So you want to ditch a conventional life and live the dream in a foreign land? Yeah, I know that feeling. The first time I abandoned my “real life” I was 20 years old and had to quit university to do it. It was in 1991 in Newport Beach, California and I set off alone in my Jeep Wrangler very stupidly (but boy was it FUN!) to move to exotic Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Everything was new and different and I felt alive in ways I never knew I could, soaking in my day-to-day as a new adventure every step of the way.
Fast forward 28 years and I’m now 48 years old and living in country #7 – Malaysia – and can’t imagine ever living in the U.S. again. After Mexico, I spent 12 years living in Barcelona, Spain. Three years living in Bangalore, India. Next I moved for a short time to Beijing, China, then Hong Kong for a year, and now I call Kuala Lumpur my home base. Each culture and country was unique and special, and each taught me lessons I would have NEVER LEARNED if I had stayed home in southern California.
While there are various ways to actually become an expat – like being posted overseas by your company, embarking on volunteer tourism, retiring abroad, or as the spouse of someone taking a foreign assignment – this particular piece is written for the person who wants to setup their “normal life” aboard.
Since being a digital nomad falls outside the realm of what an expat is, this is NOT for anyone looking to travel the world as a digital nomad. That’s a very different lifestyle. This is for people who want to have a residency visa, work in a country legally, and participate as a contributing member of society (ehem, pay taxes in that country, etc.).
Step One: Have Valuable, Transferable Skills
One of the fastest ways to feel defeated on your quest to becoming an expat is not feeling that you can actually get a job abroad. Sadly the truth is that MOST people do not have what it takes to stand out to an H.R. manager who is not only hiring someone … but hiring someone they need to invest several thousands of dollars to relocate. Take the time to hone in-demand skills and knowledge and know how to showcase your amazing value.
3 Ways To Be Employable Abroad
NOTE: I know that teaching English is a popular expat job but it’s not my area of expertise so do forgive me that this slants more on the professional side. I started my career in the start-up world of California as a marketing coordinator, which gave me the ideal foundation to secure amazing work in the growing start-up scene in Barcelona. I went on to be a manager, then VP/head of department, and eventually climbed up to chief marketing officer for (mostly) tech companies in Europe and Asia. Along the way I also had some odd but awesome freelance gigs, like writing a weekly newspaper column and managing social media and touring with Guns N’ Roses across India. And I did that as a single mom, with my daughter along every step of the way.
1. Bring something no local hire could offer
– Market expertise! If you’re going for a job in sales, marketing, ops, account management, or anything like that … market expertise is a sure way to get a job. Gain experience in either your native country or by working as a representative to other countries. Then pitch your market expertise to companies around the world that are trying to sell in THAT particular market. Seriously, it’s a big advantage. I landed a job in Hong Kong solely because I had worked on-the-ground in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. It matters a lot for certain jobs.
– Industry knowledge! New companies open up around the world every day, with founders who know one or two aspects of the business but who need experts to lead other departments and help the company create plans to move it forward and reach its targets. Be the expert they need to help them navigate those start-up waters.
– Mad Skills! There is a lack of skilled labourers all around the world. In emerging economies, that’s often the more innovative or newer technologies or skills, especially in small but growing nations.
2. Speak the language
I would NOT have have been considered for certain jobs in the U.S. and Spain if I wasn’t a bilingual Spanish speaker. The same is true for native English. At times that was what employers needed and it was the deciding factor and gave me a competitive edge.
3. Demonstrate measurable successes
Showing that you know how to bring value to a company is one of the biggest ways to stand out from the crowd. If you’ve generated past success / revenue growth / product enhancement / exposure to new markets for a company that people within the industry respect then shout out your achievements!!! If you’ve done it before … then chances are you’ll be able to replicate those results and companies value those kinds of candidates.
Tips on Applying For Jobs
- Have a killer LinkedIn profile! Every single relocation and job I’ve had since 2005 I applied for on LinkedIn. You need to follow best practices for Linkedin and keep a tight summary and list of your experience and background. I would also start publishing short 400 word LinkedIn Pulse articles once per week to show your expertise to potential employers (think strategically about the topics you write about to show your value to overseas employers).
- Reach out to recruiters! Pick the countries where you most want to live and reach out to the top recruiters for the industries you are targeting. Replicate your LinkedIn profile in a CV (2-3 pages max) and share it with recruiters with an honest and personalised letter to them about what you’re looking for and why you’re awesome.
- Search job portals! Every few days, go systematically – site-by-site – through local job portals in the countries you’ve picked. Every country has their own sites and they often have a few gems from companies who don’t want to pay LinkedIn job posting fees.
- Search for start-ups! If you read the industry news for the countries you’re targeting, you’ll find articles on new companies to watch. Check them out and send an email to the founders or H.R. manager and pitch them YOU. I’ve landed interviews that way …
I also suggest creating a video to share a bit about you, why you want to relocate, and why you are bankable. You can make a generic video for any/all employers but I would suggest doing one either PER country or job title you’re going for (I often hunt for either communications/branding roles or digital marketing roles … so those are very different pitches of my expertise and would require 2 videos). Post your video/s to youtube in “Private” mode so that only people with the link you share will be able to see them …. not your current boss 😉 It’ll help you stand out from the crowd and show recruiters your personality in a fresh way.
You’ll Need an Employment Visa
While some countries will allow you to transition from a tourist visa to employment visa from within the country, most DO NOT allow it. You’ll be forced to return to your home country to process the employment visa, which can take several weeks. So for this reason, I would NEVER suggest moving to a new country first without first nailing down a job.
Living as an expat is the best way I know to experience this life … so if you have the desire to move abroad then DO IT. I have DOZENS upon dozens of expat friends around the globe and only one of them has ever returned home because they couldn’t find enough to fulfil them living abroad. The rest of us feel a thrill (most every day) and know how fortunate we are to live this dream!
One last note, though. No matter where you’re living, you’ll still need to file those taxes to the US government. If you’re not yet abroad, keep that in mind and plan ahead. If you’ve already taken the leap and are behind on those declarations, consider taking the time to file tax amnesty online to keep yourself on the better side of the law. It’s an honest mistake, but keep on track in the future and make sure you’re steered back to it now.
Have I missed something? If you’re an expat living abroad or a recruiter who can add to the conversation, please share your advice and insight below in the comments! I’d love to learn more and I’m sure everyone looking to move abroad would appreciate your tips.