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Tired of searching for a job in your new country or just don’t know where to begin? I was in that position after my partner got a job abroad and I followed with no pending career move. For almost three years, I struggled to find a job in the first country that I moved to.

After that, I realised that something needed to change for my second move when I got my first expat job…AND I actually had 2 job offers even before I moved.

Of course, every country is different but there are definitely several ways you can implement to try to get a job in a country you don’t know that much about. Keep reading if you’re fed up with the struggle or confusion.

1. Ask a Previous Employer

We are taught to leave things in the past, but sometimes we need to see if there was anything useful. For example, when looking for a job, maybe you worked for a global company that has offices in your new country.

Better yet if you actually liked the company, that would be a great start. And you’ve already worked there and hopefully made a great name for yourself.

You can look up the contact details of the company in your new country and reach out. Or you can reach out to an old colleague who still works there and ask for some insight. And maybe even ask for a recommendation.

I feel like this was a wasted opportunity that I didn’t look into. I thought about this for my second move, but while I was waiting to hear back from my colleague, I got another job. It worked out well in the end, but this should have been an obvious first step which I missed.

2. Learn the New but Teach the Old…Language

This was another missed opportunity which presented itself as time went on but a great move towards finding an expat job. For almost 2 years, I was shy and isolated myself from the outside world.

I constantly looked for classes in my new language but was always afraid to take the first step. I had previously taken Spanish classes in my home country, but the class was based on theory, so I had no idea how to actually communicate in Spanish aside from the very basics.

This made me worry about taking another Spanish class, what if it was the same? What if I wasted my time going to class I didn’t like? And worse yet, what if I wasted money?

I eventually found a school that wasn’t as far as all the others, so I emailed them. They told me I would have to come for an interview to determine which level I would start at. And after that, I would be able to sit in on a class. Then I could decide if I would like to enrol.

I decided it was worth taking the classes and I never regretted it. Here I met lots of friends to help me be able to enjoy this new country more. An important characteristic in expat success.

And another opportunity even presented itself. The owner of the school who spoke English asked me my opinion on classes. He commented on my enunciation and asked if I would like to teach English. I was absolutely astounded as I didn’t even expect this but of course, it was a pleasant surprise.

Advice:

If I thought about it before hand, I could have even initiated a conversation to ask about job opportunities when I started taking classes.

Your process doesn’t need to be exactly like this, no one’s is ever the same. If you already know the language of your new country, then you can look for schools to teach any language you are fluent in.

Bigger schools may have certain qualification requirements that you may not have or be willing to invest in. However, smaller schools will not be as strict especially if they have a particular guide for you to follow.

This can even be used as a stepping stone. Since English is not widely spoken in Colombia, persons who were trying to learn, tended to be of higher positions in companies. So by teaching them you would also be able to grow your connections and let them know that you’re looking for jobs.

And who knows, maybe they have a vacancy where they work that they ask you to fill. This could be the case for any administrative job that you can get. It may not be the job you want, but it can be a stepping stone to move up just by getting your foot in the door.

3. Look For Companies Where Natives Like You Are Important

I joined Facebook groups of all English-speaking Embassies, British council, anything I could find with people who spoke English. This seemed like an obvious step to finding a good job without an expat language barrier.

I was actually called for a job at the British Council which just happened to be less than a week after my husband had knee surgery and could not walk.

However, I still went to the interview hoping that I would have some time before beginning or they would give me the option to start.

I got prepared for the interview, dressed in a suit, and took an Ub…I mean car (Uber was illegal in Colombia at that time yet still operated) to the interview. Even though I felt guilty for leaving my partner, I needed to at least give it a shot.

I nervously waited for the interview to begin. First the interviewer spoke in Spanish, but I asked if the interview could be in English as I would be able to represent myself better. No problems up to this point.

Then he said, “before we begin, I’d like to confirm that you can start Monday?” I thought to myself, “Monday as in the next few days?” I tried to wiggle around the question and saw we can continue the interview and I would confirm my availability.

To which he responded that it made no sense to continue if I couldn’t start on Monday. After waiting almost, a year to have the opportunity for a job, how could I say no?

Then I thought about my husband on crutches at home and gracefully declined. Having a job may have given me a sense of fulfilment but it was a short-term job.

Also, I was filled with guilt having to leave him just for an interview so worse yet if I had to do it for the whole day, every day.

