Work > Working abroad
Does earning money while living in a new and exciting surroundings sound appealing to you? Accepting employment overseas can offer both a cultural experience of living abroad and the possibility of new job skills and earning money. More people than ever are working abroad, so if you like the concept of working abroad, consider what options are available to you.
- See also Working in China
Jobs overseas can be divided into four main categories:
- Professional or skilled jobs that require substantial experience or training and usually offer higher salaries and perhaps an 'expat package', including housing and a relocation allowance; in addition to jobs advertised in the country in question, there are jobs exclusively advertised in your home country (read: not in the country where the job is).
- Jobs abroad for volunteers or people otherwise willing to work for little compensation. Like in the skilled job offers, moving abroad is part of the deal, but requirements are much lower.
- The more informal jobs can be picked up while travelling abroad, but offer much lower salaries and few if any benefits.
- Digital nomad jobs, work that can be done over the Internet. See this forum.
Teaching English is probably the single most common occupation for working abroad, and is discussed in its own article. It can be done both professionally, if you have the relevant training and experience, or more informally, say as part of a round the world journey. Other teaching jobs are also sometimes available.
Good resources for finding jobs in general are online recruitment sites such as monster.com and Careers & Jobs, which also offer advice for moving overseas and have listings of opportunities available by country. See also the Work section of country or region listings for local job hunting resources.
Nearly all governments send staff abroad for various reasons, mainly long-term government employees but also consultants or contractors for particular projects. Government departments with offices abroad always include foreign affairs and often trade and immigration. See Diplomatic missions.
Generally in these services, junior employees spend some time "paying their dues" by working in Back-of-beyond-istan; you need some seniority to get a posting in places more attractive to most of the staff, like Geneva or Hong Kong. These jobs have all the usual benefits and problems of any civil service post. Often, though, there are extra allowances for "hardship posts", sometimes enough to pay off a mortgage back home over a few years.
Then there are government-run foreign aid organisations. Many countries have several of these. For example, Canada has CIDA, their main aid agency; working there has similar benefits to any other government job. They also have CUSO sending volunteers abroad; see Volunteer for more on such organisations.
Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) employ professional expats all around the world. These include big, quasi-governmental entities such as UNESCO or the Asian Development Bank, and private development organizations such as CARE or World Vision. If you've got proven leadership ability, and an interest in third world development, many opportunities are available.
Religious organisations also often have jobs abroad, so if you are religious it is likely worth checking with your Church or other such group. They mostly need either missionaries/prosletizers or professionals such as doctors, nurses or experts in areas like agriculture, fisheries or construction. Often these jobs do not pay well. Also, in some places they are under legal restrictions; for example, in Saudi Arabia it is illegal to attempt to convert Muslims to another faith.
Teaching - teaching English is the most common traveller's teaching job, with work available almost anywhere, but particularly in Asia. If you have advanced qualifications in other fields, or teaching qualifications, you will be able to find other teaching work internationally at an International School; see discussion in the English teaching article.
There are many jobs for various sorts of expert supporting off-shore work. A high-tech company with a development center in India, for example, will send some of its senior employees there and will hire many Indians, but there are still many niches that others might fill. Experienced project managers are hard to find anywhere and there may be a desperate shortage in times of rapid growth, Indian technical writers may need a native English speaker as an editor, and so on.
The petroleum industry employs expats anywhere oil is extracted. Working on an oil rig can be a tough job, but the pay is generally good. In the more difficult locations, oil industry jobs often include benefits like housing (often limited) and food (usually good) when on-site, and the employer generally provides flights home for the breaks. In an area like the North Sea or Western North America, there may be well-paid jobs for unskilled labour. In lower-income areas, the unskilled jobs will be filled locally but there will often be jobs for English teachers as well as skilled rig workers.
Multinational companies regularly ship employees overseas for various reasons — to set up or manage factories, overseas branches or joint ventures with local firms, to deal with purchasing and subcontracting, to provide specialist expertise or training, and so on. If you're working at a multinational, contact the human resources department and see if they have any openings.
If you work for a company with factories abroad, spending a few years in one of them can be a good career move. Consider two young engineers at the same company; Alice takes an assignment abroad but Bob declines. For the next several years, Alice is one of three foreign staff at the factory, learning to troubleshoot all sorts of weird problems and working directly with the quite senior person who manages the whole show there. Bob is still one of the more junior guys on a team doing routine work back at headquarters. When Alice returns after a few years her promotion prospects may be considerably better than Bob's.
If your company is transferring you overseas, never accept a pay cut. Yes, your expenses and taxes may be lower in the new country, but if your salary is cut you will lose the ability to save money and when you return, you will have a hard time clawing back up to your original salary, much less any raises that would otherwise have accrued. You will also have many expenses you do not have at home – and in a low-income country expenses may raise quickly when not living like low-income locals.
Then there are of course the domestic job markets. For lower white-collar work, having local qualifications may be necessary, and getting such jobs can therefore be difficult. For some expert positions, on the other hand, expertise is just about the only thing that counts. Employers include universities and research and development departments of big enterprises.
