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March 11, 2008 1:45 AM   Subscribe

How hard is it to get a job overseas? Is there a lot of paperwork involved? Is it hard to adjust? Does it make more sense right out of college? There's more past the jump.

I'm still like a year away from graduating with a degree in Civil Engineering but I wanted to know what it takes to work overseas. I'd really just like to work abroad for 2-3 years before settling down somewhere back in North America. I'd like to work in a foreign country if just for the adventure and experience but how smart would that be? I figure if there's a time to do it, it'd be right out of college while I have nothing tying me down. I've got so many questions that I don't know where to start.

How do I find a job in a foreign country considering that all the job referrals I've been seeing through school are almost all in state? Am I better off trying to get a job with a large international company and seeing if they can relocate me to a different country or am I better off trying to directly get a job overseas? Does it matter that I'll probably only have my FE? Is there anything like Peace Corps (or the Peace Corps) where I can use my Civil background?

Will the fact that I can only speak English hinder my job acceptance or performance? Will the fact that I look Asian but act definitely like an American affect me overseas? Are there certain countries to look for or avoid as an American? Where are there significant English speaking populations?

How much red tape do I have to go through to work somewhere else? How long can I work in a different country? How do taxes work? Will I be paid in Euros/Yen/Pounds/Etc and is that a good thing?

Am I better off just vacationing abroad rather than living there?

Personal anecdotes are much appreciated along with any pointers to good sources information on anything overseas.
posted by woolylambkin to Work & Money (16 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow lots of questions here - I can help with a few.

I'm American, have lived and worked outside of the US for about a third of my adult life. Initially my job was transferred to Europe, which made it very easy for me to leave the United States. So yes, multinationals will be a natural conduit for this activity - much more so than someone seeking (with maximum respect mind you) entry level employment. Will be difficult to get an employer in another country to bear the costs associated when their local talent pools will no doubt suffice.

Countries to avoid - I'd suggest you focus on G7 countries, and avoid the Developing World (unless you go the Peace Corps route). I've worked in many countries where 24x7 armed security is needed and you really don't want to get into those situations.

English only won't be a problem in many countries and fields. For example, I work in banking and live in London. Clearly English isn't a problem in the UK, but I've also worked as far afield as India, Egypt and down Sub Saharan Africa as far as Nigeria / Ghana; English is the language of banking. Might be different in the field you've chosen.

Taxes - big thing to consider here. Most countries charge higher nominal rates than the US; the UK, for example, has a top rate of 40% that is reached after about £28K (or so) in earnings. Top rate in the US is 27.5% and you have to earn well over $100K to hit this threshold. So you'll have some surprises there. And even though you'll be paying taxes in the country you're working in you're still obliged to pay US taxes. And don't think you can simply not pay; most countries have what are called Tax Information Exchange Agreements - TIEAs - to facilitate the primary business of a government - collecting taxes. So if you move abroad and work but don't pay you WILL pay, sooner or later they'll catch you.

On the plus side the first $95K you earn while working abroad is tax free on the US side, so if you structure things properly you can pay a much, much lower nominal rate. For example, my rate of taxation across the try countries (UK & US) is only about 15%. If you can get paid in a tax haven where there are zero local taxes (e.g., Cayman, Jersey, Isle of Mann, etc), for example, and repatriate funds yourself to your host country typically you can approach the tax rates I mentioned.

Pay - well, this depends on the contract you've negotiated but usually local currency is the rule. And you'd want local currency as you'll be paying your bill in Pound Sterling, for example. Why accept payment in US dollars then have to hassle to convert at a possibly lower rate later in the future?
posted by Mutant at 2:04 AM on March 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


I took the multinational route to moving abroad as well, and even with the corporate backing and a dedicated immigration law firm working on my permit, it was still a time consuming hassle and in the end I think I'll end up spending a good 6,000 euros on the move out of my own pocket. I think it was worth it, but don't go into this thinking that you'll just hop on a plane and everything will fall into place from there. I don't know the first thing about Civil Engineering jobs (I'd imagine that those require that you speak the local language, so maybe you should stick with looking at the UK?), but I've known entry-level software engineers and interns who have managed to be relocated by companies, so it's not unheard of.

Have you traveled much outside the US? A lot of your questions depend on what country you hope to move to. I'd suggest spending a month in a furnished flat in your desired country to see how you like living there, and then worry about how to relocate.

