Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
As seen in the Transitions Abroad Webzine July 2008 Issue
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Finding Jobs Overseas on the Spot

Working in an Eco-Lodge and Guiding Tours in Costa Rica 

Eco-lodges in Costa Rica sometimes offer part-time jobs
Eco-lodges in Costa Rica sometimes offer part-time jobs.

"Caroliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiina." I heard someone shouting my name across the river. I wiped my soil-covered hands on my overalls and wandered over to the river to peer through the trees at whoever was shouting to me. It was one of the local lads who worked at the lodge up the road. He tethered his horse to a tree and wobbled over the plank we used as a bridge, waving a small piece of paper in his hand.

“COME QUICKLY PLEASE. TONIO HAS LEFT, WE HAVE AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL OF AMERICAN TOURISTS AND YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON IN THE VILLAGE WHO SPEAKS ENGLISH AND SPANISH NOW. CAN YOU HELP?”

This was the beginning of my job as a bilingual receptionist and tour guide.

I had gone to a tiny village in Guanacaste in Costa Rica in order to co-manage an organic farm with my partner. It was part of a WWOOFing venture where we were provided with everything we needed. However, after a few months, our money was running out, so the offer of a part-time job at the local eco-lodge was a blessing.

This is a great example of how your knowledge of other languages and being in situ can sometimes find you the dream job that you might never have found in over a year of trawling every Internet job website. This is a guide to finding a job without the help of the Internet.

When packing up and leaving the comforts of home for a new and unknown destination, it can be very tempting to try and set up a job before leaving in order to feel more secure. This is a great method to begin your working life in another country. Many websites will help you do this, and when applying for short-term work abroad, you may often be offered a job without even so much as an interview.

However, if the travel bug has hit but you have been unable to find a job before leaving, or perhaps you are already in the country and have decided to start looking for work in order to increase your funds, or maybe you are already working somewhere but are not entirely happy with the situation, the chances are, if you are in a developing country, you won’t be able to just jump onto the Internet and find available jobs in the local area. It’s time to go and sell yourself offline.

The first thing to do is identify where you might be able to work. In my case, there was no other option but the eco-lodge up the road as it was the only paying establishment within miles of anywhere. However, not every location is as cut off as that particular village! There will likely be a number of hotels, lodges, hostels, and tour guiding companies in areas where ecotourism and other modes of travel flourish.

Having identified potential places of work, visit each place and get yourself known (not as a binge-drinking, loud mouthed foreigner, but as a friendly traveler living in the area)! Try and get to know the owners as well as other staff and demonstrate any language skills you might have, dropping hints about other experience you may have already had in the business. This will often work wonders for you in terms of finding a job, rather than walking into each place with a copy of your resume and asking for a job outright, getting to know the locals will win over their trust and respect.

If no job offers materialize right away, now is the time to let them know you are looking for work and would be interested in working for them. Just knowing your face might be enough to convince them to give you a try. Small, local communities tend to be slightly more guarded with unknown visitors, which is why this direct method can be much more successful.

Speaking the language of the country you are in as well as fluent English should stand you in good stead in any place in the world frequented by tourists, no matter how small. And if you intend to spend any amount of time living and working in one place, trying to learn the language is something to consider.

I was offered the part-time position of bilingual receptionist at the eco-lodge but, over time, I was trained as a tour guide and accompanied a Spanish-speaking guide on 8-hour horseback tours through the Costa Rican rainforest. I served as the guide’s translator for any English-speaking tourists. Eventually, I was taking groups out on my own. The experience gained ultimately opened up whole new career opportunities in different parts of the world as an eco-tour guide.

The idea of going somewhere new and unknown is both terrifying and exhilarating. But no matter how cold, hot, exotic, bizarre a place, human nature is the same and everybody responds positively to the same things. If you go with the right attitude and can demonstrate this to local people, not only will your experience have more depth but opportunities will open themselves up for you that you might never have imagined possible.

You will never be guaranteed to find work, so it’s important to have a back-up plan. If you are flexible, try several different villages, towns, or even regions. Talk to other travelers about where they have worked during their respective visits and ask for specific details about the best way to obtain work in the same place. But most important of all, talk to the local people--word of mouth is still the principle method of advertising in many areas of the world, and sticking your name on the grapevine is easy and free!

If you do not intend to stay and live in the country for very long, it’s often easy to get work without a visa. Many developing countries are more relaxed about work regulations than places like Britain and North America. If you plan to stay longer, it might be possible for the company to sponsor you to work for them legally and obtain a work visa in this manner. However you decide to take the route of finding work on the spot, it’s a worthwhile experience that takes you a step away being a traveler and a million miles away from being a tourist. And the best part of it all is that there are no www’s or dot.com’s required!


Caroline Nye

Editor's note: This article is part of the series Caroline Nye has written based upon her experiences working abroad in an eclectic and adventurous mix of short-term jobs. See below for other articles on her personal Odyssey.
Waking Up at Work Abroad
Before Accepting Seasonal Jobs Abroad: A Guide to Ensuring a Good Experience
Live-In Hotel Job Abroad: Working at a Ski Resort in the Alps
Entertainment Jobs Abroad
Campsite Work Abroad
Volunteer Work on Organic Farms
Working as a Caregiver in the U.K.
The Importance of Travel Insurance Abroad