than to want money.

5komponisto10yThe thinking presumably is that money can be donated to approved causes [http://lesswrong.com/lw/65/money_the_unit_of_caring/], and hence people here are allowed to not think of making money as "selfish". ...to which the reply is: approval (status) can be converted into money, and for some people, that may be the most efficient route given their motivation psychology.
4TheOtherDave10yStatus can also be "donated to" (that is, used in the service of) a cause.
3komponisto10ySo can time/labor, but... [http://lesswrong.com/lw/65/money_the_unit_of_caring/] .
1Pavitra10yAnd yet -- [http://lesswrong.com/lw/wj/is_that_your_true_rejection/]
4komponisto10ySure, for the right sort of people, a direct donation of status can be effective (maybe even optimally so), just like there are some people who should actually work at SIAI. Probably not the case for typical academic high-status, however. Perhaps the endorsement of Andrew Wiles or Stephen Hawking would be worth more than either of them could actually afford to donate; but your typical leader-of-a-subfield would probably be more effective by donating money from their atypically-high academic salary. Also note that the status of people like Thiel and Kurzweil is itself intimately connected to the money they've made.
2wedrifid10yThat wouldn't have been my observation.
[-][anonymous]10y 12

If you self identified as a mathematician, why couldn't you earn more money being a bartender in Australia while spending your free time doing math and participating in the mathematical community?

I do self-identify as a mathematician. I've worked abroad as well, and the amount of math I was able to do while working full-time abroad was a very small fraction of what I've been able to do while employed as a graduate student. Maybe I didn't have enough discipline, but I was usually exhausted at the end of a day and needed the weekends to recharge.

Unless you already have credentials (by which time you're probably past 30 or getting there, and not eligible for the OP's advice) participating in the mathematical community is more difficult, because the world is full of crackpots cold e-mailing their proofs of the Riemann Hypothesis.

As annoying as the lost income from being a graduate student in the United States is, I wouldn't give it up for my proximity to the second or third-tier mathematicians of our generation.

9Matt_Simpson10yI think this applies more generally to any intellectual output. There are people who can be intellectually productive even when they have a near full time day job. I'm not one of those people. Academia or a research position it is for me.
8datadataeverywhere10yI suspect most people don't have the self-discipline for it; being "forced" to do something almost every day is a good way for most people to ensure they work on something that has high barriers to productivity (most difficult pursuits), even if they really enjoy it. Possibly even more importantly, individuals almost never have access to the infrastructure and support systems they need to do really interesting things[1]. How should one go about advancing genetics without a lab? Even a small university didn't really have the resources I felt I needed to do some of my research, but at my lab they're not even costly (to me or the lab) to procure. Access to petabyte data sets? Petaflop computers? The marginal cost of granting an additional person access is minimal, but I don't know of any institutions that grant such access to local bartenders. [1] Art can mostly be excluded, but not entirely, since some great art is still really expensive to produce.
3benelliott10yThis is a really interesting point that I had completely failed to consider. I'm not in a position to be looking for full time employment yet but I will keep this in mind. Thank-you.
1TobyBartels10yI identify as a teacher and a mathematician, but I only get paid as a teacher. I'm sure that I do less research than if I were paid as a researcher (for reasons of akrasia if nothing else), but I do enough to sustain my personal sense of identity. (I do it here [http://ncatlab.org/nlab/], if anybody cares. If I were a little more organised and active, I'd do it here [http://arxiv.org/] too. Mathematics journals are no longer used to disseminate information, but only to advance careers, so I have no need of them, although some yet further effort in that direction could get me published too if it mattered to my sense of prestige.) On the other hand, I'd like to shift more out of teaching in classrooms into tutoring individuals, which is even more fulfilling. (It's arguably less efficient, although given how the normal college curriculum is designed, at least here in the U.S., I don't really believe that. People in classrooms are mostly studying what they do not want to learn and what will be of no use to them except in the next class, and I'm starting to feel a little dirty working in this industry. Tutoring does not entirely solve that problem, but at least the students are interested at the moment that I interact with them.) But tutoring doesn't pay nearly as well as classroom teaching, and my budget is thin as it is. So although (for personal reasons) I'm very unlikely to move to Australia (eta: plus I'm over 30), I read all of this discussion with interest.
2shokwave10yIn Australia, this is not entirely the case. Teachers are not well-paid, and tutoring is fairly lucrative in suburban/urban areas. I am rough on the exact details but a tutor doing ~25 hours a week could probably earn more than a teacher.
1Blueberry10yThis is also true in the US.
0taryneast10yWhile you're no longer eligible for a working-holiday visa... it's still possible to get sponsorship-visas when you're over 30. It's often easier to get these if you're willing to work in Regional employment [http://www.immi.gov.au/skilled/regional-employment/] (eg Alice Springs), and education is often one of the wanted skills. Not saying you'll walk into a job - but don't dismiss it out of hand. :)
1TobyBartels10yLink fixed: Regional employment [http://www.immi.gov.au/skilled/regional-employment/]
0taryneast10yFixed. Thanks :)
6gwern10yI think there's an argument to be made that the first attitude (personal identity) is instrumentally superior (even as it may well be epistemically inferior). Someone whose identity is wrapped up in their job may work far harder at their job and so eventually gain greater skills or produce better work in their chosen profession than the person who strives for the same results but as a hobby and works in another field. It's hard to have two masters. For example, think about rock stars or pro sports. Objectively, epistemically, these are absolutely lousy careers. Tiny chance of success and even the mega-hits don't do so well. Not to mention all the issues like dying prematurely, which seem to be intrinsic to the careers. (See the recent New Yorker about NFL cutting a few decades off its players' lifespans, or look at probably the wealthiest musician ever - Michael Jackson.) But if you believed this, you're never going to become a rock star. A would-be rationalist rock star is like the two-boxing decision theorist faced with Newcomb's Problem. 'Oh, if only I could brainwash myself to take one box! Then I would be much wealthier.' Or so the argument would go.

One thing Americans considering foreign employment may want to understand is that Americans overseas still have to pay US taxes.

Also, there is some misleading accounting here, as others have pointed out. For example, Louie assumes someone making $100,000 will pay 7% of their income ($7000) on utilities alone. Also, I imagine relatively few people pay more than $1900/month for rent. For example, a furnished luxury two-bedroom apartment in Greater Philadelphia (a relatively expensive market) can be had for less than $1900/month.

And of course, America has low-cost areas as well. My sister (she is a single day care worker) recently moved into a 3 bedroom town-home in a nice area of suburban Toledo, Ohio. She pays $600/month. She previously lived in a decent 1 bedroom for $350/month.

