Finding a job in a different country: how to get started?
November 10, 2021 9:30 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I want to live and work outside the US for a period of time. How do I find a job?

Are there recruiters that specialize in this sort of placement?
Do I search for foreign job listings that mention sponsorship?
Do I mention in the interview that this goal (to live abroad) is part of why I'm applying?
The only route I envision is targeting companies with offices in the desired country, putting in the time in the US office and then asking for a transfer.
Neither of us speak a second language fluently.
We have two kids (8 and 10).

Any advice is appreciated. I apologize for being scattered in the question. Thank you!
posted by cgs to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Legally working full-time in a foreign land can be quite tricky, because the company likely needs to sponsor you for a visa - and not all companies are interested or even equipped to do that.

Some questions for clarification (or some assumptions we can unblock)

Why are you wanting to work in an office in a new country?

Is it to be a part of the culture?
because volunteering can help with that.

or finding a coworking space that caters to locals.

or contracting for a company (which still may be tricky, legally)

Is it to have legal permission to be in the country?
because a number of countries have tourist visas that allow you to be there anywhere from 90 - 365 days, without a company needing to sponsor you.

  • Thailand allows 30-90 days, as many times as you like in a year
  • Colombia 90 days at a time; and 180 days in a year
  • Most of western Europe is 90 days within a 180 day period
  • Mexico 6 months, with no limitation on time in a year
  • Georgia 365 days

    There are also "digital nomad visas" which tend to be a year.

    and these are just a handful of examples.

    Is it to make money to support your travels and your family?
    Sites like Workaway can make sure you have food and shelter

    Better yet, remote work in your industry may be an option that's more available than ever before, full-time or part-time. Maybe you work remotely for a U.S. company?

    (for a lot tourism visas you technically shouldn't be conducting business in the country, but I think that's usually interpreted as doing business with people or businesses in the country, as opposed to doing remote work as you're traveling around.)

    do you want residency in the country
    First, do you REALLY want residency, because the benefits may not be that much better than working the tourist visas/
    Second, employment is a good way, but so is... going to school there, buying a property, creating a business, adopting a child.... Countries have lots of ways to gain residency that aren't through work.

    I'm not saying don't get a job in another country, I'm just saying you may not need an actual office-based job in another country to accomplish your goals.

  • posted by jander03 at 9:54 AM on November 10, 2021 [11 favorites]

    Good ideas from these guys who moved to Spain
    posted by sandmanwv at 9:56 AM on November 10, 2021

    What are your professional skills? You have to bear in mind that every other country in the world has a full population of skilled workers who are also fluent in the local language. The only way it’s of benefit to allow someone in from overseas is if they have skills that are in shortage in that country. Otherwise, you’re just like all their own people, except much worse, because you don’t speak the language, don’t know local cultural/business norms, need complex paperwork, and they can’t be certain you’ll settle into the culture well enough to stay (the latter doubly so if you’re bringing family).

    I’ve done this once, to a tiny place that happened not to have anyone with my professional skills at the time, and where my mother tongue was the local language.

    The alternative is looking into something like teaching English as a foreign language, where your English skills are of benefit, but it doesn’t tend to pay brilliantly.

    There do seem to be some industries where people working for an international company can get posted overseas without language skills just because they’re a trusted member of the company - the oil industry seems to be one of them. But even for them there probably needs to be a good reason for them to bring you in, with all the relocation costs and risks, rather than just employing a local.

    It might be useful if you can update with details of your professional skills.
    posted by penguin pie at 9:59 AM on November 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

    ESL jobs for American native speakers with degrees exist in abundance in Asia and I think latin america. They don't pay all that well, but more than enough to live on and often include housing. I don't know at this point what specific outlets are good for searching but the jobs are definitely out there.
    posted by bearette at 10:03 AM on November 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

    I was also going to suggest ESL jobs, which often have fairly high staff turnover (and anticipate this), so you could go, get a work visa through their sponsorship, and job hunt in other industries while there with legal status without too much guilt. If you went this route, the important thing would be to choose a country where your visa isn't tied to a particular employer (it is in China, for example, which gives schools significant leverage over foreign teachers who want to move on), and to choose a reputable school which would get you there legally and ensure your paperwork was watertight. That probably means doing a certification in ESL teaching beforehand, to access the better schools.

