Life As An Expat: Finding A Job In Another Country

Recently I was asked for advice on finding a job in another country.

After all, for many expats or wannabe-expats, that's a pretty big part of the process. Gotta have the money to pay for all of those plane tickets, amIright?

I thought about it and realized that I'd never really shared advice on the topic. Why?

Because I don't know.

Of course that's not entirely true, but it is a little bit true. 

I moved to London from New York almost three years ago. Some of that time was spent working as a freelancer, some it was spent working in UK companies. But even more of that time was spent going on interviews.

Before we go any further I should preface this with the fact my move abroad was done individually and was not guided by an intra-company transfer or anything of the sort. If you're attempting to change your role or location within your company, most of this will not apply.

But if you're looking to move abroad on a visa sponsored by a company, or if you're already an expat who's eager for work, there are a few things to know about finding a job in another country. Here are 7 of them:

 

IT'S GOING TO BE HARDER THAN YOU THINK

Foolishly, I assumed that because I'd been lucky enough to easily and quickly find work that I loved during my time in New York that I would have the same experience in London, and that I would have it as soon as I arrived. 

Not so.

Before I moved to London, I sent a few cold emails to companies that I wanted to work for in the UK. I didn't expect much from them, and I didn't get much from them – which makes sense since I was still living in another country.

Once I arrived in London, I did some hard outreach and set up coffee dates. Some of it was fruitful, some of it was not. The whole "arranging coffee dates and receiving e-mail replies" thing was harder in London than it had ever been in New York. 

I still haven't figured out why that is though it's likely a combination of factors, one of those being that as a job hunter in New York I was in the very early stages of my career – we're talking internships, and first and second jobs. Still, getting a job or even an response in London was much, much harder for me than it was in New York.

This was probably due to the fact that...

 

NETWORKS DON'T ALWAYS TRANSFER

It feels obvious in hindsight. I had spent my entire career – from internships, to two jobs, and multiple freelance gigs – building a network in New York. Since London and New York are similar in so many ways – and because my experience is in a relatively small industry – I assumed that the contacts I built in New York would be enough to see me through my opening days in London. In other words, I thought my network would transfer.

With the exception of the first job I had in London – a job that I got thanks to to help of a lovely friend I had met in my interning days – that assumption was incorrect. I (wrongly) thought that my industry would be aware of the names of the companies I'd worked at in the past – companies I was and still am so proud of working for.

Not always, no. The moral of the story is that you shouldn't make assumptions. Instead, spend that time readying your pitch and firming up that CV. (And yes, depending on where you're going you may need a CV, which is slightly different from a resume. Another topic for another time!)

 

CONSULT OTHER EXPATS

Let's say you want to move to Paris and work in publishing. Sounds pretty neat, right? You might already have experience in publishing, but you want to start fresh at a new publisher in France. Throw caution to the wind, Eat Pray Love, etc.

To start I would recommend contacting HR Departments, looking through LinkedIn, and doing whatever you can to get in touch with the right contacts at the companies you'd most like to work for.

The problem is this: unless you have a spousal or ancestral visa, you're going to need a work visa, and you're going to need that company to assist you with your work visa. This is not an easy or inexpensive thing to ask of a prospective employer. If I were you, and if I was set on working in publishing in Paris but had no connections, I would seek the help of other expats (friends of friends of friends, online forums, Facebook groups) and ask their advice. There is a decent chance that one of them might work at a company that's hiring and is open to sponsoring employees from other countries (like you!).

Now let's say you're in my boat and are moving to another country for reasons outside of work – i.e. a family situation or a relationship. Contact expat groups and friends who are settled in the country in which you plan to move. The expat community is crazy helpful and will prove to be a very valuable resource.

SPEAK THE LANGUAGE

Literally. While we're on our "publisher in Paris" idea, let's make sure that everyone knows that you should absolutely be able to speak French if you're applying for a job in France, etc. Hoping this doesn't need to be said but juust in case.

 

BE READY TO ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS

When it comes to hours, pay, and your general work lifestyle, get ready to be flexible. This sort of stuff varies at every company and every job, but there are certain cultural norms within the workplace that will become immediately obvious to you when you start working in another country. Some will be welcome, some might not be. Either way, keep those expectations at bay and be ready to adjust them.

 

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

If you're still set on moving abroad, require a work visa, and have had no luck with connections, try the Jess-On-Thames route and get creative. Jess is American, lives in London, and spent the last 10 years living and working in Brussels. Woah.

So, how did Jess find a job in another country?

"I only had an internship or two under my belt when I graduated college. It was easier to come over on a Masters student visa and look for employment once here. Then I sent a personalised cover letter and a CV everywhere. To be honest I think I was in the right place at the right time with my first job. "

Which brings me to my next point...

 

KEEP GOING

Remember when I said I was surprised that it was harder to get a job here than I thought it would be?

If I'm honest with you, I probably completed outreach for about 80 jobs in my first two years in London. Maybe went on interviews with about 20 of them, and had phone and detailed email conversations with more. Two of these jobs worked out, and both were for contract/freelance roles that I thoroughly enjoyed. I'm grateful to have had those experiences.

To get those jobs, and to get where I am now, there is one thing I do know and that's to never stop. My last role at a UK company was freelance and led me to the path that I'm on now, which I'm very, very happy with and feel lucky to have.

Even if it's discouraging, you just have to keep going. It'll pay off eventually, and trust me when I say that you'll be all the better for it.

 

Good luck!


Robin Reetz

I’m an expat currently living between London and North Carolina. I'm the Home & Living Editor at Clementine Daily, handle partnerships and more at DesignGood, and create content for folks like Teen Vogue. Also, I love independent designers. Find out more about me here: http://secondfloorflat.com/about-me/