Is it too late to change careers, nationalities, everything?
October 31, 2014 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I have a masters degree in a relatively obscure field, an even more specialized professional history, a BA in French, no relationship, and lots of consumer and student debt. What is the likelihood that a youngish 30ish woman in that situation could pick up and move to another country?

In light of recent posts on the blue about the difficulty raising a family in the US, and in light of my broke-ness and newfound single-ness, I'm thinking now could be a good time to establish myself in a more family-friendly country, preferably a francophone one (France, Canada, Belgium? Switzerland?) and get a fresh start socially, culturally, etc.

I know I want: a family, time to enjoy the family, a safe and relatively geopolitically secure place to live.

I'm good at/willing to do: literary translation, archival metadata (content, encoding, etc.), data analysis, most any office task. I'm too old to be an au pair or to teach English, and I'd rather not join up with a WWOOF-type organization. I need to be earning more than $40K, or its equivalent, if possible.

Googling this is overwhelming; I'm hoping for some anecdotes and personal advice from anyone who's done this. What kinds of logistical obstacles should I prepare for? How does one find (apply, interview for) a job in a foreign country? What kind of money should I be saving, what kinds of contingencies should I think about that I probably haven't thought about?

I've read posts on dysthymia and the urge to scrap it all and start over, but I should note that I really do like where I currently am. But I feel more unencumbered than ever--in every way except financially--so I think now is the time to strike if moving or working abroad is something I really want.

Is this completely unrealistic? Any personal experience or tips from expats would be welcome.
posted by magdalemon to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a U.S. citizen? That will make it much more difficult to secure employment and the right to stay in an EU country.

There is a subreddit dedicated to emigration (/r/IWantOut) if you want to check it out.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 9:29 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, should have clarified. I am a US citizen. Reasonably fluent in French, and I'm not afraid of paperwork--I went through quite a process getting an extended (student) visa in France, and I feel confident that I could handle similar bureaucratic obstacles today.
posted by magdalemon at 9:43 AM on October 31, 2014

To me, what's unrealistic is your idea that you can just move to a foreign country and start over. This isn't impossible, but you seem to need a bit of a reality check.

In order to move to another country you need to be rich or famous. You're not, in fact you describe yourself as broke and highly in debt. Surely you can see this doesn't increase your attraciveness to the host country as a new resident.

Or you need to possess skills that the host country is needing and can't supply through current residents. A BA in French is not on that list, not even low on that list. Folks who do this are in a STEM field.

You can start a self-employed business in The Netherlands under the DAFT agreement. My situation is that I have this in the bullpen, but I haven't been quite ready to retire the current pitcher. The DAFT makes it very easy to get Dutch residency, but it takes time and money and money in the bank.

You can of course marry a nice foreign person.

Please understand, I'm not trying to be mean. I'm just being realistic by taking the realities of the situation in to consideration. You could do this if you are realistic and prepare your situation.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:47 AM on October 31, 2014 [9 favorites]

I knew several people who used teaching English to pick up other work (translating, writing/editing, etc) or who ended up working for the school in an admin position. It's easier to fine tune things on the ground.

You also become part of the expat community... You could date locals or someone from a third country.

You're not wrong about the US... It's really not set up to encourage a large middle class nor is it very family friendly. I'm from California and my husband is Australian; we road tested both and settled in Australia for all the reasons you describe. All things being equal though, I love California.

Once you've lived overseas you can never go back to being someone who hasn't. It can be heartbreaking to realize that your country is comparatively unlivable, and heartbreaking if you love the new country and can't find a way to stay. Are you close to your family, and are they good communicators?

Peace Corps, UN, Foreign Service?
posted by jrobin276 at 9:47 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anecdotally, from what I've seen, everyone I know who left the US and wanted to stay overseas found a way. Maybe not the way they planned...but they managed! Since you're not the ideal candidate, getting in and staying might be two separate issues.

If you do end up back in the US, at least you've had an adventure!
posted by jrobin276 at 9:57 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've done a fair bit of looking in to this myself. For any country that you'd be interested in getting in to as a person who's disturbed by US culture and politics, it seems like it would be difficult for someone in your situation especially if, as I suspect, you're looking at EU countries.