8gwern10yThe ~80k exemption [http://lesswrong.com/lw/43m/optimal_employment/3fxc] means that I don't think this is a big issue for the described job categories, which I suspect mostly fall in the 30-60k range.
3SilasBarta10yI'm hoping the policy is where the tax applies to money earned past that exemption, rather than applying to your full income if you pass it, which would have perverse incentives. In any case, if you got a job as a programmer or engineer, I would think that passing that threshold would be likely, at which point you would have a painful marginal tax rate, considering progressive taxes on both ends. I know, i know, "but who cares about you if you're making that much anyway?" Well, the fact that I can't spread it over a few years of non-work and go into a lower tax bracket, and I'm not guaranteed to continue to make that amount... (Btw, despite my criticisms, I am taking this idea seriously. I had previously investigated the implications of moving to Singapore, albeit for an engineering rather than service job, which I can't stand, even at a higher take-home pay.)
4gwern10ySeems to be the case; nothing in the links I looked at contradicted it, and one specifically said: http://internationalliving.com/2010/04/14-foreign-earned-income/ [http://internationalliving.com/2010/04/14-foreign-earned-income/]
0taryneast10yMy data is ageing, but from family experience, Singapore's housing-costs are extremely high. 15 years ago, rent at $2400 a month didn't get you running hot water. YMMV

I disagree and agree with some of the points above. But that's life right.

So my story is that I grew up in Sydney and now for the past 2 years have been working in the Bay Area (SF) as a Software Engineer. In a nutshell for a working professional USA is the place to be. Lifestyle, I will stick with Sydney.

Here's a quick snippet of what I found:

a. As a Software Engineer I make more $$$ here then in Sydney. Also the "fun" working conditions here rock and the talent you get to bump heads with is super.

b. Tax is lower by 2% for me and gets better when I claim jointly. If I have kids it gets better.

c. Living here is CHEAPER.

d. Food is cheaper. I buy fresh organic produce at farmers markets for the same price I would have in Woolies processed foods in Sydney. Thus I am more healthier and feel better. Plus so much more choice.

e. Petrol (Gas) is cheaper. Cheaper by 30% then in Sydney.

g. Cars also cheaper by 50%. You can get an E350 Merc for $60K vs. same one in Sydney for $125K.

f. Housing (rent) in Mountain View (heart of Silicon Valley) is identical to North Sydney (within 7km of city). Utilities are also cheaper by average of 50%.

g. Internet cheaper by 20-50% + unlimited data. Say what, unlimited. To an Aussie true unlimited is unheard of.

The rest of this Aussie's journey in the heart of Silicon Valley is documented here: http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/

~ Ernest

As an Australian living in Melbourne, I too would like to point out the job-ease here. I earn ~21 dollars an hour working at KFC. That said, now seriously considering a working holiday in central or western Australia.

2Kevin10yIs the $21/hour because you have been working there a while or in a supervisory role, is it a big city cost of living increase, or is there some need to incentivize people to work at KFC compared to actual minimum wage jobs?
1toner10yMany jobs, including almost all of those that people would do on a working holiday, have Award rates higher than the minimum wage. Effectively, in Australia the minimum wage depends on the job. $21 is probably the minimum allowed by whatever Award governs shokwave's employment, either the Fast Food Industry Award or KFC might have their own enterprise agreement. If anyone cares, the place to learn about this is here [http://www.fairwork.gov.au].
0lukeprog10yThanks for the link!
1shokwave10yIt's what they pay all 21 year old employees. I believe it is the minimum wage plus 25% (loading for casual/part-time, instead of sick leave and annual leave). I do know that it is determined by age - 20 year olds are paid something like 80 cents less an hour, and it goes down to something like 11 dollars an hour for 15 year olds. Truthfully, I only still have the job because I've been there a while - franchise fast food won't hire a 21 year old except for graveyard shifts - and because I am entering training as a manager. But neither the time I've worked there nor my impending training has changed what I get paid (just my continued opportunity to be paid it).
0taryneast10yYes... though I'd caution people that the hire-rate for those over the age of 21 is considerably reduced.

Questions:

1) What do you recommend in the scenario where one lands in Australia without a job lined up, and then (for whatever reason) cannot find an acceptable one? (This may be very unlikely, but having backup plans for emotionally salient crises is an important component of committing to major plans for certain types of decision makers.)

2) The website you linked for hospitality jobs is not working. Can you list some more examples of job types besides bartending and receptionist work? (In particular, I would find this possibility more appealing if there were jobs listed that didn't involve spending a lot of time on my lousy feet or using telephones.)

3) Is there any hidden pitfall associated with leaving partway through, either temporarily (home for Christmas) or permanently (don't like it there after and wanna go back)?

4) If you really, really like it there, is there a good way to stay?

5) Regarding subsidized room and board, I strongly value being able to cook for myself, which means I need to have, equip, stock, and find time to use a decent kitchen. Would this value collide with the perks you mention?

2Louie10y2) The website you linked for hospitality jobs is not working. Can you list some more examples of job types besides bartending and receptionist work? (In particular, I would find this possibility more appealing if there were jobs listed that didn't involve spending a lot of time on my lousy feet or using telephones.) What's not working about the link? It loads up for me. Perhaps you have a Bayesian ad filter installed that's blocking it because it's all job ads? Just so you know, there will be a lot more jobs on it in 2-3 months. This is probably the hardest month of the year to find a positon in the outback since the tourist season is at a low point and employers are keeping on only their best workers while not hiring new ones. As I search my mind, it seems like a lot of jobs in the remote parts of Australia actually would involve standing sometimes but you could probably find one that didn't. However, most of the jobs that I can think of which involve only sitting, involve sitting at a desk... where you would at least occasionally be answering a phone. If you can think of a job class that exists in the US which is normally too low-paying to consider doing but meets your other requirements, it's probably a good paying job in the Australian outback. You certainly don't have to stay a full year. No one will ask you to sign a long-term contract or expect you to work longer than you want. Because I had no experience and had to be trained, my employer asked me to stay for at least 6 weeks but that was their entire expectation. If you're good at your job and your boss likes you, you could leave and come back. Several co-workers of mine took month-long vacations occasionally and would then later came back to work their same job again. I couldn't imagine passing up the 3 chef-prepared meals per day. They were so good and and so convient. But when my co-workers didn't like a meal, they would go in the kitchen and make themselves something else. If you were flexible abo
1Alicorn10yThe one I had in mind was cashiering of some sort - I sold zoo tickets for a summer once, and sat down all day, generally taking only a handful of internal phone calls. Can you think of anything like that? (Also, you mention chefs, which traditionally involves standing but can often be done partially sitting if they let me have a chair in the kitchen - are those jobs as easy to get as the others you mention?)
1Louie10yThe chef is the highest paid staff position at most outback resorts and I would not expect you to get that job. Even places staffed entirely by foreign workers tend to hire a natural-born Australian citizen with decades of professional experience as their chef. To find other positions, I recommend you search online. Even though I might be the only American who's written about this, there are lots of Europeans that write about their own experiences in different jobs in Australia or even people who have written whole guides similar to mine (in theory). I didn't find one myself after searching awhile. Most guides I did find were out-of-date, had no details, or were transparent come-ons for selling me a service... but there must be some good writing about working in Australia somewhere online. If you find any, please share it with everyone here since at least a couple people are seriously considering doing this.
2shokwave10yFind someone who really really likes you and marry them? The bulk of easy permanent residency visas go to migrants with skills Australia has decided it needs more of; followed by refugee and humanitarian visas - if you have either of those going for you it should practically be a rubber-stamp residency application.
2erratio10yTo be more specific about the permanency residency visas, these days Australia is mostly looking for engineers, computer scientists, and the like. If you'd come last year you could have gotten in by being a hairdresser or chef. Oh and the marrying? I know it was intended partly as a joke, but the immigration people are very suspicious of people trying to claim residency that way. Be prepared to jump through lots of hoops to prove that it's not a scam to be allowed to stay in the country.
0shokwave10yDo note that being an American (fellow first-worlder) and having already been in the country for some time won't set off as many alarm bells as the typical case. But yes, an obvious sham marriage wouldn't work. I would expect that a rationalist would be more than capable of deceiving the officials in this case.
0taryneast10yYou can not automatically get a work-visa through marriage. There are options available for family of an Australian resident, but you still have to apply, and there are caps in place. Read more on the immigration website [http://www.immi.gov.au/migrants/family/] However - there are options to extend your holiday-visa for a second year, at which point you can then apply for sponsored work-visa, after which you've been around long enough to apply for residency. Again - the above website covers the gamut of what you can do. I suggest more research there :)
1Kevin10y1) I've heard that if you go the US Embassy and beg you can get a free flight back.
0taryneast10yDo you have any data to back up that claim? :)

