Eight things to do before living and working abroad

IMG_5373I came across this article earlier in the week in The Guardian and it seemed very general advice, which doesn’t do the subject justice. Working in another country needn’t be difficult or traumatic, but a lot depends on the area of the world you have in mind – and how adaptable you are as a person. If you’re prepared to go away with no preconceptions and love a challenge, then it can be a great adventure.

Research, research, research

Research is the biggest thing you can do, not matter how many times you’ve been somewhere. Having lived and worked in Spain and in the Middle East, as well as the UK, employment practices vary wherever you go.

I know for certain that you’ve not much chance of landing a job in Spain unless you’ve already moved there or transferring in some capacity, without a local contact number and address you’ve no chance. Whereas in the Middle East, a lot of jobs are either done at job fairs, recruitment drives in London, or through skype interviews, or in some cases, networking. I’ve worked in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates having never visited there previously – but what I did do was extensive research – about the company I was working for, the industry conditions, about the national/regional culture and about the local culture and geography. This might seem like an obvious thing to say, but it’s amazing how many people I’ve met working abroad who’d got themselves in a position they didn’t like – all because they didn’t do any research.

Learn some of the lingo (but nobody expects a newcomer to be fluent)

English is the lingua franca of the modern world, and unless you’re going to the most remote of places you can expect to find someone who will understand you. That said, it’s also incredibly rude to expect people to speak English. Most people who go abroad and stay there do so because they have a specialisation or are skilled workers, and so English will be spoken for the most part. If you work in retail or the service industries you’re highly unlikely to get a job in a non-English speaking country other than European tourist resorts in peak season. In the countries I’ve worked in, even those with very menial jobs (and that were not necessarily ‘front facing’ i.e. dealing with the public) were required to speak the language fluently.

Regardless of your trade, it’s important to show the locals that you’ve at least made the effort to learn basic salutations and the nouns of everyday common objects. It will endear you to the locals much quicker and it also helps to ease culture shock if you have some recognition, or gist, of what is being said in public places. I once visited a bar in Spain with Brits who’d lived there 20 years and they couldn’t speak a word of Spanish – hardly surprising then that these expats didn’t have a very high opinion of the locals!

Job hunting is NOTHING like it is in the UK

Despite what is mentioned in The Guardian article which prompted this blog, I would say the contrary applies – the recruitment process is different in all parts of the world. Quite often the only similarity is the laborious CV & Cover letter combo to register your interest in a position. After that, anything can happen. Many countries require an up-to-date photo accompanying your application. When working in the Middle East for example, you might wait weeks between having an interview and being offered the job – or similarly they might offer you the job there and then. In the first job I took out in the desert, I was offered a job and then heard nothing from the company for nearly 4 months, and then they expected me to have all my documentation and formalities completed in a matter of days. Which means…..

Find out what documents you need to take with you

It’s wise to take, at the very least, a photocopy of all of your academic and professional qualifications with you – for long-haul destinations it might be wiser still to take the originals with you. Before you pack them away, you’ll need to find out if any documentation needs attesting – this is where a solicitor signs them to say they are the legal originals. These documents will then need to be sent to the Foreign Office for legalisation which you can find out more about here. Document attestation at solicitors can vary in price. I called up a few solicitors and got 3 documents done for £45. Legalisation costs £30 per document plus postage. This process can take a few weeks, so do it early.

Taking copies of passport(s) and visas is also a good idea, as is having a dozen or so passport photos – whether you’ve already been offered a job or not.

Do the maths

if you haven’t already been offered some money for turning up regularly to a building and doing some stuff, then you’ll need to get an idea of what the average salary is for your job in your chosen destination. It’s also a pretty good idea to find out about rental prices of houses and apartments, and even the cost of everyday sundries. Not only will it give you an idea of how much you’ll have to play with every month – but it might also save you from being ripped off.


Hmm….approaching people on social media is good groundwork and preparation if you’re about to set off to your chosen destination – LinkedIn, Twitter or friends of friends on Facebook can offer something – but how much time will these people give you in real life? Nothing beats getting business cards printed, CVs copied and making your face known upon arrival. While it’s not ideal to spend all of your time abroad solely in the company of people from the English-speaking world, the expat community is a good source of information about job opportunities, local bureaucratic processes and where to find a bargain. Approaching local companies directly with a business card and a crisp CV can’t hurt either. When you’re settled, it’s a good idea to limit the expat circle if you really want to fit in and learn about your new home – but for getting info and making friends, it’s unbeatable in those first few months.

Teaching English?

It’s a good way to work anywhere in the world, and if you’re both a passionate about your job and love travelling – then it’s the perfect job. If you have future aspirations of another career – take my advice: go to a region of the world that you like work and teach there for 2 years – then stop teaching. If you work in EFL for over 2 years then it gets difficult to escape, as I wrote about here.

Travel light

Even if you’re taking a family abroad, you don’t need more than the bare essentials. Some people seem to transport their entire lives with them – and while creature comforts are necessary, it’s likely that most stuff can be bought upon arrival. And if the worst case scenario happens, and things don’t work out – having a load of stuff in storage means you won’t have to start again on your return.


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