Basically, your odds are going to be best if you meet at least one of these conditions, in rough order of importance:

1) You have a recent ancestor who comes from your country of interest
2) You have substantial savings -- as in, six figures
3) You have a guarantee of a job with an employer in the country
4) You have very in-demand skills or education
5) You have a reasonable self-employment business plan and can demonstrate financing for it
6) You are in sports or the performing arts

You also need to think about the difference between work permits / temporary permission to stay, permanent permission to stay (the equivalent of a US green card or UK ILR), and full-on citizenship. Something like having a job offer will usually only give you the first. I'm most familiar with the UK requirements, but when I was looking at going there on a work permit with none of the other advantages above the path to citizenship was: 1) get a work permit and keep my job there (or find another one quickly if I lose my current one) for five years; 2) apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, and keep that for at least 1 year; 3) then apply for full citizenship. So you basically have to keep gainfully employed for 5 years and run the risk at any point of being shipped back.

From what you say I'm afraid it sounds like your odds are low, especially since any employer in the Eurosphere is usually required to attempt to fill openings with EU citizens first -- with internal transfers excluded, I think -- and can only look outside if they can't fill internally.

One possibility if you're willing to live outside the EU would be to look at some of the countries which are actively interested in getting Americans to move there. Costa Rica used to be good for this, but I think they've recently tightened up. Recently Belize has been a good target -- it's not hard to get a series of one-month visas, from what I've read, and you only need to be in-country for a year before you can apply for permanent residency.

I have a couple good links to forums for expats and wanna-be expats, but not with me at work here. I'm sure some will be showing up from others soon.
posted by jammer at 9:58 AM on October 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: humboldt32, I was thinking that my master's in a library science field was STEM-y enough that I could add on a cerfiticate/related skill set and be a valuable candidate. But I do appreciate the reality check, seriously.

Another idea: work in Vermont, live on or over the Canadian border, and seduce a nice Quebecois?
posted by magdalemon at 10:04 AM on October 31, 2014

Librarian is one of the TN status professions, which is probably the easiest way for a US citizen to get to Canada. You do still need to find an employer though.
posted by carolr at 10:07 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

How about checking former or current French colonies. I'm drawn to French Guiana, Martinique, and other such places. Don't know how much they need people with your skills.
posted by mareli at 10:51 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

New Zealand could be a great choice that ticks off all your requirements except for French. This page from the NZ government does an excellent job of outlining all the major considerations, including a skill shortage list to help you identify your path to immigration.
posted by rada at 10:58 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

You would probably score well on the application criteria to apply to live and work in Canada. I would encourage you to explore that route.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:06 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well not France but 3 hours by bullet train. I don't know what your skills are, but if they are specialized in the right way, come to the Netherlands:

"More opportunities for highly skilled aliens
The Modern Migration Policy Act offers highly skilled aliens more opportunities. Those who can contribute to the Dutch economy or science or culture can be admitted to the Netherlands more rapidly. The recognised hosts of highly skilled immigrants can use an accelerated procedure. Other aliens cannot use this accelerated procedure."

List here.

If you get sponsored, it's a pretty sweet deal, tax wise AND you get to get a Dutch drivers' license right away (a HUGE deal, let me tell you). Once you're here and working, it's a fairly easy process to get citizenship (the US and NL allow dual nationals). I moved my family back here precisely to have a higher quality of more family-friendly life and haven't looked back since.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:09 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also feel free to memail me.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:11 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your best bet would be to get a job with the US Government. Department of Defense hires language teachers, so you might be able to parlay your BA into a teaching certificate. You have to be fully certified to be in a DOD school, but MAN is that a sweet gig overseas!

Plug your degrees into the search at and see what pops up and where. My Dad did his headshrinking in Japan and Germany. He got US government salary, pension, housing and utility subsidies. My parents saved nearly $200,000 over 10 years on his salary alone. That doesn't include private retirement accounts and pension.

This is a GREAT way to save dough, work overseas and save for retirement.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:27 PM on October 31, 2014

I also, anecdotally, have seen that those who want this to happen, make it happen.