Q: Won’t working in Australia prevent me from gaining experience in my narrow professional sub-field, thus reducing my total lifetime earning power?

A: This is almost certainly not the case for anyone under 30. Companies pay professionals more based on their abilities and their age as opposed to their actual years of experience. And, they pay more for older professionals than young ones just starting out cause they know these people really do have higher expenses and are less likely to quit. So taking a year off in your 20s to work abroad is only exchanging a year in which you would have earned the lowest salary you’ll ever have during your career for a year of higher earning power in Australia. You can always come back to your career in a year and pick up where you left off. Besides; who follows a straight-up-the-ladder career path anymore? Almost nobody.

Although I think that in the case of taking off only a year these sorts of concerns are probably pretty minimal, this doesn’t seem like an accurate view of the hiring process as I know it. First, many (although not all) companies have no methodology in place for evaluating abilities other than through experience. Indeed, many ... (read more)

I think there is a widespread emotional aversion to moving abroad, which means there must be great money to be made on arbitrage.

I think a lot of the aversion is fear of inferiority and/or ostracism. These are counter-intuitively misplaced.

The theory is this: You're worried that the people over there have their own way of doing things, they know the lay of the land, and they're competing hard at a game they've been playing together since they were born. Whereas you barely speak the language, don't know the social conventions, and have no connections. What chance could you possibly have of making money or making friends?

In practice, it's the opposite: Against a wildcard like you, they don't stand a chance!

If you're somewhat smart, you'll find that you have cultural superpowers in a foreign country: Your background gives you a different, unusual look on things which makes you interesting and exotic. At home, you'd be nothing special. And since your accent is cute, you'll be forgiven your blunders (at least by strangers and superficial acquaintances).

The same asymmetry applies to your education, your working style, etc. They are suddenly unique and refreshing. That can be parlayed into advantage, if used judiciously.

Playing 100% by the rules only guarantees that your playing field will be too crowded for you to get any breaks.

Where the market is irrationally risk-averse, take risks, young ones!

6Davidmanheim10yThe fact that americans don't want to go overseas does not imply there is money to be made on arbitrage - there are other people already there. You need several more peices of information, which we currently lack in order to conclude that there is money to be made. The asymmetry you posit sounds plausible, but is frequently untrue - in business, knowing the ground is incredibly important. I had a co-worker who was fired, essentially, for making one giant culturally insensitive statement. Being an american frequently gets a different reaction abroad than "cute," and strangely it's not a positive one. Exotic is fine in hospitality, but most jobs want someone they understand as an employee. When we hire, known quantities always win, all else equal. And most people don't want to live in the middle of nowhere for some extra money. That's a non-economic cost that may not be compensated for by extra salary, which may not exist anyways.
1avalot10yBy "strangers and superficial acquaintances", I didn't mean bosses or co-workers. In business, knowing the ground is important, but as a foreigner, you get more free passes for mistakes, you're not considered a fool for asking advice on basic behavior, and you can actually transgress on some (not all, not most) cultural norms and taboos with impunity, or even with cachet. I was not talking specifically about Americans. Americans indeed tend to find out that they have a lot to answer for when traveling abroad. I believe this is also often compounded by provincialism and lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of the imperials: America is the most culturally insular western country I know. At any rate, the crux of my point wasn't about an American's chances trying to play by the rules in a foreign country. My point was that the cultural baggage you accumulated as a child in your home country is worth more if you sell it where the supply is low, and the demand is high. It's like trading silk or spices, but instead you're trading cultural outlook. When you're young, and a new entrant to the marketplace, your cultural outlook is not a competitive advantage at home. It's an automatic differentiator in a foreign country, where you can turn it into an edge. It's not a free pass, but it can be a shortcut.

There's a chance I may do this. If I do, I'll add the report of my experiences to Louie's.

5Will_Newsome10yThere's a chance I may do this. If I do, I'll add the report of my experiences to Louie's.
5gwern10yThere's a chance... yeah.

I'm in my 50s, so I won't be upping and moving to work as a bartender in Alice Springs. But even at 20 a drawback that occurs to me is that I like big cities. I would find living in the sticks worse than putting up with a city commute. There is the internet, but still. How do you find it? What do you, or did you, do with the time?

4Louie10ySometimes I would go out and explore local nature... for instance, one time a took a helicopter flight [http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2961870&id=7951570&l=137cd2d7bf] out over the local area. But I mostly used the internet a lot. I do a lot of reading and writing these days so it was really easy to make that work in the outback. My girlfriend was living with me too so I wasn't bored or lonely. My internet was a bit slower and I didn't have 30 fast food joints within 10 blocks, but I had less distractions and was much more focused when I did do research and writing. I dunno, the benefits outweighed the drawbacks for me. Also, I don't want anyone to get the impression that I was making a sacrifice and roughing it "out in the sticks". This place was a well stocked hotel with musicians playing every night, meals prepared by chefs, and hundreds of rich European tourists coming through every day. It was definitely the most well-fed I've ever been in my entire life and also one of the most entertaining and comfortable places I've lived as well.
3Jack10yWhat kind of singles scene is there in the Australian outback?
1Louie10yAs I mentioned, there are "hundreds of rich European tourists coming through every day." Seriously though, it's probably not as good as it would be in a metro area, especially if you wanted lasting connections.

