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15 Important Questions to Ask Before Accepting a Job Abroad

Article and photos by Matt Scott
Updated by Transitions Abroad 8/2014

Guiding tour in France
Matt guiding a tour in 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 away from what you know can occasionally be full of pitfalls and surprises: dishonest employers, poor working conditions, or simply choosing a post that’s not suited to you or your way of life. While true horror stories do exist, they are rare, but if you are looking for a job abroad make sure you ask prospective employers the following questions and/or 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 that you read the job description and sign a clearly written contract before you accept any form of employment in order 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 rules of your destination country in order to be sure that no advantage is taken of you and your labor.

2) How Much Will I Be Paid?

Many younger people do not initially decide to work abroad in order 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, often 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 in order to make sure 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 income you receive or generate may also be subject to tax laws in your home country. For example, if you are an American citizen, you should be aware of the tax laws, paperwork, and deadlines for filing taxes as can be found in the appropriate documentation. Please note that such laws can at times 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. Obviously, your ultimate wages will have to take into account all taxes abroad and at home.

3) Are Accommodations Included?

Many large seasonal employers: be they ski resorts, hostels, theme parks, etc., offer accommodation options 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 sort of accommodations you’ll be living in and especially whether cooking facilities are available: while this may seem a small detail, if you’re unable to cook your own food your budget can suffer. 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 up front. Research carefully to make sure you know what to expect.

Camping in a temple
Camping in a temple.

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

Finding a place to live can be the hardest 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 amount 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 the duration of your stay is sure to affect your overall experience, so be careful to do through research beforehand to find the best possible options.

5) Will I Have a Social Life?

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, you may live miles from the nearest shop or bar, or you could 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 if you do not choose carefully, your stay is less likely to be as pleasant.

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 afterwards? 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 or it's likely that you’ll have great difficulty returning. Don’t rely on a visa being renewed or extended, as it may be allowed in certain countries, but is not always 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 confirmed 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? There are typically a dozen (or more) kinds of work visas 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?

There are hundreds of visa services offering to help you apply for your visa.

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

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

Regardless of the country to which you apply, going through an organization will help ensure that 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. Keep in mind that you’re unlikely to receive any refund should you visa be refused.

8) Should I Use Employment Agencies?

There are literally thousands of agencies promising to find you a dream job abroad—for a fee of course. Some agencies offer extensive services and have access to a wide range of offers. Aagencies can certainly be worth the money, but not all. Should you choose help from an agent, make sure you’re clear 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 address to contact). Whenever you’re choosing to hand over money, try to contact previous travelers or search online to see what people have said or are saying about such agencies. ESL Cafe, for example, is a good site with forums to investigate what people are saying about ESL agencies and employees abroad.

9) Do I Have the Necessary Skills/Experience?

Many seasonal employers provide on the job training and don’t typically expect much experience, but 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 not sure, read up before your departure and perhaps accumulate some work experience at home in order to provide you with the edge you need to differentiate yourself.

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

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.

Sitting next to Buddha statue

11) Is Your Job Legal?

This is a question especially relevant if you’re looking to teach English somewhere! Many places are desperate for skilled, international workers and you’ll find no end of offers, but companies won’t always provide the legal papers needed. Be especially careful of organizations that say you’ll be "volunteering" and therefore won’t need a work visa, even if you are receiving a wage. Check your position and visa regulations very carefully, since being in breach could mean that 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 written down. 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 if any issues arise you can go back to what was clearly stated. Clearly, if an employer sends you a contract make sure you read and understand every word (especially the fine print) before you sign.

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 are 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), You should still be very careful to either have a position within their company or get your visa, with the visa cost  directly to the embassy or a sponsoring organization. If an employer is looking for an upfront fee, despite what they are promising, you should look elsewhere.

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

Be careful regarding positions you are offered that seem too good to be true: Great benefits, high wages, your own apartment in the city, all travel expenses paid, etc. While great jobs can be found, they are rare and being offered one is even rarer. Check out the company website, use your favorite search engine, use any phone numbers to verify that your hiring manager is who he/she says they are, and always try and contact past employers or other international staff. If you’re not able to do any of the above, there’s a chance the offer is bogus.

Women (especially if you’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 on the TransitionsAbroad.com website). I have taken the plunge over the years, often with great enjoyment and success, and recommend that others venture to do the same.

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