How To Become an Expat

So, you want to become an expat?

Your first question is “How does it happen?

The Four Ways To Be An Expat

For everyone who moved to a different country, there are just four ways how they got there: as a student, from their government, as an private employee or they just pack their bags and left.

Four Ways to Expat Yourself

Let’s cover each of these 4 ways:

As a Student:
Girl student girl on her way

I would argue this is the easiest and least risky to visit another country. If you’re going to school now, you can apply for a semester or a full year abroad. Nearly every four-year university already has an exchange program in place, partnering with at least 1 or 2 universities abroad. It does not matter what your degree is in, be it the humanities or aeronautical engineering.
If you’re the least worried about job prospects (and in these times, you should be), then be aware that international experience of any sort can make you more favorable than your peers without it. Employers want graduates who are well-rounded as well as qualified.
Think of the partying experience you’ll learn from your international schoolmates to bring back home. heehee.

But seriously, look up Study Abroad or International Programs on your school’s website or ask Admissions for more information. Additional financial aid and/or scholarship money may also be available, so don’t forget to ask.

Lastly, if you’d rather matriculate into a university abroad, you might save a lot of money. UPDATE: Germany got rid of tuition in October 2014. Yeah, you read that right — if you go to university in Germany, you pay nothing. But feel free to read the other ways you can become an expat. Then get back to me.

 

In the Government:
Government diplomacy

If you’re in the US military today, then you know about TDY (that’s “Temporary Duty” for non-military types). Whether a short-term (under 30 days) or long-term (1-2 years) TDY, your superiors sees any time spent overseas as duty that distinguishes you from others and can look positively on your next review for a rank increase (read: paygrade increase). Besides, talk about affordable travel – the government provides extra Overseas Housing Allowance, plus per Diem rates!
About the US government, employees of many agencies DoE, GAO, DoT, DHHS to name a few, utilize GovTrip (the e-travel service of the US Govt) to get around. Be aware of the various GSA Travel programs to make your life even easier.
Diplomatic service. Successfully passing the written and oral tests may be challenging, but if you’ve wanted to be a diplomat, they’re just stepping stones to a greater adventure. After training, you will spend your first 2 two-year assignments overseas.

As a Full-Time Employee:
Executive on top of the world

Know this: any time working internationally in your field is a HUGE plus on a resume or CV, -at any level in your career. If your office is a 6′ x 8′ cubicle, consider becoming an expat. Cubicle farms are not so common throughout Europe and Australia, where open space seating is used.

If you find the days, weeks, or even months wash away quickly without any value-add to your career, consider becoming an expat. If you wish you had a cubicle or wish time passed by more quickly, then please, strongly consider becoming an expat.

Two ways for you as a full-time employee to work in a different country: either by your company transferring you or by getting a different job elsewhere. The first option highly depends on your company, but you cannot be sure how possible it is without asking the right person. Maybe only your small company CEO knows about expanding to Germany. Maybe your HR is aware of a need for managers in Italy. And in all cases, where there is a need, there is often relocation funds waiting to be spent for the willing employee to start work there as soon as possible. I’ve even heard of companies buying out a house to facilitate the relocation even faster. (However, in times of recession, those packages are all but gone) The other way of working overseas is finding your own job.
To find your own job overseas can fill many more articles, but let me just give these pointers here.
Do you want a particular destination or a particular company? (Not all companies have offices in every city, right?)
You do not send a résumé, you send your CV. They’re close, but not the same thing. A CV is shorter (1 page, max 2), can be more personal (married? age?, a picture??), strictly chronological, and focuses on education. Compared to American résumés, a CV is less of a self-marketing tool, and more an autobiography.
People with special trades, e.g. plumbers and electricians, will likely need to apply for trades licenses, perhaps apprentice first to gain local experience. Else, tradesmen can work by word of mouth (without license) = riskier, but better pay in the end.
Get help locally by sending your CV to recruiters. (This is how I got my job in Prague, by the way.) The timeline was very quick for us: just days between the job inquiry to a job offer. If you would like (a lot) of help with this process, give me one hour on the phone with you.

