I love travelling but with limited financial resources would like to know/ask, are they any goods that we can legally transport from one country to another that can cover the travelling cost. For example Iphone cost in USA starts at $699, if i can sell it for around 800-900 in any other country than from there something else to another country, along the way it covers my travelling expenses.

I would really appreciate your input.

  • 34
    Illegal smuggling is usually profitable indeed.
    – xngtng
    Jul 26, 2022 at 18:27
  • 7
    @xngtng Actually, outside of cigarettes, fuel and stuf that is flat-out illegal, I don't think it's that profitable.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 26, 2022 at 18:35
  • 30
    Drugs is the obvious answer. If you don't get caught, you've got a free trip. If you do get caught, you get a free trip PLUS 1-10 years free accommodation at your destination!
    – Doc
    Jul 26, 2022 at 22:35
  • 12
    @Doc 1-10? Depending on the destination, you can get a birds-eye view of the city hanging from a crane... At least for several seconds, until you pass out, that is
    – littleadv
    Jul 26, 2022 at 22:55
  • 19
    If you have enough money to buy enough iPhones to make enough profit it will fund your travelling, then you have enough money to fund your travelling.
    – Darren
    Jul 27, 2022 at 9:37

7 Answers 7


While I don't think that it covers all of your expenses, there are companies that offer personal international couriers for hand delivery of time sensitive items. EG the customer wants a delivery made ASAP to some foreign country. You as the courier pick up the object, go straight to the airport and immediately jump on a plane. I am not sure of what terms you are flying under, but I believe the courier company pays only part of the airfare. And that because the customer's item is what you are escorting, that you are limited to hand luggage only.

I did a quick google and one of the first websites that popped up was for Chapman Freeborn (Note I am not associated with them in any way). Their website gives an example of an item being transported from New York city to Tokyo within 24 hours.

They also have a page for signing up to be a courier

If you get yourself on their books as a courier then you could expect a lot of interesting travel opportunities.

  • 9
    Do be careful going this route. I'm sure there are legitimate companies that do this, but what you describe is also how a lot of scams start out. Do your homework and be initially skeptical of anyone asking you to carry a package across the border for them!
    – Seth R
    Jul 27, 2022 at 16:59
  • 4
    @SethR This isn't about random people asking you to carry stuff, but legitimate companies that do offer these services.
    – Peter M
    Jul 27, 2022 at 17:26
  • 16
    @PeterM yes, and I think SethR's comment is about making sure that the website you find on google is indeed run by a legitimate company and not by random people.
    – Marc
    Jul 27, 2022 at 17:34
  • 1
    Something seems wrong with this sentence: "And that because the customer's item is what you are escorting, that you are limited to hand luggage only." Jul 27, 2022 at 17:54
  • 4
    There used to be several of these companies 30 years ago that would pay airfare provided they could use all your checked luggage allowance. This has vanished (largely, if not completely) following 9/11 and with the advent of charges for checked luggage. Jul 28, 2022 at 8:45

There are stories about things that were not available at all in some locale prior to the 1990s but trade and logistics have gotten so efficient and you are very unlikely to find opportunities like that anymore. And you also have to account for customs regulations and taxes when comparing published prices.

Taking the EU as an example, if you are taking the iPhone solely for resell, it would not qualify for a tax and duty exemption. Even if it would, $699 is above the allowance to bring goods for personal use. That means paying around 20% VAT (depending on the country) on top of the price you paid. If you add the VAT, you see the price difference has already disappeared and that's ignoring the hit you have to take when you are selling what is effectively a second-hand unit with questionable origin (even if it's in pristine conditions).

  • 3
    Re. EU and price differences, people from eastern Europe used to bring local (Eastern European) liquor when traveling to Sweden in the early 1990s. But of course this was illlegal too.
    – Jan
    Jul 27, 2022 at 8:53
  • 2
    @Jan Yeah, I forgot that in my earlier comment on cigarettes and fuel, alcohol is also one of those products with special taxes that can be worth smuggling even though it's legal on both side of a border.
    – Relaxed
    Jul 27, 2022 at 9:20
  • Used blue jeans in Soviet Russia comes to mind, back in the 70s and 80s.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 28, 2022 at 16:01

Why it doesn't work

The economics add up as such: the margin you make on the products should be greater than the cost of transport plus taxes and duties. Such high margins are generally not possible unless you remove the taxes (making it illegal) or vastly increasing the quantity (congratulations, now you're a truck driver). If there would be such an opportunity then someone (who can either transport more or travel for cheaper) would undercut you.

