You’re sitting at your desk focused on your work when a colleague comes along. They ask if you’re free to join them with a group of friends for a dumpling dinner. You reply in perfect Russian, Japanese, or [insert the language you’re learning]. Yup, you made it—learning a foreign language helped you get a job overseas!
One of the stronger motivators for language learners is the idea of transferring their career abroad. You can turn the above scenario into reality just as many LinguaLift students testify they have done.
Whether you’re quite an advanced learner already or have only just set off on your learning path with an aim of improving your career prospects, this post is for you. As with language learning, it’s much easier to reach your goal if you can clearly see the journey that lies ahead. Knowing exactly which steps to take adds structure to your pursuits, and makes them feel more attainable.
We have received many emails from LinguaLift students who are aiming to move overseas. Since it looks like there’s a big demand for this type of advice, I thought it was time to compose a simple guidebook on how to get a job overseas.
Documents, applications, visas
These may be basics, but it’s worth running through them before you do anything else. Here are a few things you should remember to research before you go.
Is your passport valid? :P Just kidding.
Visa requirements and work permits
You don’t want to end up breaking the law accidentally and ending up in jail :P Bear in mind that a tourist visa doesn’t usually allow you to work, so even if the passport stamp allows you to stay in the country for three months, any employment during that time, even casual waiting or occasional private English classes, would count as breaking the law.
Also keep in mind that, depending on the destination, you may have to apply for a visa while still in your home country.
And depending on the job you want to do, your future employer may help you arrange for the necessary visa or work permit. There are organisations that specialise in arranging work or study along with accommodation and all the necessary documents. If you’re interested, have a look at:
- Council on International Educational Exchange Work Abroad Program
- Working Abroad
- British Council
There’s also this resource, which searches among available programs in different organisations.
What may seem like a basic salary in the US or the UK could allow you to live like a king or queen in Thailand! And conversely, a decent salary in Germany could amount to only a basic one somewhere like Dubai. Visit an expat forum or check some stats on nomad sites like nomadlist or teleport to get a picture of the numbers.
Ensure that your CV is up to date. If you already speak the language of the destination country, write your CV in that language. Be careful, as the formatting conventions may be quite different than in your local job market, so it’s worth chatting to native speakers online and getting your CV triple checked before sending it off anywhere.
What jobs can you do?
After all these initial checks, you will be faced with the main question: what jobs can you do abroad without fluency in the local language? The good news is that not all jobs abroad will require knowledge of the language. In fact, working for a few months in an English-based job will give you time to polish your foreign language skills, and make the necessary contacts in your own discipline.
The ideas below may not align with your personal career goals, but can be a good entry point to the job market overseas.
It is estimated that one billion people are learning English as a second language (ESL) worldwide. English gives access to a world of opportunities: better jobs, education, or simply just more content on the internet. Basically, people learn English for the same reasons you are learning a foreign language 😜
The result of this huge demand is that there are many overseas language schools looking for native English speakers. The types of courses they offer are numerous, so whether you prefer to teach kindergarten children or adults, you’ll definitely find a position. Just make sure you have all the necessary certificates, permissions and paperwork!
If you don’t have any teaching experience or certification, getting a TEFL/TESOL teaching certificate is a simple way to gain a relevant qualification. These short English teaching courses are run all around the world, and having a TEFL certificate is often a basic requirement for teaching jobs. You can search for local TEFL courses and examinations here.
A separate organisation, TESOL also holds courses to prepare you for teaching English abroad. Their website is also full of teaching resources and tips for anyone looking for these kind of jobs.
Some international English language schools can help you arrange for a full experience abroad. These schools specialise in finding short- and long-term positions in a wide variety of locations, as well as providing training for English teachers:
There will often be specific programs for ESL teachers depending on the country, many of which have recruitment or information centres abroad. The most notable examples are:
You can also opt to teach as a freelance private tutor, but this is a less secure option, and if this is your first time living abroad, you may prefer to leave that for more seasoned travellers.
Whether you support globalisation or not, this is one of its benefits: international companies have offices in different countries, and the chances are that their main language of communication is English.
Perhaps the company you’re already working for has offices abroad, and you can ask for relocation. Not many people do it voluntarily, so your offer could be a godsend to your manager.
Another advantage with international companies is that you can apply for a position in your home country, and go through the recruitment process on familiar ground. Just make sure you clearly indicate in the interview process that your aim is to work in their overseas office.
Apart from private companies with franchises abroad, many of the big international organisations also offer postings in other countries. For instance the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or, in Europe, various EU-affiliated organisations like the European Commission Traineeships Office or the European Commission Creative Europe programme.
NGOs and volunteering
An NGO is essentially the sub-type of an international company, except of course that it’s not-for profit. If your financial circumstances allow, you can opt for unpaid volunteering, but I guess this is not an option for many of us. There are many search engines that help find jobs in NGOs and locate volunteer opportunities around the world. No need listing them here, you know how to Google 😜
The great thing about working for an NGO is that it will allow you to support a cause you are passionate about, and meet a network of like-minded individuals.
Even if you feel you are well past “university age”, it’s worth checking whether there are any scholarships or government-funded programs in the location you’re aiming at. There will often be university courses designed specifically for international students (with English as the language of instruction) that also include an obligatory foreign language component. So while enhancing your CV with a new certification, you’ll also be getting that essential skill of language proficiency.
For example, Taiwan offers free education and Chinese study to international students (I see you US-based students opening your mouths widely in shock and jealousy), and many other universities offer scholarships in specific disciplines.
In your field
Whereas in your home country you’re probably embedded in a network of “people who know people”, during the first weeks overseas you’ll realise how disconnected you are. On the most basic level, this can make you feel lonely and depressed. On a career level, it will make you disconnected from opportunities.
So don’t sit still! If your goal is to eventually get a job in a different field, you’ll have to actively seek it out and make the right connections.
While you’re volunteering or teaching English, your “second job” will be to work on developing a network to help you get into the business field you want. Don’t worry it’s not as hard as it sounds!
Here are a few ideas:
- Expat bars — nearly every big city will have an expat population. And those who aren’t too keen on exploring the local scene (or feel a little homesick) will be congregating in expat bars.
- People there may have more experience in the local job market, or even be employers themselves.
Job and recruitment fairs — yes this old-school method of finding work does still exist. They tend to be industry specific, so you’ll need to keep your ears open, whatever your niche.
- Start-up cafes and co-working spaces — this is where the cool kids go these days :P These are safe hubs for freelancers and entrepreneurs that make a good place for meeting dynamic people. Some organise networking events or talks that are a good opportunity for meeting others in your field.
- Talk to your home network — this can be a long shot, but always worth a try. Perhaps your friend’s colleague moved to Seoul a year ago? Maybe the family’s black-sheep auntie has left for Thailand and your mum still keeps in touch with her? All those people will be valuable first points of contact.
- Intern — same principle as on your home job market. Interning is a good way to enter the business field you want to be in.
- Expat sites — sites like Internaitons or Expat Info Desk have practical information about pretty much every country on earth: jobs, accommodaiton and visas. These sites can also help you connect with fellow expats, who in turn can recommend local sites that advertise jobs.
- LinkedIn— perhaps someone you already know on LinkedIn, has contacts in the local market.
So, do you feel your plan of moving abroad is already getting more concrete? Continue with the research on your own, join expat Facebook groups and talk to people you know who have travelled around. Seeing how many people have already had a big adventure or made a big move before you will convince you it’s not as hard as it sounds.
If you have any more tips and ideas, let us know on Facebook and Twitter. And, if you have a story to share about your own move, get in touch— we’d love to hear it!