An Expatriate’s Guide to Finding a Job

Unless you’re a dependant or are living somewhere illegally, being an expatriate in today’s world almost certainly means having to secure a job and processing all the paperwork that goes along with it. But how do you get that job exactly? Do you find employment in advance of arriving, or once you’re on the ground? Do you do it online or in person? What restrictions are there when getting a job abroad? And what should that job offer you for it to be worthwhile? Knowing the answers to some of these questions might very well make that first move less of a leap into the unknown and more of a step in the right direction.

1. Knowing your skills

Language is one of the biggest barriers to finding employment abroad, but if you speak and are trained in English then thanks to globalisation you now stand a better chance at finding a job than most. It’s also important to make sure that you possess the necessary field-specific skills and experience that makes you competitive, as a country rarely wants to hire someone for a job that a local could easily fill. Professions such as healthcare and education are always in demand worldwide but are still competitive, especially for the good jobs, while caring, cleaning, cooking and construction also tend to attract foreign staff who are often more willing to work for less than favourable wages. For other fields, make sure that you’re well qualified, easy to talk to, and efficient in your application process, and you should be able to find work abroad at least somewhere if you’re flexible.

2. Finding a job in advance

The better jobs tend to advertise well in advance, and because of the often lengthy visa application processes you’d be wise to be applying ahead anyway. While the best jobs are most probably found through recommendation and word of mouth, there are still many great positions available worldwide that are advertised on the internet (and occasionally still in newspapers). Between three and six months is usually enough advance to send out applications, but some jobs may post their vacancies as little as two weeks before the start date or as much as a year before the position begins. Last minute jobs are not uncommon either, though you’ll most likely be replacing someone who backed out at the last minute or didn’t return from holiday. Either way, be prepared to be interviewed by phone or video, or even to be asked to visit the country for a face to face meeting – although this is admittedly less favourable and much less common. While finding your next job in advance gives you the opportunity to research the institute and speak with current members of staff about the working environment, even after contracts are signed jobs can still fall through or end up being quite dissimilar to how they were sold – so do be cautious.

3. Finding a job on the ground

An alternative to sourcing your job in advance is to find one upon arrival, and many people do do this. Worldwide, this seems to be more common with entry-level jobs, although there are some geographical differences too. Latin America and Europe, for instance, tend to hire expatriates currently in the country and therefore interview predominantly in person. There are some definite positives to getting your job in this way, such as having the ability to experience your new place of employment and colleagues in person. There’s also more room for negotiation if you’re able to speak with your potential employer face-to-face. However, collecting the necessary documentation while in the country can be difficult, especially if you have to convert your tourist visa to a working visa, or are put on a business visa that requires frequent border runs to renew. You also run the risk of being pushed into illegal employment to save the company money, which is unfortunately an all-too-common scenario for desperate or inexperienced expatriates.

4. Working freelance

Working freelance is also an option, especially if the field you are in allows for it – such as teaching, or website programming. Many full-time expatriate contracts don’t allow moonlighting however, but there are certain types of visa that may allow such additional employment. This can be especially true if you share heritage with the country you are trying to work in, as the visa you can obtain may very well have more flexibility in looking for employment than the average tourist visa. Of course, building a freelance clientele can take considerable time, which your visa may not allow for – plus you may not be granted any of the official benefits that a full-time contract would offer such as healthcare, insurance, or a pension. In general, online businesses are the most welcomed abroad as these tend to bring money into the local economy without putting too much of a strain on it.

5. Getting a good deal

Finally, it’s important that you are given as many benefits as possible when working abroad. This is because you won’t have the support network that you might in your home country, such as having family or friends nearby, or a welfare or benefits system to support you in difficult times. It’s not uncommon for good contracts abroad to include yearly flights, accommodation (or at least an allowance for it), healthcare and insurance, and sometime schooling for your children too.

Another issue that you’ll want to consider is contract longevity. In general, the longer your contract, the more stability you should have in your new job. Yearly contracts are the most common, but they can go without renewal at the last minute, potentially leaving you without a job until the next hiring season rolls around. Ultimately, unless you’re moving abroad for a brief time just for the experience of it, you’ll want your job to offer you a better saving potential than your home country does. If it doesn’t, you may find it more difficult to move on elsewhere or return home in the future.