Going Rogue: Jump. Pack a Chute When You Get There
Taking a running leap

The last of the four ways to become an expat. This means you pack your bags, leave your home and land in the home country…and then figure out what you’re going to do next. Not recommended for the faint-hearted.

Call it the “Shoot first, ask questions later” method. It takes guts. It’s the easiest way to start (no “wasting time” on preparation). For many adventurers, it means being a semi-resident tourist, because without “official papers” you’re just a tourist. But visa paperwork is a whole other topic. This is not my recommendation for a family, since the risks of having to leave is on everyone, and could be mean big, unplanned travel costs.

Which way do I recommend?

I could get off easy and say “It depends on you”…

But I won’t.

Better to say: it depends on your risk appetite. How comfortable are you with not knowing what tomorrow brings, and how adventurous are you?

My personal recommendation:

Let me guide you.

 

Top Tips from 18 Experts

Want to know what 18 expert expats have to say?  If you’re new here, see the list on “Welcome to ExpatYourself.

Speaking personally, I have gone down all four roads. As an American, my first trip abroad was as an university student in Moscow, Russia. I’ve also served in the US military in Saudi Arabia, jumped over to South Korea to teach English. And most recently, I worked full-time, for 4 years, for a German company in Prague, Czech Republic. Whew! Where am I now? Now I work for myself in Halifax, Canada.

How financially stable are you? Do you have a little savings or are you broke now (or would you only be “broke” after you pay off tens of thousands in debt?). For most folks, getting a job first, then moving is safe and financially safe (even lucrative). For other folks, even that’s boring.

67 thoughts on “How To Become an Expat”

  1. Hi Jeff, I feel drawn to simply congratulating you on your accessibility and availability to those in need. You have quite an extensive knowledge there and add incredible value for those you serve. I am not here to take, merely observe and impressed at your ability to answer the diverse questions being thrown at you and just hope you know how much that means to me that you are here for the likes of us expat wannabe’s. I’m a great believe that everything happens for a reason, that our day is perfectly aligned and we are where we are meant to be. I have made the decision to sell up and move abroad. I can highly recommend working on Cruise ships to decide where you may want to live as I have now narrowed this down to Canada and America. I’m an entrepreneur in the making and currently getting straight financially. I plan to start my new life mortgage free in a country that brings out the very best in me and immerse myself with interesting people who accept me for who I am. I wish you all the very best in your future Jeff and look forward to picking your brains as and when I need.

    Michelle x

    1. Wow, Michelle — Thank YOU for such a great note!

      Huge Congratulations on your decision to work hard toward a debt-free life and embark on such an adventure.

      Please, please keep in contact to let me know how you’re getting along. If there comes a time I can help, don’t hesitate to ask.

      Best,
      -Jeff o

  2. Jeff,

    I would really love to become an expat in either Belgium or the Netherlands in the next year or two. I am wondering the best way to go about it…

    My current company does not have operations outside of the US. I work as an engineer (process and projects) for a natural gas company, and I only know English. I wonder if I need to look for a job with a company that has operations in one of these countries, work in the States for them for a year, and then can transfer overseas. I would prefer to make the move sooner rather than later (i.e. I don’t want to end up waiting 3 years for this to happen), but I don’t know what is customary for these countries.

    Another issue is I only speak English fluently. I am teaching myself French, though without being able to immerse myself in it I doubt I will be considered fluent. I also have recently purchased the Pimsleur Dutch program, but I am finding Dutch learning tools to be hard to come by. I am sure this lack of languages will hinder my job seeking to some extent.

    Do you have any advice for me? I am fairly certain I would fall into category 3, as there is no way I would feel good about following route 4! I appreciate the information on your blog. I find it of great interest. :)

    -Courtney

    1. Oh, and a little more color around my situation, I am in my mid-20’s, have a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and will have 5 years with my company at the beginning of next year.

      1. Courtney, my immediate question is this: does your company have any overseas offices? Yes? Apply, by way of any internal intro or endorsement.
        If no, you have a valuable education… is that what your experience is in? Are you on LinkedIn already? Have you joined a few relevant groups? Introduced yourself to peers abroad?

        Oh, there are many ways you can get overseas. But do NOT fret about learning all potential languages before feeling confident enough to apply.

