International move planning for the generally risk-averse!
January 20, 2013 2:19 PM   Subscribe

How do people decide to do and execute big moves abroad? Is it a dumb idea to move abroad without a job in hand first?

This is still largely theoretical, since I'm the middle of application processes for a bunch of different programs and grants and will hopefully not have to resort to just up and moving to another country like this, but I'm a big fan of backup plans! I have US citizenship but have quite a bit of experience abroad and would really like to move to either one of a couple of specific countries (note that these are developing nations, so some issues, such as visas, may not be as critical as, say, a move to the EU). How do people execute moves like this? Besides the plane ticket, approximately how many months' rent/food money is reasonable to save up? How hard is it to find work doing something like teaching English, for example (especially in the Middle East and Latin America)? Long-term I'm interested in development work, but in the short term I'm mostly concerned about not ending up homeless or something and I've taught English on a more informal level before, but I'm not certified--would this be a big issue if I applied for jobs?

Is moving abroad 'on a whim' like this universally a dumb idea, or can it work out? I speak two languages fluently and one passably, and am generally cross-culturally competent, but what I'm afraid of is being unable to find a job and completely failing or being in an unsafe situation. If you made a significant move like this, how or when did you know that it was a necessary or just good decision? If it wasn't a good decision, how did you figure out your next step (whether it was returning home or seeking further foreign adventures)?

Sorry if this question is a little vague! I'm not sure what questions to ask myself before attempting this or how to initiate such a plan (see: the budget concerns above).
posted by Papagayo to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Moving to another country without a job lined up is not a backup plan. Yes, it is a dumb idea. Your backup plan if all your programs fall through is to stay put and apply for more grants and programs. Hopefully, it will not come to that and you have success with at least one of your applications.

In my experience, it seems that at least in East Asia, the English teaching employers are getting pickier. Being a native speaker can get you some of the lower level stuff, but if you want some nice corporate assignment or to work in higher education, they are generally going to want a master's degree in ESl/language acquisition/applied linguistics.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:41 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd think the toughest part would be finding places that would let you stay more than a few months while looking for a job. I worked in Canada for 3 years, and I only got permission to stay one year at a time.
posted by lukemeister at 2:42 PM on January 20, 2013

Not a dumb idea. Loads of people do it and survive. Do your research on work permits first.
posted by pompomtom at 2:45 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you be more specific about where you are considering going?

It is possible to move abroad on a whim and have it work out, but if you are a big fan of backup plans you may not feel comfortable with letting things hang out there for long enough to be workable for you. And that's okay, you know. It's not a character flaw to like having a Plan B, C, D and E.

Don't assume that visa issues are not as onerous in developing countries, either. Lots of places won't let you in without your next leg of travel already ticketed, and documentation requirements can be quite burdensome even for a tourist visa. So a big chunk of your question requires more data before we can take a stab at answering it.
posted by ambrosia at 2:46 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have moved overseas three times - all with a job beforehand. I personally couldn't imagine moving without one - but I'm risk adverse about that. If I was younger, knew people in the target country in case I needed a floor to sleep on, and lots of "easy to get" jobs were available I'd probably be less so. If I was doing it I'd probably factor living costs for three - four months (to find a job and get through to first pay cheque), plus return ticket cost in case it all goes wrong, plus cost of COMPREHENSIVE travel and medical insurance till your job benefits kick in......good idea to ask yourself what happens if you get hit by a bus on day two of your trip and need a medical evac by plane to a developed country.....oh and assume it's cash up front or no travel.....

Just as a side note I would expect work Visa's to be just as much, if not more of an issue in many developing countries than in well developed countries, simply because it can be a challenge even finding out the current rules (and you really need the current rules sourced from the immigration authority in the country - assume every other source on the internet - including metafilter - is completely wrong in that regard), and getting to an embassy/consulate if the country is not well represented overseas and an interview is required. Also some smaller countries are extremely sensitive about people coming in to find work and displacing locals, so they have very strict rule sets, and looking for work from inside the country may be very difficult/technically against the immigration rules (I've seen this first hand in various Caribbean nations).
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:21 PM on January 20, 2013

I'm all for moving abroad (I've done it) but I'd warn you not to assume that your US citizenship will make the visa process easier in Latin America. Because the US has made it hard for Latin Americans to visit the US even as tourists, several countries have responded by making it hard for US tourists to visit their countries. If you show up in these countries without a pre-approved visa, you're not getting in.

