Tips to Help You Prepare for Your Work Abroad Journey

I get a rush of excitement every time I have an opportunity to coach a client who is interested in working abroad. This is one of my specialty areas as I have over nine years of experience working abroad in three countries outside of the U.S. in the education and public health sectors. Though I now live and work in the states, I still get goose bumps when I think about my overseas experiences and what they have done to shape my professional and personal life.

I often get many questions about working abroad including how to prepare for the journey, how to get jobs, what it’s like living in a different country, etc. So I decided to do a series on working abroad so that those who are seriously interested in such opportunities can have a better understanding of what it takes to procure and maintain overseas employment opportunities.

In this post I outline preparation tips and suggestions that anyone interested in working abroad should be aware of before they begin their journey. In later posts I will discuss the pros and cons of working abroad, resume writing, interview skills, and salary and benefit considerations for work abroad jobs. I will also present a premier post about teaching abroad since this is a very popular international career field that I get the most questions about.

Education and Experience

It should go without saying that you need to be qualified for any work abroad post. Most legitimate and well-paying work abroad experiences require applicants to have a degree of some sort. In the areas that I worked in, a master’s degree or higher was the standard. However, a number of overseas employers will accept expatriate workers with a bachelor’s degree as well. The level of education that is required is typically on par with what you would be expected to have in your home country for the same position.

While expatriate jobs for non-degree holders are available overseas, the pay is typically much lower than what most westerners can make in their home country doing the same job. These types of positions are typically reserved for skilled laborers from developing or underdeveloped regions of the world. Thus, the higher your education the better, especially when it relates to getting higher level positions and better pay.

Experience is also a key factor when it comes to securing overseas employment. Most overseas employers will require you to have significant experience in your field before they will even consider you for many professional positions. At minimum, you should have at least three years of job-related experience for most expatriate positions.

Few overseas employers want someone who is fresh out of college with little to no work experience. Instead, they are looking to hire overseas candidates from advanced countries because they want someone who is highly skilled in their trade. Their goal is to capitalize off of your experience in order to help their organization and country prosper.

The rare exception to this rule is in the English-as-a-Second-Language career field. Many overseas employers definitely prefer experienced candidates for this role, however, some will accept new college graduates who are native-English speakers and have a strong grasp of the language.

My main point is to ensure that you are aware of the criteria that most overseas employers look for when hiring expatriate workers. So if you are on the hunt for an international job and don’t have the right qualifications be prepared to receive either no or less-than-stellar job offers.

Passports and Visas

If you meet the education and experience qualifications for the overseas positions that you desire, I suggest that you work on obtaining your passport. It is best to have your passport early in the job search process rather than waiting until you get a job offer. Many overseas employers will request a copy of your passport as part of the application process. Failure to provide it even with the highest level qualifications may disqualify you from being shortlisted.

Employers need to see a copy of your passport for a number of reasons. First, they need to ensure that you will be able to travel out of your home country if you are offered a position. Second, they need to ensure that you can leave your country in timely manner to start your new position if you are offered the job. Third, they need your passport for work visa processing purposes which I will discuss next.

Obtaining a work visa is not something that you need to do prior to securing international employment. But, you do need to ensure that you have the necessary elements in place for acquiring a work visa prior to getting an overseas appointment. Work visa criteria vary from country to country and it can vary based on the passport country of the applicant.

This is why you need to do your homework to determine what’s needed to obtain a work visa for the country you are interested in working in. Most often, passport copies and photos, vaccination records, health checks and health records, and national background checks are in order for some of the most stringent work visa processes.

Once you conduct proper research to determine what is needed to obtain a work visa in your country of interest, I recommend getting the required elements as soon as possible. It is always to your benefit to be over-prepared because sometimes hiring processes can occur fairly quickly and you may have to be in the country within a few weeks after being offered a position.

One thing that you should wait on acquiring is the national background check, though. You should wait until you get a job offer to perform this since it is usually only valid for about six months once the work visa application process begins. However, if you have any concerns about your record then you may want to do a preliminary check to be on the safe side.

Qualification Certification

Another very important part of securing an international employment opportunity is document certification. Before I mentioned the importance of proper education and experience which is paramount to securing a coveted international job. However, beyond having these qualifications you must prove that they are legitimate which requires certification from the country of origin.

You may hear or see different terms such as apostille or attestation in relation to this process depending on which country you are seeking employment in. These terms basically refer to a certification process for official documents. This certification process requires you to get documents such as diplomas, degrees, certificates, transcripts, marriage and birth certificates, adoption records, national background checks, etc. notarized and authenticated by a state and/or national authority.

This process is very important and can make or break a job offer. Even if you are offered a position, if your documents are not properly certified the employer may not be able to procure a work visa for you. This is why I recommend starting the process as early as possible because it can take anywhere from four to six weeks or longer depending on a number of factors.

You can do it yourself or contract with a service provider to help you with this process. I have done it both ways and it took about four weeks on average either way. You can save quite a bit of money if you do it yourself but doing so takes quite a bit of leg work. If you use a service provider you will pay extra fees in addition to the standard government processing fees, but you will also save yourself a lot of time and stress trying to oversee every step of the process.

I can’t say that either method has any major risks or benefits over the other aside from the cost and labor factors. It’s truly a matter of what works for you at the time. The most important thing is to get started as early as possible to avoid missing out on exciting overseas career opportunities.

Cultural Awareness

The last tip is about being aware of the culture that you plan to live and work within. Oftentimes people want to work abroad for the adventure and the opportunity to explore a unique culture. However, many fail to seek out what this truly means before embarking on their journey.

Working abroad is not like being in your home country – there will most likely be many cultural differences and nuisances that you may not be prepared to deal with once in a different country. This is why it is imperative to do research in this area.

First, understanding the culture of your country of choice may make the hiring process go a lot smoother for you. You will probably be able to answer interview questions more efficiently if you understand how the culture operates. It is standard practice for interviewers to ask questions about the job and cultural relevance during the interview process. I was asked questions about how I would navigate in a different culture during the interview process for every overseas job post that I held. I was fully prepared to answer these questions because I had done my homework.

You should never assume that you will be able to operate the exact same way in a country that is culturally distinct from your own as you do in your home country. Living abroad can and does often require a great deal of adjustment, which recruiters want to ensure that you are ready to deal with.

Second, if you get a job offer you will be able to integrate into your new position much easier. Having a moderate level of cultural awareness can help you navigate your environment much more efficiently. You will understand what is and what is not acceptable – potentially avoiding costly mistakes.

Third, not being prepared to encounter and properly adjust to a different culture will probably lead to much personal disappointment. While working abroad I saw a number of people leave within three to six months of arriving because they could not easily adjust. This was usually due to a number of reasons inclusive of language barriers, living conditions, food choices, personality differences, homesickness, etc. Most often they weren’t prepared to cope because they had not done their research. A little research can go a long way in helping to prepare for the journey ahead.