        Just. Start. Taking. Steps.

        You’ll be Amazed on how quickly you’re making decent progress, even plans.

        Best to you, Courtney.

        -Jeff

  3. Hey Jeff,

    I have been researching ways to work abroad for months now and I cant put my finger on the way I want to do it. you seem like you know your stuff so hopefully you can help me. out

    I just turned 24, I have a Bachelor degree in interpersonal/ organization communication, minored in management and have been working at a law firm in chicago as an uncertified paralegal for over a year. Right after college I worked on a political campaign and I also worked as an assistant to a political consultant between the campaign and the law firm.

    I would love to get involved with government regarding international affairs. but international experience is my main goal right now. I simply want to do something more significant then I am right now.

    I have looked into teaching/ working abroad programs to gain expereince but I dont know if those programs are A: reputable and B: if they will be considered good experience from a government perspective.

    Do you know anyone who has done something like this or have any pointers? I have researched this for about a year and have multiple people, with experience, giving me advice but I need all the help I can get.

    Thanks for any help you can give,

    Sean.

    1. Hi Sean. I read your message a few times.

      I wrote a few different replies, some longer than others, but then deleted all of them.
      I’m ending with my shortest, most honest reply:

      Grow some balls and jump.

      To explain, you wrote (twice) how long you’ve researched this (from several months to years). You added you have multiple, experienced people giving you advice. You wrote ” international experience is my main goal right now.” And yet you’re stuck, for the foreseeable future, writing to me, a faceless blog owner.

      Sean, many people who write me do not have your college degree, or political connections, or even a job. You have all these, plus a year’s “research” and others like me telling you what to do. For the last time, go. Just go.

      Don’t worry if something you’re interested in “will be considered good experience from a government perspective.” Don’t worry if something doesn’t seem the perfect stepping-stone.

      You’re only 24. What you’re doing this year doesn’t make or break your life’s career. At 24, Einstein was a patent clerk. At 24, Desmond Tutu was a high school teacher, turning to priesthood. My point is, don’t sweat what you do for a simple year or two. Today is all but guaranteed not to commit you to a particular field in just 10 years.

      Do I have any pointers? If I were in front of you now, I would slap your cheek, give you a hug, then point you to the door.

      Write me when you’re packing.
      -Jeff

  4. Hello Jeff

    Firstly I would like to say thumbs up.. you are doing a great job. In fact it is what gave me the confidence to ask for advice. I am a lady of 26 years. In Botswana. I have a Bachelor of Education in Science with Computer Science as a major. The thing is I don’t wanna teach. I even got myself a CCNA. Now im working as an instructor/lecturer. I also seriously want to go overseas, I have narrowed my expectations to Canada, you could also advise me on that.

    I plan to continue with CCNP, but my problem on the other hand is should I get another Bachelor’s degree(Technical) or just move on with Master’s degree.How much would I need to set off from my country and move into another country? I have been saving up for months, which is little, and I’m afraid time is also flying.I hate my job that I don’t think I cannot afford to be choosy even if I land in as a waitress, while studying, it will be fine.

  5. What German company did you work for in Czech? What type of job was it?

    Just curious.

    -Dreaming of running away soon! :)

    1. Hi Bekah,
      Proud to say I worked for DHL. (little historical side-note: DHL started as an American company in 1969, but became fully owned by Deutsche Post AG in 2002.)

      My building was corporate IT Headquarters, beautifully placed in Prague, Czech Republic.

      My role was in Information Risk Management, leading the effort to standardize how IT risk was managed throughout all of DPAG, a group of about 450,000 employees. A big job, but big fun (if you’re into risk management).

      You can learn more about me through LinkedIn, and more about Deutsche Post DHL on their site: http://www.dp-dhl.com/en/about_us.html

      best,
      -Jeff

  6. Hi Jeff,

    I am concerned about the feasibility of expat life. I am a single mother of two boys, 7 and 5. I would be open to returning to school, but I am concerned with child care options, as well as being about to support my family while a full time student. I have an undergraduate degree in Public Relations and a Master’s degree in Organizational Management with a concentration in Nonprofit Management. I have about 8 years of Nonprofit experience and a year of local (city government) government experience.

