June 28, 2020

Onshore vs Offshore Virtual Assistant – What’s the Right Choice For You?

So you’re ready to “level up” your business and grow your team with a new virtual assistant.


Whether you’re set to hire a VA as your very first team member or looking to add a VA (or two!) to your existing team, you’re facing a few important decisions. For example, you’re thinking about:

  • What types of tasks will you assign to the VA? 
  • Do those require a generalist or a specialist
  • Do you prefer working with an independent contractor (home-based) or going through an agency (office-based)? 
  • Is an onshore or offshore VA better for your needs and your budget?

Now, if you don’t happen to be asking yourself that last question, we’re going to share with you why you should be. We’re also going to break down what you need to know in order to make an informed decision.

Onshore Versus Offshore Virtual Assistants

offshore virtual assistant

Before we get into it, let’s briefly clarify what we mean by onshore and offshore, just in case you don’t throw those terms around all day. For our purposes: onshore VAs work domestically and offshore VAs work in a foreign country (to yours) - and typically a foreign country not nearby your homeland.

Naturally, there are pros and cons for each, so let’s take a look, starting with offshore VAs.

When You Should Hire An Offshore Virtual Assistant

Keep in mind that there is no “right” answer when it comes to deciding between onshore and offshore virtual assistants. You ultimately have to do what’s best for you and your business.  But here are just a few of the situations where an offshore VA is likely preferable to an onshore VA.

When Saving Money Is A Critical 

The primary advantage of working with an offshore VA is saving money. Virtual assistants in countries like the Philippines and India, working at rates from about $10-15 an hour, produce work that’s on par with Western VAs charging $25-50 per hour.

This 60-70% cost savings offers a few benefits beyond the obvious. Because offshore will eat up significantly less of your funds, it means you can either keep more of your money, or your VA budget goes further.

If you chose to hire a full-time, offshore VA, instead of a part-time, onshore VA, more work is taken off your plate. You then have more time to focus on your genius zone, making it easier to grow your business and to grow it faster. 

At the same time, the lower cost also means an entrepreneur will be able to afford to add their first or next VA to their team sooner than if they had to wait until they could afford an onshore option.

Once again, this means that the owner will have an easier time growing their business and grow it faster.

offshore virtual assistant
offshore virtual assistant

Myths About The Lower Cost Of Hiring An Offshore Virtual Assistant

In another post, we addressed some common myths about offshore outsourcing. But this is a great time to interrupt our list to consider a couple more.

The amount you can save by hiring offshore almost sounds like “cheating,” doesn’t it? It might seem unfair - or even exploitative - to pay someone 60-70% less than the going rate in your country’s market. However, the main reason for the difference is the economy and standard of living in the countries where offshore VAs operate. That is, their rates might be “low wages” where you live, but they’re very respectable elsewhere. 

For example, in the Philippines, virtual assistants’ wages are roughly equivalent to various “professional” roles such as nursing! Therefore, by hiring an offshore virtual assistant, you’re providing someone with a solid job opportunity. Working for you benefits them and their families, as well as their local economy.

Another misperception about bringing an offshore VA onto your team is that it’s depriving a domestic person of a job, but that’s simply not the case, either. Look at it this way: Say a U.S.-based solopreneur wants to hire her first virtual assistant, but she can only afford to pay $10 an hour. She’s not as likely to find someone in the U.S. to do quality work at that rate. So her only options are to look offshore or to keep doing the work herself, as she can’t afford an onshore VA.

offshore virtual assistant

Either way, no job is created in the U.S.! At the same time, hiring a team member offshore can, indirectly, benefit your local economy. But let’s come back to that when we discuss onshore VAs.

"Therefore, by hiring an offshore virtual assistant, you’re providing someone with a solid job opportunity."

When You Need To Hand Off Necessary But Low-Impact Tasks

Offshore VAs tend to be excellent generalists, capable of handling an array of general admin activities, such as email management, appointment scheduling, creating documents, and transcription.

But you might be surprised to learn that there are a variety of simple, repeatable activities related to more “specialist” VA roles, such as social media and content management, digital media, and systems that offshore VAs can handle with ease.