How to save money by traveling

There are still cases where you can make travel worthwhile, usually when the cost of transport is low and you save money instead of trying to engage in selling items.
Finnish people may or may not travel to Estonia en masse for the cheaper booze. By the time they get loaded up with the allowed* 10 liters of spirits and tens of liters of beer for personal use they will have recouped the ferry costs. Additionally you may end up forming your Norwegian metal band while on such adventures. If they were found to do this commercially they would face at least penalties for tax and duty evasion.
Similarly Austrians will travel to Hungary or Slovakia to have manicure/pedicure/hair done, the difference in service costs makes up for the travel costs.
Similar but even larger scale savings can be achieved if you are willing to have surgeries abroad, laser eye surgeries or dental/oral treatments seem to have large markups in some countries while they are affordable in others. You may be able to cover your travel and accommodation costs. Bear in mind that the safety standards and legal requirements also vary among countries and you may need to speak the local language to effectively communicate with healthcare professionals.
Most of the above are anecdotal from friends of friends or places I have lived in.

How to make money while traveling

If you are at a point in your life where you can decide on careers and you really want to make it work you can chose the following:

  • Work in international transportation (truck driver, ship crew, airplane crew etc.)
  • Work at events (tour crew, stage builder etc.)
  • Work as an international consultant (e.g. software consultant, engineer)
  • Work as a traveling entertainer (free agents in busking, sex work can make it work, the legality of such occupations varies by country)
  • 7
    I'd add to the list of jobs "working in hostels/bars/restaurants" in tourist areas. I knew people who travelled the greek islands that way. In general their accommodation was included in their package, plus the could earn money as well.
    – Peter M
    Jul 27, 2022 at 16:16
  • 10
    Keeping in mind that many travel visas that a traveler might obtain are for recreational purposes only, and the holder can't legitimately hold a job.
    – Milwrdfan
    Jul 27, 2022 at 18:03
  • @Milwrdfan ideal visas are “working holidays” visas and in some cases study visas. But the specifics vary widely. For EU citizens, there are currently shortages of seasonal employees in some areas (e.g. tourism/hospitality in France).
    – jcaron
    Jul 29, 2022 at 20:16

Used cars are a type of commodity that still have large price differences in different parts of the world, due to differences in supply and demand and due to being somewhat hard to transport. If you are transporting one by traveling in it, it might be possible to earn your fuel consumption and maybe even the plane ticket back home.

But you would need to know the car market in your destination country well enough, and also include import duties in your calculations. In most countries, it is difficult to evade duties on stuff you cannot hide in your suitcase.

  • 8
    In many cases the differences in prices are due to taxes, which can be extremely high in some countries. If you import the vehicle for resale, you’ll have to pay those taxes like everybody else. And it’s probably going to cost you a lot more than it would for a professional who does that all year long.
    – jcaron
    Jul 27, 2022 at 11:35
  • 1
    If importing used cars from country A into country B is a thing, you could offer to just drive the car across the border on the customer’s behalf, and maybe even do the paperwork. That way, you are not buying the car yourself (with the risk of not finding a buyer willing to pay enough), you are just driving someone else’s car across the border. For example, I know that a lot of folks in Lithuania buy used cars from abroad (mostly NL, BE, FR and DE) and have them shipped to Lithuania. Things might be similar elsewhere in the eastern EU.
    – user149408
    Jul 27, 2022 at 12:22
  • 5
    I used to live in Thailand (long ago). I knew one business which imported old luxury cars in poor condition from the UK. They would pay the high rate import fees. They fixed them up locally and sold them at a good profit. Although, the import fees were a high percentage, an old rusty Jaguar can be both cheaply in the UK. One that has failed its MOT (annual safety check) would be very cheap. The cost of repair will be lower in Thailand. The result was a very cheap alternative to a new luxury car with the very high import fees on the new price.
    – badjohn
    Jul 27, 2022 at 12:44
  • 3
    Tariffs are a major part in this. Yes, sued cars are extremely expensive in e.g. Norway. But if you entered the country with your car, and exited without, you'd need to have to pay the tariffs for importing the car, obliterating your earnings.
    – Polygnome
    Jul 27, 2022 at 14:44

Buying the same product for a low price in one place and reselling it for a higher price in another is a form of arbitrage.

