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.

84 thoughts on “How To Become an Expat”

  1. Hey Jeff,

    i’m looking at your blog and it seems you have came a long way. I would love to somewhat follow in your foot steps.

    I’m a 30 years old mechanical engineer (BSC) with 8 years experience (mainly project, design management) in an international FMCG company. i have also done a few expat jobs in a couple other countries. i have a few languages also behind my back, including arabic and italian, and very little of russian and french.

    For now i’m looking for a job in Prague (hopefully in a field close to my own) i have just started and need your advise. i mean it seems you are already there.

    What do you advice? i read above how you recommend recruiters? which ones are best, any reco? other ways to start the search? job boards, direct applications?


    1. hey Unis,
      Thank you for the kind words. And I’m glad to help.

      Considering your field, job experience and experience living abroad, you are an outstanding candidate. Now, with your language abilities (Arabic and Italian), you’re more valuable than you might think.

      Go to the page to hire me. Let’s do a Skype video call for an hour or so. I’d like to ask a few more questions before sending your CV to the right person.

      Looking forward,

  2. Hey Jeff,
    I loved reading (and re-reading) your article. Right on target and kudos to you! It’s been almost 3 years since I’ve spent the best 4 months of my life studying in Italy and not wanting to come back. I also returned to my home city of Budapest for the first time since I was 7 two years ago. Each time I set foot on the plane back to the U.S. I’m thinking of ways to return again and stay that time. I am 24 and have my degrees in International Business and Italian studies, work 2 jobs, one only for the paycheck, and the other – my passion in hospitality. There are opportunities to transfer abroad with Marriott internally, but have just recently started to search. Of course I have my doubts, worries, fears, etc., but have not been more passionate about living and working abroad than anything else in my life. Is it bad that I daydream about returning everyday while I sit in my office at work? Any advice or suggestions you may have I would whole heartedly be open to listen to. Thanks again!

  3. Hi, I read your blog, and you have a interesting story. I want to move to Austria from the United States; I’m doing it for personal reasons and not for work reasons. I want to try something different, I want to explore a different world pretty much, (Plus it does help that I have befriended a couple people from Austria). But, I have been told by a lot of people that if I am not doing it for a job than I’m not going to get approved for a visa to even live there. do you think that is true? I also have a little bit of money saved up, i know i’ll need more etc. but, any more advice?

    1. Hi Ashley,

      Thanks for the comment.

      So, in short, Austria would be difficult to move to. And if you have no intention on getting a work permit, then that rules out the more “common” way to establish residency.

      If you’re simply feeling a wanderlust, and need to “try something different, …to explore a different world,” and have some savings, then why not book a last-minute flight to (virtually) anywhere? Did you know that, as an American, you can live (almost) anywhere for up to 90 days, no questions asked? Think about that — you just pack a bag to last you 2 weeks (think minimalist), subscribe to a last-minute fare alert, …and go.

      If you want the next 20 questions answered (finding the rental, how-to get last-minute fares, day-to-day details, language questions), then hire me for an hour. I’ll talk your socks off. And I’ll bet you’ll be gone next month.

      That should inspire you to either go, or stay. It’s really up to you.

  4. Jeff,

    great adventures, sounds like quite a life. I don’t have an ordinary question, or at least I don’t think so. No military experience, self employed, not likely to get a passport (not for any criminal reasons), and not a student, so in need of a major restart, is it at all possible somewhere abroad?

    1. Hi there Ro, thanks for the comment!

      You ask is it possible to go abroad? Of course, it is. But not without a passport. You wrote you’re “not likely to get a passport.” Why not? If it’s not for criminal reasons or you’re not ruled a flight risk by court, then why not get the passport? It’s not really the first step, but it is definitely a necessary step. Hell, if you’re in the US, now you need a passport just to leave the country.
      Anyway, let’s assume you’ll get the passport. The real first step is deciding where to go and what you’ll do. I help people with that in depth after I get their questionnaire reply (consulting clients).
      Don’t worry about “no military experience” – my time in the military didn’t grant me any special powers.
      If you’re need of a “major restart,” I’d wager you’d go anywhere. More wanting to leave, then get to a certain place? If that’s the case, the passport is the only thing holding you up. TONS of opportunities to simply earn your keep, living abroad!

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