The point being, it’s much easier to reach out to companies who actually want speakers of the languages you know. Better yet, if it’s not widely spoken in your new country.

4. Networking

There’s no doubt that knowing people will help you find more jobs simply by being connected. This will naturally provide more opportunities if people know you are looking for a job whether in your home country or new.

In Colombia, I was extremely shy and unwilling to branch out and meet people. Not many people spoke English and I was not confident in Spanish. But I realised how terribly that made me feel.

When I moved to Mexico, I vowed not to put myself in the way of feeling severe loneliness that I did in Colombia. So as soon as I knew I would be moving to Mexico, I started looking for groups, recruitment agencies, and LinkedIn jobs. Anything that could have helped making a smoother transition.

I had a short trip to Mexico before the move. There were several people involved in the move like the relocation agent and the person who taught me about the culture.

I tried to build good relationships with these people. Even though I am actually not that extroverted and talkative. I spoke to them more deeply than those I first met in Colombia. I knew being able to talk to people would be an advantage.

As basic as that sounds, it wasn’t really my personality, but I knew it was something I needed to do to move forward and settle more easily.

Advice:

Thanks to that, the relocation agent introduced me to another company on their compound who was hiring. She sent me his contact, we set up an interview, and he basically hired me on the spot. Pretty unbelievable!

However, after that covid-19 hit and I ended up getting stuck in Colombia which wasn’t ideal. I continued to join groups, even a WhatsApp expat group.

It was here that I found out about another remote job but based in Monterrey. Of course, I applied anyway. Only during the interview, I mentioned my position and that I would still be moving to Mexico as my husband has signed his contract and is stationed there. Fortunately, as a work from home job, it really didn’t matter where I was therefore, they agreed to hire me.

5. Do Research and Find Recruitment Agencies

As with everything, it always helps to do research in advance, but I didn’t want to start with this point as I know not everyone is a research person. First thing to start looking for would be for what jobs are available in your new country.

There are international job listing sites like Monster and Indeed. And you can look for any other websites or recruitment agencies specific to your country to start sending applications to or just to peruse first.

It’ll be a good idea to see what the marketing is looking for, types of qualifications (if you’ll be over or under qualified), and salary (if it’s something you’d be willing to accept).

As for qualifications, it’ll be up to you if you’d be willing to consider gaining new/more skills or if you’d be willing to have a job that doesn’t necessarily use your qualifications efficiently. And for salary, different countries have different costs of living which usually influences the amount you’ll receive.

In Colombia, the minimum wage was US$256 per month (in 2020). Was I really willing to work for that amount if it would barely make a dent in expenses?

Then in Colombia, the jobs suited for my qualifications were less than the job I got which was less suited. But at the end of the day was I really that concerned with a marketing career anymore, or would it be better to make more money?

I had already started blogging so I hoped this would be a revenue income in the future. And that a specific career wouldn’t matter as much.

So, with that in mind, I chose the higher paying job but for some people they may have a specific dream career. To each their own.

Advice:

Also, when you start looking for jobs online, you’ll notice that many of them are entry-level jobs or for call centres. If that’s your level, then perfect.

However, even if you find higher quality jobs sometimes it’s just a mandate that the company has to advertise it but already know how it will be filled.

And lots of jobs, aren’t even advertised…like the one I ended up getting. Also, you have to remember that as a foreigner, you are already behind as companies will choose to hire locals first.

Unless they are looking for a particular skill set you have. This includes language, if you’re from a region they conduct business in, or a very specific skill.

Another thing to look at, is how do companies in this new country recruit? It can be that they prefer phone call or email follow ups, in person resume drop offs, through recruitment agencies or even references (which is where networking comes in).

A next question to ask is, has you updated your resume to suit your new country? It probably didn’t help that my resume was in English. I didn’t want to change it to Spanish because I didn’t want to give a false impression that I was fluent but maybe an English resume would’ve been a deterrent.

I mean it really should be at least in the language of the country right. To be fair, I applied with an English resume for the job offers I got through networking.

6. Use Your Crafts

Some people are great with crafts and using their hands which will make an excellent job. If there is something you can do well, sell it! It can be painting, baking, cooking, or whatever you can make…sell it!

Look around for small community stores and offer your skill. I thought I was crafty as I could make jewellery, bookmarks, and basic paintings.

