Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

5 Essentials to Securing a Job Abroad

If you’re anything like me, you’ve dreamed of working in a foreign country. You may have even sent out an application or two in the hopes of securing that dream. And maybe you’ve found out the logistics of getting a job abroad can sometimes more closely resemble a nightmare.

Between the visa process, employment regulations, and long-distance job applications, it may seem like it’s impossible to find work abroad. But good news: it’s not! Remember that many companies and programs will help you with the details—once you have the job. So, the key is to start looking!

1. Use Foreign Resources

We’ve all heard to consult our university’s career websites for job opportunities. What you may not know is that you can use other universities’ job boards, too. Want to work in Scotland? The University of Edinburgh has a great career website open to the public. Similarly, American embassies and U.S. government organizations will often advertise jobs for American citizens in their foreign offices.

Zero in on a location of your choice, and then explore the local resources. You have a better chance getting a job that’s already being advertised in the area you want to go.

2. Network

It’s the oldest advice in the book, but odds are you know a friend, a neighbor, a professor, or a colleague who has contacts or experience working abroad. Send out emails, make phone calls, talk to people you know and people you meet. The more people you speak with, the more likely someone is to think of you when they hear of a job opening.

Many universities also have alumni directories that are location-specific. Contacting a fellow alum who works abroad is a great way to establish a connection in the country you want to go.

When reaching out to someone you don’t know well (or have never met), keep a few tips in mind:

  • Be brief. Introduce yourself, give a short summary of your background (think 1-2 sentences), and ask permission to send a follow-up email with a couple of questions. Or, if you can, ask to schedule a quick phone call. Calls require less time from the person you’re contacting, and you can learn a lot more from a conversation.
  • Be polite and formal. Write the email as though you are an employee addressing a superior. Keep your communications short, and call punctually if you do set up a time to talk.
  • Get specific. Take advantage of your contacts’ first-hand experience. The best way to learn what an organization is like on the inside—good and bad—is from the people who’ve been there.
  • Do not ask for job offers or opportunities. Treat this communication as an information session, not a job interview. If it goes well, you may conclude your conversation with something like, “Thank you so much for speaking with me. If you ever think of me for a future opportunity, I would love to hear from you.”
  • Say thank you. Always follow up with a thank you note for having taken the time to speak with you.
  • 3. Know Your Industry

    International opportunities are not created equal, and neither are industries. International development and foreign service jobs, for example, are often very flexible on location. Companies like Google, Bain, HSBC, Deloitte, Accenture, and IBM have offices all over the world and are known for hiring international employees. They have experience handling work visas, and will often add in a generous relocation package.

    But it’s not so easy in all industries. In more creative fields, such as media, journalism, PR, and advertising, international opportunities are not as frequent. If you’re interested in these fields, it’s best to network directly with someone in a foreign office of a company you’d like to work for.

    Research your field from the start. Find out: What international positions are likely available? What regions of the world are they likely to be in? What support you can reasonably expect to be offered? Knowing this will enable you to have a smarter job search strategy and to be more informed in your conversations.

    4. Consider a Program Abroad

    Graduate schools can be a perfect launching point for starting a new life abroad.  Nicole, formerly a Motown Records publicist in New York, age 28, applied for post-graduate programs when she decided she wanted to go to London. “This way,” she says, “I’m settling into the city, learning the ins and outs of London life, and networking within my industry.” She plans to use this year to find a job in London for after graduation.

    Universities are great because they automatically provide structure and a network experienced in assisting foreigners. Masters programs abroad can be pricey, but there are also less expensive options to pursue. Education First provides language, learning, and cultural exchange programs for young people in over 50 countries. You can also look up local universities or other training organizations in the country you’d like to go to see what sort of programs they offer.

    5. Get Creative

    Odds are you won’t be able to walk into the perfect job abroad straight out of college. However, there are a number of jobs that can act as a transition, if you’re willing to be a bit flexible.

    Mike, age 23, just spent the past year teaching in South Korea. “I found the job through a friend of a friend, and it was a great experience. My company paid for my housing, gave me a salary, and covered my flights to and from the US.” Some countries, particularly Korea and China, have a truly high demand for English-speakers who are willing to teach—and the perks are numerous.

    Alternately, the British Universities North American Club (BUNAC) offers “an enriching and affordable alternative to package tourism”. They assist foreigners with settling into a new place and obtaining a work visa, and provide a wide range of support services. While participants are ultimately expected to find their own temp work, BUNAC helps with logistics and also offers volunteer programs as an alternative.

    WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), offers free room and board in exchange for work on an organic farm  in most parts of the world.  For a reasonable subscription fee, you can get a book with the emails, phone numbers, and addresses of organic farms in the country you are interested in, as well as information about working hours, specific duties on the farm, and a little bit about the culture and expectations.

    These opportunities may not be your definition of a dream job, but they can be springboards for more permanent work abroad. Remember, it’s always easier to find your second job in a country once you’ve gotten there!

    Photo courtesy of Utpal Nath.