David's Journey

Discover our founder’s journey from the United States to Asia and Europe

Thinking about moving abroad but not sure how to do it?

Don’t worry – you’re in good company! That was the exact situation I found myself in nearly a decade ago. With a lot of persistence and luck, I was able to achieve my dreams and leave the United States to create an international career in Asia and Europe. Let me show you how I did it!

David McNeill Expat Empire Founder and Managing Director Profile Picture

Timeline

These are the main milestones in my journey so far:

2000: Started studying the Japanese language

2006: Enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin to study business and Japanese

2009: Studied abroad in Singapore for a semester

2010: Graduated from university and started working as an investment banking analyst

2013: Transitioned into product management in San Francisco and worked in Beijing for three months

2014: Got a new job and moved to Tokyo, Japan

2016: Got a new job and moved to Berlin, Germany

2018: Founded Expat Empire

2019: Got a new job and moved to Porto, Portugal

2020: Started working for myself full-time

2023: Released Bucket Coach app

David McNeill from Expat Empire in Beijing, China

Beijing

Berlin

David McNeill from Expat Empire at Douro River in Porto, Portugal

Porto

Imagine, plan, and achieve your international lifestyle

Whether you want to find your next country to live in or start your own business, I have the knowledge and experience to help you make it a reality!

Pursuing Freedom

Throughout my journey, I have focused on increasing my personal and financial freedom. My goal is to live where I want while doing the things I love. Here are the main steps I have taken toward this goal so far:

My Starting Point: United States

I grew up in the United States and did not have the opportunity to live abroad when I was young. However, my parents moved the family to different states around the country many times throughout my childhood, and in the process, I became very comfortable leaving everything that I knew behind for an exciting new place. Those moves taught me that there are many interesting and fun experiences waiting just outside my comfort zone.

The most pivotal move that my family made during my childhood occurred when we moved from a small town in Alabama to the vast metropolis of Los Angeles, California. Comparing Los Angeles’ expansive highways to the narrow roads that I left behind showed me that there was certainly much more to see and experience within the United States, not to mention the rest of the world! It was around that time that I also developed a deep interest in Japan and started studying the Japanese language. I finally made my first trip to Japan in high school on a one-month travel and exchange program, and it was everything I had hoped for and much more!

As a result of these experiences, I became motivated to travel to and eventually live in many countries around the world throughout my life, with Japan being the first on my list. I was not sure how I was going to make this dream a reality or how long it would take to come to fruition, but I was committed to seeing it through.

Step 1 to Freedom: Singapore

As a first step toward that goal, I decided to major both in business with a concentration in finance and Japanese while in university to see if I could eventually build a career in Japan.

I had also hoped to study abroad in Japan while in university, but there were no programs my school had there that offered the classes I needed to take to graduate on time. Therefore, I decided to spend a semester at the National University of Singapore instead, and that ended up being one of the very best decisions I made as a student. I spent those four months traveling across Southeast Asia and meeting people from around the world.

Though I still held a desire to live in Japan, my study abroad experience showed me that I could flourish in various countries around the world, not only in the one that I had been focusing on for so long. I returned to the United States reenergized to move my future career overseas.

Step 2 to Freedom: Beijing, China

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a full-time position abroad upon graduating from university, so I began my career as a financial analyst at an investment bank in North Carolina. I quickly discovered that finance, and North Carolina, were not places where I wanted to spend the rest of my career, and so two years later I took the opportunity to move to San Francisco, California within the same company. Four months after that, I managed to find a software product manager position and finally left the finance world for good.

Eight months after joining the new company, all of the product managers were offered the chance to work for a three-month period in either the Vancouver or Beijing offices. I volunteered and was sent to Beijing. I did not know what to expect but had an amazing time in the end. The experience immediately reignited my drive to live and work abroad. When I was asked if I wanted to come back again, I requested to be sent back for at least another year – I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to work abroad full-time pass me by!

However, life has a way of throwing you a few curveballs. One month after returning to the United States, the morning after I had been told by my boss that we were all heading back to China in two months, I was laid off without warning or reason. Thirty minutes later, I was sitting on the curb outside the office building with a cardboard box of my desk ornaments while my visions of the next year of my life spent in China faded away.