I'd like to work in a foreign country if just for the adventure and experience but how smart would that be?

That's the only reason you need to go through with it.
posted by cmonkey at 2:20 AM on March 11, 2008


Oh, and if you're under the age of 28 and you're not adamant about using your degree abroad, look into getting a "working holiday" visa somewhere. That's likely the easiest route.
posted by cmonkey at 2:25 AM on March 11, 2008


Best answer: That's a lot of questions. I'll give it a shot from my experience, though.

How hard is it to get a job overseas?

Not extremely, but it does take significant leg-work on your part. Remember that many parts of the world have desperate need for people with your level of education.

Is there a lot of paperwork involved?

Yes, but the amount depends on where you go, and what you're going to do. The state department is a good place to start, once you decide on a location you can find out more about the specifics needed there. If you are relocating for a job, most times the company of your employ will handle the majority of this (mine did).

Is it hard to adjust?

Depends on the person, the place, the time, etc...you sound adventurous though so I'd guess you'll have less trouble than most.

Does it make more sense right out of college?

Absolutely, yes. Do this now, while you're thinking about it, and more importantly, while you're free from obligations that would otherwise prevent you.

I'd like to work in a foreign country if just for the adventure and experience but how smart would that be?

Very. You'll gain on and off-the-job experience that you can never get in the states.

How do I find a job in a foreign country considering that all the job referrals I've been seeing through school are almost all in state?

This is where your leg work comes in. You'll need to narrow down the options of where you want to go and what you want to be doing there, and then start researching - internet will be your best bet. Many of the larger companies you're seeing in your school may well have overseas operations - consider contacting them and conveying your interest to work for them, but elsewhere.

Am I better off trying to get a job with a large international company and seeing if they can relocate me to a different country or am I better off trying to directly get a job overseas?

This is one approach. I'm with a large intl co. and that's how I got my overseas assignment (South Africa, which I would highly recommend, at least at the moment, btw. Politics here in the next couple years may get interesting though.). The problem here is that you'll probably need to work for them for a long time and develop a specific skill set that they have need for in some other part of the world before they'll actually front the costs of moving you.

Does it matter that I'll probably only have my FE?


Can't speak to that one as I'm not familiar with that line of work, sorry.

Is there anything like Peace Corps (or the Peace Corps) where I can use my Civil background?

Yes.

Will the fact that I can only speak English hinder my job acceptance or performance?
Possibly, not likely. Much of the world speaks enough English that you'll be fine. Be flexible and prepared to learn at least the basics of a local language, however.

Will the fact that I look Asian but act definitely like an American affect me overseas?
Depends on where you go. Anywhere, though, its important to remember that you are an American and prone to act like one, and to adjust your actions accordingly. I've had to learn how not to lay on the horn here in traffic like I would in NYC :).

Are there certain countries to look for or avoid as an American?

There's a few places in the Middle East and Central Africa I'd look to avoid. Other than that, most of the world is your oyster.

Where are there significant English speaking populations?

Europe. Less so in Africa but there are pockets. Can't speak to Asia, haven't done time there.

How much red tape do I have to go through to work somewhere else?

Again, depends on where you are going, and who's bringing you there, and why. For me, I had a project here, and the red tape was minimal, and handled by the company.

How long can I work in a different country?

Depends on the country. I was granted a 2 year work visa in SA with little trouble (had to submit some forms, along with some health clearances and police history reports, that kind of thing).

How do taxes work?

You don't want to know the answer to this question, which is why you should get an accountant. Again, here, your company is likely to help you work this out.

Will I be paid in Euros/Yen/Pounds/Etc and is that a good thing?

If you can get paid in Pounds, then hell yes. My set-up was that I continue being paid in USD. Blah. But at least its strong to the SA Rand at the moment. This too will depend on the company, where you're based out of, where they move you to, etc..

Apologies for all the "it depends" - but your line of questioning leaves things pretty much wide open. Perhaps consider narrowing down where you'd like to go, and then search within those options.

Am I better off just vacationing abroad rather than living there?

Hell no. Live abroad. Do it as soon as you can.


Personal anecdotes are much appreciated along with any pointers to good sources information on anything overseas.


I moved here last year, through a non-profit practice my company does with 3rd-world NGOs. Its extremely fulfilling work, and by the time I return to the US (assuming I do), I will have seen most of southern / eastern Africa. Its the best decision I ever made.

(Email in profile if you care for more specifics)
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:27 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Come to Australia! We need more MeFites here.