    I am a little lost on the path out of the US and I would like to know which is most feasible for my situation.

    1. Hey Nikki –
      You’re so fine. You’re so fine, you blow my mind, hey Nikki. Hey Nikki.

      (Sorry – if you’re not 40+, that’s probably not so funny. But I’m dying laughing here. Plus, the song is actually “Hey, Mickey”)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFrmapGCuhs

      Anyway, Nikki, I’d be happy to help. Given the Masters degree, you offer a lot of value. But, before you count your job letters before they’re offered, I’d advise you to find a recruiter. The recruiter should be one that has strong experience matching your skills with his/her clients. And of course, it helps to have a recruiter that’s based in the area where you want to go.

      Given how little I know about you, that’s what I advise.

    1. hello Michael. Yes, I can help.
      if you want me to help, click on the “How to get abroad now” link on the top-left.

      you’re welcome!
      -Jeff

  7. I’m one if the few ‘losers’ asking advice because I don’t have a degree, although I have plenty of college credits. My husband became ill (Lou Gehrig’s) and passed 3 years ago. I’ve put my life on hold, while focusing on our two daughters, and would love to finish my degree overseas and supply them with a different culture, lifestyle, and personal growth while doing so. I would need to provide some type of income, although I have savings. My field was in social services, and (patting myself on the back), I excelled in. Of course, my first concern is for my children, and their education. Any advice? I’m totally expecting you to say.. “Stay home!” Thanks!!

    1. “Tony,”

      My short answer is to wrap up your degree locally (home), preferably with the same college you started at.
      The problem with changing school is how many of the credits will transfer and apply toward the degree at a new school. This is exacerbated with going to a university in a different country. A soft sciences degree, like social science, might even further complicate it, depending on what courses you’ve already completed.
      With 2 children (I have no idea of their ages), I’d bet your first priority is ensuring the basics for them. Finishing your degree abroad alone, while starting them in a new culture could be extremely challenging.
      Yes, my knee-jerk reaction is stay home to wrap up that degree.

      Thank you for writing!

      -Jeff

  8. Hi Jeff,
    Thank you for your responses. I am 48 with a masters in chemical engineering. Speak French fluently and work in biotech industry. I am interested in being an expat in Africa. Any advices?

    Regards

    Tina

    1. Hi Tina / Justine,

      Yes, I know I can help. An M.S. in Chem-Eng, that’s great. The French can serve you well in Africa. Can I ask what draws you to Africa?

      If you’d like to talk together and have a meaningful dialogue, can I suggest a talk on the phone?

      -Jeff

  9. Hi jeff!

    I am 21 years old and I am looking to move out of the United states with my fiancée and maybe a roommate. we are having problems deciding where we should go. We live on our own now, in different states than our parents with no financial help. we all only know English. Here are my main questions:
    -what should we do to take the next step?
    -we are looking for a country that is kind toward Americans. Preferably with a good amount of work. Where would you recommend? (We were looking toward Australia or Uk)
    -Do you reccomend getting a college degree first? (Is it possible without?) If so, what is the best field to Major in?
    Thank you for your time feel free to email me back at aboudreaux2011@yahoo.com

  10. Hi jeff!

    I am 21 years old and I am looking to move out of the United states with my fiancée and maybe a roommate. we are having problems deciding where we should go. We live on our own now, in different states than our parents with no financial help. we all only know English. Here are my main questions:
    -what should we do to take the next step?
    -we are looking for a country that is kind toward Americans. Preferably with a good amount of work. Where would you recommend? (We were looking toward Australia or Uk)
    -Do you reccomend getting a college degree first? (Is it possible without?) If so, what is the best field to Major in?
    Thank you for your time feel free to email me back at aboudreaux2011@yahoo.com!

    1. Jeff,
      Hello I have the same question as Amber the exact questions actually…I see that she wrote you on May 11…. I’m 29 and looking for an American friendly country with extensive work…..I was also leaning towards Australia and the UK..are there any other? And I also want to,know if you need a degree first, if so what major is best and is it possible without….
      Shanetgolden1@Yahoo.com

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