Step 1: find out if you are eligible for citizenship by descent in any other country (including via grandparents, Judaism, etc.)

Step 2: See if you could qualify for the EU blue card (if you found an eligible job)

Step 3: Apply to every job that exists -- most will want work authorization, but some may be willing to sponsor a visa, especially if you can qualify for the blue card. Also look at international positions like the foreign service or working at a foreign university (esp. in Eastern Europe). If you can learn programming, you'd have a leg up in the job search.

Step 4: Start looking for a mate -- for both family purposes and long-term legal residence purposes

I'd want at least $10K bare minimum saved up in advance, but YMMV.

Just do it! You're poor and unhappy here, if you can find a way to legally reside in another country, what's the worst that can happen? You're poor and unhappy there, but with (warning: opinion!) better healthcare and educational opportunities for your children. You can always come back.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:36 PM on October 31, 2014

Although most people join at age 18 or so, the cut off age for joining the American military is 35. You also cannot have more than two kids already.

American military families have something closer to a socialist environment, with free medical and other benefits more in line with the 1950's pro-family type climate. Some people join the military, pop out a couple of babies for next to zero in medical bills, and then leave, having de facto padded their military compensation by the cost of two deliveries in a hospital and all the ob/gyn care that goes with it.

Further, most people serve overseas at some point and there is a fairly high rate of International marriages in the military. My dad was career army and my mom is a German immigrant. You see a fairly high number of German and Korean spouses around Army bases, some British and French spouses around Air Force bases and so on.

Furthermore, if you have special skills, not all military jobs are infantry. They need people in finance, they have professional musicians, and so on. This is a pretty good time of year to talk to a recruiter. I think the fiscal year ends the end of September. At the end of the fiscal year, sometimes people get really excellent opportunities because they still have a few oddball slots they need filled and someone wins the oddball slot lottery. (One young woman with nothing but a GED got a really primo job to be envied this way -- my ex put her in when he was on recruiting duty.) The other time of year is at the beginning of the fiscal year, which I think is October, because they have lots of slots of all kinds available. So you won't be told "We have all the Blahs we need for this year. Would you like to be in the infantry?"

I kind of want to say that one thing that sometimes happens is that they will pay off some of your student loans in exchange for you sign a longer contract (make sure your contract says so in writing and do not assume this is a benefit that just happens). But my memory is fuzzy and I can't swear to it.

So joining the military might make America more palatable and more family-friendly, it might also give you the chance to get stationed overseas and that might give you a chance to fall in love with the foreigner of your dreams and stay there after your military obligation is over.

If you aren't in just terrible shape and thus think you could deal with basic training, it might not hurt to go talk to a recruiter. Each branch of service has different needs and different restrictions. IIRC, the Navy has a lower height limits than the Army due to space limitations on boats, so sometimes someone who is, say, 6'8" winds up in the army because the navy won't take them. On the other hand, the army won't take people with flat feet because they march everywhere, but the navy totally does not care about your fallen arches and will ship you post haste if you meet their needs. The air force has stricter eyesight requirements than the army ... and so on. So if you talk to one branch of service and they say "We can't use you." you can go talk to a recruiter from a different branch of service.

If you do make it into the military and really want your debts paid off, they generally provide you with housing and you can eat in the mess hall and medical care is free. If you really want to put literally every dime of your paycheck towards paying down debt, you can. It will mean having not much life for a while but you will eat, you will be housed, and you can be seen by a physician at will, even with zero dollars in the bank and empty pockets. This is part of why young, single soldiers have such a terrible reputation for pissing away entire paychecks the weekend they get paid: Because they can and won't starve. They will just be stuck eating in the mess hall for the rest of the month, like it or not.

I mean if you didn't join up when you were younger, you probably aren't interested. But I thought I would toss it out there, even though I know it's a long shot.

Also, if you are fluent enough in French, join some French speaking online forums, add Mefites to your contact list who live in places you are interested in to follow their posts and comments as a means to start gathering info and start just getting your ear to the ground online. Knowing actual people in the places you want to go can give you a world of useful information that can make the process a lot easier.

