How to Choose Between Work Abroad Programs

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You’ve decided you want to work abroad, broaden your horizons, meet new people, learn new skills, and explore new cultures. Congratulations, a work abroad program is a life-changing experience. Whether you’re a recent graduate or taking a break from your career, working abroad is a great choice and an enriching experience. But now that you’ve made the decision to work overseas, you’re faced with a challenge: How to choose between work abroad programs? How to pick a job?

people sitting around a dinner table eating cheeseburgers
A lot of short term jobs abroad are in the restaurant business. Order up!

A quick Google search might have already shown you just how many different programs there are to choose from. Then there are things to consider like language barriers, visa requirements, and foreign bureaucracy. Also, what might be right for one person, may not necessarily be right for you. The dream of working abroad can suddenly feel daunting or even completely overwhelming, especially if this is your first overseas experience. 

Thankfully, there are many resources out there that have compiled the best work abroad programs in any field, and any region of the world. But before you throw yourself into the search, read the tips below that will help you make the right decision for you. 

1. Understand your “why”

There could be many different reasons that you want to work abroad. Exploring a new culture, learning a new language, developing new professional skills, or simply wanting to travel more. And the reasons are different for every single person. That’s why it’s so important to get really clear on exactly WHY you want to work abroad. It doesn’t have to be a life-changing spiritual journey you’re seeking, but knowing your “why” will make your decision process much easier

Once you know why you’re taking this step, write down the absolute must-haves for your work abroad experience and think of them as your non-negotiable features. Maybe it’s learning Spanish, working with animals, or spending a lot of time outdoors. Knowing your ‘why’ and your non-negotiables will eliminate a vast amount of options, making researching and choosing the right program much easier and faster. 

[An online advisor will match you with work abroad programs—it’s seriously so easy!]

2. Pick a destination

Obviously, picking a destination is the biggest decision you’ll have to make. It can be difficult to choose, especially if you’ve got a serious case of wanderlust and want to explore the whole world. Many factors come into play when picking the right destination, here are a few you should consider:

lady on a surfboard at sunset
Is your dream job teaching others how to surf? There's a work abroad program for that.

Personal Preference

Do you love the hustle and bustle of a city or are you more of a country person? Do you prefer hot climates or do you love the snow, mountains or beaches? How far do you want to travel? Maybe you’d prefer to stay closer to home so you can go back for visits, or maybe you want a real adventure. All these personal preferences will help you determine your perfect destination as you figure out how to pick a job abroad.

Language

Do you feel more comfortable working abroad in a country where you already speak the language or would you like to learn a new language while abroad? Do you already have some knowledge of this language or are you starting from scratch? In the latter case, you might consider taking a few language classes before leaving home to make the transition easier.

Visas

Your passport and the length of your stay will play a big role in determining where you can travel for your work abroad experience. As a first step, do a quick Google search of where you might be able to get a working holiday visa. These are often relatively easy to get hold of, but are restricted by age. The cut-off age is usually between 30-35 years. Find out whether your preferred destination has strict visa regulations, it can often take a few months to acquire the right visa. Most work abroad programs will give you all the necessary information about visas and many also help you with the application process, but it’s always good to do a little research in advance.

[Compare different work abroad programs side-by-side with MyGoAbroad]

Woman looking through binoculars on top of building to view skyline

Sometimes searching for work abroad programs feels a little hopeless.

3. Know the different types of work abroad programs

Besides the destination, picking the right type of job is one of the most crucial decisions. 

There are many different experiences to choose from: working holiday visas, teaching, Au Pair jobs, camp leaders, or more traditional corporate jobs are all possible. Which program is right for you will depend on your education, work experience and sense of adventure, but the factors to consider that will help make your choice apply to each program:

Length

How long do you want to be away for and how much time do you have. This can depend on whether you’re still a student and only have the summer break, or you have a full year to work abroad. Get clear on how long you want to be away.

Support system

How much support do you want and need from your work abroad program? Some programs offer ongoing support while you’re abroad, others are a bit more hands off and only help you get started. Get clear on how comfortable you are with overseas travel and how independent a traveler you are.

Costs

Obviously, costs are a big factor. Although you will be earning while working abroad, you should definitely have a cushion saved up to get you started. At the minimum, you’ll have to cover the cost of your transportation, the program fees, accommodation and living costs for the first month and travel insurance. Of course, this will largely depend on which region you choose. Thailand will be much more affordable than New Zealand or Japan for example. Make sure you understand all costs involved in a program and what is and is not included in the program fee as you figure out how to pick a job that is right for you—abroad.

