Your Guide to Finding Work Abroad as an Expat
by Volker Poelzl
Updated 9/12/2023 by Transitions Abroad
The allure of distant shores and the promise of international adventure often lead many to weigh the possibilities of working overseas. The question frequently arises: How do you find employment in foreign lands? The world is brimming with opportunities, but securing a job on foreign soil can be intricate. Let's venture on a quest to unravel the mysteries of international employment, exploring the various avenues and coveted destinations where you can chase your expat dreams.
1. Ambition Sets the Course: What's Your Ideal Job Abroad?
Defining your aspirations is crucial before venturing into the maze of overseas employment. Picture yourself at the crossroads of opportunity. Are you a recent college graduate eager to embark on a European escapade and sustain it through odd jobs? You may be a seasoned professional yearning for a career shift or advancement in a foreign setting. Alternatively, teaching English may be tempting, offering a job and a gateway to immerse yourself in a new culture. Your first task is understanding your goals: Are you open to embracing opportunities on foreign soil, or do you prefer to secure employment from the comfort of your home country?
2. The Allure of Teaching English: A Well-Trodden Path
Among the diverse paths to overseas employment, teaching English is an inviting option, particularly for native English speakers (Editor's note: see our extensive section on Teaching English Abroad for advice and participant stories). It's a path well-worn taken by countless adventurers, many travel writers, businesspeople, and lovers of cross-cultural experience who have preceded you and have much wisdom and experience to offer regarding teaching English. While prerequisites may vary by destination, language schools often seek candidates with a college degree and/or an English teaching certificate such as TEFL or TESOL. In some instances, fluency in English as a native speaker may suffice. But, the true challenge often lies in acquiring a work permit for teaching or any other position once you're in a foreign country. Some nations require that you return to your home country to apply for a work permit at their local consulate—a process full of complexity, time constraints, and expenses. Therefore, your initial step is to research whether your desired destination permits in-country work permit applications. If not, your best strategy is to begin your job search from home and obtain all the necessary visas before going abroad.
3. Cracking The Visa Conundrum
Work visas, the keys to official overseas employment, are renowned for their elusive nature. However, the world offers many informal work opportunities that can sustain your adventures, even initially for modest paychecks. Your success hinges on initiative, creativity, perseverance, and courage. Many odd jobs await those seeking to prolong their travels and stretch their budgets. While these positions may not fill your pockets, they'll likely provide the means to sustain your overseas journey. Jobs in construction, at cafes, restaurants, or bars often cater to foreigners without work permits. Alternatively, you can explore agricultural work, though this path may lead you to some challenging manual work in rural areas, starkly contrasting with office work, which is a big part of city life.
(Editor's note: see our extensive section on Short-Term Jobs Abroad for advice and unique stories).
4. Master the Local Language: A Key to Opening Opportunities
The ultimate skill you can improve and is in your control in your quest for overseas employment is proficiency in speak and reading the local language, which you ideally pursue through all the online options and even classes abroad. With this skill, you won't be confined to expatriate circles; instead, you'll open up a world of job opportunities. In many countries, job prospects spread through word of mouth, and networking becomes your most precious asset. As you immerse yourself in the local culture and language, acquaintances and friends become vital links, connecting you to prospective employers. Some of the most rewarding jobs I've encountered abroad were the fruits of networking and personal connections.
5. Regions and Countries: Where Opportunities Abound
Now that we've covered the fundamentals of overseas employment let's explore the regions and nations that offer opportunities, obviously subject to economic and political cycles:
Asia: A continent of rich diversity and burgeoning economies, Asia boasts a wealth of teaching English positions, especially in South Korea, Japan, and China, which almost always have a high demand for English language instructors.
Europe: For those yearning for a fusion of history and modernity, Europe is tempting and often offers professional opportunities. Countries like Germany, France, and Spain present alluring prospects for skilled professionals in various fields, alongside opportunities in English teaching.
Latin America: If vibrant cultures and breathtaking landscapes are your thing, consider Latin American nations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, or Argentina. Here, teaching English, volunteering, or freelancing can fulfill your dreams.
Middle East: With economic prosperity and a thriving job market, countries like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar offer lucrative opportunities, particularly in sectors like finance, healthcare, and education.
Oceania: Australia and New Zealand, known for their working holiday programs, entice young travelers searching for short-term employment. Additionally, many opportunities exist in agriculture, tourism, and healthcare to fill their needs.
In conclusion, working abroad offers vast possibilities largely constrained only by your ambition, determination, and adaptability. Define your goals, acquire the necessary skills and language proficiency, and let your passion be your guide. As you navigate this fascinating world, you'll discover that the horizons beyond your homeland's shores are boundless, and the key to unlocking opportunities abroad lies within your reach.
(Editor's note: See our extensive Work Abroad section for job options and first-hand accounts by those who have lived overseas performing jobs of all kinds, from short-term jobs to long-term careers.)
Volker Poelzl is a Living Abroad Contributing Editor for TransitionsAbroad.com. He has traveled in over forty countries worldwide and has lived in ten of them for study, research, and work.