Volunteering and other low-salary jobs
Many organisations sends both qualified and non-qualified workers abroad as volunteers, with low salary, just compensation for expenses or even having you pay for participating in their programmes. Although you are working, the main reason for sending you instead of recruiting locals may be to further international understanding. For a more thorough discussion see Volunteer.
Jobs with low salary may be offered also without the charity aspect. Here you are paying or working to get the opportunity to get in touch with the foreign culture, more deeply and more cheaply than on a course or vacation. A typical example is working as au pair, i.e. doing household and child care work for food, bed and pocket money.
If you're interested in temporary jobs, or your visa limits you to temporary jobs, there are a number of industries which often have work available:
- Hostels and hotels - Smaller hotels and B&Bs are unlikely to require their employees to speak or read English. At luxury hotels, however, with American, Irish, UK, and other English speaking business persons as the main customers, employees are likely to be required to speak and read fluent English.
- Tourist restaurants e.g. Hard Rock Cafe, or Munich's Hofbräuhaus.
- Theme parks The most famous European theme park is Disneyland Paris. Disneyland Paris usually requires non-EU citizens to have a work visa before employment. You can ask if the theme park will hire you if you can obtain a visa before leaving your home country. Ask the theme park to write a letter to that effect and apply at the French embassy in your country.
- Tour operators - Tour operators are almost always looking for people to be tour guides. Getting a job with a tour guide will not allow you to travel independently much, however.
- Agriculture - seasonal work in agriculture, particularly crop work, is available in Western countries where there is often a shortage of willing local labor. Fruit picking is the most common temporary work. Longer term work with livestock is available in countries like Australia on some of the more remote livestock stations.
- Tourist sports - sports that people frequently travel to participate in often have associated jobs available, often on a temporary basis. Examples include:
- Scuba diving, which has instructing and dive leading work. In addition, the industry employs cooks, boat operators and deck hands. Work is seasonal, peaking in the summer in subtropical areas and the winter in tropical areas like Far North Queensland and South Thailand.
- Alpine skiing, which has work in instructing, lift operation, ski patrol and rescue, snow grooming and hospitality. Work is seasonal. The major season is in the northern hemisphere's winter with work available in North America and Europe, but the southern hemisphere's winter has a smaller season in Australia, New Zealand and Peru.
- Cruising on small craft, which may provide work and transport for crew or work in places like dockyards and marinas.
It may be possible to get seasonal work in both hemispheres. A ski instructor, for example, might work in Banff during the Canadian winter and Bariloche in the Argentinian winter, perhaps with some Caribbean or California holidays during the transits.
A skilled cook can find work almost anywhere; probably the best pay is on oil rigs, but the most interesting life might involve a job in a hotel, resort or tourist restaurant.
Digital nomad work
A digital nomad is someone who takes their work with them while travelling, typically working from a laptop in a cafe in some interesting spot. Much of the work involved is creative, such as writing code or articles; see travel writing for one obvious possibilty. However, some people run Internet businesses as nomads, others do things like administering web sites remotely, and there are other possibilities.
There are several online forums for digital nomads such as Nomad list, Digital Nomad Forum and a Reddit board. Digital Nomad Academy and Digital Nomad Community are sites with a fee that offer training courses, mainly for people who want to become nomadic entrepreneurs.
Remote OK is a recruitment site for digital nomads. It works as an aggregator that collects jobs from many recruitment sites, then selects only the ones that can be done remotely so you could do them from anywhere with good Internet service.
There is a 25-meter (82-foot) sailing catamaran called Coboat, a sort of cruise ship for digital nomads. She set out from Southeast Asia in late 2015; plans call for her to circumnavigate the world, travelling east-to-west and passing through both the Suez and Panama canals.
A few people working for large companies have gone from works-on-site employee to works-at-home and on to works-on-the-road; going through this progression appears to be the only way to get a full-benefits employee position with a major firm as a nomad. These companies may also have work for contractors or consultants who are not employees, and some also have desirable but non-nomadic posts abroad for employees; see above.
See also Retiring abroad; some places suggested there would also be good for remote workers.
Always secure the proper visa before you start your journey. Most countries do not allow employment on a tourist visa. In some cases travellers try to skirt this by departing the country and returning every 3 months or so, an expensive and troublesome option that still leaves you working in illegal status. Unless your work plans are very short term, make sure that your employer can sponsor you for a valid work visa before accepting any job.
American citizens often have to check the visa laws of the country they will be traveling to. If traveling abroad, but being hosted and taken care of by a company in the U.S. most countries won't require an American to obtain a work visa providing that the stay does not exceed 30 - 90 days.
If being hired by a foreign company to travel abroad then a visa is typically required. To obtain the visa, several things will normally need to be submitted to an embassy/consulate of the nation you plan on working in -
- A visa application with passport sized photographs
- Criminal background report - This can often be obtained by visiting the sheriff's office in your county.
- A letter from the employer stating that they need your services, have hired you, the salary you will be making, and length of employment period. Occasionally more information is required.