"-7.65% of your income into Social Security good luck getting that back"

The "Social Security will be eliminated before you collect any benefits" line is one of the great myths of USA politics. It's being intentionally propagated by one political party (hint: the one that voted against SS and has been fighting against it ever since.) SS's finances are in fine shape and the program can continue with minimal or no modification for many years to come.

Your link goes to a very brief piece arguing that most people don't think they will get Soc... (read more)

3lukeprog10yCould you link to an explanation of why I should expect to see my Social Security payments again?
2k3nt10yhttp://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/shelby-ss-2011-02.pdf [http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/shelby-ss-2011-02.pdf] Sorry so late on the reply.
0[anonymous]10yand sorry so late on the reply
2drc500free10yI also don't understand why the social security is counted as a negative percentage, and the retirement is counted as positive. If you subtract social security, you're counting your salary without that retirement contribution. If you add superannuation, you're counting your salary plus a retirement contribution. You can do one or the other, but not both. There's also the simple fact that if a 9% contribution is mandatory, your stated wage will be 8% less to cover it. Just like your stated wage with social security is 7% less to cover the employer's contribution.
0Strange79yThe amount the employer is willing to pay includes the employer's contribution to your mandatory retirement account, yes, but in Australia the amount they're claiming to pay you does not include the 9%, whereas in the US it traditionally does include the 7%,
2fiddlemath9yTo clarify - in the US, FICA (Social Security + Medicare) charged a %7.65 "employer contribution" that was not counted in your stated wage, as well as a %7.65 "employee contribution" that was counted in your stated wage. See also: wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Security_\(United_States\]#Taxation) If you earn money as "self-employed", which I did for a few years, then you get to pay both.
2drc500free9yRight-o. This can make it very confusing to compare wages between countries. The actual cost to the employer, assuming they are providing no benefits, is your stated wage plus 7.65% for most income levels. The amount the employee gets is the employer cost, minus 7.65% (down to the stated wage), minus another 7.65% (the employee contribution), minus any local, state, and federal income taxes. The tax band you are in is based on your adjusted gross income, but everyone gets to knock at least $5800 off for the standard deduction so it's not even your stated wage.

Doesn't the US tax income American citizens make abroad? And then financially abuse you if the IRS judges that you gave up your citizenship to lower your taxes?

3grobstein10yThere used to be a special "expatriation tax" that applied only to taxpayers who renounced their (tax) citizenship for tax avoidance purposes. However, under current law, I believe you are treated the same regardless of your reason for renouncing your (tax) citizenship. Here's an IRS page on the subject: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/international/article/0,,id=97245,00.html [http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/international/article/0,,id=97245,00.html] This is not an area of my expertise, though.
3Louie10yNot if you're abroad a whole year and you make under a certain amount... forget the exact figure right now but it's much higher than $39k/yr exempted. You have to file one extra form with your tax paperwork.
4gwern10yI read much the same thing while researching teaching ESL in South Korea. Quickly googling, the current figure for federal exemption is $70,000 (with another $8,000 for housing costs): * http://www.filetax.com/expat.html [http://www.filetax.com/expat.html] * http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/09/your-money/09iht-mrta.html [http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/09/your-money/09iht-mrta.html]
0John_Maxwell9yCare to summarize what you learned from your ESL research?
2gwern9yThe flip answer is that while South Korea seems like a nice place & country, I learned America has no monopoly on xenophobia and North Korea is an even sadder and more twisted country than I had imagined. Were you thinking about anything in particular?
0John_Maxwell9yI have tendinitis and therefore unable to do my preferred work as a computer programmer. Thought I would spend the next few months living in a foreign country doing some form of work that doesn't involve a lot of typing while my tendinitis recovers.
1gwern9yAh. South Korea probably isn't for you then; just getting the FBI background check will cost you a month or three, and teaching contracts tend to be for the academic year. China might be better from an ESL-teaching perspective (which is what my reading focused on), but things are opaque and rather fast-and-loose there - one of my friends was just kicked out of there a few weeks back after the job started, supposedly because he was using too much profanity.
0Psy-Kosh10yNot sure I understood that properly, is the $70,000/year, or lifetime?
1gwern10yPer year.
0Psy-Kosh10yAh, thanks. :)
1shokwave10yHoly crap! You can be prosecuted by a country you no longer belong to because they think you stopped belonging to them to avoid paying them taxes? You stopped having to pay taxes to them when you stopped being an American citizen!
2Broggly10yMaybe he's talking about American residents who renounced their citizenship but remained in the country? I have no idea how America can tax non-resident non-citizens without their nation making it more trouble than it's worth.
3gwern10yAccording to http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/world/americas/17iht-expat.3928621.html [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/world/americas/17iht-expat.3928621.html] one of the penalties, if you are judged to have abandoned your US citizenship for tax reasons or not paid the appropriate taxes, is permanent exile. Which certainly could be implemented by the US with minimal trouble. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_exile#U.S._rules [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_exile#U.S._rules] mentions something about in-US assets being subject to higher tax rates; I suppose any US assets could also be seized to pay back taxes.

How does this fit into a larger career plan? Is it possible, for instance, to get letters of recommendation from supervisors at such jobs, and will American employers take such letters seriously?

The EMH applies to financial markets, which revolve around ownership of easily tradeable things. Often those things are bought just so they can be sold later on. A person convinced by your argument would have a difficult time "leveraging up" to arbitrage an inefficient labor market. Though I think the economic consensus might be that labor markets generally are not very efficient, hence the existence of persistent high unemployment (though that may not be an issue in Australia compared to the U.S these days).

2Louie10yThanks I like your clarification of this. I guess I was using the EMH as a straw-man there in the Q/A but I feel like it's a common concern for people who think that some invisible hand of the market should prevent this opportunity from existing.

I have a different perspective on these issues, having moved to the US from Israel (fairly recently). Here's why living in Australia would suck for me (Your Utility Function May Vary):

  • My family is located abroad, but it's easier for me to visit them and much more likely that they'll visit me if I live in the US. Seeing my family is valuable to me. If seeing your family is valuable to you, and they're in the US, prices are even more varied. If you have siblings (I do), then I will share my experience that seeing one's nephew grow up is a wonderful experie
... (read more)
1taryneast10yYes, as an Australian, I have to concur that the biggest drawback of being in Australia is that it is a long way from the rest of civilisation. We are surrounded by a lot of mostly-empty water in almost every direction. Not only that, but the low population density (especially in somewhere like the outback) means that the distances are big even for local requirements. This does have to be factored into consideration. However, it seems as though the original article is all about putting up with being in a slightly less preferable life-situation for a year - to gain money which can then be leveraged when you get back to your ore preferable location... Spending a year in the outback could be an acceptable situation as long as you know it's only temporary. Oh, and I like YUFMV (Your Utility Function May Vary). I am now going to start using more often :)
0Carinthium10yActually, when the British were first deciding where to send convicts they considered West Africa, but decided on Australia despite the extra expense because they THOUGHT there were valuable goods (hemp if I remember correctly) that they otherwise would have to import from Russia. This turned out to be completely wrong, but by then they'd commited themselves...