Some specialist task examples include creating content calendars and social media profiles, researching trends and hashtags, monitoring blog traffic, designing webinar slides, and setting up automated client workflows.

If you’re looking for more ideas about recurring tasks for virtual assistants, we’ve detailed a variety of simple, repeatable tasks both general and specialist VAs elsewhere on our blog

offshore virtual assistant

Any and all tasks that must be done - and that suck up lots of time - but are not revenue-generating activities can be easily handed off to a VA overseas.

You simply need to clearly define your routine daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and provide the tools, training, expectations, and feedback needed to succeed, and your offshore VA will excel. Honestly, you’d almost have to be crazy not to go with an offshore virtual assistant for repeatable, step-by-step tasks.

offshore virtual assistant

When You Want To Free Up Time For Your Team

A key to growing your business is to recognize when you need to free up some more of your time as well as when you need to free up time for your existing team members.

That is, you recognize the value your team brings to you and ensure they aren’t wasting their genius completing tasks someone else can do. 

As your business and your team grow, stay dialed into exactly what your team does for you and become very aware of what they do best. As soon as you can justify the expense of adding another team member, hire a VA to complete tasks that have become low-impact activities for your existing team.

This will allow your team to better leverage their strengths to grow your business. The lower cost of an offshore VA will allow you to grow your team - and your bottom line -  faster.

"The lower cost of an offshore VA will allow you to grow your team - and your bottom line -  faster."

When You Like To Wake Up To Completed Tasks

Although it’s possible to hire an offshore VA who works during your working hours, as we’ve addressed, it can be advantageous to have a team member working when you’re not.

Imagine firing up your computer in the morning to find that unnecessary emails have been deleted, others have already been handled, and you’re left with only the few that truly need your eyes on them. Or that you sign into your project management software, and you can view all of the social media graphics in your scheduling software for the next month.

Doesn’t that sound amazing?

Also, when you have a VA working for you in another time zone, you’re able to expand your customer service hours.

While you’re sleeping, your overseas VA can be answering client issues and questions via email or telephone, allowing you to provide a higher level of customer service.

offshore virtual assistant

When You Should Hire An Onshore Virtual Assistant

Okay, now that we’ve covered some of the benefits of choosing offshore virtual assistants, let’s take a look at the situations where business owners are more likely to require an onshore VA for their businesses.

When You Need A Native Language Speaker

Although many offshore VAs speak superb English, you’ll likely want to hire a native English speaker if your virtual assistant will speak to your customers on the phone frequently.

Similarly, although email communication is a little “safer” to hand off to a non-native speaker, the nature of the written communications you need help with may dictate using an onshore VA.

If you need the VA to simply send emails and responses that are mostly “canned” (e.g., there’s a template the VA sends off with little to no editing), the language issue won’t matter. 

But if your emails require individualized client information or responses, you’ll likely want an onshore VA to ensure clarity and avoid confusion.

In addition, if you’re looking for any assistance with writing or editing blog and social media posts, an onshore virtual assistant is the safest bet. And even though many overseas VAs have excellent technical skills, podcast editing is possibly another area where an onshore VA may be the safest bet to ensure a clear flow of the audio conversation.

offshore virtual assistant


Similar to the above, if your business or your clientele requires a solid understanding of your native culture, an onshore virtual assistant is the way to go. Consider whether your business and the tasks you want to hand off require the VA to possess a complete understanding of cultural references and nuances. When in doubt, opt for the onshore VA. 

For example, if you’re hoping to hire a virtual assistant to help manage members and their engagement in your Facebook group, it might be important that you select someone who will thoroughly understand cultural references made in the group. With an offshore VA, some references or language might get misunderstood.

Working In The Same Time Zone Is A Must

As we mentioned above, many offshore VAs work during your time zone, even though they may be 10 or more time zones away from your location. So it is possible to find a VA overseas who’s working at the same time as you are. But it may be simpler and easier to find someone who’s geographically close to you.