Step 3 to Freedom: Tokyo, Japan

Despite the very real setback, I decided that I would not let my previous employer determine whether or not I would work abroad. A few weeks later, I took the unemployment as an opportunity to travel and left for a two-month backpacking trip around Europe. I used the travel time as a chance to search for positions outside of the United States, and I focused my efforts on China, where I had just accumulated some work experience, and Japan, my ultimate dream destination. Long story short, I had my final interview for a job in Japan on the last day of my Europe trip, and two months later I boarded the plane with a one-way ticket to Tokyo!

I made a huge step forward in achieving my dreams and was pinching myself in disbelief at my accomplishment in the first months in Tokyo. I was enjoying all the fun experiences that came with living in Japan such as traveling around Asia and soaking in the local culture first-hand. Working in Japan was challenging but certainly worth the effort to be able to take advantage of such a great opportunity.

Step 4 to Freedom: Berlin, Germany

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. My position at my company in Japan became less secure as the months passed, and I knew that it was time for a change. I could not find a position that fit my search criteria in Tokyo, and so I decided to start applying for jobs in my next top choice destination – Berlin. I had visited Berlin for a few days during my Europe trip and left knowing that I needed to spend more time in the future. Lo and behold, I got an offer from the first company I applied to in Berlin, and so I boarded a one-way flight to the German capital a few weeks later for the next chapter in my career!

Step 5 to Freedom: Working Remote

Though that first job in Berlin was instrumental in getting me to Germany, it was not what I was looking for, and I left voluntarily after only five months. Unfortunately, the next job did not work out either, and I left again after eight months. It began to feel like it might not work out for me to continue working in Berlin, but I decided to give one more company a try, and luckily in my case, the third time was the charm. I joined a company built by people that had worked for my previous employer in San Francisco – people that I both liked and respected.

One additional benefit of working for this small startup company is that they had a relatively open-minded stance toward remote work. As long as your work got done on time, where you did your work from did not matter. I took my time to gain the trust of my colleagues and learn the ropes before starting to work remotely, but after starting to get a feel for the situation, I started working remotely more and more. Soon I was taking one week per month in another country around Europe to work during the day and experience the local food, culture, and vibe at night.

Step 6 to Freedom: Porto, Portugal

After 18 months of working at that Berlin-based company, I was laid off once again when investment in the project I was working on was cut. That meant that I had gone through three companies in three years in Berlin, and so I knew that it was time for me to find my next destination.

I applied to companies across Europe, all the way from Tallinn, Estonia to Copenhagen, Denmark. While I had cast a wide net in my search, I had secretly hoped since the beginning to be able to make it back to Portugal, a country that I loved and could easily see myself living in for many years. After 5 months of searching, the opportunity finally came in the form of a Senior Product Manager position at InterNations GO!, an expat relocation company based outside Porto, Portugal. Not only was the job description exactly aligned with what I was looking for, but the office was also located only 10 minutes walking from the beach!

Step 7 to Freedom: Working for Myself

After working at InterNations GO! and learning about the expat relocation industry from the inside, I began to see that there were many people around the world wanting to move to a new country but unsure where to start. Rather than just trying to sell services to people at the time of their move, I believed it would be better to start building relationships with people interested in moving abroad from their very first planning steps until they were settled in their new homes abroad.

My input was ignored every time I raised these ideas within the company, so I knew that I needed to go out on my own. I had been working on Expat Empire on the side for more than two years at that point and was already getting consulting clients and traction with the content on the website, so it was the perfect time for me to start working on Expat Empire full-time so that I could help as many people as possible to achieve their international dreams.

Since starting to work on Expat Empire full-time, I have been able to take my entrepreneurship and development skills to the next level by learning how to create apps using the no-code platform Bubble. I released my first app Bucket Coach in 2023 to help people to complete all their bucket list goals.

Find your freedom

If you’re searching for personal or financial freedom, I can offer you the guidance and accountability you need!

Work with David to Realize Your Dreams

Whether you want to move abroad, start traveling, transition your career into a new field, or start your own business, David can help you make it happen! Here’s how he can support you in your journey:

1-on-1 Coaching

Work with David to take your next steps toward your goals

International Job Search

Improve your job application and impress foreign employers

Porto Expat Tour

Discover Porto’s best neighborhoods for expats and nomads

Ready to live the life of your dreams?

I’m living the life I always dreamed about and want to help you do the same!