International Employment – A Short Primer For New Expats

During our more intrepid moments, haven’t we all yearned for the excitement that distant shores have to offer?

The prospect of international employment clearly still 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 may simply want to travel, see new and exotic places, immerse themselves in different cultures – for these individuals, taking up overseas posts can provide just such an opportunity.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. Your current employer may advertise overseas roles for which you could apply – speak to your human resources department for more information. The Internet revolution has had a huge impact on the jobs scene worldwide, with the volume of online information sources on work opportunities throughout the globe at an all-time high.

Making the decision to work abroad naturally brings with it many factors to consider – there are pitfalls for the unwary – so let us highlight some of the general issues facing would-be expats, in order to improve your chances of success…

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. The best course of action is to allow plenty of time to contact the relevant consulate or authority and arrange the necessary paperwork.

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.

This raises the question of potential language and cultural barriers – speaking the appropriate language is always an advantage, so wherever possible try to improve your spoken language skills, 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 say and can make yourself understood. 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.

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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.

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.

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. As the song says: “Accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative” – international employment awaits you!


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