There is a special visa which is set up just for people like you. See here.

This is the first such agreement the US has made. Australia has agreements like this with a few other countries.

Also, once you're wherever you put yourself in a much better position to get a job in a country if you like it.
posted by sien at 3:05 AM on March 11, 2008


Your skills as a civil engineer are eminently exportable. My brother is a civil engineer too and has worked in Scotland and the Isle of Man. Currently he's thinking of a move to London or Dubai. His first job ever, though, was at home in Ireland.

In fact his old employers in the Isle of Man might be interested to hear from you - they're always looking for young civil engineers. The Isle of Man is a tax haven, and you'll be paid in pounds sterling, so financially it's good. You climb up the ranks of the company fast, because it's a small pond. But culturally it's a real backwater, and not the kind of place you'd want to spend more than a year or too - which is why they're always recruiting. If you want more details on that, mefi-mail me.

Oh, and there's tons of engineering work in Dubai - most of it being done by non-nationals. Dubai's government seems to be actively seeking out foreign skilled workers, and would make the transition quite easy, I would think. And there must be other countries doing the same thing.
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:17 AM on March 11, 2008




Yes, seconding "working holidaymaker" visa if you're eligible. These are a great way to get a couple years experience living and working abroad. Also check out BUNAC.org if you're just graduating. They offer short working visas for UK/Ireland/NZ and a few other countries for recetn graduates.

Finding independent employment in the EU for a non-EU citizen is very difficult. EU law allows employers to hire non-EU citizens only if they can prove there in no non-EU citizen who can/could with training, fill the role. And a vast majority of employers see an unknown quantity (someone with no direct European experience and/or requiring sponsorship) as a big risk they're just not willing to take.

If you work in a "shortage occupation" (one where there is a shortage of qualified candidates, like social work) employment become much easier. Not sure if civil engineering fits that bill, but it may be worth checking out.

Are you eligible for any other citizenships through grandparents ancestry? Countries like Italy, Ireland etc. offer citizenship by descent - picking up an extra passport can open up a whole world of possibilities that most people aren't even aware of.

Definitely do it. Good luck!
posted by wayward vagabond at 3:23 AM on March 11, 2008


I started work overseas straight out of college. I used Bunac to get a six-month temporary visa for the UK and then parlayed that into a proper working visa with an IT company. I've posted about it in AskMe several times before, so check out those comments for more details. I really recommend living overseas, and you should definitely do it now before you get tied down with any other commitments.
posted by web-goddess at 3:29 AM on March 11, 2008


Best answer: So many questions, so many possibilities...

The short answer (in my very long post, LOL) YES, MOVE OVERSEAS NOW. You're at the perfect point in your life to do this. Really, it doesn't get much better from a timing standpoint. If it works out, you're young and adaptable enough to find what you really want in life and settle or move on. If it doesn't work out, you won't have to justify it to anyone. You're at a stage in life where exploration is expected.

References will also not be much of an issue for you, as you're fresh out of uni. You'd have the same problems in the US as elsewhere as a recent grad viz references.

In my personal experience, the questions an employer will have (but may or may not ask) are the following:

1) why does this person want to live and work here in particular?
2) How long will they stick around? In other words, is it going to be worth it to put time and training into you?

Really, it boils down to what you want. If you want to have the experience of living and working overseas working a casual sort of job with lots of time spent around other expats in the same country, Bunac is the way forward. A friend of mine did BUNAC and loved it because it gave her the advantages of a built-in social framework with the advantages of living overseas and seeing if it was for her. She lives here permanently now, married with a kid.

If you want to gain professional experience, make better money but have less free time, go the professional route through a multinational. Even then, be aware that you may want to talk to your HR dept and a tax advisor to go over what option is best for you. It's highly unlikely that you'll be earning over the benchmark to pay US tax as a recent grad.

The most stressful thing about the "professional" route is, in my personal experience, that you will have less time to adapt and adjust in your own way. You will not only have to adjust to living in a foreign country but will also have to adjust from being a student to being a full time worker. Doesn't sound tough, and it doesn't have to be, but it can be hard to push ahead on both fronts and not feel a little squeezed. You may also find yourself wondering why you bothered to live overseas when you only have free time on weekends and otherwise are spending time in offices that could be located in any part of the world. That being said, you do have weekends and oftentimes more generious holiday allowances and shorter working days, at least on paper.

