Steps to make your dream to live and work overseas a reality
In 2007 my wife and I talked about how cool it might be to live and work in Europe for a few years. We pondered which countries and cities might be a good places for U.S. expats. At the time we had two small children already so we figured our opportunity to do such a thing had passed. With that, we dismissed the conversation and went on about our lives.
Fast forward to 2014. We now had three children ages 6, 10 and 12 and two dogs. I wasn’t happy with my job so I started to look around for other opportunities. Somehow I stumbled across a sight called UXSwitch.com. It boasted of a simple process of just filling out your job wish list and connecting your linked in profile and they would allow companies looking exclusively for UX designers to see your profile. I figured, what the heck, why not give it a try. A couple of weeks after submitting my profile I received an email from a recruiter at Booking.com asking me if I had ever considered living and working in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
At first, I blew the email off, thinking my wife would never go for such a thing. Uproot our family and move so far away from our extended family? Surely she would think I was crazy. Reluctantly, after about a month I mustered up enough courage to tell her about the email and to my surprise, she said I should apply. What happened next was a whirlwind! After only 2 phone interviews they invited me to fly to Amsterdam for a face-to-face round of interviews. We bought my wife a ticket and flew out a few days before my scheduled interview date so we could make it a half-expenses paid European vacation. It was also an opportunity to get a feel for what living in the Netherlands might be like.
To make an already long story short, I got the job and just 30 days later we moved our not so small kids, dogs and most of our belongings (everything that we didn’t sell) to The Netherlands. We spent 18 months living, working and traveling in Europe. We ultimately cut our adventure short because my parents are aging and my wife and kids really missed our extended family. Though short-lived, I learned a lot from my experience. If I ever do it again, I’ll make sure to use what I learned to make the transition a lot easier.
Are you interested in living and working in another country? Here are a few tips that will help you along the way.
Finding Opportunities — Where to Go?
There are a few of ways to go about finding opportunities to work overseas. You can take the country first approach where you know where you would like to work and look for jobs in those countries. Conversely, you can take the job first approach. Seeking opportunities first and determining if they are in countries you would considering living.
There are many different options for finding jobs overseas. I would recommend first determining if your current company has any opportunities. It could be the simplest way since you may not have to go through the job search and interview process.
If moving with your current company is not an option, there are a number of online resources that are available. As I said earlier, I found my opportunity through uxswitch.com. It’s as easy as searching for “jobs abroad” or getting even more specific and searching for specific roles abroad (i.e. “ux jobs abroad”).
Here are a few resources I’ve found.
- UX Switch (http://www.uxswitch.com/)
- Operation Mobility (http://www.omusa.org/)
- Go Abroad (http://jobs.goabroad.com/)
- TechMeAbroad (https://techmeabroad.com/)
- Indeed Overseas Tech Jobs (http://www.indeed.com/q-Overseas-Technical-jobs.html)
Some of you out there might be entrepreneurs, freelancers or work 100% remotely. For those of you that do, there are some programs dedicated to remote working in other countries.
Also consider searching out recruiters from other countries on LinkedIn. There are a number of agencies that are looking to place international hires. Companies in smaller countries in particular often seek expats because the pool of available talent in their own countries might be small.
It’s important to consider how long you would like to work abroad during your initial planning. Moving to another country can be daunting and expensive. Having a good idea of how long you want to stay can help you plan for things like long-term storage or how frequently you plan to return home to visit friends and family.
Building a network of people who currently live in the city you want to move to is crucial. They can help you with advice about getting around, choosing where to live, dealing with local governments, understanding the cost of living, registering for social-welfare benefits like childcare reimbursements, etc. In today’s era of social media, there is no shortage of Facebook groups or other online communities for expats.
There are a number of costs to consider beyond just airfare when you are moving to another country. Depending on your situation, your company might pay for the majority of it, or you might have to swing the whole bill on your own.
- Legal costs to register with the local government (Visas, Special tax classifications, etc.)
- Shipping costs
- Transportation Costs
- Rental Fees/Lease contracts (pay special attention to this, rules may be very different from what you are used to)
- Pet transportation and importation costs
Researching Financial Needs
How much do you need to live in another country and maintain the level of lifestyle you want? What currency will you be paid in, local or foreign? How much will it cost to commute to work? What other costs will you incur for day-to-day living? Is health care mandatory and how much does it cost? What income tax rate will you be taxed at based upon your level of income? What’s the average local salary for the position you are applying for? All these are considerations you should take into account as you negotiate your salary and evaluate the move.
Moving to The Netherlands was difficult, but the fact that roughly 85% of the population speaks English made the transition much easier for my family coming from the U.S. On top of that, the common operational language my company used was English. Consider whether you will be able to operate with your native tongue or will you need to plan ahead and start learning a foreign language before you move. Reading your mail can be a bit of a challenge too. Understanding bills, contracts for things like utilities and rental agreements or mail from the local government can make something we usually take for granted a bit of a chore. Thankfully, there are some really good translation tools out there to help.
Transporting Personal Items (All your stuff)
Before we moved, we got rid of about one-third of all of our stuff. The rest we decided to ship with us. The next time, I won’t make the same decision. In our experience, it is better to either sell everything and start over or pay for storage in your home country. Shipping things across international borders is really expensive. On top of that, once your items arrive they will have to spend some time clearing customs before they can be delivered to you. In Amsterdam, it was quite common for apartments to be rented fully furnished. Even if you start over by buying everything new, it will probably work out better as the size of your furniture from home country may not fit up narrow staircases or in the small rooms of your new residence.
Making the mental and emotional adjustment to living in a different culture can take some time. Personally, it took me six or seven months. It takes time to figure out how to operate in your new environment. We take for granted all the things we know about daily living in our home cultures. But even the simplest things like grocery shopping can be a challenge. In the U.S. we were used to going to the grocery store once per week and stocking up on stuff. We also would go to Sam’s Club to purchase large quantities of dry goods and non-perishables. In The Netherlands, we shopped more frequently because we simply didn’t have the storage space. Grocery stores closed earlier in most places in the Netherlands as well. No more grocery shopping at 10pm!
The good news is that the transition is only temporary. At the six month point we were pretty efficient. At nine months we were comfortable and well settled into our new lifestyle. Just make sure you give yourself time to make the adjustment.
As mentioned above, the mental transition can be difficult when you first arrive in a new culture. Social customs may be very different from what you are accustomed. Just remember that all of the experiences that have led to how you see the world were strongly shaped by where you have lived. Try not to apply that broadly to every new experiences you have. Instead, keep it in mind, but try to understand the rich history and culture of your new home and why things are the way they are. It doesn’t mean you have to change your POV, just try to understand the POV of others.
- Starting over in a new country/culture is achievable. If my wife and I can do it with our 3 kids and two dogs, anyone can.
- Take as little as possible with you, especially if you are only staying for a few years. The less hassle, the more freedom and flexibility you will have.
- Take advantage of the opportunity to build your global network. Hopefully, you’ll make new friends that will last a lifetime.
- Gain a new perspective on life.