Working abroad as you take the weekends to tour and travel the European countryside or shop, and dine in one of the richest cities in the world, Abu Dhabi, can sound like a dream.
House Hunters International frequently shows expatriates shopping for a new home to live in on the company’s dime. These episodes often leave me feeling like I am missing out on an opportunity that is far beyond my grip. Yet, in reality there are more and more opportunities for professionals in the medical, legal, accounting, financial advising, and education segments.
While the enticement of working abroad may be high, the failure rate is often high as well. According to The Society for Human Resource Management, overseas assignments in Asia and the Pacific region report over a 40 percent failure rate — and as high as 60 percent in Europe. Reasons for such a high failure rate vary, but those most often cited include: the reality of the work vs. the glamour of being overseas, decreased purchasing power, inability to make connections in the new country, and a lack of support from one’s employer in facing challenges abroad.
That’s not to say life abroad is all bad either. Many expatriates who are successful will tell you the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Working abroad allows many people to experience tremendous personal growth. Not only are you pushing yourself to learn new cultures, customs, and ways of life, you have a greater opportunity to learn about yourself, your interests, and reevaluate what you really want out of life…away from the pressures of friends and family.
Generous moving and housing allowances, flights to and from the United States, and many other perks are often very attractive for expatriates. While offerings vary among companies and the country you are in, some packages can be quite attractive. Employers in the United States often highly value work experience abroad. The potential for the employer to use the knowledge of customs and business practices in the assignment can be invaluable, leading to increased career opportunities for the expatriate.
Once you’ve taken the time to weigh the pros and cons, you may be wondering how to find the perfect job abroad and where to start, particularly if your employer isn’t banging down your door to give you the opportunity.
There are a variety of ways to begin your search, but the following tips will help you get started:
Identify your goals. To reduce the risk of failing your future assignment, it is crucial you understand your own interests in living abroad, such as what you hope to obtain in doing so, and what you are willing to deal with in exchange for the opportunity. If you are looking for a leisurely experience venturing abroad, perhaps backpacking would be a better choice than moving your career overseas.
Overseas assignments can not only be stressful professionally, but also personally. You will not only be navigating a foreign work life, but a foreign personal life as well. Things that seem like minor details, such as grocery shopping and getting repairs made to your home, may become major challenges abroad.
Research. Researching your intended country, as well as your intended company, is crucial. If you haven’t already visited the area, and your company is unwilling to send you before accepting an assignment, consider making plans for at least a week long visit. Pictures can sometimes be misleading — and certainly can’t give you a feel for the culture and people in the city you will be making your new home. Getting even a taste of your new reality before it is, well, reality, can help you to make better choices upfront regarding the right type of assignments for you.
Network. If you have any connections overseas — or even if you have a friend of a friend who has connections overseas — make an effort to use your resources. Accepting overseas assignments are no time to go it alone. Just like any job, you want to make the best of the resources you have and start getting to know people early.
Consider a career change. Maybe you are in the unfortunate predicament of being in a field that is not in high demand overseas…but, this doesn’t mean you’re without options.
First, teaching abroad is becoming more and more enticing as a second career. Consider this opportunity as a way to get exposure and experience in a variety of destinations abroad.
If teaching isn’t up your alley, there are opportunities to work abroad where you may be able to form connections. Depending upon your goals, consider looking into organizations such as the Peace Corps to gain experience abroad, which can demonstrate your resourcefulness and work ethic to future employers.
Why do you want to work abroad? What steps are you going to do to prepare?
Calli Tapler is a director at TruYuu, an online service that helps people present themselves as more than just a resume to employers. You can connect with Calli and the TruYuu team on Facebook and Twitter.