Why Working Abroad is A Good Option — and How to Do It

Tomorrow I’m going on a local FOX TV affiliate to talk about why working abroad is a good option for people now. But in truth, working abroad has always been a good option for professionals who want to fast-track their careers, for business leaders who want to expand their business, and for entrepreneurs who want to start one. But for many Americans, there just wasn’t a desire or a need. Now that’s changed: With high unemployment here — any where from 9-20% depending on the stats you read —  and non-stop globalization demand that, increasingly,  workers have international experience. And it’s not just private sector or corporations noting high growth outside the U.S., but NGOs, not-for-profit and the Federal Government recognize they must expand globally and need workers with international qualifications.

Many markets outside the U.S. are growing 3-4 times the rate of the U.S. (2.8%), such as China (10.3%), Singapore (14.4%), India (10.5%) and Brazil (7.5%) and these are just the big headliners. Places like Singapore and Hong Kong boast less than 3% unemployment, and they are touted as great places to live. I have to agree. I lived in Hong Kong for three years and so many of my internationalist friends say that Singapore is their favorite place to live.

But not enough Americans are thinking about international jobs — and that’s one of the reasons I spend so much time on university campuses talking about the importance of preparing students for the global marketplace. We’re talking about jobs. Today’s young professionals must be prepared to compete with their peers from around the world — peers who are often bi- or tri-lingual or have significant cross-cultural experience. So what can students do?

  • Pursue a foreign language.
  • Study abroad.
  • Work, intern or volunteer abroad.
  • Follow global news and events, including business even if you’re not a business major.
  • Take an international class, be it in politics, business, geography or religion.
  • Travel (only 39% of Americans have passports).
  • Explore other cultures through food, music, art, movies, international friends.
  • Work with career counselors to brand the Global YOU.

But what if you’ve graduated and already have a job but want to go global? What can you do?

  • Think globally. You must start with the right mindset.
  • Develop a strategy. Will you pursue a transfer within your organization? Go through a search firm? Look at job sites such as SimplyHired and TheLadders? On your own? In-depth in one country or short stints?
  • Build your global brand. What international qualifications do you have? Language, skills, knowledge of a particular country? Past experience?
  • Do your research. Right now it’s technology in China, research in India and infrastructure in Brazil, but in 6 months that could change. You must follow global trends and connect the dots between those events and your skills and the organizations involved. You’ll start to see where the opportunities are for you.
  • Network. Tell as many people as possible about your desire to work abroad. Join online networks, use social media. Join international organizations and language clubs. Connections matter.

If you decide to work abroad, there are many things to consider to prepare for the big changes ahead. I’ve written two books on the subjects, and you must prepare properly for it’s a big step — one that will probably change your life forever — so do it right! Here’s my short list:

  • Talk to people who have lived abroad, specifically in the city or country you’re going to. Their insight and advice will be invaluable.
  • Prepare for culture shock. Read up on it (I have a section in both my books, but there are scores of books on the topic) and learn to recognize the signs and your own coping mechanisms for dealing with it.
  • Confirm your salary or, if you’re moving yourself, make sure you are clear on cost of living and you have 3-6 months of cash in your internationally-accessible bank account.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Of your employer, future employer and get as many details in writing.
  • Be safe. Be aware of potentially unsafe areas, crime and political uprisings. If you’re American, register your travels at the U.S. State Dept. travelers website.
  • Immerse yourself in the culture, language. Don’t just hang around with people like you. Living abroad expands the mind and soul — grow with it!

And most of all, HAVE FUN! Travel, make friends, enjoy yourself. I included some photos of my travels throughout the years in this past blog and for those who’ve asked my favorite? Living and working in Hong Kong. Despite the humid, muggy weather, the traffic and the long hours!  But the vibrant buzz there is electrifying. Each country, each culture offers something special and unique and so I encourage people to explore and go beyond their comfort zone. You’ll never know unless you go.

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3 Comments on “Why Working Abroad is A Good Option — and How to Do It

  1. Fantastic advice, Stacie. I would like to add another bit. When I considered moving off of a company sponsored visa in the UK to apply for a highly skilled migrant (HSM) visa in order to have employment mobility, I was shocked at the paperwork required. In addition to college and graduate school transcripts that were easy to request, I had to provide quite a bit of past employment verification. This included pay stubs, exact employment dates and dates of promotion, copies of business cards as evidence of titles held, organizational charts that showed where I fit in with my past employers etc. This information was painful to assemble after almost 20 years of working and required me to reach out to a lot of people from my past to recreate history! So here’s my advice: If you have a dream of working overseas someday, begin now to build your employment verification file and add to it every year end. You will likely be very glad you did!

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