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How to work abroad

Updated on August 21, 2012
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Introduction

I am a US citizen who has been living and working as an expat in Europe since 2003. Sometimes people ask me how I am able to do it, so these are the tips I've compiled over the years for people wanting to live in a foreign country.

Please send me any comments or questions, and I'll try to keep updating this list with more details.

Ideas and tips

1. Get visible - It's hard (but not impossible!) to get a job in Europe if you are not an EU citizen. However, the first thing you need to do is to make sure that you are visible and out there for the world.

  • Put together your CV (resume) and put it on Linkedin. Look online for 'CV format' so that you can convert your resume to a 'European CV' (our formats tend to be longer)
  • Apply to job sites such as Monster.com, but in various countries. Put your CV on every job site possible in your target country.

2. Get involved in professional organisations in your home country and abroad. If you have a few years of experience, this will be very helpful as jobs often do not make it to job boards but travel via indirect channels. Also, it's a great way to start to understand the locals in your target country, by connecting through professional channels.

3. Get certified - Europeans often place more stock in education and certifications than Americans. Some certifications such as IT one may be universal, but other ones will be specific to a certain country. Sometimes you do not need to be in that country or a resident there to earn such a certification.

4. Investigate any 'work fellowship' programs, if you are 35 or under.
In Europe, people go to school much longer than us in America. As a result, you may find 'educational opportunities' will extend into your 30's. If you are late 20's or early 30's, take this and run with it, it is the opportunity of a lifetime.

For example:
The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) for Young Professionals is a full-year work-study scholarship program with a strong focus on cultural exchange. CBYX annually provides 75 young Americans with an understanding of everyday life, education, and professional training in Germany.

or this one: The Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program is a distinguished transatlantic initiative that each year offers twenty accomplished young Americans the opportunity to complete a high-level professional development program in Germany.

5. Study a language at community college or a similar organization. In Europe, English is often the language of business, but many Europeans speak at least one if not two additional languages. If you speak only English, you are at a disadvantage compared to Europeans who have this additional skill. As well, it sets you apart as a more open-minded thinker, open to various cultures. The point is not that you have to study years in order to be fluent, the purpose of this exercise is to show that you have started to make steps in the right direction, that any potential employer can see you as fitting into their diverse workforce.
Most logical would be to study the language of your target country. Otherwise, I'd suggest French as I occasionally see jobs requiring French speakers, or German due to the large population of German speakers. French would open up your target markets to France, Belgium or Switzerland while German could get you Germany, Austria or Switzerland.

6. Consider the Middle East - Years ago, I would occasionally receive a job offer from a recruiter for somewhere in the Middle East. Although my heart was set on Europe, I did keep an eye on the market, although with much trepidation as it was halfway across the world, similar to working in Australia or New Zealand. Jobs tended to be very specific, such as they were looking for a female HR Systems Manager who would manage female data entry staff and would be allows to roam freely in the workplace and home (walled-in) housing development which consisted of a few streets of 'Western' foreigners. Needless to say, it was perhaps not so attractive to a 20-something. Ten years later, and a work trip to Dubai last year, a few points as I'm older and wiser:

  • you can really make out financially by working in the Middle East. Many expats I talk to are there for a few years, with plans to enjoy the experience and to save up for a house, for example.
  • there is a high quality of life over there. In speaking with some expats in the medical profession from Australia and the UK, they were telling me that the Middle East is cutting edge on medical things. As a solo female in Dubai, I felt very safe in wandering around. Although, there are other cultural practices that may differ from your home country, so consider the lifestyle change carefully.
  • Granted, Dubai is the most liberal of the Middle East, and as well the drinking restrictions may put some people off of it. The foreign experience, however, may enable you to do more than you could in your home country, to reach a higher level of skills faster, and as well make you more attractive to Europe employers as you've already worked abroad and have proven you can be an expat.

7. Consider Australia and New Zealand - These countries are a little too far away for me, but if you are skilled in your profession, there is a good chance that you will be able to secure a work permit. A few points:

  • Australia runs a points based migrant system, so they seek not only skilled computer people, but a wide range of professions like doctors and nurses, as well as traditional vocations such as bakers, carpenters and electricians. Check the Australian government's migration website as the occupational list periodically is updated.
  • New Zealand offers a similar option with its Skilled Migrant Program and it's one of the most open programs out there, one needs to be under 55 years of age and have a skill that is on their 'Skills in Demand' list. There are two lists, a 'long term' and a 'short term' one, and both can change, but they are pretty open with jobs in categories such as construction, education, health and social services, and even horse trainers and skydive instructors!

8. The US military and federal jobs overseas, for civilians - The US military has operations and bases in many countries. Often, there are many 'regular' professions that are needed to support the US personnel in region, such as teachers for army dependents, clerks for the on-base commissaries (stores), or other medically trained personnel such as pharmacists and psychologists, for Europe based US militery. Some sites to check include:

http://www.armycivilianservice.com/
http://www.usajobs.com/

Poll

How long have you been searching for a way to work/live abroad?

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