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What to Consider Before Working Abroad

Thousands of Canadians, including professionals, entrepreneurs, and students, go abroad annually to work. You may have dreamt for years about creating this kind of opportunity for yourself. Or perhaps your company has surprised you with the offer of an international assignment.

Either way, you need to think about what working abroad will mean for you and what opportunities and challenges you may meet. The right kind of research and preparation will make this next step in your career a success.

What type of work can I find?

The kind of work available in other countries ranges from highly skilled, technical positions to hands-on tasks in developing nations. Whether you’re a new grad, an experienced professional, or semi-retired, you might:

  • Work for an organization in a country you want to visit
  • Work for a Canadian company with operations overseas
  • Work remotely for a company based in a similar time zone
  • Work for a government or non-governmental organization (NGO)
  • Set up your own business
  • Develop your skills as a volunteer or intern

Working abroad offers many personal and professional benefits. But before you pack your bags, be sure that it’s a good choice for you and that you’re willing to do the research and preparation required.

Looking for work

Ask your network if anyone has studied, lived, or worked in the countries you're considering. They may have connections or advice that will make it easier to look for a job, find a place to live, and build relationships.

Search local job banks in the destination you're considering. Some industry or employer job boards may also feature international postings. Some job banks focus on working abroad:

Making the decision

Answering the following questions will help you decide if working abroad is a good choice for you:

  • Do you want to work in a country where the language and culture are different?
  • Are you prepared to learn or increase your skills in another language?
  • What do you have to offer an overseas employer?
  • How adaptable are you?
  • Are you good at solving problems?
  • What type of work are you prepared to do?
  • How long do you want to work away from home?
  • What do you want to achieve by going overseas that you can’t achieve by working in Canada?
  • What impact would your decision to work abroad have on your family?
  • What effect would working abroad have on your career?

Besides your work-related skills, working in another country requires you to be adaptable, adventurous, tolerant, and versatile. If you’re confident that working internationally is a good fit for you, learn what taking this step requires.

Doing the research

You can explore some of the basics here:

  • Read the Government of Canada’s advice on working and living abroad.
  • Search the web to learn about the geography, climate, political system, economic base, language, laws, culture, religions, and beliefs for the country or countries you may be working in. The Government of Canada lists travel advisories and business information for each country.
  • Talk to people who have lived in the places you want to work.
  • Check out the international job search websites in the Additional information section below.
  • If you get an offer from an organization you’re not familiar with, research them thoroughly. If the opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Accepting an international assignment

As world trade grows and competition increases, more organizations are placing employees overseas. If you’re thinking about whether to accept an international assignment from your organization, take time to weigh your options. Make sure you understand precisely what the assignment will require:

  • How long will I be away? Is this a short-term assignment where you can leave your home empty, except for the person who comes in to water your plants? Or will be staying abroad for months or even years, in which case you may have to sublet or sell your place?
  • Will my employer cover my expenses? Many overseas posts come with extra pay so you can settle into a new home, learn the language, find schools for your children, and more. Moving can be costly and your employer should cover that.
  • Will my employer handle immigration and tax issues for me? Many companies with employees abroad have programs to ensure that immigration and tax matters are handled appropriately. You need to know whether you’ll be facing these issues on your own or getting support from your organization.
  • What does it cost to live abroad? Will your salary on this assignment be enough to maintain your standard of living? If not, negotiate with your employer for more.
  • Will I have the same benefits as I do now? An international assignment may mean moving to a subsidiary company that has a different benefit and retirement package. If you and your family have specific health needs, for instance, how will those be met? Make sure you understand the implications of moving to another country on your current benefits.

Preparing to go abroad

The documents and preparations you’ll need to work abroad will vary depending on your destination and the level of support from your employer. If you’re handling things on your own, keep the following in mind:

Be ready to adapt

Moving abroad is exciting. But culture shock can be stressful. These suggestions will help you acclimatize more easily:

  • No matter the new culture, you’ll experience ups and downs—possibly for several months after you arrive. Minimize culture shock by researching your destination, even if you think it will be a lot like your home in Alberta.
  • Try to learn at least a few phrases of the language in your new home. You’ll feel more comfortable if you can communicate in stores and restaurants when you arrive.
  • Embrace local quirks. Once the excitement of your new assignment wears off, you may find local customs hard to accept. Eventually, you should be able to adjust, but be respectful until that day comes.

Repatriate with care

Once you return to Alberta, re-adapting can be as challenging as going overseas. Prepare yourself for challenges, much as you did when you moved away:

  • Expect that your values and beliefs may have changed. Living abroad can be an eye-opening experience. Don’t assume that your colleagues and friends will understand what you’ve experienced and how that might have changed your outlook.
  • Be ready for changes in your relationships. If your opinions and beliefs have changed, your old friends may need some time to adjust. Consider expanding your friendships to include others who come from or have experienced the same culture you’re returning from.
  • Prepare your family to come home. If you have young children, living abroad might be the only thing they remember. Hold a family meeting to talk openly about returning to Alberta and the differences your family may expect.
  • Ensure you have a place to land. You’ll need somewhere to live when you return. Start looking into finding a new home many months before you return.

Additional information

An overseas work experience can boost your career and broaden your personal experience. With clear goals and careful planning, you can ensure that it’s a worthwhile adventure.

For more information about working abroad, explore these resources:

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