Employment Basics

Work abroad: Operation Job Seeker

You’ve said goodbye to friends and packed an extra pair of socks before moving abroad. But once you land, what will you do about finding work abroad?

Work abroad

By Expatica

Updated 19-1-2024

Many would-be expats, going without the benefit of being recruited by a multinational, score high marks on having the little things prepared to work abroad. Then they flounder on the seemingly obvious question: “how am I going to earn a living in a brand-new country?”

Times are hard. Oftentimes, employers just don’t want the hassle of employing a foreigner with little or no local language skills. But muttering darkly that there are no jobs in a country, while tempting, will ultimately not put food on the table. That is precisely why you need to plan in advance, as if you were embarking on a military campaign. Consider how foolish it would be for the commander-in-chief to order his troops to invade an enemy country without having a clear idea what his army was going to do once it has seized the capital.

Woman with luggage at an airport
Operation Job Seeker requires great planning when it comes to finding work abroad

Don’t be like that over-optimistic general, hoping you will be greeted with open arms by the local populace. Double the chances of success by coming to your new country with a clear game plan.


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Step #1: Reconnaissance

Look on Expatica or at your local bookstore; you’ll find all kinds of advice from experts on how to approach finding work abroad. Our advice is to read plenty and take notes. Then sit down and start planning Operation Job Seeker.

Step #2: Marshal your forces

Are you living abroad to be with a local partner or an entrenched expat? If that’s the case, you already have a valuable resource when it comes to finding work abroad. Use your partner for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. Find out what the country is like and get names of family members, friends, and business associates who might be able to help in spotting vacancies or even employ you straight off the plane. It’s important to have as many people as possible with their ears to the ground, preparing for your landing.

Woman working at her laptop
Plan your attack when looking for work abroad

Get your name out into the public and map out potential leads. If you are a member of a union or professional association, ask the organization for a list of contacts and introductions — or, better still, job vacancies — in the country. Once armed with local contact details, sound the organizations out before making the move. Perhaps they won’t be interested to help before you arrive, but at least you can separate potential allies from the hostiles.

Your partner should also help you read the appointments pages in the local newspapers and to get a picture of the labor market. Having other people help you find work abroad doesn’t mean you can sit back and rest on your laurels. On the contrary, you need to decide what your marketable skills are and how to maximize them.

Get into the habit of checking out job websites for expats as often as possible. Sign up with job seeker data banks. Monitor the local main job sites regularly. Get your partner or another local to help you navigate these resources.

Step #3: Re-arm

Regardless of whether it is part of the job specs or not, you should make an effort to familiarize yourself with the local business culture. This will go a long way to getting hired, particularly higher up on the professional ladder.

English might be the lingua franca of international business. But wouldn’t it be useful if you could at least convince your new boss in the local language that you intend to finish your language course? Knowing a little bit of language will also help you make friends among your new colleagues easier.

Woman reading on her tablet at an airport
Finding work abroad can be easier if you plan it out in advance

What about your other skills? Do you have abilities and experience that will make you an attractive prospect for employers? Consider taking some extra classes (or even another degree). This might push back D-Day, but it’s better to postpone moving abroad than to land unprepared. It should go without saying that you must arrange the proper documentation to allow you to work abroad.

You can also contact the embassy in your home country or your relevant government authority. A lot of expats get the right documents and then come looking for work abroad with the wrong sort of curriculum vitae. There is a lot of literature on creating the right resume and compiling references. Use it.

Step #4: Attack

Ideally, you should have some job interviews lined up to coincide with your arrival. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You might need time to acclimatize to life in your new country before you launch into work abroad. The first few weeks might be the only free time you have for a while, so enjoy yourself. Then it’s time for a blitz, so get into job search overdrive. Write a sparkling CV that showcases your skills and experience – perhaps even using an online resume-builder like Resume.io. Get your CV out there because it won’t do much good if it just stays on your desktop. Once you send it out, follow up.

Two colleagues meeting over a coffee outside
Good planning will help you successfully find work abroad

Get confirmation that the potential employer received your application and check when it will be suitable to follow up to hear the verdict. Often, employers only contact the successful applications. Don’t be left in the dark. Perhaps you don’t strike employers as CEO material straight off; perhaps you need to consider taking work abroad that is below your competence level.

There is no harm in this as long as you make clear to yourself and your employer that you would like to move onto something more challenging when the time is right. You are in a new country; therefore, you must be prepared to contemplate trying new challenges. The worst thing you can do is to step back and say, “I can’t do that.” View your first job abroad as a training period. Then, go for the jugular when you are ready.

If you really want to dig into your new country, you might have to endure an entry-level job at first. In Europe, networking and word-of-mouth can be key factors for landing the perfect job. Think of your first steps abroad as integrating into the local culture. Once you’ve built up some local experience, you’ll appear more attractive to a more established firm or a budding local startup.

Finally, don’t despair. Just when things look bleak, fortune smiles on the brave.