John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. Former automatic-transmission repairer, welder and hobbyist game developer.
Working abroad is not for the faint-hearted. But while most of us are comfortable where we are, there are always those intrepid few who want to head out to new lands. For those few, there are many challenges to overcome, and it can be a bit daunting at first.
As with many things in life, however, the rewards are often worth the hardship, and working abroad can enrich your life and give unique experiences. Read on to see what challenges you might face, and how to go about tackling them.
Define Your Goals
It is essential to understand why you want to work abroad. If your employer is sending you, then the reason is fairly obvious. But if this something you want to do, you need to think clearly and objectively about why that is.
Knowing why you want to work abroad is essential because you cannot honestly know if you are getting what you wanted out of the experience without knowing what you wanted in the first place. It may be nothing more complicated than wanting to experience new things and push the boundaries of your comfort zone out. In that case, you will know to avoid finding yourself sat home watching television in an evening; something you could just as easily do at home.
If your goal is to gain experience in your work life (working abroad certainly stands out on a job application), then be sure to put the required effort into your work and not be too distracted by the cultural side of your trip.
Planning Your Time
We can generally split people who work abroad into two groups of people. Those who are moving abroad to live there, and those on a "working holiday". For the people who are migrating to a different country, the time-aspect of your stay abroad is hardly relevant as you intend to stay there indefinitely.
For those who are not making a permanent move, however, planning is critical. You should research how long you are allowed to stay in the country and make arrangements back at home to suit that period. Such arrangements might involve agreeing to a leave of absence with your employer so that you have a job when you return home. They could also include sub-letting your home out, both as a way to keep it looked after and a way to pay some bills while you are gone. Understandably, there is something of a free spirit inherent in people who like to travel, but a little planning could make your life a lot easier in the long run.
Regarding the length of time, you can stay, be sure to check with the relevant organisations in your target country. For example, France offers a range of visas for different situations, such as;
- Work that provides a service to France
- Being posted at a French branch of an international company
- Short and long term employment
- Seasonal work
Many countries have a similar system, and some even have exclusive agreements in place for neighbouring countries. If your current employer is deploying you abroad, they will usually take care of any necessary paperwork. For short or long term employment, the destination government will likely require you to have said employment in place before you travel. Seasonal work directly ties in with the tourism industry and may include things like working on a ski resort that is only open for part of the year.
Learning the Language
How much of the local language you need will depend on your situation. For example, an American seasonal worker at a tourist resort whose clientele is mostly English-speaking might not ever need to speak the local language at all. On the other hand, a person intending to move to a country long term should make sure they have at least a rudimentary grasp of the language. And if you plan to stay indefinitely, you shouldn't stop learning until you are fluent. It will make your life easier, as well as those you interact with.
We understand that not everybody has the time to learn a new language, however, particularly if you are being sent abroad by your employer rather than choosing to go on your own. Handily, there are many online resources for learning new languages, not to mention translation apps. If you do not feel comfortable with your grasp on the local tongue, be sure to have some language aid with you at all times, such as the translation app mentioned above, or a pocket dictionary.
Getting to Grips with the Culture
Culture is a crucial part of working abroad. Beyond merely knowing enough of the local language to order your next meal, not being familiar with the local customs can lead to embarrassment and a much harder time fitting in.
For example, in India and other parts of Asia, it is a huge faux pas to eat with your left hand. In Japan, it is considered rude to wear your shoes indoors at many eating establishments. In New Zealand, casually confusing New Zealand and Australia will not win you any friends.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of information about such matters online. Searching for "cultural faux pas in..." will generally turn up some useful information. We would also recommend finding a forum or discussion group where you can ask people who live there about specifics.
Think About Your Personal Life
It may sound like stating the obvious, but far too many people jump feet first into working abroad without adequately considering the ramifications of their arrangement. Do you know anyone in the area you are planning to work? If you are an outgoing, friendly person, heading off to a place where you don't know anyone may not seem like a daunting task, but don't underestimate the effect a cultural and language barrier can have on your social life. If you are shyer, the problem is only exacerbated.
It can help to have a friend or co-worker—ideally local to the area in which you are planning to work. Still, you will likely have to attempt to socialise at some point, unless you intend to spend your evenings alone. Consider joining classes, participating in group activities, and try to resist the urge to let your comfort zone dictate what you say "yes" to.
Be Sensible, Be Safe
It is, of course, advisable to stay within the law regardless of the situation. When working abroad, however, it is doubly important to ensure you do not end up on the wrong side of the legal system.
One thing all countries have in common is a reluctance to deal with foreign national trouble makers. The legal system is expensive, and enforcing punishment is no exception. It is for this reason that most countries will opt to kick you out if you make legal trouble for them.
Furthermore, governments often have much less patience with foreign nationals than they do with their citizens and may come down harder for relatively minor infractions. For this reason, you should try to stay well clear of any problems with the law. Being inebriated in public and getting into fights may warrant a proverbial slap on the wrist at home, but could quickly get you deported in this situation.
Working abroad is undoubtedly an enriching experience that is both challenging and rewarding. Whether it is merely an exercise in pushing against the boundaries of your comfort zone or a carefully thought out plan to gain experience for your future career, it is worth trying if possible.
Just remember to make your transition as smooth as possible;
- Make sure the legalities are clear and dealt with
- Be clear to yourself about why you're there
- Learn as much of the language as you can
- Don't just live there, experience the culture
- Don't let your personal life suffer, make friends
- Stay on the right side of the law
In the grand scheme of things, very few people make a move to working abroad, either temporarily or permanently. In being one of those few, you will have stories to tell that few others can match, and will have broadened your horizons into the bargain.
Don't let these challenges put you off; overcome them.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 John Bullock
Chris Martine on May 25, 2020:
Hey John! Totally agree. Working abroad is not for the faint-hearted. But once you get over the initial challenges, it can be a rewarding experience.