Things to consider
Moving to another country is a big step and there are lots of things to think about to get the best out of your time abroad. Here's our top ten.
1. Why do you want to go and for how long?
Are there specific career goals you want to achieve and do you stand a higher chance of achieving them abroad than in the UK? Do you want to experience working in a different culture?
The length of your stay will depend on your goals. Think about whether you are looking for a six-month stint in order to gain experience and move up the career ladder when returning home, or whether you'd like your next job to be abroad too.
2. The impact on family life
If you're settled in the UK, then you'll need to weigh up the benefits of your time abroad against the disruption to your personal life. Any family and children are likely to play a major role in your thinking. You're family could join you, but remember to factor that in when deciding on the type of job, accommodation, living standards and salary you are likely to have.
If they stay in the UK, then consider the time and cost of regular return trips to visit. Either way, check out the cost and frequency of flights. Long haul flights and costly airfares could really make a dent in your salary and annual-leave allowance.
3. Where to find a job
Some people will find that they can arrange an overseas job or placement with their current employer, particularly if they are a big multinational company or a university department with twinned institutions around the world.
Many larger employers will offer international opportunities as part of their graduate schemes, and may offer longer-term overseas options to those further on in their careers. However, smaller, UK-focused companies might be more sceptical about the benefit to them.
4. Tailoring your CV
Tailor your CV and other supporting documents. Make sure that you avoid UK-specific jargon. Don’t assume that your qualifications will be recognised everywhere, so talk about equivalents if necessary. It may also be worth thinking about whether your employer will expect American or British English. Also see our advice on CVs.
5. Possible culture shocks
You may find your lifestyle changes radically when you work abroad. In many developing countries cinema, theatre and other night life will be in short supply. In the Gulf States, for example, alcohol is either illegal or frowned upon. Guide books such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guide can provide valuable information.
It may sound obvious, but the climate of your intended country can play a big role – you may need to prepare for extremes. In the Middle East, the temperature can nudge 50°C in summer. In a Russian winter the mercury can plunge to -40°C. Be prepared and go with the right clothing, footwear and expectations.
Security will be a concern in some countries. Depending on the country, issues could range from low-level crime and sexual harassment to kidnapping. It is always wise to check the advice on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.
8. Accommodation and cost of living
Sometimes this is provided by the employer. If so, check the exact specifications. What is the location? How close will you be to your work, the city centre, transport and so on? What about the cost? If accommodation is not provided, ask what support your employer would provide in helping you find suitable lodgings and how much they might cost.
It is often difficult to size up the cost of living compared with the salary offered. Just knowing the cost of a beer or a night in a hotel room can help, and that will be available from a guidebook. However, the costs of things like transport or accommodation can vary wildly. If in doubt, try to speak to an ex-pat with personal experience about the cost of living in that particular region.
9. Healthcare and Immigration
The UK has reciprocal healthcare arrangements with most European countries, meaning that you will get free or reduced-cost medical treatment. You need a European Health Insurance Card to claim this treatment. The NHS Choices website will give you details of what is available in other countries. If you are going to work in a developing country, check with your GP about any necessary vaccinations or anti-malarial medications.
You should check with the embassy of your destination country for visa requirements. Most will give information on their websites or on a phone line. A list of contact details is available from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.
10. Tax and National Insurance
Once you have set up your new job, contact HMRC to explain that you are about to leave the UK to work abroad. They will explain your tax status. If you are going to work in Europe then you may still have to pay National Insurance contributions for the time that you are abroad. Normally, this should mean you will not have to pay contributions to the other country’s social security scheme.
If you are not paying National Insurance while overseas, you might wish to pay voluntary “top up” contributions so that there are no gaps in your record when you return to the UK. Again, HMRC can advise.
11. Quick tips
“If you are currently still in education, talk to professors that work in the specific subjects that you are interested in and ask them for their advice and help. They will point you in the right direction or may even have a contact that is looking for someone over the summer. If you don’t ask, then you don’t get.”
Owen Roberts, PhD student, Aberystwyth University
“With respect to culture shock, it is most important to keep yourself busy socially and to integrate as much as possible with colleagues and locals. That way you can find out what the culture is like and how to cope with it.”
Jeroen Veenstra, fuel design engineer, EDF Energy
“Before applying for a job abroad, it is important to establish that you are truly ready to move across the world. You may be located a long way from friends and family, starting from scratch in a country where you don’t know anybody. For me, I had to make sure I was happy being a 23-hour plane journey from the UK.”
Samantha Penny, Monash University
“It is recommended initially to get to know people who originally come from your country or speak your language. You will find some comfort and peace in meeting them and normally people are very kind and helpful to their fellow nationals. However one should be careful not to fall into the trap of being isolated from the society and from locals.”
Fadi El Hallak, Seagate Technology
“Force yourself to explore, get to know your surroundings, get to know the people, join a local club. Learn the systems and figure out the basics of the language. The culture shock can work both ways; try to show people your culture. This will make work and social life a lot easier to adapt to. If you are unfamiliar with the language even going around a supermarket and identifying the food you want to buy can be difficult. Finding the right milk, butter and beer becomes a challenge.
“Remember that you will be competing for positions on a global scale now. What is unique about you and what can you bring to a position?”
Oliver Nailard, Rolls-Royce
“I studied French and German at school, but found extra French tuition by my employer in Grenoble invaluable, typically eight hours per week. This gives you the confidence to try other languages too. Be prepared to make mistakes and feel silly sometimes, however more often than not making the effort to speak a foreign language is greatly appreciated by locals.
“The laws and expectations regarding acceptable working hours and annual leave can differ greatly. For example, once when working in Germany, I was very keen to come into work at the weekend in order to complete a piece of work, however it was actually deemed to be illegal for me to do so, as I would then exceed the maximum hours for a working week. Similarly, some people would leave early on a Friday, having reached their maximum hours for the week, by working extra hours earlier in the week.
“Typically in Europe physicists and engineers take longer to qualify through university. I was working in France at an age where most local engineers hadn’t even graduated from university, so it was sometimes difficult to justify my qualifications. Working towards and gaining chartered status certainly helps.”
Garrie Vickers, Optocap Ltd
“If you are working in countries where security is an issue, stay with reputable airlines, be completely aware of what is going on around you. Watch body language and take in the atmosphere of where ever you are and know about local wildlife. This helped me avoid becoming directly involved in a hijack in the Middle East, helped me through a robbery in Indonesia and helped me avoid a redback bite in Australia.”
Ken Mollison, General Electric (retired)