How to Transfer Your Professional Qualifications Abroad

There is no doubt that for anyone thinking of making the leap to foreign climates, “How will I pay for it?” is top of the consideration list. If you are not in a position where you have sufficient savings or pension provisions, then looking at ways to bring in an income will be one of the first things you consider.Many people with professional qualifications worry they will not be able to practise in another country or may need to take a position further down the career ladder.

In fact there are lots of processes in place to assist you finding appropriate work, and occasionally you can even find relocation packages up for grabs.

Here are a few key points that will make navigating these processes easier.

Get as much help as possible

Use professional services; talk to people who have been through the process; talk to experts. It’s tempting to do all the research yourself but sometimes google really isn’t your friend; at least not your only friend.

Give yourself time

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Being in a position to start work may take you longer than you realise. Ideally you need to have all the information before you make the leap, and enough resources financially to cope with any delays once you are in your new country of choice.

Break down the process into stages

Just like the rest of your move preparations, this first step is best done in stages. Here are a few questions that can help you break this down.

– Does your country of choice recognise your qualifications?
– If not, is there an equivalent or alternative role?
– What professional registrations are required?
– Are the rules the same nationwide or are there regional variations?
– What kind of insurance do you need to practise in your field?
– How much will all of the administration cost?

Where to find information

Your first point of call is your professional registering body. Many of us pay a small fortune each year to the body that authenticates our training and get very little back for the investment. This is a time to make them work for you and earn those fees. Many accrediting bodies will have a dedicated member of staff or team to cover overseas registrations. It’s in their best interests to keep you on their books after you leave the UK, so they are often very helpful at this time. Below are some of the ways your accredited body can help you. We have used examples from the healthcare field, but these can be applied to other areas as well.

Identifying where your qualifications are recognised

Some qualifications are not recognised at all once you cross the border. For example, the US does not have a counsellor / psychotherapy career route. Most therapists are either qualified medical doctors and psychiatrists, or are completely untrained ‘helpers,’ more in line with a support worker role in the UK. This means getting professional insurance is almost impossible for a UK-trained accredited counsellor.

Most healthcare bodies have arrangements with other countries in the EU to transfer healthcare registrations between them (for a fee of course). This still varies from country to country. For example nurses can move between the UK and Spain on the completion of a few forms; but to be a nurse in Germany, a UK trained nurse would need to sit an exam and attend a pharmacy course once resident in Germany.

UK health professionals often have to take additional courses to transfer their work abroad. This is due to the very different training processes. In the US, for example, nurses do not specialise so early in their careers so a nurse would also need midwifery and children’s nursing courses (even if they never intend to work in these clinical areas). These kind of hoops can be very frustrating and feel unnecessary, but it’s worth persevering.

Local language requirements

Many professional and public bodies will expect your language skills to be at a reasonable level and often have exams you must sit to prove your competency in this area. Remember that conversational skills in a language are not the same as having the professional vocabulary you need. There are often specialist courses you can take that are specific to your field.

One way around this may be to work for yourself and focus your business on expats, at least until you have gained more confidence.

Protecting your registration in the UK once you are no longer a resident

This is very important, as often the recognition in your new country is tied to your registration in the UK. It can be a mistake to let your UK memberships slide as this can be problematic if moving jobs or geographical regions. Again it varies from country to country. Be aware that advice you are given may also be region-specific. For example you may secure a job in Barcelona and be told that the local registration you have is fine, and then move to Madrid a few years later only to find the local health authorities expect you to have stayed registered with your original accrediting body. You’ll also benefit from the reassurance that you haven’t burnt your bridges back home, if for some unforeseen reason you need to return.

If you don’t have professional accreditation, can you attain it? Some professional roles don’t require you to maintain your membership once qualified, but a little time and investment here may save you lots of hassle later.

Online help

Another invaluable source of help are those brave souls who have taken the leap before you.

This is where the internet comes into it own. Forums and groups online where you can quiz those who have gone through the process can be enormously helpful.

The most important element is that they can help you avoid any errors or roadblocks they encountered along the way. I’m reminded of a story I heard from a expat colleague now living in France.

She went through a lengthy process to register herself as a physiotherapist. She had put together a portfolio of documents to take to a meeting in a local regional office. There were additional transcripts required from her university and registering body, and three references. Many of these came at the expense of an administration fee and weeks of waiting. When she arrived at the regional office, she was told she needed to leave all the originals with them for review and return the following week. The office was then closed for four days for a strike. When she returned she was told that all of her documents had been shredded. She discovered that shredding anything in your in-tray was a standard practice of protest for regional strikes in that area. She had just lost all of her original documents and had to start from scratch collecting them. Needless to say, she insisted on them being photocopied and the originals returned on her next visit. This delayed her registration by close to four months as well as giving her a rather brutal reminder she was “not in Kansas anymore!”

While the above is a particularly startling example, it is these unknown differences in bureaucratic processes that might not be clear from the official advice you receive. Those who have navigated the waters before, however, will be able to share the map.

Browsing the job pages

Another good place to look is the job adverts in your field and chosen geographical area. Even if you are not planning to apply, the job specs will give you a sense of the normal expectations for your role. This can be really helpful in identifying gaps in your training or experience.

For example, a nurse coming to the UK and applying for a senior role here will often be expected to hold a teaching qualification as well. In the UK there is a specialist module accredited by the Nursing and Midwifery Counsel (NMC) which many nurses take once they start moving up the pay scales. This is not an official requirement and you might not expect it unless you started looking at job specs. There are many similar examples from country to country.

In some countries you may find yourself expected to run your own budget in a role, and therefore have experience of accountancy software; whereas in the UK this would fall to an administrator or other department. It’s these kinds of unknown norms that can slow your move down or add unexpected barriers. Looking for patterns in the job specifications can help you find them before they trip you up.

Most of all, don’t be daunted by the process. You are bringing all of your professional experience and expertise with you, and any gaps you have will be balanced by the diversity you are bringing to your new place of work.

Has this article been helpful and given you a few ideas about where to start? Do you have further queries or advice to give to those beginning this journey? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!


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