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Finding Work Abroad

People who want to experience expat life will likely have to apply for international jobs. John recently secured a role in Norway and has also worked in Europe a few times before. If you're interested in working abroad, here are some helpful tips to improve your chances.

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Photo by cohdra from morgueFile.

1. Start with the low-hanging fruit.

If you're already employed with a company that you're happy with, this is a good place to start. Contact human resources or check out the intranet for open positions in another country. This would be your most seamless transition because the company can likely transfer you with minimal visa hassles and cost to you.

2. Start early.

The job hunt can take a lot of time. Most companies will have an application process that could include a couple of interviews. Even after you land the job, visas can take several weeks or months to come through depending on your nationality and the country you'll be relocating to. It can also take time to develop relationships with recruitment agents and to figure out which country and company is the best fit for you. John started looking for work in September and didn't accept a position until February.

3. Use agents but don't rely on them.

By agents, we mean headhunters and recruitment agents. Some industries, companies and countries rely heavily on these people while other industries and professions won't utilize them at all. You'll need to research your own industry and make contact with as many agents as you can. In the meantime, however, keep looking for jobs directly with companies. John probably spoke with 10 different agents over the five months of his job search but in the end he found a job by applying directly to a company he'd had a good interview with a few years back. Agents vary in quality and motivation and you can't count on them alone to find you a job.

4. Be careful with overexposure.

It's not always a good idea to send your resume out to every agency. Ensure they have jobs in your specific area of expertise and insist that the agent does not send your resume around to companies without discussing each opportunity specifically with you first. It is important to keep a list of where your resume is at all times so that when one company is reviewing your application, they don't receive your resume again from another agent. It makes you look desperate and as though you've sent your resume out all over the place without care.

5. Look for boom spots.

Some countries and regions are just hotspots for certain occupations at any one time. Talk to others in professional online groups on Facebook and LinkedIn to get leads for what areas have the most opportunities and remember that these can change quickly. Looking for a job in an area with high demand will increase your chances of success and provide you with better opportunities for negotiating higher pay.

6. Be persistent.

Like most things, finding a job requires focus and determination. Give yourself time and understand that it can be a lot more difficult to find a job in a foreign country than in your own. You may not have local experience, your references may not be from companies the hiring managers have heard of and the company will have to spend a significant amount of money in order to meet you in person before hiring you. You may need to learn the local language before you can even be considered for the job. You'll need to be realistic, clever and persistent to find work. If you're in touch with a few recruitment agents, call them once a week to touch base and keep yourself at the top of their minds. Search job boards every two or three days and set a goal to make contact with a specific number of new companies per week. Look at your unique skills and sell yourself to your potential employers; always tell them what you can do for them instead of simply why you want or need a job.

7. Look in the right places.

Again, all industries are different and this will affect where you can find jobs advertised. Do some networking in online professional groups or seek out foreign branches of professional organizations of which you are already a member. Talk to as many people as you can as you look for leads. It does no good, for example, to look for jobs on a board that isn't industry specific while all the jobs for your profession are actually listed somewhere else.

8. Be aware of timing.

Every country has different holidays, financial years and work cycles that can affect your job search. John tried looking for work over the end of year and January period and that is probably what took him so long to find work. Keep an eye on the news for swings in a country's financial affairs and anything else that could affect your employment.

9. Investigate tax implications.

Many countries have tax treaties that prevent things like double taxation, but you need to be aware of what the thresholds and requirements are to avoid financial losses. Americans may be familiar with the foreign earned income exclusion and other countries may have similar arrangements for their citizens. It is important to research how your overseas status will affect the tax that you pay and to also be aware that many countries have very high taxes compared to what you are used to. While some of these countries provide excellent services and benefits for every resident, others give very little back, especially to their high-income earners. Be sure to find out whether you're required to continue filing a tax return in your home country while you're away and also any other forms that are necessary (US citizens, for example, are required to submit a form each year listing their foreign owned bank accounts).

10. Be flexible.

You may have your heart set on one particular country or city but it is important to be realistic and set a deadline for when you will start casting a wider net. At the start of your job search it may be best to keep your options wide open until you get a sense of where the best paying jobs are and what the conditions will be like in your new home. When we started looking at jobs and regions we had several options in mind. In the end, we found that US companies were paying too little and the Middle East was too prohibitive for the salaries on offer. So Scandinavia became our number one choice. We kept the UK in the back of our minds because there is so much work there, but again the salaries were much lower. Money isn't everything, but after talking to a trusted friend about Norway (she's from Sweden) and doing more of our own research, we realized that not only was Norway booming for John's occupation, it would also provide the lifestyle we were after: family-friendly, an excellent European location and a beautiful country for exploration in our own backyards, making it the perfect choice for us.

Good luck!

Have you landed a foreign job? What were the keys to your success?

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11 years ago

These are really great suggestions! I think you really have to grow a thick skin when working abroad and that starts with the job search. If you are restricted to a certain location it pays off to really know the visa regulations and loopholes. For example, it is quite time-consuming and difficult to get a US work visa, but universities and non-profits are exempt from some caps and this have an easier time hiring foreigners. You might not lang your dream job, but if you;re flexible, you can probably make something happen with enough patience everywhere.

Reply to  Sabrina

That’s a great point, Sabrina and I definitely agree. It can be really tough to break into another country’s workforce – I’ve had plenty of experience with this, even after gaining Aussie residency citizenship I still felt like a foreigner going into work situations. I think the US market is probably one of the easiest places to find work because we are so used to foreigners – but I only say that based on the expats I’ve talked to. I think once you get that visa sorted out there you’re probably fine. As you’ve said (and I believe) – focus,… Read more »

11 years ago

Great post! It comes about in the right time! I’v been looking for ajob in London for 6 months as I’d loved movingthere, but haven’t found anything yet! I think that the best tip is # 6 be persistent and most of all be patient!! Fingers crossed! 

Reply to  Goody

Good luck! =)

11 years ago

Dont forget freelancing opportunities. Also look at local classifieds to see what types of services are needed where you are going. Working online or running a blog can bring in extra income.

Reply to  David Urmann

Great tips, David – thanks for sharing! =)

11 years ago

This seems to be a hot topic lately on many different travel blogs. I just don’t see me ever wanting to work abroad, unless of course I was working for myself 😉 

11 years ago

Great tips. I especially like ‘boom spots’ and ‘look in the right places’ – so many people move to the beaches of Costa Rica to find work, but there isn’t any there!! Most of the jobs are in the Central Valley. Which makes your last tip critical – be flexible 🙂

Thanks, Erin – that’s really interesting to learn =)

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