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Moving Abroad Guide

Moving Abroad Guide >

Expat Topics

Employment


 

The prospect of international employment attracts vast interest and huge numbers of people - some transferring overseas for their current employer, taking on the challenge to demonstrate their loyalty and commitment, viewing the experience as a means to climb the career ladder, others simply wanting to travel, see new and exotic places and immerse themselves in a different culture. Whatever your own motivation, there are a number of key issues to consider.

A common mistake many expats make is to cut all ties with former employers and colleagues. Instead, keep your employment options open by staying in contact with work colleagues or business associates in your home country who can keep you informed about job openings if you decide to return. If applicable, try to keep up with the latest technological and work practice developments in your specialist field back home – these can change very quickly within a few years and your experience might quickly become outdated.

On the other hand, you may find that working methods and tools in the country that you move to are more advanced than at home, and your experience of working overseas may therefore give you a competitive edge in the job market if you do decide to return.

A dilemma faced by many expatriates posted overseas is whether to travel alone, or to take their spouse and children with them. In the majority of cases (but by no means all) it is the husband’s job that is relocated. The wife may be a stay-at-home mum or housewife or have her own career which she may not be able to pursue in the new country due to official restrictions on her ability to work or a lack of suitable job opportunities. The so-called “trailing spouse” will need to decide whether they can afford to leave their job, from both a financial and a career perspective.

If you plan to work in the new country, but are not moving there with your current employer, you may be required to secure a job first. The main exception to this requirement is that EU nationals can generally enter other EU countries to search for work without restriction (apart from nationals of the new Eastern European EU countries, to which restrictions still apply), and are even eligible to use the state employment services to help them find a job.

In general, you are more likely to be successful in securing a job overseas if you have specialist or professional qualifications and experience, particularly those that are in high demand in your chosen destination. IT, medical, engineering and management professionals are often in demand in many countries, as are qualified English language teachers, but specific labour shortages and demands will vary by country and over time.

You should investigate whether your existing qualifications will be recognized in your new country, and whether you will need to undergo any retraining to acquire additional skills or qualifications before working there.

You may also want to consider acquiring completely new skills and expertise in order to secure a job abroad. Many people study to become English language teachers for the specific purpose of being able to live and work in other countries, but other types of work may also be in demand in your chosen country, which you could train for. If you are prepared to work for a period of time for little or no pay, there are many opportunities for voluntary work overseas with various humanitarian organisations and charities, although jobs are sometimes limited to those with specialist qualifications, such as health professionals.

There are several ways to begin the process of finding work abroad. You could sign up with international employment agencies, contact global organisations with offices in various countries to see what vacancies may exist, or study the “International Jobs” section of quality national newspapers. The classifieds sections of foreign newspapers are also a good source of information on jobs available in another country and some newspapers will publish these in their online versions. In general, vacancies for highly skilled jobs are usually posted in national newspapers and other types of vacancies may be advertised in the local press or registered with recruitment agencies. Your current employer may advertise overseas roles for which you could apply - speak to your human resources department for more information.

There is a wealth of information on overseas vacancies on the Internet, including world wide job sites such as Monster.com and more specialised sites covering areas of work such as medical personnel and English language teachers. You might also try looking at the websites of local or international companies based in the country that you are planning to move to, many display details of their vacancies and application procedures online.

The European Employment Services website (EURES) at ec.europa.eu/eures/ is a very useful source of information on vacancies within EU countries. There may also be recruitment agencies based in your chosen country that advertise posts online, but beware of any advertisements that require you to pay upfront fees to find you a job - these may be scams.

Some countries also have working holiday visa programmes which enable people under a specified age to work in their country for a limited time period.

It may be the case that jobs in your chosen country are mostly commonly secured through personal contacts and are not advertised formally. If this is the case, it may be better to move there first, if you are allowed to do so, and spread the word around that you are looking for employment. Bear in mind though that if your visa prohibits paid employment, you might be required to leave the country and apply for an employment visa before returning to take up work.

One of the most common challenges facing job hunters overseas is the work permit. Obtaining a permit when transferring abroad with your existing employer can be fairly straightforward, whereas the story may be different for the independent jobseeker. If you plan to work on a self-employed basis in the new country you should firstly find out whether you are allowed to do so, and what the specific visa requirements are. EU nationals can generally take up self-employment within other EU countries, but there are normally restrictions on the entry of self-employed people to other countries and on the entry of self-employed non-EU nationals to the EU. Check with the relevant embassy or consulate in your home country, or the immigration department website of the country in question. Always allow plenty of time to arrange the necessary paperwork.


Learn the Lingo

You will almost certainly need to be able to speak the local language to be able to work in your new country (unless your mother tongue is commonly used in the business sector you intend to work in). Try to improve your spoken language skills as soon as possible, whether that means revisiting your old school textbooks, signing up for evening classes or an intensive programme at a language school. Having some level of fluency is beneficial on two fronts - work colleagues, superiors and clients will appreciate your efforts to communicate in their language, plus you will feel less isolated in your daily non-work life if you can understand what people are saying and can make yourself understood. The locals will appreciate your efforts to speak their language, and it may be easier for you to deal with officials, for example, or just to understand the road signs and restaurant menus!


