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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

15 Things You Need to Know About Working Abroad

photo of girl overlooking canal
Jana Moysich / EyeEm / Getty Images

Having worked for a global company, I’m no stranger to watching friends take overseas roles. While working abroad isn’t in the cards for me anytime soon, you can bet that I live vicariously through their Instagram accounts.

Are you interested in joining them and taking an international job? I’ve sought out what you must know from people across various industries who have worked around the world. Here’s what they had to say.

Make Sure It’s the Right Fit

If you’re going to move to a new country for a job, make sure it’s not just a good opportunity, but also a great employer that offers you a favorable employment contract.

1. Choose an Employer That Will Help as You Navigate All the Changes

“Negotiate to ensure you get a nice relocation package and that your compensation covers the new cost of living,” says Nima Maher, who spent three years in London early in his finance career. A good employer will not only help you obtain the appropriate visa, but should offer relocation support in the form of a temporary housing stipend, payment for packing and shipping your belongings, assistance selling your home, and—depending on the situation—job search aid for your significant other.

Megan Armstrong, who has worked for her current company both in the U.S. and in France, agrees: “Go with a company that will take good care of you when it comes to understanding local laws, taxes, and leasing arrangements, especially if there is a language barrier involved.”

2. Understand the Company’s Culture, Especially Work-Life Balance

“Different countries may have very different norms when it comes to vacation packages and work-life balance. For instance, when I worked in London, I received 25 days for vacation, but found when coming to the U.S. that the norm is half of that—more like 12-15 days. Be sure to ask about this,” urges Peter Morgan whose IT career has taken him from London to New York City.

3. Know What You’re Getting Into

“In Europe you’re often expected to give employers three months notice before leaving a position. So if you become an employee in the country you’re in—not a U.S. employee on an international assignment—be sure to
discuss how long your assignment or position abroad may last. Have that quite clear from the beginning,” suggests Armstrong.

4. Understand Your Visa Conditions

“Remember that, depending on which type of work visa you have, you may have to return to your home country if you resign or are fired. You often cannot look for a job elsewhere after you arrive,” explains Katie Morgan, who taught high school and performed social work during her time in the U.K. Each country has varying types of work visas, so research the regulations around the one you’ll be under. Typically, employers take responsibility for obtaining a work visa due to the complicated processes involved (and if your employer isn’t guiding you, be wary). That said, you’ll still have to fill out plenty of paperwork, so have your pen ready!

Research and Prepare for International Taxes and Banking

A different country means different tax laws and banking practices, so do your homework to avoid surprises. Most notably, get a clear answer as to whether you’ll be a U.S. employee on assignment or if you’ll become an employee in your new country The affects how much of your income you’ll be taxed on in the U.S.

5. You Must File Taxes With the U.S. IRS

“Before we went to Germany, an accountant already living overseas told us we’d be paying German taxes and wouldn’t have to pay U.S. taxes for the same work up to a certain threshold of income,” shares Tim Thorndike. “What we weren’t told was that we still had to file with the IRS to show that we had paid German income tax. We didn’t find that out until five years after moving and ended up paying both the German Finance Office and the IRS for those years,” he laments.

6. You Might Have a (Very) Hard Time Getting Credit

“Getting credit can be very difficult in a new country, so before you leave your home country, get a credit card with an international company. Transferring that card will be easier than getting credit once you’re there,” explains Peter Morgan, who learned this lesson the hard way. “My company finally had to step in, writing a letter to vouch for me. Even then it was still at the discretion of the credit card company whether I’d get one.”

7. Banking Can Get Complicated

“Research how to set up an account abroad. Look into local banks’ minimums, timing on transfers, fees and online capabilities. And make sure to get a reference letter from your U.S. bank,” suggests Lindsey Wilsnack who lived in Panama for two years with her husband and kids.

See open jobs abroad at!

Prepare to (Not?) Fit In

It’s easy to focus on the professional aspect of your move, but don’t forget about the personal and social aspects of your life. Follow these tips for relating to locals and finding your new crew.

8. Seek Out Fellow Expats

“To make friends, start with a hobby you enjoy where you could meet other people. I personally went to Zumba classes to just get out in a way where I could naturally be with and meet people who had common interests,” says Katie Morgan. “You can often find local expat websites focused on arranging meet-ups.”

9. Get Acquainted With Local Pop Culture

“Read pop culture magazines and watch their popular shows before you get there. You’ll get a better understanding of their humor and local lingo,” Katie Morgan adds.

10. Prepare For and Soften the Language Barrier

“Before moving, gain some basic conversational skills so you can navigate necessities right away,” suggests Wilsnack.

Katherine Stevens-Ridge, who has worked for her current employer both in the U.S. and the U.K., agrees: “My biggest learning point has been interpreting slang and accents in the office. I can get lost in translation at times, but I’m picking up English slang slowly. You know, bits and bobs!”

11. Use Your Extended Network

“Reach out to anyone you know—and anyone that group knows—who has been to your new country ahead of you, whether they are in the same profession or not. They may offer professional insights or even introduce you to potential friends,” says Katie Morgan.

Practical Tips and Logistics

Check out this handy international moving checklist along with these practical tips from my network of expats:

12. Start the Visa Process Far in Advance

“This will not happen overnight. The forms took almost a month from filling them out to having the visa in our hands. So as soon as you accept a position, be proactive about starting the visa process,” says Stevens-Ridge.

“This is not something you can do last minute. Make a list of what must be original and notarized, so you don’t slip up there,” suggests Wilsnack.

13. Pack Lightly

“Even if your company offers to move all your belongings abroad, I recommend bringing as little as possible. I brought my things with me and immediately felt very weighed down by having it all there. Many of my expat friends rented furnished flats, and it seemed a lot easier than having all this stuff to keep track of and move,” relates Armstrong.

14. Figure Out How You’ll Get Around

“If you plan to drive, find out how long your home country’s driver’s license is valid in your new country before you have to take a test,” says Katie Morgan.

15. Don’t Forget Your Visa While Traveling

“Make sure when you go back and forth between countries, you pack not just your passport with your visa but also your visa’s accompanying paperwork, or you may not be admitted,” says Peter Morgan.

Moving abroad for work takes careful preparation, and this, of course, is just a short list of to-dos. If you’re really contemplating international work, be sure to do plenty of research on the country and company and talk to others who’ve made the same move.

But for many, all that hard work is worth it. As Maher puts it, “It’s pretty great if you’re open-minded, outgoing and enjoy traveling.”