And why might you want to sync time zones with your VA? It could be that you want to be able to collaborate with your VA in real time Or perhaps you want to be able to rely on someone who can help you deal with tasks that come up and need to be completed “right now.”

And if your VA needs to be available during your set office hours to handles customer calls and emails, an onshore VA may be most desirable to you.

You Require Some Strategic Thinking And Decision Making

Let’s just clarify something first. When we say “strategic thinking,” we don’t mean getting your virtual assistant involved in influencing the strategy of your business.

As the business owner, the strategy always belongs to you. We’re merely referring to the ability to see things and make judgment calls beyond the step-by-step tasks at hand.

As you know, we highly recommend that you list all the tasks you’ll hand off to your VA and create detailed processes and instruction for those tasks before you bring someone onto your team.

When deciding whether to look for an onshore or offshore team member, go through that list and the steps for the tasks, and determine whether they can be executed by anyone with the tools and instructions, or if one or more of the tasks may involve making some type of judgment call.

Even if the decisions to be made are simple, going with an onshore VA is the wise choice if you want someone who can think on their feet and improvise as needed.

When To Hire A Mix Of Onshore And Offshore Assistants

At the risk of confusing you, we want to suggest that the best option could be adding both onshore and offshore virtual assistants to your business. To make this perfectly clear, let’s remind ourselves about why you’re hiring a virtual assistant in the first place.

You can’t do it all because your “money maker” is the time and energy you put into your genius zone in your business. So you hire a VA (or two!) save you from doing low-impact tasks and to work with more focus.

Therefore, you want to get “the most bang for your buck,” right? Using a combination of onshore and offshore VAs could be the perfect solution for helping you accelerate your business.

offshore virtual assistant

You Have A Mix Of Requirements 

Imagine that you’ve identified all the tasks that you want to take off your plate (or a team members’ plate!). Your list should include all of the things that you shouldn’t be doing, tasks you’re not good at, and any activities you simply hate doing. You’re likely to find that your list involves a wide range of tasks and skills

So, for one, it’s going to be more difficult to find one VA who has the range of abilities to fill your needs, whether you’re recruiting from an offshore or an onshore pool of candidates. In addition, many of the items on your list will be general administrative or other recurring tasks, but some others will require a little more expertise or decision making. Or maybe a certain percentage of your tasks involve language or cultural issues mentioned above and require an onshore VA. 

If you try to add an offshore VA to handle it all, at best, they might struggle to complete the higher-impact tasks to your standards. At worst, you could end up wasting time and money because they have to repeat work to fix errors - or you have to fix their errors yourself.

On the other hand, if you hire one onshore VA - who’s capable of the more challenging items on your list - you’ll be overpaying them for the time they spend on the simpler, repeatable tasks.

Plus, they’ll likely be super-bored with completing tasks for which they’re overqualified. You’re hiring someone to save you from doing low-impact tasks. Don’t hand them off to someone for whom they’re also low-impact! 

"Using a combination of onshore and offshore VAs could be the perfect solution for helping you accelerate your business."

Why Choose Both 

The smarter alternative to one, full-time VA - and the one which will maximize both budget and the impact on the business - is to hire two, part-time virtual assistants, one onshore and one offshore.

Assign the simplest tasks to the offshore VA and the more complex or specialist ones to the onshore VA. You’ll get the same number of hours of work getting done but in a more cost-effective way. Plus, each VA will be working in their “sweet spot” for you, further maximizing their effectiveness. 

Keep in mind that’s just an example, and you could end up with a variety of combinations of offshore and onshore team members. For instance, because it’s so cost efficient, you might hire a full-time, offshore VA and a part-time, onshore VA. Or the best mix for your business might be two full- or part-time offshore VAs and one onshore assistant.

The options are limitless! But the bottom line is to be strategic about how you allocate your investment and leverage others’ abilities to support your business.

For more information about virtual assistants, read our Ultimate Guide to Virtual Assistants.  This guide will give you the full rundown on all the processes that you need to learn about before having a virtual assistant like how you can hire one and how you can effectively manage one.


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