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15 Important Questions to Ask Before Accepting a Job Abroad

Article and photos by Matt Scott
Resources updated by Transitions Abroad 8/12/2023

A job guiding a tour in the Chambord castle in France.
Matt guiding a tour of the Chambord castle in the Loire in France.
International experience can be a great addition while developing your resume or CV. Working abroad is an effective way to experience life in another country while making a little money, extending your travels in ways that will forever change your life, and just plain enjoying yourself in the process. However, finding a job different from what you know can occasionally be full of pitfalls and surprises: dishonest employers, poor working conditions, or simply choosing a position that’s not suited to you or your way of life. While true horror stories exist, they are rare, but if you are looking for a job abroad, ask prospective employers the following questions and do your due diligence before you accept any job to help make your time abroad as rewarding as possible.

1) What Are The Working Conditions?

Make sure you read the job description and sign a clearly written contract before you accept any form of employment to know what is expected of you and your position. Not all countries have strict employment laws, and even if they do, employers will not necessarily enforce these rules. Look into the regulations of your destination country to be sure that no employers don't take advantage of you and your labor.

2) How Much Will I Be Paid?

Euros are payment for European jobs.
How much you will be paid for your work is rather important in some cases.

Many younger people do not initially decide to work abroad to start saving large sums of money. Often younger workers (and we write here not about seasoned corporate professionals involved in an internal transfer within multi-national branches) regard this as a minor issue, content to accept a meager wage for the chance to work in the place of their dreams. However, we suggest budgeting carefully before you go to ensure you can afford to live reasonably well while you’re away. It’s unlikely you’ll be living like royalty, but at the very least, you should be able to afford to shelter and feed yourself (and have enough left over for a ticket home, of course).

Note on potential taxes owed in your home country: In conjunction with the wages offered, please be aware that the income you receive or generate may also be subject to tax laws in your home country. For example, as an American citizen, you should know the tax laws, paperwork, and deadlines for filing taxes in the appropriate IRS documentation. Please note that such laws can sometimes be confusing for the average citizen, and you should prepare for and investigate such laws before taking any job abroad, in addition to discussing such issues with an informed accountant at home or researching laws online. Your ultimate wages will have to take into account all taxes abroad and at home.

3) Are Accommodations Included?

Many large seasonal employers, whether ski resorts, hostels, theme parks, etc., offer options for accommodations for their employees. Check carefully before accepting any offer. While employee-sponsored accommodations are often very affordable, there is often a good reason why. Check what accommodations you'll be living in and especially whether cooking facilities are available: while this may seem a small detail, your budget can suffer if you can't cook your own food. Take-out meals or restaurants can be expensive (assuming they are even available where you're living). In addition, the cost of accommodations should be taken out of your salary and not paid upfront. Research carefully to make sure you know what to expect.

Camping near a temple provides interesting accommodation.
Camping in a temple.

4) If Accommodations Are Not Included, Can I Find Somewhere to Live?

Finding a place to live can be the most challenging part about heading abroad for an extended period: big cities are expensive and cheap accommodations are in great demand. Even if you’re working in a small town, there may be very little available in the way of affordable accommodations.

Many countries have strict tenancy laws, especially regarding the number of people permitted in a residence or the length of the rental, which can make finding a place to live more difficult.

Living out of a youth hostel or on a friend’s sofa for your entire stay will affect the quality of your overall experience. Be careful to do thorough research beforehand to find the best possible options.

5) Will I Have a Social Life?

Sitting next to Buddha statue.

Everyone travels for a different reason, so make sure the area you will be moving to will be compatible with your present lifestyle (or the lifestyle you’re looking for). You may be the only foreigner where you’re working, live miles from the nearest shop or bar, or be in the middle of a large city with never a moment to yourself. Any of these could be a dream situation for you, but your stay is less likely to be as pleasant if you do not choose carefully. Of course, with access to the web, you can always maintain a robust virtual connection with family and your network of friends worldwide and keep an eye out for future employment possibilities. On occasion, you may discover that a friend is in your area or nearby, and you may find time to meet up.

6) What are my Visa Conditions?

You’ll inevitably have to read a lot of fine print before you apply for your visa unless you hire an agent or lawyer. Some important points to be aware of for your visa:

  • Can I travel afterward? Depending on the visa and country, you’ll most likely have a short time to travel once you’ve finished your contract, as many work visas state that if you leave your employer, you will have to leave the country. Nevertheless, options to travel during off days during your working period are often available.
  • Can I change employers? Some work visas restrict you to one job — if you don’t like it, you’ll have to get on the next plane home.
  • How long is the visa valid? Don’t go over your visa expiration date; you’ll likely have great difficulty returning. Don’t rely on a renewed or extended visa, as it may be allowed in specific countries but may not always be possible.
  • What kind of work can I do? Most work visas specify the jobs you can and can’t do. Make sure you are aware of the specifics.
  • Do I need to have a confirmed job? Some visas will not be valid if you don’t have a job secured and (at a minimum) a copy of your contract when you enter the country. It would be a shame to be turned around at the airport before you even begin.
  • What type of visa do I need? Typically, a dozen (or more) kinds of work visas are available. Make sure you know the difference and which kind you have — the terms and rules will be different each.