- Evidence that you will be able to support yourself and/or your family while inside the country.
Citizens of the European Union - Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Finland, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom - normally do not need a visa to work and live in another EU member country. Exceptions to this are with newly admitted Central European and East European countries. Some nations have instituted immigration rules and laws that effectively create quotas for the number of citizens of new EU member nations allowed to emigrate to the country.
The overseas territories of some EU countries can be interesting destinations, with some of the advantages of staying home (varying between destinations).
Take a look first
If considering a long-term assignment in a country you haven't been to before, especially with family, pay a visit first, on your own time if necessary. This will give a much better idea of what to expect: you can experience the local lifestyle firsthand, you can meet the people you'll be working with, and you'll have a head start on choosing where to live, what schools look like, etc.
One of the hardest parts of moving abroad is finding and furnishing a place to stay. In some Asian countries like South Korea and Japan, simply renting an apartment can be very difficult due to onerous requirements like finding a Japanese guarantor who agrees to take financial responsibility for you (if you bail, they get stuck with the bill!) or, in Korea, the requirement to deposit over 50% of the purchase price of the apartment for safekeeping with the landlord. Many landlords are also reluctant to rent to foreigners, fearing culture clashes and unpaid bills — or, at the other end of the spectrum, look at foreigners as easily overcharged fools who will pay over the market price.
If your company can arrange accommodations for you, it's usually wise to take them up on the offer, at least until you get settled. Otherwise, look into long-stay accommodation like apartment hotels, which will allow you to get your feet out on the ground and explore in peace before taking the plunge. Sharing apartments with other expats is another common way of reducing hassle and expenses.
The Classifieds section of a local, expat-oriented newspaper or website is usually a great place to look for foreigner-friendly apartments.
Moving to a new house is a hassle, and moving into a foreign country is double or triply so, because you don't know how things work and there may be a language barrier too.
If you opt to have a professional ship your belongings, you're usually looking at a big bill and a wait of several months if you ship by sea, or a huge bill if you ship by air. Unless you're moving "for good", or have the company footing the bill (there and back!), you should aim to bring as little as possible. Importing a car or other motor vehicle anywhere is a major hassle. For furniture, household appliances and electronics it's usually far cheaper to buy new than ship. Books, on the other hand, can usually be shipped through ordinary mail surprisingly cheaply; ask about special rates for printed matter at your post office (in the United States, the key term is the "International M-Bag"). Most international moving companies can assist you on arrival in finding an apartment, getting a driver's license, or getting linked into the local expat community.
If you opt to bring all your worldly belongings with you, remember that airlines usually slap on steep excess freight charges if you exceed 20 kilograms. For some travellers it may be worth considering going in business class or even first class; those are usually quite a bit more expensive, but they are more comfortable and have a larger baggage allowance.
A recommended solution would be to bring nothing more than clothing, a pc, and absolutely the bare necessities. Many expats are typically living abroad for no more than four years at a time. Often expats will purchase furniture in their destination and before returning home sell their furniture abroad. This will save you money, because you don't have to deal with the hassle of moving large objects abroad and when returning after selling off the furniture an expatriate returns with extra cash.
- See also: Money
Expect to burn a lot of money in the initial phase as you pay deposits and sort out household appliances, furniture, etc. Bring a solid chunk of cash — several months' salary is wise — and explore whether your company is willing to front you an advance or pay the deposit(s) for you.
Your expenses will depend on the cost of living at your destination. North America, West Europe, Australia, the Middle East and Asia's richer countries (Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong) will make a sizable dent in your budget, but poorer Asian, Central European, and East European nations are much more reasonable.
Remember to check what is included in your employment contract and local welfare, and what you will have to pay for that not covered, including insurances. What about medical care, vacations, days off work because of illness, maternal leaves, child care and education? What if you become disabled or die (at work or otherwise)? Is your working abroad adding to social security back home, such as pensions and unemployment benefits? Do not count on not loosing them altogether.
In some cases the specifics of your employment is essential for what benefits you get or loose, e.g. whether you are sent abroad by a domestic company or employed by the local branch counted (at home) as a foreign company. The length of your stay is also important, so if working for half a year, think twice about working a few days less or more than the limit (counting in the same way as the authorities).
Expat life can be dull and lonely at times, but also exciting if one embraces new opportunities.
In countries and regions less connected to the "outside world" than other parts life can be dull and uneventful to cure this many expats often venture into the nearest capital or take a weekend trip to another country.
To cope with living abroad, familiarize yourself with the local customs and culture as much as possible. Try to get out and see more than what you normally would during the commute to and from work. Make new relationships; seek out new friends. In most countries, you'll generally find that the more polite and good natured you are towards the locals, the easier your stay will be, and you might even make some life-long friends in the process. The general idea is to NOT be a shut-in, get out and generate some life experiences for yourself. Remember, people are all made from the same materials, and we all have the same basic feelings. Those in other countries aren't much different from you. If you can wrap your head around that concept, you will have a much easier time acquainting yourself with your new surroundings.
See also Retiring abroad; some of the discussion of the expat life there also applies if you are working.