So you decided that you wanted to work overseas? Whatever your reasons, rest assured that you are about to join an exclusive group: according to the last World Migration Report from the International Organization for Migration, about 3.6% of the world population, or 281 million, can be considered expatriates (i.e., people living in a country different from their citizenship). I was myself in this situation a few years ago before working abroad. In this post, I will share with you all the steps you should follow before and during your application, as well as once you finally settle abroad to make sure your international experience is unforgettable for good reasons.
As usual on this site, this article is written to apply to anyone wishing to work overseas, regardless of your education, professional experience, or even geographic location or country of destination.
We will also not discuss language courses you could have to increase your chances. That is a considerable asset to speak multiple languages if you want to work overseas; no need to insist further.
What you need to prepare to work abroad
Before your application
1. Ask yourself why you want to work overseas
You may want to work abroad to discover a new culture, get closer to (or further away from) a relative, or take advantage of a tremendous economic opportunity. These reasons are good, but most importantly, they lead to you having different expectations from your work abroad experience. This is important as these expectations will let you decide whether your experience is a success or not.
For instance, if you go to a country because of high gross salary perspectives but end up with a low net salary, you will waste your time. Or suppose you don’t grasp a culture’s specifics by systematically creating conflict or questioning your elders in a hierarchical society. In that case, you could end your experience prematurely. Therefore, the clearer you are about your intentions once abroad, the better you collect relevant information. A personal SWOT analysis can help you figuring out your reasons for going abroad.
2. Study just a few countries
It can seem very tempting to search very wide, i.e., limit your job search worldwide or a whole continent. But it is a mistake: every country has its own rules and cultures, and you will need to go through many of them if you are serious about working overseas. Therefore, unless you know many countries exceptionally well, you are better off picking a few potential destinations and learning as much about them as possible.
When you do your research, here are some points you should consider and some links that might be helpful.
- Residence permit or visa: is one of them required for you? If yes, what are the conditions to get it? How long does it take? How much would it cost? The portal of your embassy in the destination country is a good source of information. Alternatively, in our career encyclopedia, we gather all information you may need to prepare for a move to any country. Stay tuned while our database is growing!
- Relocation costs: How much would you have to pay to move all your belongings from your current address to the new one?
- Cost of living: you need to know what your salary could buy in your new country, from housing to leisure activities. Can you do the same activities in your targeted country as those you currently do or more? For this, you can check Numbeo, an excellent database of consumer prices in all countries worldwide.
- Taxes: you will need to negotiate your gross annual salary, so it is essential to know how much money will be left for you after taxes
- Culture: how should you behave to better integrate into your new home country? To get an idea about a country, you can use Hofstede’s six dimensions and have a look at each of these.
3. Match your education to local customs
Here, the idea is that you want your future interlocutor to understand your education clearly. The best way to do that is by looking at the destination country’s education system and finding equivalences to your education.
By doing this exercise, you may find out that some part or all of your education is not considered the same level as degrees with the same years of study. Unfortunately, it happens often, especially if you have a degree in a country with no or very little partnership with your potential host country or a degree from an emerging nation. As a result, you may need to either study more abroad to meet the minimum level or aim for jobs with a lower degree than the one you have.
The best way to be sure about this is by asking your university, either through the international relations department or directly to the alumni network. But, again, some people may have been in this situation and therefore could be of help. Or another solution, once again, is to look at (or contribute to) our education database.
During your recruitment process
4. Get the missing information during the interview
Are you in the recruitment process? Congratulations, you are getting closer to working overseas. The recruitment process is probably the same at this stage, whether you are a “local” or not. However, it is also very likely that you did not manage to get all the answers to the interrogations you had before applying.
So use this stage to collect as much information as possible, especially about the unanswered questions. Of course, asking your interlocutor is something you should consider, but don’t forget to ask other foreigners too. Of course, if they are residents of your potential destination, that is the best. But even foreigners who work overseas in other countries can have exciting feedback based on their experiences.
5. Visit the place
Similarly, if possible, always try to visit the place before deciding: the company and the city, its surroundings, potential schools or kindergartens, shops, and public transport. In short, try to answer this question: do you imagine yourself living there for the next X years (replace X by the time you plan to stay there). A two-day visit is a minimum for places you don’t know to get a good evaluation.
After you arrive at your destination
If you are in your new home country, bravo: you did it. A new and exciting chapter of your life will be written down.
6. Join a group of expats
But working abroad does not mark the end of your life. You still want to get the best of this experience. In that case, try to contact other foreigners living in the same area. Living in a new country can be challenging, especially if you don’t speak the local language fluently. You will be happy to have friends who went through this to discuss with, even though they don’t have the same citizenship as you. You can also join meetup groups to meet more people. Meetup is a good start, for example.
7. Learn the language and cultures of your home country
It is also strongly recommended to start learning the language, even if it may look complicated. By experience, there are always some people who are happy to learn and discover other languages and cultures in exchange for teaching their language and culture. This can then open other doors for you to other people who are also eager to learn from you.
Finally, it is also good to subscribe to a news service about your new home country. You don’t want to always depend on other people to know about the last news. For example, suppose you are in Europe. In that case, you can subscribe to The Local, a news website with local editions in many European countries, only in English. Another option could be to register with your embassy and read their newsletter if they have such a service.
Working overseas is quite long and, as we just saw, not straightforward. It requires much research, and sometimes it is not even enough to answer all your questions. Google will undoubtedly be your best friend for that. Or an alternative could be Jinn: in our career explorer, we aim to gather all information related to expatriation in a single point. This information could then advise users about what they need to do in their research.
In any case, you now know the keys you need to prepare better to work abroad. So keep faith in yourself, follow these tips, and you will see positive effects in your career and personal life. Good luck!