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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Want to Work Abroad? 4 Ways to Make It a Success

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Andrea Comi/Getty Images

Do you daydream about working abroad?

We get it. Working abroad is the best of both worlds: you can grow your career while embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in a new place.

Many of us dream of making that kind of move, but feel intimidated by the idea of not only finding the right job in the right place, but also taking the major step of building a life and career in a different country.

We spoke to Anna Bertoldini, who grew up in Venice, Italy and studied in the United States and Austria before working abroad in Budapest, Hungary as an Employer Brand Content Coordinator at BlackRock. Having lived in five countries, Bertoldini is an expert in adapting to new cultures. Read about her experiences and then put your dreams into motion.

Do Your Research

The world is a big place, and there are so many locations where you can build your career. In deciding where you want to work, zoom out and consider the kind of experience you’d like to have:

  • Is there a region of the world you've always wanted to explore?

  • What kind of day-to-day lifestyle are you looking for?

  • Is there a particular climate you prefer?

  • How comfortable are you navigating life in a new language?

If you’re already working for an international organization, research office locations in areas you're interested in moving to. If you want to change gears, look into companies that align with your ideal experience.

Bertoldini recommends visiting the place you're interested in moving to if it's feasible. She visited Budapest on vacation and loved the city’s vibrant culture and beautiful neighborhoods. But remember that working in a country or city is not the same as vacationing there. While hitting the tourist hot spots is great, try to explore neighborhoods where the locals live, visit grocery stores, and sit in restaurants. Then you can do one better and speak to other expats who live there to get a sense of what day-to-day life is like.

And if you're seriously considering making a move, take a deeper dive into the culture. Bertoldini recommends watching documentaries, reading articles about the city, learning basic phrases in the language, and even researching commutes.

Move for the Company, Not Just the Place

Bertoldini was impressed by BlackRock’s Budapest office, but more importantly, the position was the right fit. And the more research Bertoldini did, the more convinced she was that BlackRock was the right company to make the move with. While the Budapest office has a distinct culture and feel, the work being done there ties into the work of BlackRock as a larger firm—allowing Bertoldini to experience the best of both worlds.

And not only was the position a great fit, but so was the culture at BlackRock Budapest. The office has a startup feel with a focus on intellectual curiosity, innovation, and challenging the status quo—a uniquely great fit for someone building a life and career in a new country.

While BlackRock Budapest started with a humble beginning, they experienced tremendous growth, but managed to stay true to their commitments to diversity as well as to the Hungarian business community. BlackRock has become a thought leader in Hungary, participating in events such as the OPEN Conference, a diversity iniative founded in Hungary, and Brainbar, where guests can interact with speakers to debate big questions concerning the future.

As tempting as it is to move to a beautiful place for the location and lifestyle, don’t do it at the cost of your career. There’s nothing worse than moving to a country for a job you end up hating, especially if your legal status depends on an employer-sponsored visa.

Be proactive about researching the reputation of any company you’re considering. Before an interview, prepare a list of questions about the company’s working language, processes, and culture. And remember, current employees can be a great source of intel.

Prepare for Growing Pains

As exciting as it is to move and work abroad, such monumental change can also bring on waves of anxiety. Although she has extensive experience with the logistical drama of moving and starting a new life in a different city or country, Bertoldini recognized that each country has different traditions—and wasn’t sure how she would adapt. “I wish I wouldn’t have worried so much about coming to Budapest, I was really stressing myself out,” she says.

When you start to get pulled into anxious thoughts, remind yourself that it’s natural to go through growing pains, especially during times of transition. “Take time to learn and remember to forgive yourself, lots of things are new and integration is a slow process—it takes time,” Bertoldini adds.

When you live and work abroad, culture shock is a very real thing. Routines and cultural norms you take for granted don’t exist in other countries. Instead of fighting against them, recognize the benefit of a different way of doing things—learn new customs and challenge yourself to adapt to different business practices.

Bertoldini recommends you break through the culture shock by being open and asking lots of questions, which signals to your colleagues that you’re interested in their culture and willing to adapt. Most people, she says, really appreciate the effort and are more than happy to explain the ins and outs of their culture, so don’t be shy.

Build a Community

Any time you move somewhere new, you need to invest in building a community, and working abroad is no exception. It takes about 40-60 hours to become friends, so you need to spend a lot of time inside and outside of the office to forge a bond.

Don’t be afraid to make the first move. “In the beginning, I was always the one walking up to colleagues and asking them about after-work or weekend plans,” says Bertoldini. “But as I started to get to know more people, they began to welcome me into their circles and invite me to go out with them.”

Beyond work colleagues, Bertoldini also tapped into Facebook groups and Meetups, which enabled her to meet fellow expats embracing life in a new culture. The time, energy, and commitment more than paid off—after nine months in Budapest, Bertoldini now has a wonderful network of friends and colleagues, and she plans on staying.

Working abroad can open up countless new personal and professional adventures and opportunities. If you can grow your career in a great role and build an enriching life in a new culture, the sky's the limit.