8 things you need to know when considering working abroad

working abroad

Does earning money while living in a new and exciting surrounding sound appealing to you?

Well, accepting employment overseas can offer both a cultural experience of living abroad and the possibility of new job skills, in addition to the monetary rewards. More people than ever are working abroad, so if you like the concept of working abroad, consider what options are available to you.

The four main categories working overseas:

  • Professional or skilled jobs that require substantial experience or training and usually offer higher salaries and perhaps an ‘expat package’, including housing and a relocation allowance. These are usually advertised in the countries the workers are expected to come from, not in the country where the job is.
  • Jobs abroad for volunteers or people otherwise willing to work for little compensation. Like in the skilled job offers, moving abroad is part of the deal, but requirements are much lower.
  • The more informal jobs can be picked up while travelling abroad, but offer much lower salaries and few, if any benefits.
  • Digital nomad jobs, work that can be done over the Internet.

Teaching English is probably the single most common occupation for working abroad, and is discussed in its own article. It can be done professionally or informally, depending on your relevant training and experience. Besides English, other teaching jobs are also sometimes available.

Good resources for finding jobs in general are online recruitment sites such as monster.com and Careers & Jobs, which also offers advice for moving overseas and have listings of opportunities available by country.

Visas

Always secure the proper visa before you start your journey. Most countries do not allow employment on a tourist visa. In some cases, travellers try to skirt this by departing the country and returning every three months or so, an expensive and troublesome option that still leaves you working illegally. Unless your work plans are short term, it is good to make sure that your employer can sponsor you for a valid work visa before accepting any job.

Take a look first

If considering a long-term assignment in a country you haven’t been to before, especially with family, pay a visit first, on your own time if necessary. This will give a much better idea of what to expect: you can experience the local lifestyle firsthand, you can meet the people you’ll be working with, and you’ll have a head start on choosing where to live, what schools look like, etc.

Accommodation

accomodation

One of the hardest parts of moving abroad is finding and furnishing a place to stay. In some Asian countries like South Korea and Japan, simply renting an apartment can be very difficult due to numerous requirements like finding a Japanese guarantor who agrees to take financial responsibility for you (if you bail, they get stuck with the bill!) or, in Korea, the requirement to deposit over 50% of the purchase price of the apartment for safekeeping with the landlord.

Many landlords are also reluctant to rent to foreigners, fearing culture clashes and unpaid bills — or, at the other end of the spectrum, look at foreigners as easily overcharged fools who will pay over the market price.

If your company can arrange accommodations for you, it’s usually wise to take them up on the offer, at least until you get settled. Otherwise, look into long-stay accommodation like apartment hotels, which will allow you to get your feet out on the ground and explore in peace before taking the plunge.

Sharing apartments with other expats is another common way of reducing hassle and expenses.

The Classifieds section of a local, expat-oriented newspaper or website is usually a great place to look for foreigner-friendly apartments.

Moving / Relocation
moving relocation

Moving to a new place is a hassle, and moving into a foreign country is double or triple so, because you don’t know how things work and there may be a language barrier too.

If you intend to hire a professional to help you ship over your belongings, you’re usually looking at a big bill and a wait of several months if you ship by sea or a huge bill if you ship by air. Unless you’re immigrating over or have the company footing the bill (there and back!), you should aim to bring as little as possible.

For furniture, household appliances and electronics, it’s usually far cheaper to buy it than to ship over. Books, on the other hand, can usually be shipped through ordinary mail at a surprisingly low cost. Most international moving companies can assist you on arrival in finding an apartment, getting a driver’s license, or getting linked into the local expat community.

If you opt to bring more than your usual travel packing with you, remember that airlines usually slap on steep excess freight charges if you exceed 20 kilograms.

Many expats are typically living abroad for no more than two to four years at a time. A common practice that they do is to purchase and sell the furniture in their destination before returning home. This will save them both the hassle and cost of shipping over.

Finances

Expect to burn a lot of money in the initial phase as you pay deposits and sort out household appliances, furniture, etc. Bring a solid chunk of cash — several months’ salary is wise — and explore whether your company is willing to front you an advance or pay the deposits for you.

Your expenses will depend on the cost of living at your destination. Expenses can also often differ drastically between different parts of the country; real estate prices are typically reasonable in the less affluent, rural parts of China, but in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai can be astronomical, rivaling even those in major Western cities.

Taxes

Unless you are a diplomat, working overseas generally means that you will have to file income tax in the country you are based in. Income tax is structured differently in different countries, and the tax rates and brackets vary widely from one country to another. In some countries, such as the United States and Canada, income tax is levied both at the federal level and at the local level, so the rates and brackets can vary from region to region.

You are highly advised to consult your employer before you leave to get familiarized with the procedure.

In some case, depending on your citizenship, you will have to pay income tax to both your country of origin and the country you work in. Some countries have treaties signed with each other to avoid double taxation; you might want to check with the relevant country to be sure.

Social security

Remember to check the terms in your employment contract, the local welfare and the additional things that you have to pay such as insurance.

For example, what did the terms cover for medical care, vacations, days off work because of illness, maternal leave, child care and education?

What if you become disabled or serious ill (at work or otherwise)?

Is your working abroad adding to social security back home, such as pensions and unemployment benefits? Do not count on not losing them altogether.

In some cases, the specifics of your employment affect what benefits you get or lose, e.g. whether you are sent abroad by a domestic company or employed by the local branch counted (at home) as a foreign company. The length of your stay is also important, so if working for half a year, think twice about working a few days less or more than the limit (counting in the same way as the authorities).

Healthcare

health

Healthcare systems also vary greatly between countries, and you are advised to do some research before you travel. While you can expect uniformly good standards at hospitals in a more developed country, standards can vary much for instance, in say, Kuala Lumpur or Manila, you can expect relatively good healthcare standards, but the quality of healthcare drops substantially once you leave those cities and head to more rural parts of Malaysia or the Philippines.

Before setting off, ensure that you are either covered by an international-run universal healthcare system, or that you have purchased insurance to cover your healthcare expenses for the time you will be there.

Most Western countries have taxpayer-funded universal healthcare coverage for their citizens and permanent residents, but this is not universally available to expatriates. If you are required to take up private health insurance, the cost of premiums can sometimes be covered or subsidized by your employer as part of your employee benefits; check before you leave to be sure. If you are moving to a developing country to work, also ensure that whatever insurance policy you purchase covers you for private hospitals, as the standard in public hospitals may not be what you are able to put up with.

Last but not least, I strongly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to work aboard to consider doing so. The first step may be tough (leaving your comfort zone) but it is going to be exciting and fun. You will gain lots of experience in your career and life. You will learn how to interact with different people from different backgrounds, culture and make friends with them; something you may not learn in school.

 

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Colin Tan
Colin H Tan hold a bachelor degree in Hotel Management and Adminstration at the reputable hotel school “Ecole Les Roches” Switzerland and a MBA degree with Queen Margaret University UK, England. A regional VP Operations for a hotels and resorts Government Link Company overseeing APAC properties. An experienced hotelier skilled in General Management, Project / Business Development (Investment & Divestment), Operations, Luxury property opening and Sales & Marketing; strong business network within APAC i.e. Australia, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.