In an efficient market, there are usually no opportunities for arbitrage, as others will fill the gap, and prices will even out.

What you think is an opportunity most probably isn’t one: most apparent prices differences are just due to differences in taxes (sales tax, VAT/GST, import duties…). Sometimes there are short-term opportunities when currencies vary quickly and local prices have not been adjusted, but those are quite short term, and difficult to predict.

Let’s take your own example. The cheapest iPhone you can buy is a 64 GB iPhone SE. In the US it retails for $429 (but remember that in the US you have to pay sales tax on top of that and you usually can’t reclaim it).

As of today, that’s €420. Once you add 20% VAT, that’s €504. The retail price in France is €529. As you can see, the difference is minimal, and depending on the day’s exchange rate, it may even be negative.

Of course you could “forget” to declare those at customs. But that’s just illegal (duty-free allowances are for items for your personal use — anything you plan on reselling is nearly always excluded). There’s a name for that: smuggling. Penalties can vary quite a bit depending on the country, amount, and type of goods, but this is the most efficient way of being expelled from the country you wanted to visit (and never allowed back in), possibly with a little (or not so little) detour via the local jail.

Even if there is a legitimate opportunity once taxes are taken into account (for instance when a new iPhone is released, it is sometimes not available everywhere right away, so if you can get hold of one or more in one location where it is available and resell it in a location where it isn’t yet there could be an opportunity), importing stuff usually involves a lot of paperwork, business registration, filing taxes, etc. So most probably not what you want to do. And of course it requires finding customers willing to pay extra for what is now a second-hand product…

What you can do is find work opportunities. But here again, this is not always an easy task: unless you remain in the same country or union (like the EU), you will usually need a visa which allows you to work (tourist visas usually don’t allow you to work). There are some cases where this can be relatively easy, others where it will be a lot more difficult. Your personal circumstances (citizenship, age, whether you’re still a student, or your qualifications…) may have a strong influence on what visas you can get.


Please don’t engage in illegal smuggling. One method of making money that no one has mentioned is to sell your blood to a blood bank. Perfectly legal in many jurisdictions.


If you want to keep it legal, which of course you do, you can certainly do this on a small scale.

I (and other people I know) have done this more or less unintentionally in the past. You find something that is really cheap in the country you are travelling from (e.g. in the US this may be denim clothing or second-hand music instuments) and more expensive in the place you are travelling to. You buy as much as you can while staying inside your allowance. You keep the receipts, just in case you get stopped and checked. You are still legal at this point. In your next country (for most of us this is home) you do not need to pay import duty because you stayed inside your limit.

Now you may discover that you don't need it all (eg you bought those jeans in the wrong size, or you don't really like your used sax) and you sell it privately for a tidy profit. Depending on local laws you are probably still legal at this point, but you have to check this.

If you want to do this on a big scale, to earn enough to live on, you will have to go official and start a company and all that legal stuff. As an amateur you can't finance your life in this way.

edit: Quite right, you can't do this commercially on a large scale. You can sell the stuff privately to people who won't get you into trouble - who's going to fret about the €20 profit on a pair of jeans? More interesting is the €200 profit on a used sax (ahem!). This is a cash market and nobody will actually know. Yes, it's a bit of a grey area. Yes, it's breaking the rules. But if you try and do it legally - like ring the Customs office and ask (I did) - they will tell you not to bother them with peanuts.

  • 10
    That’s actually incorrect in most countries: duty-free allowances are usually restricted to items for your own personal use. Anything you want to resell is immediately excluded from those allowances, and tax is due.
    – jcaron
    Jul 27, 2022 at 11:36
  • 14
    The days when you could live like a king in Eastern Europe from selling a pair of Levis are long gone. Jul 27, 2022 at 11:42
  • 4
    "Consumers were reportedly willing to pay up to 200 roubles a pair (the equivalent of one month’s wages), with a 1972 Life Magazine article reported that some American students had been funding their travels in the Soviet Union simply by selling off pairs of old Levi’s. "
    – user4188
    Jul 27, 2022 at 13:27
  • 6
    @lambshaanxy They were long gone in '93 when I was visiting Russia and contemplating selling some Levis
    – Peter M
    Jul 27, 2022 at 13:57
  • 7
    It's not a "grey area", it's just illegal. Sure, it's small scale illegal, but it's still illegal. You might as well advise the OP to save money during their travels by shoplifting but only shoplifting inexpensive items.
    – Sneftel
    Jul 28, 2022 at 11:21

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