Home Working Finding a Job Working at a startup as an expat
Last update on 06/11/2023

Some of the most exciting workplaces today are startups, with their diverse teams and lofty goals. Working at a startup as an expat provides more chances for growth, networking, and professional experience.

Ask a soon-to-be expat what they’re going to do for work when they first arrive in their new country and at some point you’ll hear someone say the following: “I’ll just get a job in a bar or café” or “I’ll just teach a language.” Both of these are reasonable goals for kickstarting your new life abroad; however, if you expect to simply leave the airport and immediately start mixing cocktails or explaining the present perfect continuous, you’ll be sorely disappointed. To work in a bar or café, you’ll need local language skills. Language teaching jobs can also be hard to find, especially in Europe; in addition, you’ll usually need a language teaching qualification. Want some better advice? Working at a startup as an expat (or even starting one as an entrepreneur) might be the best option of all.


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The startup industry is still booming

Europe is home to a number of major startup hubs. Despite the looming cloud of Britain’s pending exit from the European Union, London leads the pack; cities like Berlin, Lisbon, and Paris are all doing their best to lure those with an entrepreneurial mindset. There are no less than 709 startups in Berlin alone and according to the Evening Standard, the British startup scene is one of the best in Europe at producing unicorns. You’ll find startup scenes in almost all large European cities and there’s a startup boom taking shape in Poland; take a look at job vacancies across Europe.

Startups value enthusiasm over experience

Although some roles, such as product development, require a specific skill set or qualification, most startups value drive and determination over experience. Your ability to adapt, embrace constant change, take risks, and multitask are essential startup employee qualities. This makes working at a startup as an expat perfect for those with little experience; that includes fresh graduates from business school or those looking for a career change.

You’ll learn a lot

You’ll rarely be confined to a single task or department. As a result, you’ll constantly be learning new skills. Some people find this difficult; you’ll need a positive attitude towards change in order to succeed as an expat abroad. If you like the vibe of working at a startup as an expat and plan to spend a few years in the industry, try to experience as many aspects of the business you’re working for as you can. Startup employers love nothing more than a full-stack employee, which is someone who can do a lot of different jobs.

English is often the lingua franca

If you don’t speak the local language, finding a job in a traditional company can be difficult. Most medium-to-large startups have English as their primary business language, partially because they’re often aimed at a global market. Even if a company only targets its domestic market, many will ask for native proficiency in the local language as well as English fluency.

Startups love polyglots

Although the language of the office might be English, most startups work in multiple languages; they’re always looking for native speakers for all departments. Polyglots are especially sought after in sales, customer service, marketing, and public relations departments. Larger startups may have dedicated translation teams who value language skills.

You’ll make an impact

Unlike in established companies where promotion can take years, startups have a far more fluid and horizontal structure. Startups expect you to get stuck in from day one; you’ll have far more impact, responsibility, and project ownership from the start than you would in a more conventional business. Promotions are common and are dependent on commitment and performance. In startup environments, leadership is all about collaboration, not dictation.

Startups are fast-moving and creative

Startups are often stressful places to work. Expect long hours (unless the startup is from a country that places great value on work-life balance, of course). This includes occasionally working on evenings and weekends; you’ll have to focus on working strategy changes and extremely tight deadlines. If you don’t have the ability to prioritize your workloads, you’ll need to learn how, fast. That said, there’s definitely a buzz from working under pressure; it can spark creativity and an almost superhuman ability to solve problems. Startups are also open to unconventional ways of working, like having partially- or fully-remote teams.

You’ll meet fascinating people

Working in a startup as an expat is like being back in university. You’ll meet people from all over the world, of different ages and life experiences. Because a lot of people will be expats too, it means they are often open to new friendships. Coupled with the startup emphasis on company culture (e.g., social events, language classes), you’ll find it easy to make friends and widen your social circle. Cities with a good startup scene often have regular industry meetups (with copious amounts of drinking), meaning you can meet new people, talk shop, and network like crazy.