Want to Work Abroad? 11 Helpful Hints…

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on January 16, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

Relocating to a new country is an adventure in itself. Add in the working component and you may be overwhelmed with where to start. The good news is that you can prepare for the elements if you know what to expect… and this article is aimed at helping you identify the important considerations.

While I was in college, I worked at my college’s international office. I was helping international students acclimate to Pennsylvania’s snow belt and was assisting Allegheny students in identifying which overseas program made sense for them. This topic of working abroad came up frequently from both sides. As I did research on each of the 20+ countries we worked in (also from the side of a foreign student studying in the U.S.), the variance between requirements was overwhelming. Then I accepted an internship abroad, and even though I was full of information from my previous research, I didn’t know where to start. It all ended up working out, due to great resources within the company, but it was certainly stressful in the weeks leading up to my departure from the U.S. As you begin the process of looking for/at opportunities abroad, take these 11 factors into serious consideration. You’ll thank yourself later.

Want to Work Abroad? 11 Helpful Hints…

Marion (L) from France, Bettina (R) from Germany, and me during our end of the year celebration.

1. If you’re going to a country where English isn’t the official language, expect your co-workers to be speaking their native tongue.

  • This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to be naïve and forget that no, not everyone speaks English. If you are planning to work abroad, even if you are working for a company that primarily has English-speaking employees, make an effort to learn the native tongue. In a foreign country, you’ll get much further in conversations if you learn the basics of a language. When I first moved to Nicaragua, I was shy to use my Spanish. To loosen me up, my colleague would give me a colloquial “word of the day” during the ride to work and encourage me to use it in a sentence throughout the day. While I typically don’t use the local vocabulary outside of the country, it helped tremendously when chatting around the lunch table with my Nicaraguan co-workers.
  • Don’t know the language? Sign up for a language school. In many cities that host internationals, you’ll be able to find a school to learn the local language.

Want to Work Abroad? 11 Helpful Hints…

We all know someone like this, don’t we?

2. Work and Residency Visas

  • In most countries, if you are a foreigner working full-time with a local company, expect that you’ll need to apply for a work visa. You’ll want to find out if you need a work visa prior to coming to the country, or if you can start the application process while in-country. If you need the visa prior, does the hiring company have an HR representative who is going to help you? Are they sponsoring your permit? If you don’t have a job set up prior to moving, but want to find a job while there, learn the process for getting one without being sponsored.
  • In some countries, you can only get a work visa if you have residency in that country. In other countries, you’re allowed to have a work visa without ever becoming a resident.
  • How long is the work permit valid for? If you need a renewal, what does that process look like and what’s the cost?

3. W-2…W-what?

  • If you’re from the States, you can probably complete your W-2 in your sleep. This is a required tax form for all U.S. companies for their employees. If you ask for a W-2 from a company that is not licensed to do business in the United States, you’ll get looked at with utter confusion. This is not a standard worldwide document, and companies that are not based in the States will not issue this. However, if you are joining a company as a part or full-time employee, you should be completing some sort of paperwork, both corporate and legal, with that company. Make sure in the paperwork the following is clearly stated: expectations and roles, salary, frequency of payments, exit clauses, hours, vacation, sick days, and benefits.

4. Resumes, Covers Letters, CVs, and References are Pretty Standard Across any Country.  

  • Update your files because the hiring documents mentioned above are common throughout the world. Note that each country may have varying formats or information required, but be prepared to showcase your successes.

Want to Work Abroad? 11 Helpful Hints…

5. Tax Reporting in Your Home Country and Country of Work

  • Talk to your CPA or accountant, because this gets confusing really quickly.

6. Salary and Benefits

  • Expect to be paid the same as a local. Before accepting any job, make sure you are clear on (and that it is in writing) what you’ll be earning. It’s important to understand that there may be significant differences between what you’re accustomed to and the average salaries in that country. For example, in the United States, on the lower end of the pay scale, doctors earn an annual salary of $160,000 USD. In Nicaragua, a physician earns about $26,000 USD. And in Cuba, $600/year.
  • Also, are you earning an hourly pay or a fixed salary? How often do you get paid?
  • Lastly, as a foreigner, are you entitled to any benefits such as social security or healthcare?

7. Currency of Payment and Foreign Bank Accounts

  • If you’re working in a foreign country, don’t expect to get paid in the currency of your home country. If you are getting paid in the local currency, are you receiving a check to cash? Direct deposit into a local account? Do you need to set up a local bank account in the local currency if you don’t already have one? Opening a foreign bank account may have tax implications depending on your home country. You’ll want to talk to your CPA or accountant to understand how that may affect you.

Want to Work Abroad? 11 Helpful Hints…

Need a special bank account for all your Colombian pesos?!

8. Work Hours

  • What is the work culture in this new country? In the United States, a typical workday is 8-hours (although many jobs ask longer hours of their employees). Some offices are casual, where jeans and happy hours are the norm, while others are fancier and require a suit. Japan is notorious for their long work weeks – to the point that they coined a new word, “Karōshi,” literally meaning “death by work.”  In Belize, mañana (tomorrow) is the running joke about when things will get done. Generally, though, it’s difficult to categorize an entire country by their work ethic. To get a more comprehensive overview of what you’ll be walking into, ask to talk to other employees about their experiences working for the company.

9. Work Ethic

  • Some of the hardest working employees I know are Nicaraguan. Some of the laziest I know are American. Don’t generalize work ethics based on the employee’s heritage. Many cultures have varying skill sets and proficiencies, and the amount of knowledge that you can learn from your local co-workers is astounding. Just keep an open mind.

Want to Work Abroad? 11 Helpful Hints…

Mike Cobb, my Nicaraguan co-workers, Fredman Valenzuela and Giovanni Rodriguez, and me at NAR Chicago, 2017.

10. Is My Current Job Transferable Overseas?

  • If you’re a doctor from Sweden, do not expect to transfer your practice to Panama. In fact, if you are not a Panamanian citizen, you cannot practice in Panama. In many countries, there are certain jobs that are reserved for locals. Do some homework before relocating to a new country to see if you are legally able to do the same sort of work you did at home.

11. How Do You Find a Job Overseas?

  • This question above and “Are you hiring?” are the two questions I am asked most frequently. And I am glad I get asked this because that’s how you learn about opportunities. In addition to asking around, USE LINKEDIN! It’s amazing what will pop up when you search international companies in countries you’re focusing on. Also, check the classifieds in local e-newspapers of cities/countries where you want to work. Ecuentra24.com is a popular option for Latin American countries. In addition, friends based in Panama who were working with an international e-publishing company mentioned to me they used www.learn4good.com and www.careerjet.com as well.

There are many considerations to bear in mind when looking for a job abroad – but as long as you go in with an open-mind, patience, and flexibility, you’ll make it through.

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on January 16, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.