7) Should I Apply through a Visa Service?

Hundreds of online and in-person visa services are available to help you apply for your visa.

Even if you have been able to find a job and fully understand the process, some countries (if you're looking to work in the USA, for example) require you to apply for your visa through a sponsoring organization. You'll have to follow the formalities and pay the fees.

The majority of countries permit you to apply on your own. Doing so yourself is often just as easy (and certainly cheaper).

Regardless of the country you apply to, going through an organization will help ensure you follow the correct procedures, but it may not be worth the additional cost. Try to find out what's involved in any visa application and what a company can do for you before you hand over your money. If your visa is denied, it is unlikely that you will receive a refund.

8) Should I Use Employment Agencies?

Thousands of agencies promise to find you a dream job abroad — for a fee. Some agencies offer extensive services and have access to a wide range of offers. Agencies can undoubtedly be worth the money, but not all. Should you choose help from an agent, make sure you're clear about what's available and what you get for your money (some agencies offer little more than a list of links to employment websites or a book with the address to contact). Whenever you choose to hand over money, try contacting previous travelers or searching online to see what people have said or are saying about such agencies. Dave's ESL Cafe, for example, is an established site with busy forums that will help you investigate what people say about ESL agencies, certification programs, and employers abroad.

9) Do I Have the Necessary Skills/Experience?

Many seasonal employers provide on-the-job training and don’t typically expect much experience. Still, any similar work you’ve done in the past will help you both find work and increase the odds of success in applying for a visa.

If you’re looking at a skilled position, ask yourself honestly if you have the skills required to complete your contract. Are your qualifications valid in the country you’ll be visiting? If you’re unsure, read up before your departure and perhaps accumulate work experience at home to provide you with the edge you need to differentiate yourself.

Editor's note: Most jobs, especially for Americans, fall into the teaching English as a Second Language type, so get a certificate if you have a college degree, and you will likely find the path to a job abroad far more straightforward and visas easier to obtain.

Being less than honest on your application can be a reason for your visa to be canceled.

10) Will I Find my Dream Job?

The very nature of working and traveling abroad means that you probably won’t be staying in a position very long. As such, employers are typically unwilling to invest heavily in you — meaning that training will be minimal, and you’re unlikely to be offered a position with any significant responsibility or importance within the company. That is not to say that the job may be rewarding to you for a myriad of other reasons — from educational to technical to inspirational.

If you’re looking for a position to advance in your career or gain experience in a certain field, make sure you contact employers beforehand to see if these opportunities exist and be realistic about what you can expect.

Editor's note: With the incredibly rapid growth of the digital nomad way of life, virtual jobs of almost every conceivable kind bring in a wide range of income. For three months, you can develop or complete a project, such as web design, using a standard tourist visa in most countries, and there are increasingly more extended digital nomad visas being made available worldwide. So there are now many more options for that dream job that is location-independent.

11) Is Your Job Legal?

Now that is a question especially relevant if you're looking to teach English somewhere! Many places are desperate for skilled, international workers. You'll find no end of offers, and companies sometimes provide the necessary legal papers. Be especially careful of organizations that say you'll be "volunteering" and therefore won't need a work visa, even if you receive a wage. Check your position and visa regulations carefully since being in breach could mean you'll be on the next plane home.

12) Should I Get Everything in Writing?

Ensure that anything you’ve discussed with your future employer is in writing. Working hours, pay, cost of housing, and any other promises or clauses should be clearly stated and signed by both parties. It’s also wise to keep copies of any correspondence between all parties so you can return to the explicit agreement if any issues arise. If an employer sends you a contract, ensure you read and understand every word (especially the fine print) before signing.

It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that anything you do sign may not necessarily serve as a legal document in the country in which you are working (there is a wide range of criteria as to what defines a legally binding agreement depending on the country), but at the very least you will have the basis to begin discussions with your employer should any issues arise.

13) Should I Hand Over Money?

An employer should NEVER ask you for money upfront (employment organizations are a different matter, however — see above). It would be best if you still were very careful to either have a position within their company or get your visa, with the visa cost covered directly by the embassy or a sponsoring organization. If an employer is looking for an upfront fee, despite their promise, you should look elsewhere.

14) Is the Job Just Too Good to Be True?

Be careful regarding employment offers that seem too good to be true: Great benefits, high wages, your apartment in the city, all travel expenses paid, etc. While great jobs abroad exist, they are rare, and being offered one is even rarer. Check out the company website, use your favorite search engine, use any phone number to verify that your hiring manager is who they say they are, and always try and contact past employers or other international staff. If you cannot do any of the above, there’s a chance the offer is bogus.

Women (especially if they’re traveling alone) should be particularly careful of seemingly great offers abroad.

15) Is Seeking a Job Abroad Worthwhile?

While I have outlined many practical precautions above, as I said in my opening, there are many types of enjoyable jobs abroad to be had (see the many articles written by satisfied participants and more expert advice and options for finding the jobs appropriate for you on the website).

I have taken the plunge over the years, often with great enjoyment and success, and recommend that others venture to do the same.

Related Topics
Jobs Abroad
More by Matt Scott
Life Working Abroad as a Tour Guide
8 Tips for Settling into a New Country Successfully

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