- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

JOCOTEPEC, Mexico — Call it globalization, outsourcing or telecommuting, American expatriates around this small central Mexican city are in it up to their earbuds.

I met a semiretired American photographer who works — when the spirit moves him — by the Internet for publications in the United States. He has a Canon 1D digital single-lens-reflex camera that produces enough resolution for almost any purpose.

Prodigy Infinitum, a Mexican broadband service, makes broadband Internet available even in many small towns. The American shoots, edits the take in Photoshop and e-mails it off to New York or wherever.

Payment goes electronically into his American bank account. He then either withdraws it from ATMs, which are virtually everywhere today, or by electronic transfer to his Mexican bank.

It is not front-page news that you can send photos over the Internet. It is interesting though that more and more people, including expatriates, seem to run their careers entirely online, some of them without having a fixed address.

More correctly, they only have a fixed e-mail address. The technological pieces have come together to make the world a sort of vast distributed office for these people.

For example, most of them have some form of VoIP (Voice-over Internet Protocol) telephone service, which allows them to be reached by phone almost anywhere on earth.

An example is the service from Vonage. When you sign up you get a small router, roughly the size of a paperback book, and a phone number in any area code in the U.S. that you choose. Suppose your number is 202-123-4567. You can be abroad, plug the router into any broadband source, and you are a local call from Washington. No prefixes, no call back, no passwords.

VoIP has done for telephony what Web mail, such as Yahoo and Hotmail, did for e-mail: severed communication from geography. I visited the office of a lawyer who works in the United States from Mexico. He has a couple of VoIP phone lines with all the accessories — caller ID, answering machine, etc. — and talks to clients as if they were next door.

The legal resources he needs, such as law codes, are mostly online. Most are free. If they aren’t, he pays with a credit card. Nobody cares where he is if the checks clear, so to speak.

Obviously, for some there are limitations to working from the other side of the earth. It is better for a Washington lawyer to be in Washington where it is possible to meet clients. But if your goal is to make a comfortable living from Bangkok or the Yucatan, it is perfectly doable.

A friend of mine in Northern Virginia maintains databases and networks for clients across the country. Using a program called PC Anywhere, he can log on to the client’s computer and operate it exactly as if he were there. Most problems don’t involve hardware, so he just fixes them online. He has had clients for years without meeting them.

Recently, on vacation in Mexico, he tried going online with his laptop to see whether he could log on to a client (there can be problems with satellite links). It worked perfectly. He’s thinking of bailing out, keeping his current 703 number, and working from south of the border.

Not everybody can telecommute from Kuala Lumpur. Dentists are just out of luck. But many can, and small but growing numbers are.

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