For example, to get my Brazilian tourist visa, I was supposed to visit a Brazilian consulate in person to drop off a serious amount of paperwork, which included several bank statements and the photocopy of both sides of a credit card to prove my financial solvency, along with some photos of a special size. I was able to pay extra in order to have a friend who lived in a city with a consulate submit my paperwork for me. A week later, I received my visa in the mail. Total cost was more than $200. The visa is good for 10 years; in each year I can stay for a maximum of 180 days.

Paraguay also requires an in-person visit to a consulate. I went to the one in Buenos Aires. On day 1 I dropped off my paperwork, and on day 2 I returned to get my visa, which was a nice contrast to Brazil. In the requirements they publish online, Paraguay also requires proof of solvency, residency, etc. just to get a tourist visa, but in the BsAs office, at least, they said they didn't need it for US passport holders and all that paper that I had so laboriously prepared was casually ignored. The visa is good until my passport expires in 8 years.

Argentina was easier. I just had to pay something like $160 US when I got to Immigration in the airport. That visa is good for 10 years.

There can also be immunization requirements. The last time I checked, Bolivia required proof of vaccination for yellow fever. I've had all the other shots but have read enough about the yellow fever jab to be leery.

I'll be doing more Latin American travel and will look into visa requirements well in advance. You can't apply for multiple visas at once, because each country requires you to hand over your passport while they think about letting you in. For example, while I waited for Brazil to process my application, I couldn't simultaneously apply for Paraguay, because the Brazilians had my passport.

I currently live in Mexico, and they recently changed their visa process, also making it harder for US citizens. As I understand it, US citizens can still get a tourist visa by basically doing nothing more than buying a plane ticket that includes the visa fee. But if you want to convert your tourist visa into something that lets you stay longer or work, you have to go back to the US and go in person to a consulate there, prove your financial solvency, etc.

I moved here before the change and was able to apply for my residency visa in Mexico. I had to provide several bank statements as proof of solvency, and I have to provide statements every year to renew the visa. After 4 years of this, I can be a permanent resident and stop having to submit bank statements.

To actually answer your question, as long as you have bank statements that can prove your "solvency" in the eyes of the visa gods, you can probably get a longer-than-tourist visa in lots of interesting places whether you have work lined up or not. So I would suggest you save up enough money to meet the solvency requirements of your target country, and always be able to show that you have the money. I use an ING online account for this and print off their statements at visa renewal time.

This means you need to save up enough disposable money to live off of while you look for work, as well as a stash that you don't touch and that proves your solvency for as long as you don't have a working visa. The amounts required would vary by country. The alternative, as I understand it, is to find an employer ahead of time who will sponsor you and, ideally, do all the visa work for you. I don't know of anyone who has done this. The foreigners I know who work came here as tourists or on non-work immigrant visas, found jobs, and then changed their visas to work visas.
posted by ceiba at 8:28 PM on January 20, 2013

I Don't think its a bad idea. I wish i'd been more adventurous when I was younger and less settled. I had friends who just disappeared for a year or two to other countries working in various odd jobs.

In my experience a return airfare is only slightly more expensive than a one-way. So I'd just buy a Return Ticket with a 12 month open return. That's your back-up plan.

If you run out of money and can't find a job - just go home. A lot of Countries won't let you in on a Tourist Visa without a return ticket anyway.

How much money do you need? - I would just save as much as possible. 1 year's worth would be nice.

For many countries longer visas will only be granted if you have a nice chunk of money to live on anyway.
posted by mary8nne at 12:30 AM on January 21, 2013

I asked a question a week or so ago which might be relevant here.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:30 AM on January 21, 2013

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