    Without knowing more about your professional background (plus your motivations for this move, and whether you're willing to switch sectors), I agree that it's hard to give more specific advice. I would say that I work in an industry - international development - that involves a lot of sending Western ex-pats abroad to do things, although that's gradually changing. While living abroad, my ex-pat friends have tended to be about 50% teachers (ESL, school or university staff) and 30% people working for large corporates, with the remainder being made up of diplomats, people in my own industry, people in media (journalists, TV producers), and specialised lawyers and finance types.

    The only other class of ex-pats I can think of are bar and restaurant owners - many, many countries will give you a visa if you come and set up a business and employ locals. That's obviously a tall order in a country where you don't speak the language, but a bar or restaurant catering to international types (think beers, pizza, burgers) is, well, not that easy either, but relatively speaking a lot easier than opening an accountancy firm or whatever. Your clientele will mostly be English speakers and making burgers and pouring beers doesn't require much in the way of local knowledge.
    posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:21 AM on November 10, 2021

    If you have a specialized skill then just apply directly and they will sponsor you.
    Research which visas you’d need for which country, and how eligible you are for that visa and then put in your resume/cover that you’re willing to relocate and are eligible for employment in that country with XYZ visa sponsorship.

    Big companies have contract immigration lawyers that handle all the paperwork.
    posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:53 AM on November 10, 2021

    The Dutch-American Friendship Treaty (link goes to a legal firm explaining things) could be attractive, if you are able to set up yourself as a freelancer or the like.
    posted by aramaic at 11:04 AM on November 10, 2021

    Foreign Service/State Dept jobs?
    posted by mkuhnell at 11:23 AM on November 10, 2021

    Best answer: It might be easier (and more lucrative) to find remote work options in the US and then move abroad as a digital nomad. See this for a list of EU countries with options for digital nomads.
    posted by gakiko at 11:46 AM on November 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

    As a first basic question, do either you or your wife have any possible claim on another citizenship (generally by descent)? As this could make things a lot easier for you. (Even if you don’t want to move to that particular country some passports can open up opportunities in a third country.)

    The fact that you have children may also make some approaches a little more difficult if not impossible - you will need to consider schools or homeschooling, for example. Depending on the country, you may need legal residency to send them to school, whereas homeschooling is not always legal too. (I’m living in Germany, where it is illegal, for example.) If you want an international school, so that the kids can continue to learn in English, then they are more often in larger cities, and can be quite expensive.
    posted by scorbet at 11:54 AM on November 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

    Some international companies allow and encourage movement between foreign offices. You could start in the US, and move with their help.

    I know at Trimble this was provided for.
    posted by nickggully at 12:15 PM on November 10, 2021

    Response by poster: Additional details per the requests:

    Motivation: we want to have the experience, and provide it to our kids, of living in a different country and culture (vs visiting as a tourist). We would move back after like five years.

    My profession: I'm a senior product manager at a digital media company. Sites, apps, data, digital advertising.

    I think I could get permission to work remotely at my current job and am looking at the digital nomad links you shared. I think the issue would be setting my kids up in schools: if the visa applied for a year, we would have to find a new school for the next year.
    posted by cgs at 12:23 PM on November 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

    Best answer: "Worldschooling" would be a useful search term, if you haven't heard of it before. There are lots of people living outside their home country specifically for the purpose of having their kids learn what it's like to be in other cultures (and presumably because the parents enjoy it too). There's a Worldschoolers facebook group where people share ideas about this lifestyle, including things like good locations to live, recommended international schools, how they manage to work or live on savings, managing visas, etc. Old posts have tons of useful info if you search, and the group is very generous with advice when people ask questions too.
    posted by vytae at 2:29 PM on November 10, 2021

    ESL jobs for American native speakers with degrees exist in abundance in Asia and I think latin america

    To be accurate, these are Teaching English as a Foreign Language (or TEFL) jobs. A related acronym is TESOL (or Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages) which is a professional organization that awards certificates. Now, a TESL instructor teaches English in a country where that language dominates; and it will be the students' Second language; while an English teacher elsewhere is teaching a Foreign language, hence TEFL. (In the US, these students may also be in ELL, or English Language Learning programs.) Many academic institutions offer a course of instruction which awards a TEFL or TESL certificate upon completion. It is debatable which is more valuable, a TESOL or a TEFL, but one is usually suggested to augment your bachelor's degree, which can be in just about anything. If it isn't in Education, and you choose to go down this path, you need to learn how to do this -- take some classes to get some experience first.

