Ask the Expat Q&A
Finding Work Abroad
by Volker Poelzl
Readers frequently ask me about how to find jobs overseas. This is a complex question, since there are so many ways to go about finding work overseas. The most popular overseas job for English speakers is to work as an English teacher, but not everyone enjoys teaching or has the necessary skills. Odd jobs are sometimes easy to find, but the pay is low and the work usually not very enjoyable. Work visa requirements often make it difficult for foreigners to find legal employment overseas. So, with all these hurdles, which is the best way to go about find work? In this short column I am pointing out some basic considerations that might help you decide on how to go about finding a job abroad.
On my travels I have met many expatriates who have succeeded in finding work abroad, and I have found quite a number of overseas jobs as well. The first step you need to take is to determine what kind of job you are looking for and how long you would like to live overseas. Are you a college graduate looking for odd jobs to pay for a year in Europe, a professional looking for a career change or advancement, or would you like to teach English overseas to support yourself while exploring a foreign culture? Are you willing to take chances and look for work once you are at your destination, or do prefer finding a job before you leave home?
The easiest way to find an official job overseas is to teach English (Editor's note: see our extensive section on Teaching English Abroad for advice and participant reports). Requirements vary from country to country. Many language schools require a college degree and/or an English teaching certificate, such as TEFL or TESOL, but depending on the country and the school, you might just be hired as long as you are a native speaker. Obtaining a work permit as an English teacher or any other position while you are in the country can be difficult. Some countries require you to return home and apply for a work permit at the local consulate. This can be time-consuming, complicated, and expensive. Find out beforehand, if the country of your interest allows work permit application while in their country. Otherwise, your best option is to look for work abroad from home, and obtain all the necessary visas before you travel abroad.
Although work visas are difficult to obtain, it is possible to find informal employment in many countries. It depends on your initiative, creativity, perseverance and courage to find work. There are a lot of odd jobs available for travelers who just want to extend their travels and stretch their budget. These jobs don’t pay very well, but you’ll most likely be able to support yourself while living overseas. Jobs in construction, at cafés, restaurants, and bars are the best options for foreigners without work permits. Work in agriculture is another option, but this means that you’d most likely end up in a rural area, where life is often much less exciting than in a city (Editor's note: see our extensive section on Short-Term Jobs Abroad for advice and participant reports). .
What will really help you find a job overseas is if you speak the local language. This way you won’t be limited to expatriate bars and restaurants, but will be able to look for all kinds of work. Also, keep in mind that in many countries jobs are referred by word of mouth and networking can be among your most useful tools when trying to find work. Most jobs I have found overseas were through acquaintances or friends, who helped me get in touch with someone who was hiring.
Editor's note: See our Work Abroad section for job options and first-hand accounts by those who have lived overseas performing jobs of all kinds.
Author's note: This column has an interactive format, and readers are encouraged to submit questions, suggestions, and commentaries, some of which will be addressed in the upcoming issues of the Transitions Abroad Webzine. If you have questions about living abroad that you would like have addressed, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Volker Poelzl is a frequent contributor to Transitions Abroad. He has traveled in over thirty countries worldwide and has lived in ten of them for study, research, and work.