5 Things to Consider Before Working Abroad
Moving to a new country to work is undoubtedly a life changing decision that should not be taken lightly. Whether it is temporary or permanent, the experience of living and working in a new culture will leave you a different person, full of new experiences from your worldly adventures.
Depending on your work industry and desired destination, you may be able to do some, if not all of your job hunting remotely, and possibly even have a signed contract before you board the plane. Work/teach abroad programs, some of which charge administrative fees, provide this mind settling benefit. (A few examples I know of are the Peace Corps, Spain and France's language assistant programs, CIEE, and BUNAC).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can spin a globe, see where your finger lands, and go straight to the airport with a stack of copies of your C.V. This is obviously the bolder of the two options with a significant amount of risk involved. How long can you support yourself in your job-hunting endeavor before you absolutely need an income? A week? A month? Do your research and find out how plentiful jobs are in your industry. Network and try to find others who have done the same before you go to get an idea of your likelihood of finding a job quickly. Arrive with a list of addresses and phone numbers in hand of potential employers and start knocking on doors.
Depending on your nationality and desired location, residency requirements may have a lot to say about whether or not you can work legally and how long you can stay in the country. For example, Americans who want to stay in the European Union longer than the standard 90-day tourist visa must have a visa prior to arrival. Work visas in Europe can be notoriously difficult to come by. In most cases you will need a company to sponsor you, and they will need to argue that you are more qualified for the job than any citizen of that country, and possibly even the whole European Union. Research requirements for your desired country and investigate how to attain any necessary working papers.
A commonly utilized alternative is working “under the table" and residing in the country illegally. This is easier to do in some places than others and involves many risks, but some consider it a viable option. There would be no possibility for a work contract, payment would have to be in cash, and there would be the risk of deportation and fees every time you cross an international border or need to provide identification. I've heard of penalties as severe as being banned from all of Europe for five years for overstaying visas.
I hope this is a give-in, but you just might have to speak a different language! Even if your job doesn't require knowledge of the local language (as can be the case with teaching English abroad), knowing the language will be immensely helpful. Have you ever studied the language? How comfortable are you with it? At the very least, look up vocabulary and phrases necessary for house/apartment hunting, getting a cell phone, bank account, etc. Think about everything you're going to have to do to set up your new life. Now think about how to do that in the local language.
Becoming proficient in a new language can be one of the most challenging, yet rewarding aspects of working and living abroad. Some days it can be a struggle and you will long for the simplicity of your native tongue. But conducting your life in a language foreign to you means you will always be learning and growing, which for me personally is one of the most appealing aspects of working abroad.
Food & Culture
Everyone knows that trying new food and seeing a new culture is one of the most exciting parts of travel. But what if it's not just travel? What if this strange new place is to be your home? Can you live long term, or even permanently, without the comforts of home that you've known all your life? You have to be willing to trade comfort and familiarity for the new and exotic. That favorite snack you always have in the fridge might not be available. You'll no longer have your go-to restaurant when you don't feel like cooking. Supermarkets and restaurants could be very different, and you may have to adapt to new styles and flavors of food.
In addition to food, you will notice cultural differences everyday. Yes, many things are universal. Everyone eats, everyone washes clothes, and everyone works and/or goes to school. But the how, when, and where can be drastically different. Lunchtime may be a few hours earlier or later than you're used to, the flow of the workday might be slower or faster, leaving you frustrated and lost. Before you go, know any cultural taboos of your country. Find out how people greet each other. Do you shake hands, kiss on the cheek, kiss on both cheeks? Do your best to learn and respect the culture that is to become your new home.
By far the best way to get to know a culture is through its own people. Use resources like Tripping to reach out to locals, find out where they go out to eat, how they spend their time. Making friends with locals has been the most eye opening experiences of living abroad for me. You have perspectives of their country, and they have perspectives of yours. Together, you can break down misconceptions and teach each other which are true and which are stereotypes.
Bottom Line: Keep an Open Mind
Above all else, be open to change. Different means just that- different- not better or worse. You will undoubtedly compare your home country to your new residence, which can be fascinating, but keep in mind one of my favorite travel quotes from Clifton Fadiman: “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable."
You are accustomed to living your life in one way, but you may end up having to make sacrifices and adjustments to fit that life into your new culture. Over time you will notice this less and less, and it will become a good thing as you grow to love your new home. But for me personally, I will never lose the core of who I am and where I came from.
This was a guest post by Amy Dell, a twenty-something Southern California native living and teaching English on the Costa del Sol in Spain. Follow her overseas adventures via her blog, Teach, Learn, Run.