Q: What about Australian culture? Will I like it over there?

A: Australia is a highly educated, robustly secular, extremely developed country. If you have any questions about the desirability of Australia, just ask Less Wrong! A disproportionate number of Less Wrongers are Australian.

However, Australia also has the most restrictive Internet censorship policies in the Western world.

1Louie10yI never found the supposedly restrictive internet censorship in Australia to be an issue. Guess I wasn't accessing enough child pr0n... Has any Less Wronger in Australia actually experienced a negative consequence due to this?

The current internet censorship is unproblematic. The proposed internet filter would have been problematic, but the legislation is dead in the water.

We have some fairly arbitrary socially conservative "nanny state" policies. None of them get in the way a great deal, but they do stick in the craw a little.

The political climate in Australia is intensely pragmatic. Voters are stone cold to principle --- they think almost exclusively about the effects legislation will have on their lives. This means that people will support a policy that they think means their children won't be able to view porn on the internet, as they perceive this as a problem. On the other hand, it makes it very difficult for astro-turf organisations to convince people to vote against their interests. That's why we have a decent minimum wage, single payer health care, etc.

1lukeprog10yI wish U.S. voters were so pragmatic!
1shokwave10yNope.
0taryneast10yNope - me either. Besides, as they say "the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes round it"...

As an American currently living in Australia on a Work and Holiday (462) Visa, I have a small but significant correction to make: foreigners on a 462 Visa aren't actually able to file as residents for tax purposes.

Which means that rather than paying 0% tax, I'm paying about 32% tax. (And that's a lot, but it's still better than what I'd be paying if I didn't have an Australian tax file number. If you don't have one, you can end up paying up to 45%.) I have yet to find out if I'll get any of that money back when I leave.

When I first got here, I was hopeful ... (read more)

0MileyCyrus8yDid I meet you at the Less Wrong meetup in December/January?

As a West Australian I think that there are certain expenses you're overlooking. You'd need access to a car, there are no buses or trains to many of the towns (sometimes the larger mining companies do organise buses or chartered flights). Internet will be slow painfully slow and prohibitively expensive, where $200 worth of hardware and $40 a month (on a one year plan) gets you a whopping 1GB of quota. Food is very expensive, alcohol even more so if you're into that sort of thing. Living in the outback can be very unpleasant depending on where you go.

My ro... (read more)

I've lived in Sydney all my life, and often meet people who are here on a working holiday and are very disappointed. For instance, this weekend I met a guy from Jordan working in a convenience store. He was making $800-1000/week working nightshift[1], and enjoying the novel, liberal culture, but found it difficult to save much.[2]

Now I know what to tell people, which makes me feel a lot better. I'd be curious to know whether you could get a similar deal in other parts of the country, though. Alice Springs is not a greatly pleasant place, from what I unders... (read more)

1Louie10yI agree with you. Sydney is a great place to live in it's own right, but it's a terrible place to work and earn money. Didn't think about the night shift idea but that's true. Good suggestion!
0syllogism10ySydney can be okay financially, but it's definitely not optimal. But it's a nice enough city and I have my friends and family here, plus a good research group for my interests, located in a nice suburb. Post-docs make okay money here, so I'm on 51.6k after tax and my 7.5k "tithe" (75k gross salary), and the uni pays 16% superannuation.[1] My living expenses are $500 a week, so I should have roughly 25k per year savings. I've only done three months on this salary and I'm on schedule, but we'll see whether I fall to the common spending traps. I do spend a lot of time working, but I live 5 minutes walk from the office and the hours are flexible, so it's manageable. In an average day I'll spend 6 or 7 hours in the office, and then 2 or 3 hours at night. I consider myself lucky to have the skills and interests to pull off the "live-to-work" strategy. If I were interested in, say, writing novels instead of researching language technologies, the equation would be quite different. [1] The university pays more super than is mandated, and all salaries are indexed to inflation. Our union is good.

Great post, thanks. I would be interested in hearing analogous reports from people in other places, like Singapore, Hong Kong, or New Zealand. Peter Thiel apparently thinks New Zealand is the next big thing.

2cousin_it10ySeconded, and I'd also like to hear more about similar opportunities available for citizens of non-1st-world countries like Russia :-)

As an Australian living overseas I'm staggered by the quality of life that Australians enjoy, which seems to me higher than that in the UK or US for any given income bracket.

I suspect the main reason that more Australians who live in cities don't go to the outback is that they highly value a cosmopolitan lifestyle. Great for a working holiday to save some cash, though.

I wish we had more info on how people who aren't US citizens or under 31 can live and work in AU.

0taryneast10yhttp://www.immi.gov.au/ [http://www.immi.gov.au/] :)
2lukeprog10yI wish somebody could compress and synthesize the available information on how people who aren't US citizens or under 31 can live and work in AU.

The USA is not the best place to earn money.2 My own experience suggests that at least Japan, New Zealand, and Australia can all be better. This may be shocking, but young professionals with advanced degrees can earn more discretionary income as a receptionist or a bartender in the Australian outback than as, say, a software engineer in the USA.

As a side question, when did a receptionist or bartender become a "professional"? Is "professional" just used as a class marker, standing for something like "person with a non-vocational ... (read more)

7thomblake10yI read it as "young people employed as professionals can make more money by being not-professionals in the Australian outback". But to many, "professional" merely means "someone who is paid to do something". I think that usage came into the popular consciousness via "professional athlete", though I'm not sure if that's the first instance of the popular usage. ETA: according to OED, the relevant distinction in this usage is "professional" vs. "amateur", and it was used somewhat in that sense as far back as maybe 1806 (I assert that their earlier citations were meant ironically, or merely by comparison to actual professions).

Ostrich Effect - Regardless of income, the average American ends up paying close to 40% in taxes yet consistently self-reports as paying only 3%.

Huh? You haven't left off a zero there? How can someone think they are paying 3%?

6SilasBarta10yBecause of the huge fraction of mouthbreathers who, without pause, respond to such questions with the brilliant, "I didn't pay any taxes this year. I got some back!" (That is, they think they had a net gain of money because they over-deducted from their paycheck that year, and the government returned the excess.)
4lunchbox10yEven considering that, the 3% figure still seems wildly implausible. This would require something like 90% of the population thinking they pay 0% taxes, and the remaining 10% thinking they pay 30% taxes (which is still an underestimate). The PDF that Louie linked to doesn't explain what the numbers mean. Surely there would be lots of articles about this epidemic of grossly underestimating taxes. Can anyone provide more evidence?
2SilasBarta10yTrue. A few other possible factors: * Consider the impact of interpreting "I got some back" answers as being negative entries in the summation (though I hope the survey would put up a big asterisk about this when reporting the results!). * People took the question as being about federal income taxes, and that value is (incorrecty) compared to all taxes at all levels: social security taxes, state sales taxes, etc.
4thomblake10yFWIW, when I wasn't making much money, my income tax was 0, and tax credits (such as EIC) meant that I was returned more money than was deducted.
1SilasBarta10yEven after accounting for SS and Medicare taxes? (IIRC, student workers don't have to pay SS.)
1thomblake10yI'm not sure about those, but it would have been close some years. If I'm not mistaken (source [http://www.ssa.gov/oact/progdata/taxRates.html]), SS and Medicare are something like 7.6%, and looking at a rather high-paying year out of the bunch I paid about negative 3.6% in taxes. I probably did better than that in years with less money.
4wedrifid10yBut, but... companies actually employ these people? I hope they don't let them man the cash register!

