A Primer for Burned-Out Professionals in Search of Something More to Life!
Four years ago, I took the plunge. Armed with a background in corporate finance and fresh-off an insightful two-year trip across Asia and South America, I found that I was looking for more out of life.
I returned home to New York and realized that I wasn’t ready for the adventure to end. Having met some good friends in Peru, I decided to give Cusco a chance. What followed has been a mixture of trials and tribulations, an immersion into Spanish, and the best years of my life.
Before I go any further, it’s important that we clarify something. I am not a fake-hippie. Thankfully their numbers have reduced over the past few years. This guide is meant for folks who want meaning to their lives but don’t necessarily identify with the Eat, Love, Prayers out there.
In short – this is a city for creators. With one foot firmly rooted in the past, the city is now taking a collective step forward into the future. For creative types, the timing is perfect. Jobs are available. Quality of life is solid and growing. Sure, there are the minor inconveniences present in all third-world countries, but Cusco offers both hope and an insulated bubble from the rest of the world. If you can dream it, you can build it. Mostly though, it’s the feeling that growth here is tangible in every which direction. It’s not easy, but man is it rewarding.
Four years ago, Cusco felt in many ways like a frontier town. We didn’t have international cuisines, a movie theater, a big-time grocery store or other creature comforts. I remember being jealous of facebook pots from friends back home. Now, the tables have flipped. Life in Cusco is more comfortable – this matters when you begin to call a place home.
Fast-forward to today and you’ll find a community that is growing in diversity. Daily life includes jaunts to the local Andean market, independent shops run by friends, and perhaps a trip to the mall for some shopping and a blockbuster movie. Living here means blending together the old-world charm with a growing amount of international options.
We’ve been through the process of moving, setting up a business, building a community, and learning about local cultures and norms. We brought the NFL to Cusco in a big way, host international pot-lucks, and have fun experiences with locals and expats alike. As we grow, I would love some help! Let’s host expert talks, set up Mexican restaurants, start a culture of food fairs, and more!
Thinking about a move? Read on for more info!
There’s typically a mix of push and pull behind any decision to leave a current situation. Let’s look at a few types of folks that Cusco attracts:
Burned-Out Corporate Professional
Perhaps you’re burned out of the typical 9-5 (which never really does seem to end at 5, does it?). You earn well in terms of dollars but perhaps still lack for that deeper sense of meaning. Perhaps you’re looking for a 1-2 year break from the grind. If you’re unsure about the next step, then Cusco really is a great place to discover yourself. Who in fact, are you? Why not take a discovery step to identify what you like to do, where, and with whom? Get out of your comfort zone!
How about the 40-60 year-old who wants more out of life? Just this week I spoke with a few folks who fit this description. An ex-firefighter, doctor, and professional who are happily single and want to make a phase-shift into something meaningful to them. Be it helping the needy, sharing knowledge, or just pursuing their passion. A life full of golfing and waiting for father time do not appeal to them. Sound familiar?
Creative Types with Limited Resources
Live in a major city? Dream of opening a coffee shop, whisky bar, restaurant, yoga studio, or perhaps a different project that requires too much capital? Give Cusco a shot! Wages are reasonable (more info below), timing is perfect, and we’ve done the leg-work for you. Your money goes a long way here, and you can earn a good living in US terms during tourist season (April through October, plus Christmas).
“Asylum ” Seekers
Cusco is a bubble. It’s the perfect place for those who hate politics, friends with kids, long commutes and other first world problems.
What to Do?
Don’t volunteer. It’s a nice experience for folks looking for a quick jaunt in South America. I won’t knock it other than to say that you can make a huge benefit in the lives of the middle class here as well as the poor. Volunteering is a great experience but it’s dominated by 20-year-olds fresh out of school. If you have real working experience, why not put it to use? You’ll earn more, and make more of a lasting difference in the short, medium, and long-term.
Start A Business
Financially speaking, Cusco is a low-risk proposition. As I alluded to earlier, why not:
- Pursue your Passion – turn your growing hobby into a new career
- Learn the Ropes – Always been a #2? Learn how to be a boss, how to run a business, and how to dominate marketing in this crucible city.
- Make Serious Money – Everything here depends on your business model. For another beer, I’m happy to chat about how you can make a US or European salary here. If you grow, you can earn upwards of $200-300k per year. Remember – that has about three times the buying power here as in New York. As with any business, aim to break even within 1-2 years and then focus on growth. Go from associate to business owner overnight.
Help a Business
Unsure about your skillset? Low on funds? Hesitant to invest? No worries. Businesses here can really use your help regardless of your industry experience. While Cusco has much to offer, we really lack in polished skills and exposure to global trends.
