If you are seriously considering moving abroad, you’ve probably already gotten a taste of life in a foreign country through studying, volunteering, or interning abroad (If you haven’t, we recommend doing this as a test-run first! Or at least getting some short-term trips in). If you are reading this, you’ve probably realized you can adapt to life abroad quite well and are excited to make an even longer-term commitment as an expat.
No matter your age, no matter how many years you have or haven’t worked in your home country, and no matter your educational background, if you want to work abroad for a while (or forever) – my advice is: do it!
The benefits of moving abroad for work span professional, personal, and interpersonal development and growth. You’ll want to make sure you are properly prepared in order to get the most out of it.
So how do you set yourself up to be the MVP of moving abroad for work?
There are many steps you can take before setting foot on the jetway to ensure this will be a win-win for both you and your awesome new place of employment.
Weigh the pros and cons of working overseas.
First and foremost, are you ready to work overseas? Are you mentally prepared to let go of your home comforts, culture, support system, etc. for an extended period of time? Take the time to work out what the personal advantages and disadvantages of working abroad will be.
For some, the career, cultural, and personal benefits outweigh the challenges you’ll face living as a foreigner abroad. For others, they don’t. If you can’t bare to think about missing your nephew’s birthday parties, first soccer practice, or the first time he eats pizza…you may need to step back and ask yourself where you are going to be happier, because it can get lonely abroad.
But, if Skype is your best friend for staying in touch, you are beyond excited for the possibilities moving abroad can bring, and you’re ready to put in that extra effort transitioning to a new culture, it’s time to stop thinking about it and get into action!
Find the right program.
There’s no one-size-fits-all process for moving abroad for work. You could just be out of college and want some international experience to kick-start your career, or you could be a working professional who needs a break and will work in whatever field will take you (farming? tourism?) to be able to travel.
No matter your reason for moving to a foreign country, make sure you know what kind of environment and expectations you are getting yourself into. Work abroad scams do exist, and the last thing you want to is show up in another country for a year just to have to come right back home.
So, how do you find the right program? If you made a connection volunteering or interning with a company abroad before, then that could be the best place to start, whether you want to work for them or just gain some tips for moving abroad to help you in your job search.
From there, research, network, and put yourself out there! Engineers may have an easier time getting a job in Germany, while India is a good location for those in IT. Narrow your job search by best locations for your field, position type, and duration of the job. Read reviews of the company and compare programs side-by-side with the myGoAbroad tool.
Make the decision.
You got your offer letter and now reality sets in. You can ACTUALLY move abroad to work! Do you take it?
Take a look at where you stand: you’ve already gone over the advantages and disadvantages of working abroad and moving to a foreign country, you’ve done your research, you found a reputable company that takes you where you want to go – is there still something holding you back?
If it’s only fear, let go of that fast! Fear comes along with any big decision, so don’t let it interfere with the pursuit of your dreams. If all signs are moving you forward, make the decision and don’t look back.
In moving forward, it’s time to make sure you have all the pre-departure information you need. Ask the company to provide any resources they can (visa, accommodation, etc.) to make the next steps smoother for you. Your work isn’t over yet!
Tell friends and family you’re moving abroad.
It’s your choice if you take this step before or after you make your ultimate decision to work abroad. Sometimes it’s the support of loved ones that makes it even easier to make the move, and sometimes it’s their fears and doubts that distort our own thoughts about it.
The most important thing is the decision YOU want to make, and at some point you have to tell those around you. It always feels good to hear instant excitement and confidence about the change you are about to make. Maybe those are the people you tell first.
When it’s time to tell those who may be more shocked or worried, plan it around a convenient time and proper setting. Posting the news that you’ll be moving abroad for work in Africa on Facebook for your Mom to stumble upon probably isn’t the best way to go about it.
Begin the visa process.
And begin it early! Depending on if you will be a paid or unpaid employee, or intern, will make a difference for the type of visa you will need. Short-term, work exchange positions, for example, may simply require a tourist visa. Talk to your employer to ensure you are applying for the correct one.
The visa process varies per country and per visa type as well. Check with a local embassy to find out exactly what documentation is required. Typically, a work visa takes a bit longer to obtain. Give yourself at least a month or two to avoid last minute anxiety.
Figure out housing.
Start networking with people in your new city or town to find the best options for housing. Often times there are Facebook groups or websites specifically designed to find roommates or rent flats in the city you are moving to. You may also find a community of people from your home country that will help you navigate the housing scene.
Don’t worry if you aren’t able to lockdown a place to live before moving abroad, either. Temporarily living in an Airbnb, hostel, hotel, or even with a coworker’s family while you search for something more permanent is common and works just as well.
Learn about the logistics of life as a foreigner.
There will be things you might take for granted back home that are going to seem like heaven in a bottle when you are working abroad. For instance, do you have free public health insurance in your chosen country? Depending on your new job abroad, you will either need to buy travel health insurance or ensure you are covered through your employer.
Health insurance isn’t the only thing to consider. You may need to apply for an international driver’s license or figure out how to open a bank account abroad. If you take prescription medication or wear contacts, you’ll need to know how you can obtain them in your new country.
Don’t get overwhelmed. Just think about the major needs you have now that you’ll still need abroad and start asking questions.
Prepare yourself financially.
Any move comes with costs. Yours will also come with ever-so-expensive plane tickets. Create a budget and some savings goals, and get to it.
The easiest way to make some money is by selling your stuff! Have a yard sale, post on Craigslist, tell your friend that wall art she always admired is up for grabs (for a price...sorry, friend). There will be a lot that you don’t need while you are gone and probably won’t even need when you return.
Other, less fun, but useful methods include cooking at home more often, choosing house parties over bars, giving up Whole Foods, and, if the situation allows, moving in with family before you leave. Set yourself up to be able to experience all that life abroad has to offer – without going into debt.
Prepare yourself culturally.
This is a vital step for success in moving to a foreign country. Research your host country to find out what life is like for locals and tourists. What is socially acceptable and what is not? What are the major social issues and crime-related problems? How are local politics run?
Understanding the community you will be calling home will better enable you to transition, adapt, and add to local life, rather than take away from it.
This is also just as important for the workplace environment. Work and business culture is not the same across the globe. Do yourself a favor by preparing properly for the adaptation required before your first day of work abroad.
Prepare yourself mentally.
Just because you’ve weighed the pros and cons of working overseas doesn’t mean you’ve considered all of the effects of moving to another country. Waking up daily to unfamiliar faces, getting lost on unfamiliar streets, and communicating through an unfamiliar language can take a toll on you.
Knowing that hardships, loneliness, and bad days are bound to happen will help you not be so overwhelmed when they do hit. Keep in mind the people you can turn to when life gets hard, create a list of reasons why you made this decision, and be ready to be your own best advocate and friend.
The most important step of working abroad, and one that should be considered throughout: Give yourself time.
You aren’t just going on a two week vacation, you are moving abroad for work! It doesn’t matter if it takes three months or one year from the time you start looking to the time you get on the plane. Working abroad like a champ takes proper research and preparation—it takes proper time and plenty of tips for moving abroad to have in your backpocket.
Don’t be discouraged! The benefits you’ll find as you step into your new role, make new friends, adapt to the culture, and excel in expat living will make all this well-spent time worth it. Don’t be surprised if your employer abroad never wants you to return home!