    Note that many casual teaching opportunities in this field in China recently evaporated.

    A final acronym, if you want to be in Japan, the program to look into is called JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) in which you'll wind up an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in a middle- or high-school classroom. Read those Tonoharu manga to learn what that might be like. Probably not an option for the OP since they only want single people.
    posted by Rash at 5:01 PM on November 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

    Probably not an option for the OP since they only want single people.

    YMMV, but a former classmate of mine just started as an ALT and brought her spouse and child with her.
    posted by mustard seeds at 7:21 PM on November 10, 2021

    Best answer: I did this twice with my kids, first for two years, then, a few years later, for ten months.

    If you want your kids to attend an international school with an American curriculum, heads up that they are incredibly expensive because tuition is typically paid not by the American parents but by the US State Department, NGO, etc.

    I'm not saying you should do this! If you really want to expose your kids to a different culture and help them learn a language, you should definitely not do this. But it's something to figure out in advance.

    I also think it's better to go sooner, preferably in elementary school or very early middle school. After that it can be much harder to have kids who are excited to do this.

    Are you hoping to go to Europe or someplace wealthier, or to a less economically developed country? Also, a year is a great amount of time. I'd plan to go for a year and see how you like it.
    posted by bluedaisy at 7:51 PM on November 10, 2021

    I think I could get permission to work remotely at my current job and am looking at the digital nomad links you shared.

    Be very careful with the digital nomad promises. You will still have tax, deductions and possibly legal obligations in the US and many of those digital nomad visas will also tax you on top of that, so double taxation, and many require you to have separate health insurance. Some of them are not much more than an extended tourist visa but much more costly.
    posted by vacapinta at 1:42 AM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

    Getting sent somewhere by your company is easier - everything is organised for you, including visa, work and residence permits etc. I went from Germany to China like this, and they paid for everything like health insurance, an allowance for an apartment, flights home each year, and would have paid for, and helped organise attendance at international schools if I had had children. On the other hand, though, you are limited to where the company is willing to send you, and you are generally less integrated into the new country. It's quite easy to get trapped in a bubble where you are mostly dealing with other foreigners, as it is easier for you, and for them, which may not be what you want.

    think I could get permission to work remotely at my current job and am looking at the digital nomad links you shared.

    You may need to double check whether that includes internationally. As it happens, we were sent the company mobile working policy yesterday, and it included the fact that it is not valid outside Germany for "tax and social security" reasons. Even if you can do it internationally, there can still be issues with time zones - which could limit your choice of countries to ones that are relatively close to your home time zone.
    posted by scorbet at 3:35 AM on November 11, 2021

    A few additional thoughts:

    Sponsorship may be difficult, depending on the country (a while back when I tried for it in the UK, my then employers told me there was no chance they'd be able to sponsor me, though they were willing to increase my salary to ensure I qualified on my own account). Some countries will require the employer to prove that they couldn't recruit a suitably-qualified local.

    You don't necessarily need sponsorship, as many countries will offer you a working visa. This could be via a points-based system (points for qualifications, experience, local language skills, maybe age, etc) (for example, Australia). In this case, you'd apply for the visa first, from your country. Then you'd apply for jobs knowing you had the visa.

    Noting your comment about job ads mentioning sponsorship, it's more likely in my experience that ads will specify that you must have the right to work in the country.

    Some countries have occupational shortage lists that make it easier to get a visa (for example, New Zealand).

    But of course a lot of countries have shut off this route at least temporarily, due to COVID.
    posted by Pink Frost at 4:25 PM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

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