Simply being from another country means that you have the requisite experience to walk into any business here and make immediate improvements. While not all business owners are open to change, most will pay relatively well. Via this route, you can expect to earn enough to cover an apartment, cost of living and entertainment expenses. Jobs are readily available though you need to be here to secure one. Some examples of jobs as an alternative to volunteering:
- Restaurants – As a chef you can help improve basic processes. You’d be hard pressed to find cooks that have left the country. Help introduce an exotic menu, share sanitary practices, and foster an exchange of cultural tips and tricks. In the front-of-house positions you can really help to train wait-staff on pairing alcohol with food, conversing with clients instead of just order taking, and boost efficiency. Most wait staff here are nice folks though uneducated and poorly trained. The difference that you make will have a domino effect and improve the city through service and behind-the-scene improvements. Just enter any establishment and the needs will be glaring.
- Professional Jobs – Software expertise, strategy sharing and procedural implementations are sorely needed. Imagine coming into either a new business or a top international brand and having a profound effect on the way they operate and forecast their business. Remember, folks here haven’t been exposed to much of the outside world. Cusco is virgin – this means that every experience that you have ever had can now be used as a case study. Sit down for a conversation with your new boss and blow their mind! Also, be prepared to have your mindset changed with local realities and traditions. Both sides learn!
- Hospitality – Despite warm locals, South America is not exactly a model of excellence when it comes to customer service. Here, the client is almost never right nor comes first. As an adult with 20+ years of living in a different culture, you can make a big difference here in the service industry. Cusco is a tourist town because of Machu Picchu. Can it become its own attraction? Much of its future will depend on the level of satisfaction that travelers experience through their daily interaction.
- Marketing – Digital marketing here is nascent. Marketing is typically limited to guerrilla tactics and price wars. Creativity is the key!
Having read this far, hopefully we’ve piqued your interest to the point where you might be contemplating a move to Cusco. Again – when I moved here four years ago we lacked good restaurants, a robust expat community, decent nightlife, and jobs for those who sought lateral/upward mobility. Going from zero to where we are today has not been easy for any of the early pioneers.
- A Work Visa – This can be obtained either via creating a company and having it sponsor you, or working for an existing business. It’s become much easier over the years, but seasoned expats will tell you to always go through a lawyer. An ok lawyer will charge about $1200 and good lawyer will charge about $1800. Work for an extra few weeks back home and do it the easy way. In Cusco, this matters,
- Rent – Rent ranges here from about S/. 500 to S/.1500 per month for a one bedroom apartment. At the time of writing, this is about $150 – $450. On the low end of the scale you can expect a basic place in the city center or a nicer place outside of the historic area. At the higher end, you’re looking at better showers, more light, and utilities included. Houses and places with 2+ bedrooms are priced differently. Apartments are rarely found online – Cusco is old school and the majority of apartments are found via the Rueda de Negocios classified paper that comes out on Mondays and Thursdays, or via word of mouth.
- Clothes – these are expensive here and somewhat hard to find. We have two distinct seasons here – cold/dry and temperate/wet. Cusco doesn’t do fancy, so you can leave your heels at home.
- Spending money – for most expats, monthly salaries begin at S/.1500 ($450), a good middle-class wage is S/.2000 ($600), and a luxury wage would be anything over S/.3000 ($910). Minimum wage is S/.850 ($260).
- Time – give yourself 1-2 months to find a good job and 2-4 months to create and build a business. Virtual businesses are faster.
- Patience – things don’t happen here overnight. Andean culture is laid back and be ready for a few obstacles regardless of your choices. We’ve been through it and are here to help with vodka in hand.
Today, Cusco sits at an inflection point. On behalf of the Faces team, and fellow ex-pats, we’ve been through it and are ready to help. We now know the legal process, have contacts across various industries, and know the city inside and out. You’re not alone. There are good people here from both Cusco and around the world. You’ll arrive with friends ready to help!
I’ll say it again. You’re not coming here alone. This is huge. I’m ready to help every step of the way and am excited to show folks the ropes. I’m not interested in commission, though I am interested in a good conversation of locally grown coffee. We’re building something fun here – think Seattle in the late 80s, Austin in the late 90s, or Chiang Mai just before the internet boom. Cusco has a vast, untapped potential just waiting for creatives to activate. How we mesh together a vibrant history with a diverse future will write the story for generations to come.
Go ahead – take the plunge. At the very least, drop me an email and let’s chat!
Your Friend in Cusco,
Vinay & The Faces Team