I found a store to buy beads and everything to make jewellery, but I realised this was not an opportunity for me as they made jewellery in-house.

Then I found a little craft store with paintings. To be honest, I couldn’t realllllyyy paint, but I could paint something simple. I had a small painting I had done for my living room so I showed them a picture of it and asked if they would be willing to sell it.

To my surprise they said yes. I went back with two paintings, however, with higher level of artistry and knowledge than I did, they critiqued my paintings very harshly. Quite a few changes needed to be made.

At that point, I felt pretty demotivated and felt like an imposter because I wasn’t a real artist. Also, what if they asked me to paint something else, I couldn’t.

Advice:

I could have offered to sell them something else that I was actually good at like making jewellery or anything else. But after that, I was pretty embarrassed to even go back.

Looking back now, I wish I would have seized the opportunity better than I did. I had done the first step, the hardest step, and didn’t follow through.

Another thing I tried was making cupcakes. I have a business background, so I worked out costs and prices to be profitable. I found a little gift store that I had been to a couple times and asked to leave some flyers to sell cupcakes.

Again, she agreed. Some people are willing to let you in once you find the right place.

Later that month, she had an event that she asked me to make 60 mini cupcakes for. I had extras from the catering session which I took to my Zumba and Yoga classes to sample. Then I messaged in the WhatsApp groups for the classes with my information.

But these were more mature women, so I should’ve realised that a physical hand out would have been better than electronic. Nothing came of this and I didn’t get any orders.

Again, I could’ve tried a bit harder as I can see now that I was being defeated way too easily.

Another option could be something like import, maybe there’s something a country you’re familiar with has that your new country needs. This is a lot larger scale and would require in depth research and investment but can be a great opportunity. 

7. Online Jobs

Another option would be to look for online jobs either based on your skills or whatever there is to offer. This can work for expats or just anyone looking for a job.

You can consider options like Etsy, Fiver, and Upwork, where you can create your own profile for a skill you want to be hired for on a one-off basis.

Or any freelance job advertised online for writing, photography, graphics or something else you’re good at that can be sold online. Other options can include things like writing an e-book, doing surveys, or starting a blog/YouTube channel for example.

None of which are going to get you rich overnight. But all options you can consider.

8. Ask Your Company For a Transfer

And finally, if you’re still working before your move, you can ask your company for a transfer. I figured if you were in this position, you wouldn’t be here hunting for options, so I didn’t want to start with this point.

I actually tried this before I left my home country, and they were not very helpful. They basically told me that they would only consider helping higher level management. It was a slap to the face but ah well.

Conclusion

Over the years, I have found and tried so many different options of working – traditional and not so traditional. And I have faced some harsh rejections. It just means that I put myself out there and I tried.

At the time, I thought of them as failures but really that should have been the point where I tried harder and made another push. Many of these options will serve you a piece of humble pie, but at some point, you just have to be brave and take the chance.

Even if it means asking an old employer for re-hiring, getting a stepping stone job, crafting or online jobs. You have to put yourself out there in non-traditional ways to make sure you are seen. Which option would/have you try first?

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30 thoughts on “How to Get a Job as an Expat

  1. Very good article. It’s maybe a little bit easier for native English speakers, but most of these apply also for those who aren’t. I also managed to get sent to work in Germany by my previous employer when I asked them to, so these things do happen. All is needed is courage and some luck. But luck never happens if you don’t ask for it first!

  2. Hi Venaugh

    when we are moving to a new country, we are missing some quite some obvious opportunities indeed, but we not aware of the new situations but only when were are going through those experiences…
    You know the saying: “Hindsight is 20/20” but you are perfectly right!!
    I am not aware of any Whatsapp possibility of connecting with Groups on the platform, can you expand here how do I get around to that or maybe reply to this email if easier for you

    Thank you for the very helpful insight
    The Digital Vixen

    1. Hi The Digital Vixen! Exactly, we wouldn’t know of particular opportunities unless we have actually gone through it. Thanks for your question. As for Whatsapp possibilities, there are a couple ways to find groups but may not always be available:
      1. When joining a group on Meetup, they asked if you wanted to join the Whatsapp group when signing up.
      2. Through activities with particular groups for example, hiking, Zumba.
      3. If you live on a compound with lots of residents
      4. Some Facebooks groups advertise of having a Whatsapp group as well
      5. Asking people involved in your moving process if you are lucky to have them
      For all these opportunities you can ask the members if they have any job opportunities and some of the groups even post job availabilities from time to time which is how I ended up finding a job. I wish you the best of luck!