Some people have now tried this: MileyCyrus, Psy-Kosh.

Great Article & Info mate, I am a Aussie living in Canada for past 6 years, I am a long haul trucker, When I made the move I was told I would be earning 80,000 CND per year, Okay that meant taking a pay cut for me of 30k per year, I could deal with that as I wanted to Truck Nth America, I have no regrets in my decision,So don't think I am whining:) I have made Canada my home & I have been to every of the lower 48 States more than once, My 1st year here I struggled to earn the 50k I did earn, I was used of more than twice that amount, Also I was hit... (read more)

5thomblake9yWelcome to Less Wrong [http://lesswrong.com/lw/90l/welcome_to_less_wrong_2012/]! Please employ paragraph breaks. The above comment is very difficult to read. Yes, the compulsory insurance is generally liability - it has nothing to do with how much damage you can do to your own car. It is rather protecting against the cost of injuries and damage you can cause to others with the car.
0taryneast4yWe have similar compulsory Insurance here in Aus too... it's called "third party insurance" (or your Green slip) You pay it as the same time as you pay your registration. It costs nowhere near that amount, even for new drivers. I currently pay around $600 a year but I'm female and 40 years old. I have not been driving for that many years though. A quick online google shows me that if I were Male and 23 years old.. the same insurance would cost $890 - even for a driver with 1 year of driving experience.
-4aussiemate649yG'day Ginge, I to came out here to North America. I have been here for 11 years living in Arizona. I haven't seen all the states but I have seen all the west states. My favorite place for a Burger was in Montana at a place called Bubba's BBQ. The staff were very friendly and the restaurant was very clean. I also was no spring chicken when I came to the USA, I was 37. I have only been back home twice in the past 11 years to take the family to meet their extended family in Australia. I have a wonderful son to my ex-wife and a step son & daughter with my current wife. My wife wants to move to Australia because she felt so welcome amongst all my old school friends and family. But before I left Australia I was a Jack of all Trades but a Master of None. The past 7 years I have been working in the security industry and would love to find the same kind of work back home. The wages for a security officer here in the US are not the best, most start at $10 per hour. Not enough to support a family of 4. I have been reading different online sites where you can earn 2-3 times that for the right company in Australia. The part about the Superannuation gets me, don't get me wrong I am all about getting your true worth. If people on work/holiday visa's can collect thier Super when they leave the country, why can't Australians collect thier Social Security when they move back home when they leave? It all has to do with the difference in Government Legislation. I told so many people when I first moved to the USA that they could make so much more in Australia doing the same kind of work. So like everyone has read in Ginge's & Louie's articles, if you are young enough, get on a plane and go to Australia, stop making excuses. Save what you need and come home with a little nest egg to at least start your retirement. Trust me, unless you are making the big bucks here in the USA, you can kiss your retirement plans goodbye. To all the wonderful friends and family I have here in the USA, thank
-2aussiemate649yI know that reading through so many post's on here that everyone has certain points of interest that all play an integral part of making a decision to make this move. 2 years ago I was making a little over $45k a year until I was let go under Voluntary Termination. Like I would voluntarily quit while I am being treated under Workman's Compensation!! Anyway, it seems that at least 90% of bloggers agree that this would be perfect for a single person who has no ties? When I left Australia in 2001 for the USA, I had no degrees, I hadn't even completed school. When I was 14, my parents wrote a letter to the Education Department to have me exempt from school. I was 1 of 8 boys and both my parents were out of work. I helped my father do whatever we had to to bring home an income. This sometimes meant collecting bottles, cans and all kinds of scrap metals. So after meeting a girl from America, I decided that I have to do what I feel is right for me, so I came to Arizona to be with her. Leaving everything I knew back home in Australia, family and belongings. My parents in law suggested I get my GED, which I went for the test 2 weeks after they suggested without studying and passed with an 84%. I am not on here to diss on anyone or say that anyone is wrong but coming from my background I personally know that you sometimes have to chase your dreams. Otherwise that's all they will ever be, Dreams. In 2010, I went from a job where I was earning $18.80 per hour to Unemployment Insurance for 3 months ($1100 total) and when I did finally find work, I was back at $10 per hour. Drastic change, but my current wife and I made it work for us. All this after we bought a nice house to boot. Would I like to find something better, yes. Do I have time or the funds to go back to school to earn a degree to pursue a better job, No. So I say to anyone who has No Ties and would like to visit Australia or any other Country take a leap and go. America will still be standing here waiting when you ge

The recommendation is sound if:

  • You value good drivers. I've been to almost a dozen countries, and nobody comes CLOSE to the conscientiousness of Australian drivers; they honk as a THANK YOU for right of way in Victoria. They also have the the most dramatically sensical road system ever, which is mostly like the U.S., with one difference I particularly like: yield signs instead of the stop signs that American drivers only yield at anyway, usually for good reason. I'm a big fan of either enforcing rules or changing them, with as few exceptions as possible.
... (read more)
3syllogism10yWe have free refills of water here at almost all restaurants. I'm struggling to see how the restaurant letting you drink multiple cups of soda per meal is a good thing.
4Blueberry10yBecause I like soda and it tastes good! Why would it be a bad thing?
3syllogism10yI almost deleted my comment because I think it's a bit too snarky. But honestly, I struggle with self-control issues, and can find sweet things a bit tempting. But there's good motivation to resist, because if I drank soda like water the fitness and health consequences wouldn't nearly be worth the taste. The "cost" of drinking a whole bunch of soda is much more than the price of it in dollars. So I don't feel like a restaurant's doing me any favours by making it normal to just chug it down.
1wedrifid10yWe do? Seriously? I usually just nod or wave. :) They are? I usually pay... oh, um, yes that brings up an important point: our broadband is still not nearly as cheap or fast as the US.

I find your basic proposal sympathetic, since I have more or less been following the idea of optimal employment myself, but with different preferences. In that light, I find your advice highly specific, which is very useful for people with similar preferences, but less interesting for others like me.

