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.
Let’s cover each of these 4 ways:
As a Student:
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.
Lastly, I should mention how much more partying experience you’ll learn from your international schoolmates to bring back home.
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.
In the Government:
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:
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
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:
Top Tips from 18 Experts
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.