I get a rush of excitement every time I have an opportunity to work with a client 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. Though I now live and work in the states, I still get goosebumps when I think about my overseas experiences. And I always happy to help others prepare to work abroad in many capacities.
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.
How to Prepare to Work Abroad
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 other posts, I discussed the pros and cons of working abroad, resume writing, and other considerations for expat jobs. I have written a premier post about teaching abroad since this is a very popular expat career field that I get the most questions about.
It should go without saying that you need to be qualified for any expat post. Most legitimate and well-paying 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 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 usually reserved for skilled laborers from developing or underdeveloped regions of the world.
Thus, the higher your education the better. This is especially the case when it relates to getting higher-level positions and better pay. So prepare yourself for this reality if you intent to work abroad.
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. That is, at least for professional positions. Minimally, you should have at least three years of job-related experience.
Few overseas employers want someone who is fresh out of college with little to no work experience. Instead, they desire to hire overseas candidates from advanced countries because they want someone who is highly skilled in their trade. Their goal is to capitalize on your experience 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 expat workers. So if you are on the hunt for an overseas job and don’t have the right qualifications, be prepared to receive either no or less-than-stellar job offers.
If you meet the qualifications for the overseas positions that you desire, the next step is to obtain 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 must ensure that you can leave your country in a 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 to prepare to work abroad. But, you do need to ensure that you have the necessary elements in place for acquiring a work visa beforehand. Work visa criteria varies from country to country, and they 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 over-prepare to work abroad. Because 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. 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. That way, you can be on the safe side.
Another very important part of securing an expat job 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 notarized and authenticated by a state and/or national authority.
Such documents may include, but are not limited to:
- birth certificates
- adoption records
- background checks
This process is very important and can make or break a job opportunity. 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. 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. These fees are in addition to the standard government processing fees. But you will also save yourself a lot of time and stress if you go this route.
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.
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. And, provide more guidance on the aspect in my book, which includes the ultimate cheat-sheet for expat interviews.
You should never assume that you will be able to operate the exact same way in a country that is culturally distinct from your home country. Living abroad can and does often require a great deal of adjustments, 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 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 including
- language barriers
- living conditions
- food choices
- personality differences
This is why it is important to prepare to work abroad. A little research can go a long way. So, do your homework before embarking an expat journey.
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