As someone who's done the expat thing twice, I'd just say it boils down to you. The visas & job hunting are the easiest part of living overseas. How you cope with stress, with being far from family & friends, with lonliness or feeling the odd man out - that's onlly something you know. Even the friendliest or most adaptable among us feel that sometimes as expats, but how you handle those feelings is what makes the difference.

Seconding the advice to stay away from the developing world. Not that they couldn't use your skills, but personally I would never work or live in a place where private militias or kidnappings for profit were a possibility.

Email me if you have any questions you think I can help with...
posted by Grrlscout at 3:57 AM on March 11, 2008


You've got an Engineering degree from a US school and you're willing to live abroad? I think Dubai would like to talk with you!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:20 AM on March 11, 2008


I'm from the US. Around twelve years ago I was presented a unique opportunity to work in Europe for a 'Big 6' Consultancy. I have been to around thirty countries for business and spent significant time in more than five. Two of my brothers have also spent most of their professional careers abroad in Europe, Middle East, and Asia Pacific. One in Academics, the other in Oil.

I've been involved in hiring several young professionals into international roles over the years. Some into Europe, others into Australia. If I were interviewing you for a position in Australia, where I currently live, I'd definitely be looking for your level of commitment to stay and contribute to the local practice. Two years at a minimum. Willingness to integrate would be an essential attribute of younger candidates, especially in Europe or A/NZ.

Not much more to add except to say, do it.
posted by michswiss at 5:14 AM on March 11, 2008


I'll try to hit the ones I can answer that others haven't, and a couple I just feel strongly about:

How do I find a job in a foreign country considering that all the job referrals I've been seeing through school are almost all in state? Number one, by using your school's alumni network. Number two, by expressing your goals to any professors you have good connections with, since they often have connections world-wide. Number three, by approaching those same companies if they have places or projects where you want to be, even if their posting is a local hiring. Big companies especially target hiring, and they may have the posh positions more planned for hiring from a different university. You have to do your legwork, like someone else said.

Is there a lot of paperwork involved? To contrast with at least one person above, I got hired by a big firm that did all of the paperwork and paid all of the expenses involved, including for moving. This will vary a lot firm-by-firm, but at least know that it isn't universal.

Am I better off trying to get a job with a large international company and seeing if they can relocate me to a different country or am I better off trying to directly get a job overseas?
IMO, you need to have a career objective ready to explain to them and they need to know you want to work overseas. You can't just assume that they have ladders or plans that are what you are looking for. I talked to many multi-nationals and was often given responses like "well maybe you can work with us for a year or two in [e.g. upstate New York] and then go to England!!" or "well, yeah we're a French company but it's only French moving overseas, the Americans generally stay in the US" among other exciting proposals. Also, at least one of these big companies has a reputation for "if you want to travel or move overseas, you won't get to do it. If you want a quiet life in the Boston burbs, they'll be shipping you out as often as possible." I went for "hire directly for overseas assignment."

Will the fact that I can only speak English hinder my job acceptance or performance?
It can make things more difficult. At the least, you should figure out what your target may be, and if the local language is not English, start moving towards demonstrating that you are committed to the region and to fitting in (like michswiss said). I was looking for a job in Japan, and it made a huge difference to the people I was talking to that even though I was in a first semester class, that I was in that class. Even though my company's official language is English, many of the people I work with don't speak so well, and definitely the people I deal with outside of work don't.

How hard is it to get a job overseas?
For a data point, I was looking for an engineering job (your field) in Japan (tough market) where I don't speak the local language (dammit). It took me about 9 months to get an offer and 5 more to get here.

How do taxes work? Will I be paid in Euros/Yen/Pounds/Etc and is that a good thing? The company I work for pays KPMG to do taxes. Win! I get the impression this is pretty common. Also common is an opportunity to do something called split payment, where you can get part of your salary paid in local currency and part paid to your home country. Right now, as an American, this isn't a great thing for me because the real exchange rate keeps falling and the split-pay one is fixed. But if you take all your pay in local currency, you'll get hit on the transaction later when you move back.

