If you really want to see the world, a week-long vacation abroad every year or two just might not cut it. To really immerse yourself in another culture and get a sense of what life is like outside the U.S. — without having to give up a steady paycheck — consider working abroad.
A growing number of Americans are thinking about pursuing lives and careers in other countries. Just over 5% of people between the ages of 25 and 34 were considering moving abroad in 2011, up from roughly 1% in 2009, according to a survey by America Wave. “[T]he lousy economy and lack of good jobs are the primary underlying factors in this growth” in the number of younger Americans who are considering moving to abroad for work, wrote Bob Adams, the organizer of the study.
Taking a chance on a job abroad can bring many benefits. International experience can make your resume more impressive, demonstrating your ability to adapt to new situations, communicate with diverse groups of people, and solve problems. Fluency in another language can also translate into a higher salary. California offers some workers who regularly use a second language in their work a “bilingual pay differential” of $100 per month. Finally, a number of industries and companies are increasingly demanding international experience among those seeking top executive positions. Of the biggest 1,000 public and private companies in the U.S., 40% of CFOs had worked abroad, reported the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.
So, what options are available if you are interested in pursuing work in another country? The opportunities vary, from highly competitive foreign service postings with the U.S. State Department to short-term jobs working in bars and restaurants. Here are five jobs that allow you to work abroad, and what you need to know to get one of these coveted positions.
1. Become an international aid worker
Many people dream of heading abroad to do humanitarian work. Opportunities are available with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as major international organizations such as the United Nations, Amnesty International, the Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders. Some jobs may involve hands-on aid work, such as disaster response or assisting refugees. But organizations also need people with experience in accounting, communications, IT, human resources, and management, according to the London School of Economics.
Not surprisingly, the more specialized and in-demand your skills are, the easier it will be for you to find a job. Having technical skills “will increase your chances of getting employed. This could be something like physiotherapy, education, health, or engineering. The sector does not need more international development undergraduates,” Weh Yeoh, founder of global development organization WhyDev, told The Guardian.
Because of the large number of people interested in global aid work, jobs in this field tend to be highly competitive. If you’re truly interested in a career in international aid or development, you’ll need to prepare yourself. “Consider an internship or volunteer work abroad so you can gain field experience that could eventually materialize into permanent employment,” suggests Idealist, a website that connects people with job, internship, and volunteer opportunities at nonprofit organizations around the world. Demonstrated interest or experience in a particular country, region, or issue may also be helpful in securing a position.
2. Join the foreign service
The U.S. government offers a number of opportunities for citizens interested in working abroad. The best known are the foreign service postings through the Department of State, which are available at more than 270 embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions around the world. While many people in the foreign service work in typical diplomatic roles as consular or political officers, the State Department also sometimes hires health care workers, construction engineers, and IT specialists.
Though a job with the foreign service may seem glamorous, it comes with many challenges. Foreign service officers must be ready to move anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice and may be stationed in dangerous or remote areas. While some postings allow you to bring your family with you, that’s not possible in all cases. The application process is competitive and involves multiple written and oral assessments, with an overall acceptance rate of just 3%.
In addition to jobs with the State Department, international job postings are available through USAID, the CDC, Department of Defense, the CIA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and other government agencies.
3. Work for a global company
Getting a job with a big company with overseas offices could eventually lead to a position abroad, if you play your cards right. Forty-seven percent of companies surveyed by Brookfield Global Relocation Services increased the number of employees that they had serving overseas in 2013, with the top destinations including China, the U.K., Singapore, and Germany.
If your employer transfers you overseas, they will typically handle details such as obtaining proper visas and work permits, as well as providing assistance with relocation. But even with all that support, international moves can be challenging, both personally and financially, though the rewards can be just as great. You may have to deal with currency fluctuations, setting up foreign bank accounts, and paying foreign taxes. If your spouse moves abroad with you, he or she may not be able to work, and your children will have to make adjustments as well.
4. Teach English
For those who are interested in working in another country but may lack the experience or skills needed for other positions, teaching English abroad is a common choice. Of 884 expat Americans surveyed by Migration Policy Institute in 2011, 20% worked in education. Plus, spending a year or two teaching abroad can be a way to get valuable experience and make you more competitive for other international positions.
In most cases, you’ll need to have at least a bachelor’s degree to get a job teaching English abroad. Having a TESL or TESOL certificate can also make you a more competitive candidate. The number of positions – and the amount they pay – varies significantly based on region. Generally, jobs in Western Europe are harder to get, while more positions are available in the Middle East and Asia. Some foreign governments sponsor programs that bring native English speakers to their countries to teach, including Japan and Korea. The Council on International Educational Exchange offers teaching opportunities in China, Mexico, Spain, Vietnam, and other countries.
5. Participate in a work exchange program
In order to work legally in another country, you typically need a work permit or visa, which can be difficult or complicated to obtain on your own. Participating in a work exchange program is one way to get help securing a short-term visa and finding a job.
BUNAC, one of the oldest and best-known of these programs, helps people between the ages of 18 and 35 get work visas and find temporary paying jobs in Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, often in restaurants, bars, offices, or in the agricultural industry. InterExchange connects people with au pair jobs and other work abroad opportunities in Australia, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and other countries. The Centre d’Echanges Internationaux has a job placement program for people under 30 looking for work in France.