  3. I’ve moved country twice, and each time I had to start from scratch. From spoon and fork, literary. Luckily, languages are naturally easy for me to learn; this was my salvation! But it’s not always an easy ride! It can take years until you fully understand how a new system works. Your post contains great advice, and it’s true, preparation, where possible, is best. My moves were a bit rush, not much time to get ready other than pack and drive.

    1. Hi Mihela! It is so hard starting from scratch every time! Great job for getting through it. Having an affinity to learn languages is amazing…a skill I wish I had. Looking for a job really is complicated but I believe remote jobs are a great start since it can move with you.

  4. Thanks for this post Venaugh! It hits so close to home. I’ve lived overseas for over a year now and have had the struggle of trying to find a job overseas during Covid time. Where I live, getting a work permit is extremely expensive and thus it is difficult to find an employer who will sponsor you if you don’t have a specific skill. I’ve tried to find a job through networking, applying to things like crazy, and asking other expats what they do. Mainly the struggle is that I apply for a lot of jobs and don’t hear anything back. This pushed me to do online, remote work instead. I’m a licensed mental health counselor by trade and I found a few online platforms that were willing to hire me. Anyhow, thanks for the post and the tips. This is a needed area to explore.

  5. This is an incredibly detailed post! As a teacher, I likely won’t be able to move over seas until I retire, but I certainly will come back to this advice when the time comes. Eventually, I’d love to get a job teaching overseas.

  6. These tips are excellent and I’m sure you’ve poured your heart out for making this post useful for others. Great effort!

  7. Great suggestions. I keep hoping to be an ex-pat one day. For now, I am stuck in the USA. But I think of your situation often. If I were to become an ex-pat or live in a foreign land for several months, what would or could I do to make money. Your tips are helpful. Thanks!

  8. Really great tips… Loved the one about looking for a place where your ethnicity is of value to the organization. I saw this in Mexico City where all the French restaurants has French expat employees.

  9. I studied in Switzerland before starting my career here and have now worked here for almost 6 years. You raise a lot of great points! On top of that I’ve worked extensively with recruitment, as an external headhunter and internal talent acquisition in a large firm. I think it’s crucial to be confident in your skills in the first place and not settle for a job you wouldn’t have taken at “home”. I’m mostly addressing those who are already on/want to be on a corporate career path and not working abroad for a year or two teaching English or so. 🙂 Two very different scenarios!

  10. This is so helpful!! I have been looking into the “expat life”, so this post was perfect to come across! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  11. This guide could not have come at a better time – I am currently looking at moving to Costa Rica, and this post is absolutely invaluable for the knowledge!

    1. I’m so glad to hear that, Amy! I hope you check out more posts to help with your move. Feel free to reach out if you need any advice. Best of luck to you!

  12. These are some great tips! I’ve never worked internationally, but I must imagine it can prove tricky to find work as an expat! These tips are excellent though for anyone looking for a job! Thanks for such an invaluable guide!

  13. This is really inspiring, thank you for sharing! I really love the tip on using your crafts, creative expression should totally be appreciated and compensated. Love how you added your own advice and stories in, makes it a lot more relatable and empathetic!

  14. These are some great tips! Saved to Pinterest to come back when I start looking for jobs as an expat. Thanks for sharing your trial and errors you experienced throughout the years for us to learn from!

  15. This is such a great guide. I agree networking is really important, and hopefully you work for a company that has the option to move you to another branch in a different country or that you can work remote at (the new thing after 2020). I found getting a job difficult at first when I moved countries, more so getting the job I wanted. But with a lot of persistence and never giving up hope I got there in the end

    1. Hi Emma! The world has definitely changed and will have lots of different opportunities for work now. Persistence really is the key. You get knocked down so many times! Glad to hear you got what you wanted in the end 🙂

  16. Honestly a great post! Suddenly having to move to a new country is no joke, it can really hard to find any job at all. I’m glad it worked out for you! I work in a company where most people are foreigners (including me) and everyone is glad we have this job. But at the same time, whenever we have problems with the company, there’s very little we can do, since we don’t really have anywhere else to go. Of course learning the local language is something that helps you, but you need to be almost native level to be considered for almost any job. At least in this country.

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