Understanding and Overcoming the Challenges of Pursuing an Expat Career

It’s important to understand the challenges you will face if you decide to pursue an expat career. I always recommend making a list of these obstacles so you can develop a plan to address them. This will set you up for success as you start your search for jobs overseas.

Those who have been considering work abroad for some time are likely aware of many of these challenges. However I’ve found that many people are not aware of all of the solutions available to overcome these obstacles and realize their dream of living and working abroad.

For this reason I’ve shared possible solutions to the some of the most common challenges:Language skills

The problem: Not speaking the language of the country you want to work in will limit the job opportunities available to you – particularly countries where your mother tongue is not spoken at all.

If you are an English speaker, as it is the language of business, you will have more opportunities than those who speak other languages. Many jobs require not just an ability to speak, but fluency, which can be hard to achieve when not using the language regularly.

Possible solutions: Find and target countries who speak your language. You’d be surprised how many there are. There are over 50 countries who have English as an official language, over 30 countries where French is an official language and over 20 where Spanish is spoken.

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Learning a language as part of your career or business development plan is also an option. Finding opportunities to immerse yourself in the language through study courses abroad or even several weeks of holiday would be important. This would help you both learn and assess your ability to actually operate in that language in your target country.

Work Permits

The problem: Most of the time you are required to get a work permit or visa in your target country to secure a job abroad. This most often requires a job offer and the company facilitating the process.

Depending on a country’s immigration policies, there may also be limits to the amount of visas issued each year. If that number is relatively small then you are likely competing with the top talent globally for those visa slots.

If you are an accompanying spouse because your partner has taken a job abroad, you may not be eligible for work visa or lack a sponsor to get one.

Possible solutions: Work visas are not a problem for everyone in certain circumstances. For example, citizens of the EU have permission to work in other EU countries. And some countries with skill shortages create special visa programs to make it very easy for those with those skill sets to secure a visa.

Skill shortages may also motivate an employer to hire you regardless of your visa status. It’s a good idea to keep up with such skill shortages as they change, as well as visa eligibility programs.

Securing work visas for accompanying spouses is a serious problem for many following their partner sent on assignment overseas. Though this is not standard practice, some companies do assist accompanying spouses in securing a visa. It is also something that is possible to negotiate for in the partner’s compensation package.

If you and employer are keen to move forward but the cost of the work visa issue is standing in the way, there are ways around this. If want the position that much and you have the financial means, you could offer to cover the expenses for securing the visa or pay for services to do this for the employer instead of them bearing the burden. That could make the difference in getting the job offer.

There may also be opportunities within your own company or organization to go abroad. Expressing interest in doing so to your supervisor my open up a dialog which could lead to an overseas assignment.

And lastly, a great way to address the issue of not having a work visa is to start your own portable career or business. A portable career or business allows you to work from wherever you are.

Professional Network

The problem: Most people have spent time building their network locally and even nationally, but rarely overseas (unless their job has taken them abroad or required working with people in other countries).

As the world becomes more interconnected, lack of any network outside of a person’s home country is less and less a problem. However it is rare that someone has the breadth and depth of network needed to support a proper job search in their target country.

Possible solutions: Online networking has made building a global not only possible but relatively easy when applying the right strategies. As offline networking etiquette does not always translate in the online world, and culture can affect your approach, it can be easy to unknowingly sabotage your efforts. It’s important to have an effective strategy in place to make online networking work for you.

It’s also important to create opportunities to build your network offline as well as online. Visit your target country and connect with those who will not only help you understand what opportunities are available but help you expand your network there as well.

Though the list of challenges extend well beyond these three applying some of these solutions to address these challenges will bring you one step closer to realizing your goal of becoming an expat and enjoying living and working overseas.

About the author: Megan Fitzgerald is an expat and international career coach, founder of Career By Choice and expert guide to the world of global careers. She has two decades of experience supporting professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and organizations in 40+ countries. Megan uses a strategic, 360°approach to help expats become highly visible, sought after experts and leaders and succeed abroad. She’s been featured in Fortune Magazine, CNN Money, Wall Street Journal Online and numerous expat and career books and publications. You can read more about expat careers at her blog.


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