I will also recommend the book "Wishcraft." It is a general all around good book on getting stuff done. One of the anecdotes I recall from it is someone who wanted to move to Australia and used the methods in the book and began doing what needed to be done and made it happen.
posted by Michele in California at 1:04 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Europe is going to be tough, but you can get extended visas in some countries to teach english.

You can also just go pretty much anywhere on the developing world with nothing but an american passport and stay for quite a long time..
posted by empath at 1:28 PM on October 31, 2014

Also, you can get a job in the US that lets you telecommute and just travel around and stay in hostels, etc, then you don't need to worry about getting a visa.
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on October 31, 2014

Another idea... American or foreign schools overseas. You know... Where diplomats send their kids. They need school librarians too! They have massive conferences / job fairs that would make it easy to look into.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:58 PM on October 31, 2014

It's not hard to move to many countries in Asia or Latin America to teach English. It seemed like you wanted to live in a Western country from your question, but I thought I'd throw that out there- some responders who say it's impossible to move to another country and start over obviously don't know/aren't thinking about the fact that many countries really want and need native English speakers, especially Americans, to teach ESL. I did this myself.

I also have a friend who got certified to teach, and applied for jobs to teach at international schools, which pay US salaries. She taught in Thailand for two years.
posted by bearette at 7:13 PM on October 31, 2014

In order to move to another country you need to be rich or famous.

Just stepping in to say the above is actually an overstatement. It's hard, but it's not that hard. The US is UNUSUALLY hard to get into.
Young (preferably UNDER 30, unfortunately), and has a degree, is enough in many countries e.g. NZ.
posted by Elysum at 9:51 PM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lived in Europe from 1990 until 2008. People used to ask me advice about moving from the US to Europe all the time. It is hard to give, because my reasons for moving there were mostly romantic, so that kind of trumps everything when you're young (and somewhat foolish). But I knew a lot of expats too. It seems like you have a bit of situational angst, if I may be so bold. If that is the case, then a move to a European country would probably be nice a few years - if you stay single. But then, once you realize that 'there's no place like home' - you will be fine and you will return with great experiences and marketable skills. But if you intend to marry a European national and start a family there, then you should then take on the European Union citizenship as soon as legally possible and be prepared to spend the rest of your life there - come what may. You can get US citizenship for your children (and should) but they will be citizens of the European country where you settle in their hearts and US citizens in their passports. Should you want to return to the US for whatever reason (death of spouse, God forbid or divorce), then you may find yourself separated from your children and that is extremely difficult. In the end, as the Romans used to say, you're happy where you feel at home. It doesn't much have to do with the social welfare safety net or politics or how many days you get for maternity leave (though the US *is* appalling on this). Here in the US, the mercenary attitude of a lot of people here in suburbia where I live is troubling sometimes, but you're going to find that in Europe as well, despite all their wonderful national health care programs and beautiful cultural artifacts. Before I made a decision like that, I would read Marcus Aurelius 'Meditations', because he has some great insights into what you appear to be feeling at this point. Anyway, good luck with whatever you do!
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 6:36 AM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't know that French is specifically in demand, but here are some BLS stats on translation jobs. The military does have translators too, though, again, I think they have been looking more for things like Arabic and Urdu, not French. I was also thinking that if you can find a job in an American embassy, that would be an American job you can search for readily from American soil but it would put you on foreign soil once you have it. Once there, it is easier to make contacts, learn the laws, whatever. (I have no idea how one would get such a job and I am sure you would have to pass some serious security checks.)

Here is the official site for starting your search for a Federal job, if you aren't interested in looking into that:

I did try searching for "entry level" and "all foreign countries." It came up with a mixed bag of US locations plus foreign locations. I don't know my way around the site too well. It has been a lot of years since I used it at all. But they do list jobs on foreign soil. However, one of the first things that came up was some kind of child care type job in Germany and I am guessing that they will probably hire a military spouse who is already living in that area for that particular job in preference to shipping someone there just for the job. Military spouses get a hiring preference for local government jobs where their spouse is stations (in part because the locals don't want to hire military spouses since they know we are going to leave again in the not too distant future when our spouse gets orders for a new duty station).

I am thinking I had one more suggestion, but it is not coming to me at the moment.
posted by Michele in California at 10:59 AM on November 1, 2014

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