So You Want to Work Overseas?
5 Things to Consider
Many of us get the itch to travel to foreign countries and experience different cultures. Sometimes, that itch to visit becomes an urge to stay. Whether it’s due to the desire to pack and move to another country or a long or short-term assignment, there are a few things one should think about before packing a bag and buying that plane ticket.
For Whom Will You Be Working?
Paul Oberjuerge is a former sports columnist for the Inland Valley Daily Newspaper based in Ontario, California, who was laid off in 2008. Since 2009, he has worked as a sports reporter for The National, an English-language daily newspaper based in Abu Dhabi.
Oberjuerge said it is important to make sure any potential employer – and their offer of employment – is legitimate.
“Is your potential employer fiscally sound? Can it deliver what is promised? It behooves the potential expat to find someone already working there who can give a sense of being inside the organization,” he shared.
Are You Authorized?
Anyone who wants to live/work in another country needs to obtain authorization to work overseas. Robert Wheat, co-owner of Pyroland Fireworks based in Sumner, Washington, spent three years in Luoyang, China to learn first-hand how fireworks are made.
After making sure there actually is a job waiting overseas, one must obtain a passport and work visa. It is important to determine if the prospective employer will assist in obtaining a work visa.
“It worked out for me because I was basically being loaned out through my company,” Wheat said. “It made it a lot easier to get everything I needed taken care of.”
“It seems… that many in the U.S. -- a nation of immigrants -- have trouble wrapping their minds around the concept of examining their options and making the move overseas.”
The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has a Traveler’s Checklist for Americans traveling abroad. The first item is that travelers should “Beware of Any Travel Alerts and Warnings …” that are posted through the State Department advising of civil unrest, dangerous conditions and/or terrorist activities.
“Yes, you check the geopolitical considerations, but they are rarely as dire as most Americans fear,” Oberjuerge said.
“I didn’t get a lot of negativity about me being an American, but I got a lot of attention because I’m 6-feet-4,” he laughed. “In my opinion, the rule of thumb was to remember that I wasn’t in the United States and I was visitor in another country.”
Be Prepared for Differences
It is important to be aware of differences in health and medical regulations in other countries. Make sure to obtain proof of childhood vaccinations, get needed boosters and/or new vaccinations, if needed. Before leaving, one should also research the overall health care in their destination country.
“Skype makes it less painful, but being 16 hours by plane from family and friends was something to get used to,” Oberjuerge said. “Secondarily, dealing with the bureaucracies of a different culture is different. Not much more difficult; just different.”
Wheat said he did research and spoke to friends about some of the cultural differences before he left.
“I wasn’t perfect and I didn’t completely know the language,” he said. “But because I was trying, a lot of people were really helpful. In the bigger cities, there were some signs in English, so that helped.”
Oberjuerge said his largest fear went unrealized.
“A city like Abu Dhabi can seem more than a little like an American sunbelt city, complete with familiar commercial enterprises, restaurants and retailers, in particular,” he said. “It isn't like it might have been 50 years ago, when you couldn't buy Oreos overseas. The carrots I eat come from Bakersfield.”
“I didn’t get a lot of negativity about me being an American, but I got a lot of attention because I’m 6-feet-4. In my opinion, the rule of thumb was to remember that I wasn’t in the United States and I was visitor in another country.”
Embrace the Opportunities
Oberjuerge was unemployed for a little more than a year, working as a freelance writer, before finding his job with The National. His regret was not initially casting a wider net when job hunting.
“I would have investigated it (working overseas) sooner. English-language skills and American college educations are still highly valued in much of the world, and in rising economies in Asia especially, opportunities exist on all sorts of levels,” Oberjuerge said. “ From teaching to engineering and major managerial roles, it seems, however, that many in the U.S. -- a nation of immigrants -- have trouble wrapping their minds around the concept of examining their options and making the move overseas.”
Wheat’s experience allowed him to better understand the merchandise he sold and gave him a better appreciation for his home in the United States.
“It was a fun time and I had a blast,” Wheat said. “But at the end of the day, I was happy to come home to my wife and daughter.”