To add my current personal choice to the mix: Here in Germany the cost of being enrolled at university is relatively low: from 50-500€ / semester, depending on federal state and university. On the other hand, you get the benefit of being able to work as "W... (read more)

1Hul-Gil10yDo you know anything about Germany's policy on American students attending German universities? I support it would vary depending on the university - but do you know if it's financially feasible? Or are the prices jacked up for foreigners? Ich liebe Deutsch, und spreche ein bisschen. Ich wollte schon immer zu gehen nach Deutschland. :-)
3Barry_Cotter10yCitizenship has no bearing on admission decsisions to German universities, and fees are at most, €500 per semester. You also get heavily subsidised tickets on public transport, and if you can get it the student accomodation is cheap as well. And native English speakers can make a bit of money to a reasonable living teaching English, while studying. German Academic Exchange Service [http://www.daad.de/deutschland/index.en.html]
1Hul-Gil10yAwesome! Thank you for this. The incredible expense of American universities could quite possibly ruin my life... I'm now seriously considering attempting to transfer to a German one.
0jasticE9yWhat Barry said, however, I have heard that you may not be able to work as a foreign student. But then, I have a colleague from Canada. I'll ask him for specifics. Austria may also be a good choice, as there are no admission fees, but I don't know any details.

-7.65% of your income into Social Security good luck getting that back

This is incorrect. The actual sociality security rate is DOUBLE that. Half is paid by the employer & half by employee to make it look smaller. That half you don't see does count b/c it lowers salaries offered.

Also you included medicare taxes in the figure. social security alone is less.

Also it's a % of your income up to something like 110k, income above the limit has 0 payroll taxes.

1advancedatheist10yIn 2011 the employee pays 4.2 percent Social Security, and the employer pays 6.2 percent. The Medicare rate of 1.45 percent, each payed by the employee and the employer, hasn't changed: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/n1036.pdf [http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/n1036.pdf]

I need to quibble with the "compulsory retirement savings" point. Realistically, any amount that the government forces the employer to contribute as a condition to hire you is money that would have otherwise been given to you as wages. There is no way to increase someone's value by fiat, so it's misleading to suggest that you somehow gain from the tax (apart from the social value of the retirement scheme). Also, the US SS withholding is 12.4% of income, as half of it is paid by the employer before the employee sees the funds but, as discussed,... (read more)

1LukeStebbing10yThis is untrue as a general rule, though it can be closer or farther from the truth depending on market conditions. To see why, imagine that every month you buy a supply of fizzlesprots from Acme Corp. Today is the first of February, so you eagerly rush off to buy your monthly fix. But wait! The government has just imposed a tax on all fizzlesprot purchases. Curses! Now you'll have to pay even more, because Acme Corp will just pass the whole tax on to you. Now change "fizzlesprot" to "labor" and "Acme Corp" to "employee". Huh? You're an employer, not an employee? My world is turned upside down! Could it be that the narrative where You bear the full brunt of every tax and They end up paying nothing is wrong? In fact, whenever an economic transaction is taxed, the buyers and the sellers split the tax based on who is more eager to buy or sell. Labor is no different. It's possible that, empirically, the employee usually pays more of a labor tax than the employer, but this is by no means guaranteed and I would personally expect the proportion to vary significantly between labor market segments. (Wikipedia's article on tax incidence [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_incidence] claims that employees pay almost all of payroll taxes, but cites a single paper that claims a 70% labor / 30% owner split for corporate income tax burden in the US, and I have no idea how or whether that translates to payroll tax burden or whether the paper's conclusions are generally accepted.) For more details, consult your nearest introductory economics textbook.
1Mario10ySorry this is so late, but I honestly completely forgot about this after I wrote it, so I never came back to see what transpired. Anyway, I'm aware of how the marginal propensity to consume affects tax incidence, but in this case, where payroll taxes apply to every employee at every business, the only choices involved are whether to work and whether to hire, and companies have far more leeway in that decision. You can avoid the fizzlesprot tax by consuming an untaxed equivalent or finding a different, fizzlesprotless sexual fetish. You can only avoid a payroll tax by being unemployed; in practice, I don't think there is such a thing as one's marginal job. By contrast, employers look at the tax as part of the cost of hiring an additional employee, and simply won't hire the marginal worker if his or her cost is above the expected benefit. I can't imagine a situation where any significant portion of a payroll tax (as opposed to the corporate income tax) falls on the employer, so I didn't bring it up.
-1LukeStebbing10yHmm, and yet only two-thirds of the working age population chooses to work, and some of that is part-time, which reduces the amount of labor available to employers. Labor can also move between sectors, leaving some relatively starved of workers. People who accumulate enough savings can choose to retire early and have to be enticed back into the labor market with higher wages, if they can be enticed at all. That doesn't look like a fixed supply of working hours that must be sold at any price -- the supply looks somewhat elastic. Edit: Sorry about the tone in my original comment -- tax incidence doesn't seem to be common knowledge and I failed to consider that you might be aware of it already.
1grobstein10yThere's no consensus on the incidence of the corporate income tax in the fully general case. It's split among too many parties.

As this is currently in the top position on the front page, I took the liberty of editing the top slightly to trigger fewer perceptual spam-detectors - there's no real reason not to tell people what the article is about up front.

Is overqualification a concern? That is: if I'm already working toward a Ph.D. and I decide to complete that first, will it work against me in finding hospitality work? (I'd guess such jobs have sufficiently high rotation anyway that the answer is no.)

Do you know if the situation is equally good for more "career-like" jobs? (I.e. instead of making good money without too much strain, can I bust my ass to make even more money?)

Even if both the answers are the less-desired, I'm going to seriously discuss this with my wife.

8Louie10yNo. I have a Master's degree in Software Engineering. Overqualification doesn't matter. Yes and no. Australia has a much narrower pay gap between the lowest and the highest paid workers. For example, where I worked, the lowest paid employee (a non-English speaking room cleaner) made 2/3rds of the salary of the highest paid employee (the head chef). Australia simply outlawed having a working-poor underclass by making their minimum wage $15/hr and indexing it to inflation. Most American economists would probably say that this is impossible and would inevitably cause wide-spread unemployment... without realizing that Australia, Japan, and New Zealand have already done it and it works. To answer your question more specifically: Yes, you can earn absurd amounts of money in Australia if you really want to work hard. The mining industry there pays people something like $200k / yr to sit at computers and order mining machines around. Modern mines in 1st world nations are run by a handful of people working hard but not physically doing the mining themselves. I've heard it's hard to break into this field but you could do it if you really wanted.
4dmm10yActually most economists from all over the world would agree that minimum wages do not improve economic conditions. The consensus is that a minimum wage has one of two effects: either it does nothing, because the actual minimum wage determined by the markets are higher, or if the minimum wage determined by the market is lower, it prevents job creation. Your account in this article suggests that the former situation is the case in Australia now, because you said the minimum wage is $15 but a more typical starting wage is >$18. This was the case too in the US for a long time. When I started working the minimum wage was $5.55 but I started as a fast-food worker at $5.95. The minimum wage was doing nothing. However, none of this detracts from the excellent opportunities available in Australia.
3Abisashi10yEmployment is a transaction, where the employer is willing to pay up to X and the employee willing to work for no less than Y. For jobs where the minimum wage is greater than X it kills the job, but when it is less than X but more than Y it can force more of the surplus from the employment transaction to go to the employee. Obviously it's hard to set the right minimum wage for all jobs in a large economy. Also, it's my understanding that people working above but near the minimum wage usually get raises when the minimum wage goes up; the minimum wage communicates something about what a worker is supposed to be worth, and telling your employees they are the bottom of the barrel is probably bad for morale, and thus, productivity. So the minimum wage can affect wages even if they aren't at the minimum wage.