The application process

Just like when you pick a job anywhere, a work abroad experience means you’ll have to apply and win over an employer. Make sure you understand exactly what is required of you and take this process as seriously as you would any job application at home. When researching programs, find out how much support they offer during the application process. 

[The Busy Student’s Guide to Finding Work Abroad After Graduation]

man tying up dress shoes

You have to decide: would you rather be lacing up these dress shoes?

4. Use your network

Chances are you already know somebody in your extended network who has taken part in a work abroad program. Maybe a cousin, an old school friend, or a colleague at work. Get in touch with them and ask if you could pick their brain over a coffee sometime—they’ll have great advice on how to pick a job abroad. Most people love a chance to relive and share their overseas experience, and you will be able to get invaluable first-hand information. Even if you want to go to a different region in the world or work in a different industry, hearing real stories from real people will help you ask the right questions once you’re talking to different work abroad programs.

If you don’t know anyone with experience personally, do a quick shoutout on social media and ask whether your connections know other people that could help. You’ll be surprised how helpful a single Facebook post can be.

5. Stay organized

The research phase can be overwhelming due to the sheer amount of different programs out there. You’ll be reading a lot of blogs, and emailing or calling a lot of different people. In order to stay organised, it’s a great idea to create a simple spreadsheet where you can collect and compare all the different options and factors. Take note of contact email addresses and phone numbers to stay organised, add links to websites, take notes of the reviews you read, cost of the programs, etc. Having everything in one place will make the decision process much more structured and you’ll feel in control.

6. Read work abroad program reviews

This might sound like a no-brainer, but reading reviews is a crucial part of the selection process. It’s easy to get excited when you find a great program in your dream destination and at a great price. But before you book your spot on the program, always make sure you read as many reviews and testimonials by past participants as possible. Reading about other people’s experiences will give you a much better understanding of what your job and life will look like if you pick this program. 

Thanks to the internet, reviews are incredibly easy to find and you should always do a Google search for the program name + review. Many companies also have Facebook pages where participants can leave reviews.

[Finding a Job in Another Country—Tips from a Pro]

close up of worn hiking boots

... Or would you rather stick to your tried-and-true hiking/work boots?

7. Consider established programs

It’s also always a good idea to find out how long the program you’re interested in has been in business. If you can’t find any reviews online this could mean the company is pretty new. It’s okay to reach out to them directly and ask to see reviews – any legitimate program will collect real-life testimonials and be happy to share them with you.

Many programs have been around for decades, they have a large support network to help you get started, and have years of experience helping people have the best time abroad.

8. Talk to alumni

If you want to go the extra mile to make sure you’re picking the perfect program for you, try to get in touch with alumni of this program. Some companies will be happy to put you in touch with former participants, but often you can also contact them via their comments on blogs or reviews on social media. Ask them specific questions instead of generic ‘How was it?’ questions. Ask them what they did to prepare and what they wish they’d known before they went abroad. 

9. Always read the fine print

This is clearly the most boring part of the research process and also one that most people skip. Don’t be those people. Always make sure you read the full contract before signing it. That includes the fine print and FAQs. You should look into the cancellation policy, as some programs are stricter than others. Other things to ask about include: who is your contact partner, what exactly is included, and what extra costs are involved, and what to do in case of an emergency. It’s not exciting, but it’s necessary, and you’ll be much better off being safe than sorry.

[Why work abroad? 9 legit reasons]

10. Trust your gut and don’t rush

And last but not least, always listen to your gut feeling – it’s often right. If you have a niggling doubt or feeling a program might not be the right fit for you, then trust that. Your instinct is usually right. Equally, don’t rush into the big decision. Especially when you’ve done a huge amount of research, it can feel like you just want to get this process over with and get on a plane to start your adventure. 

But wouldn’t it be sad if you’d spent all that time researching the right program and then rushed into a decision just because you ran out of patience? It’s important that you allow yourself to take the time to process all the information you’ve consumed during your research phase. Never let yourself be pressured into making last-minute decisions. If the decision feels rushed, it probably is, so make choices at a pace that feels comfortable to you.

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Get your fave mug ready, because next thing you know you’ll be working abroad.

Ready to find that perfect work abroad program?

Have we got the inspo for you! We’re all about making your international job search as easy as possible, so we’ve put together these resources to do just that.

And that’s just scratching the surface! Check out our entire directory of international jobs hiring right now as well as this treasure trove of tips to work abroad.

Tying it all together

Yes, there can be a bit of work involved in choosing between work abroad programs. But taking this time and making sure you find the right fit for you will make your experience so much more valuable and memorable. Follow these steps and you’re sure to have an incredible time abroad!

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Topics:  Before You Go, How to