Employment Culture and Practice

Cultural issues can manifest themselves across many aspects of your life abroad. Doing business in certain Eastern countries may require you to adapt your behaviour to be more deferential, as custom dictates. A much-quoted anecdote is that of a business associate refusing a proffered gift three times before accepting it! Again, there is no substitute for being properly prepared, so learn all you can in advance of commencing employment.

You may find that the working culture and employment practices are quite different from those that you are used to, particularly if you are working for a local employer.

The terms and conditions of employment, and the extent to which these are standardised, vary considerably between countries. You should investigate these to find out what your employment obligations and entitlements are. For example, in some countries there are detailed regulations covering many aspects of employment such as working hours, salary levels, overtime, sick pay, maternity/paternity benefits and holiday entitlements. If you are moving to a country where this is not the case, ensure that you are provided with an employment contract or letter of appointment which clearly sets out your terms and conditions - it may be difficult to negotiate changes to these once you have signed a contract. Find out if you are required to join a labour union, or whether you have the right to do so if you wish. Investigate how many days of public holiday you’ll be entitled to – these can significantly boost your annual holiday allowance.

The normal working week varies between countries in accordance with religious and historical traditions so you might find yourself working from Saturday to Wednesday, as in Saudi Arabia, or going to the office on Saturday mornings in some Asian cultures while a Monday to Friday working week for office workers is the norm in the USA and most European countries.

In daily working life you might have to adapt to major cultural differences in working practices. For example, the organisation of the workplace might be more or less hierarchical than at home, and the style of conducting meetings and negotiations might be considerably more formal or more relaxed. The length or structure of the working day might also be different. For example, people who move to some Asian countries from the USA or Europe are often surprised initially by the longer hours that people work (or, as in Japan, that it is culturally important to stay in the office until after the boss has left for the day). However, they sometimes also discover that more or longer breaks are taken throughout the day.

If you are going to manage an organisation overseas, try to be sympathetic to local customs and practices and be flexible in your approach – within reason. You are more likely to earn the respect of your staff this way, and to achieve better results in the long run.

Investigating the cost of living in the country and specific area you are moving to has to be a priority, as it puts into perspective any salary offer that has been made. Financial reward for the upheaval of international relocation (particularly if you are bringing your spouse and children with you) is expected, but again can depend on individual circumstances. An employee transferred overseas due to their specific skills being in great demand may receive attractive incentives to do so; the independent jobseeker offered a position in, for example, a developing country with lower living costs may be offered a comparatively low salary, yet consider accepting it for the associated benefits of a new challenge, the work experience itself, the chance to learn a new language or experience a different culture and broaden their horizons.

What are your working hours and rights, as set out in the contract you are offered? It is worth checking out factors like maternity benefits and employment law in your country of work, so as to avoid misunderstandings or more serious problems such as lack of funds or legal protection.


Impact on Family Life

If both partners wish to work in the new destination and are taking children with them, there will be a need to consider the availability, quality and cost of childcare. In many countries, especially in Asia and the Middle East, it is normal practice for domestic maids, often from the Philippines or Indonesia, to care for children when their parents are at work. Many maids build up a close relationship with the families they work for, but since they are not normally qualified childminders you will need to consider whether you will be comfortable with this sort of arrangement. In any case, if you do employ a maid, it is advisable to recruit her via a reputable agency, or at least on the basis of a personal recommendation. You may also need to sponsor her visa and pay for health checks.

For some trailing spouses an overseas posting presents a valuable opportunity to take a break from employment, spend more time with the children, take up a special interest or hobby, learn a new language, or study for an educational qualification. Others might get involved in voluntary work in their new home which can also be an excellent way of making new friends in the local and expat community.

However, the non-working spouse also faces the risk of feeling isolated in a different culture, particularly as they lack the ready-made network of contacts available in the workplace and will also be without the usual social support afforded by their home environment. Making contact with other people in a similar situation, or just making the effort to make new local or expat friends, will help them to adjust and make the most of their new circumstances.

Moving your entire household to distant shores can be traumatic, so make the transition easier by finding out how each family member feels about the move. Older children may initially have greater difficulty adapting to the change than their younger siblings, whether through homesickness, the need to make a new set of friends or learn a new language from scratch.

All these factors may appear to detract from the appeal of seeking work abroad, but they shouldn’t. With a positive outlook and suitable preparation, the experience can be an uplifting and rewarding one, as the staggering number of expats continuing to occupy posts overseas should illustrate. Try to anticipate the challenges you may face, and discuss them with family, friends and other expats. If you can talk openly about your concerns, the upheaval may be considerably lessened for everyone involved. Join expat groups and online forums, find answers to those burning questions and be comforted by those that have gone before you, survived and hugely enjoyed the experience that international employment has given them.

 
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Expat Health Insurance Partners


Aetna International

Our award-winning expatriate business provides health benefits to more than 650,000 members worldwide. In addition, we have helped develop world-class health systems for governments, corporations and providers around the world. We want to be the global leader in delivering world-class health solutions, making quality health care more accessible and empowering people to live healthier lives.

Bupa Global

At Bupa we have been helping individuals and families live longer, healthier, happier lives for over 60 years. We are trusted by expats in 190 different countries and have links with healthcare organisations throughout the world. So whether you're moving abroad for a change of career or a change of scene, with our international private health insurance you will always be in safe hands.

Cigna International

Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.