Does it make more sense right out of college? This is absolutely the time to do it, though you might find a Master's would help you find jobs, if you were interested in having one, to begin with. You have no obligations, more flexibility, and room for adventure. (Plus it'll look great on your future resume, but who's counting?)
posted by whatzit at 5:37 AM on March 11, 2008


stay away from the developing world...
Sorry one more. Please keep in mind here that there is a wide, wide range of places that get labelled "developing world" (i.e. non-OECD). From what I've read by Mutant he's worked in some really tough places, but there's a lot of the developing world where your skills will be needed and you can go through daily life without constantly looking over your shoulder or having guards, like Thailand, Vietnam, Argentina, Uruguay, Ghana, ... etc.

You may have fewer "amenities" than you're used to, and your income may be lower or more... volatile... but living and working in the developing world can be extremely rewarding and a great experience. (My experiences are in Ghana and Brazil.) (Actually if you're interested in Ghana I may be able to recommend you to someone if you drop me a line.)
posted by whatzit at 5:46 AM on March 11, 2008


Personal anecdote: I wanted to live in Italy for a year or so after college. I had an undergraduate degree in physics, was going to go to graduate school when I got back home.

One day I came into the place where I was working for the summer and found somebody asleep in my chair. He turned out to be a student from another university, visiting for a few days. We got chatting, I mentioned I was looking for a job in Italy. He said "oh, my professor's wife is Italian. Maybe they can help you out." He typed an email and -- in less than five minutes!! -- I had a positive response. They created for me a position in a research lab outside Pisa.

The pay was low (the Euro wasn't worth much at the time). The paperwork wasn't done properly... in the end I got tired of waiting for them to get their act together and went over and started on a tourist visa. (Eventually I had to make a trip home to get that sorted out.) I was payed in cash, which I stored beneath my mattress.

Best year of my life.

Lessons: talk to people, lots of people. Pick a few countries to focus on and ask everybody you know if they can help you get a temporary position there. You never know who will be of help!

Don't worry too much about whether the job will help you advance your career. Making sure you get a "proper" job, for instance one that pays as well as you'd expect here in the States, might make this search much harder. (Who knows... maybe your degree is very valuable overseas, as some of the posters mentioned, in which case: great!)

But definitely go for it!!! You'll have a wonderful experience, this is the perfect time to do it, you won't regret it for a minute.
posted by wyzewoman at 5:57 AM on March 11, 2008


Yes, it's a good idea to live and work in a foreign country. Your options are to A) find a U.S. company that will send you abroad; B) find a local company in your destination country that will hire you, or C) just go and hope things work out.

Option B might be best. When I was fresh out of college, I took option C, and things did work out for me, but I wasn't trying to find work in a specialized field. If you pursue option A (or B, I guess) start leveraging your personal network now—your parents, their friends, your friends' parents, etc. On option B, you'll be living "on the economy" as they say; on option A, you might be living "on the expat package," meaning you've been placed into an enclave where the horror and foreignness of being in a foreign country has been minimized. Sort of like Club Med.

Will the fact that I can only speak English hinder my job acceptance or performance?
Inevitably, if you don't speak the lingo, you'll be missing some stuff, but if you've got a valuable skill, that will make up for it. Being a native English speaker may also be useful to your employers in some way.

Will the fact that I look Asian but act definitely like an American affect me overseas
Perhaps in some situations. Depends on where you go and what kind of Asian you look like. I was in Japan, and other east Asians definitely were treated with second-class status; this was excrutiatingly visible at immigration whenever I had to get my visa renewed. But I had an American friend of Filipino origin, and her magic blue passport smoothed over all that. Foreigners of Japanese origin arguably had it worse, since they were expected to have some innate knowledge of how to act and speak Japanese—but didn't.

How much red tape do I have to go through to work somewhere else?
Depends on where you go, but remember that no matter where you go, your presence there is entirely at the pleasure of government bureaucrats who are dealing with non-citizens incapable of jeopardizing their jobs. When I lived in Japan, every trip to the immigration office was at least 3 hours, and you always had to budget a solid day. I've known people who lived long-term in Thailand or Indonesia without getting any kind of long-term visas; they just paid a fine every time they left the country, and never had any trouble being re-admitted. That'd never work in a lot of other places.

How long can I work in a different country?
Indefinitely, if you can keep your work visa.
posted by adamrice at 7:49 AM on March 11, 2008


I know New Zealand seems to be pretty open to immigration - assuming you have skills that they're looking for. I'm not sure if that includes Civil Engineering, but they have websites that detail all the information.

I don't live there, nor have I done this. I've looked into it to some degree, however. But, it seems like a great place to live for awhile, English speaking etc.
posted by ChrisManley at 8:26 AM on March 11, 2008


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