This sounds like an interesting opportunity! I'm going to be returning to the States from Peace Corps service pretty soon, and I've been considering options for what to do next. I'll look into this one a little more closely.

One question, though: how hard would it be for me to be a vegan in the outback? I'm willing to spend more money on food than typical to maintain a vegan diet; variety and quality of food is more of a concern to me than cost.

2Louie10yCongrats on your Peace Corps work! Where have you been? Vegetarians were catered to at my workplace so I'd guess that you could get the meals modified to be vegan at most workplaces in the outback too. As my post implies, Australia is pretty ridiculously worker friendly. Worst case scenario I could imagine is they would let you go in the kitchen and make your own stuff if you needed substitutions on days the chef forgot to cook you an alternative meal.
2DSimon10yMy post is in Jamaica. Probably there were more efficient charitron generating paths available to me than Peace Corps, but speaking from a personal perspective it's been satisfying and educational. In particular, being out here and seeing what a little expertise applied in just the right place can do has firmly changed my major life goal from "Do really interesting IT stuff" to "Do IT stuff that effectively helps make the world a better place." Glad to hear that the meal situation is so accommodating out there. If there were other vegetarians/vegans at your workplace too, that also makes me think I'm likely to not be the only one there with weird meal preferences, which will help make me feel like I'm not imposing unduly.

Hmmm... this is indeed tempting.

The last time I worked at a job like that, though, I was fired after only three days. (I did something really stupid.)

Also, how many hours a week are the jobs?

3Alicorn10yWhat did you do?
3CronoDAS10yThe store manager told me to stop reading my novel when there were no customers around. When he walked away, I started reading again. When he came back, I gave a really lame excuse and put the book away, then went back to reading when he left. The third time he caught me reading, he fired me for insubordination.
1shokwave10yProbably at your discretion between 13 and 30.
1SilasBarta10yThe picture of Louie's first paycheck [http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Australia-Paycheck.jpg] shows 100 hours for two weeks. (OTOH, the boss seems to be a female who really likes him...)
4Louie10yThey gave me lots of extra hours my first two weeks so they could pay me during training since I didn't know how to use a cash register, how to pour drinks, etc. Being paid to learn is pretty sweet.
0shokwave10yHeh. This may be another kind of optimal employment.

wow. really great article, first time here. anyway i'm still going thru comments BUT... what opportunities are available for someone over the age of 30? doesnt have to be australia but damn, that'd be nice.

So, if you do not have health insurance, how do you get around the health insurance requirement needed before applying for the work visa?

1taryneast4yGoogling briefly... https://www.border.gov.au/Trav/Stud/More/Health-Insurance [https://www.border.gov.au/Trav/Stud/More/Health-Insurance] You get yourself private health insurance here. Unlike the USA where employers tend to pay for it... it is normal and expected that ordinary private individuals on normal salaries pay for their own private health insurance. it is NOWHERE NEAR as expensive as in the USA. I'm currently 41 and pregnant, with some (small) existing issues and I pay around $140 a month for "hospital and extras" cover - which I've used. For somebody young and willing to have just the bare essentials, it would be much less than that... don't forget that our government healthcare is exceptional and cheaper that the US even when you have to pay full price. We don't have the horrific "pay $100 for a tablet of acetomenophin" style BS you regularly find in the US

Some helpful Tips I've learned

Thanks for this great post Louie!

Australian minimum wage will receive a pay rise of A$00.51hr from A$15.00 on 1 July 2011. http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/world/5097951/Australia-raises-minimum-wage

Note: Don’t forget to get power adapter for your electronics.

Buying plane tickets

http://www.kayak.com/ http://www.tigerairways.com http://www.bing.com/travel/?cid=homenav&FORM=Z9LH5

Transport/Hostels

Sydney: http://www.airportlink.com.au/ Melbourne: http://www.skybus.com.au/service-info-buses-and-transfers-to-melbourne-from-airp... (read more)

Q Why doesn't it surprise me there's a bartender shortage in Oz?

A I've been to London. They're all there.

Great guide.

Alas I have far too many friends and family keeping me in the cities of Australia.

That and all the culture.

If I needed to save 30k desperately and wasn't married though... I had a friend who did it somewhere in Perth. Earns about half of what I do, saves about twice as much...

[-][anonymous]10y 1

Great article!

I'm currently trying to figure out my personal optimal employment. (I'm a German CS student and will get my degree next year. Most importantly, I want to leave the country and live in some English-speaking country. I can't stand the cultural isolation any longer.) I was already considering Australia and you have just made it look a lot more attractive.

The specific job you provided, however, isn't right for me. Remote areas are exactly where I don't wanna be right now. I've lived in villages and small towns most of my life and I'm sick of the... (read more)

9grobstein10yNote that a lot of the financial benefit described here comes from living somewhere remote -- in particular the housing and food costs. That's the reason for the strenuous warning not to live in "Sidney, Melbourne or any major Australian city." From a larger perspective, it partly accounts for choosing Australia over America (low population density --> low housing costs, etc.). For a full analysis, the cost differentials of living in the Australian outback vs. an American city (or whatever) have to be decomposed into price level, consumption, and other factors. For example, I pay a very high cost for living in New York. But I recover part of the cost in various benefits. Broadly: 1) New York may be the only place in the world where my employment situation is possible, 2) New York is a social coordination point where it is especially easy to meet the kind of people I would like to meet. This is probably the case for many people who decide to live in New York.

Are there any Australians here who have done this? Recently? Is the situation different for residents rather than worker/tourists?

[-][anonymous]9y 0

Charting my progress here.

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[-][anonymous]9y 0

Very seriously considering this. Has anyone else done it? If so, how did it work out for you?

Great post! This sounds like a really good opportunity. I'm still an undergrad, but this sounds like a lot of fun for when I graduate and a great way to have a lot of free time to fill in the gaps in my education. I have a couple questions though.

I googled around, but couldn't find the legal age to bartend in Australia. Anybody know? I know the drinking age is 18

Also, I saw that you can only work 6 months for the same business. (http://marketing.statravel.com/Web_site/STA-Work-2010AU-Bartender-FAQs.pdf) What did you do when your 6 months were up?

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Upvoted. I'm interested in seeing more posts like this, maybe discussing opportunities that are open to Russians too.

[+][anonymous]10y -9