How do you become an ‘expat’?
This is a question I hear all the time, especially from people leaving school and university. And I get it. The world’s a big place. It can be daunting. How do you know where to go? How do you know where you CAN go?
Once you pick somewhere, how do you find a job?
Do you just leave yourself open to go anywhere, or do you select a destination and do whatever you can to make it happen?
Well, let’s start with the basics. Being an expat just means living overseas from wherever you call home. For Brits, that means leaving the island. It’s a short hop to the nearest country. For, let's say, Australians, that also means leaving the island. It’s a long-haul journey out. Either way, you’ll have to want to pack a bag, and prepare for a life away from whatever is ‘normal’ – be that historic buildings and ‘quaint’ pubs, or BBQ weekend and kangaroo roadkill.
Next up, where to go? This is where your “the whole world’s my oyster” theory will be challenged. Not all countries welcome workers with open arms. You need to select places that are open to newcomers, because trying to get a job in New York or Tokyo is a hundred times harder than seeking work in Dubai, Berlin, or Singapore.
A lot of it comes down to where you’re from.
If you hold an EU passport you can work anywhere from Dublin to Dubrovnik (that is, anywhere within the EU!) If you’re American, your options are more limited. Yet there are many places that welcome people from anywhere. In particular, the Gulf nations are open to almost anyone, with Dubai being a popular choice, as jobs of almost any level are open to people from almost any nation.
Then there’s also places like Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore. Or there's paying attention to bilateral agreements - e.g. if you’re under 31 and from the UK, you can work in Australia and New Zealand for up to two years; it’s a vice versa arrangement, so get in there while you’re young (and once there it’s easier to stay long term, if you want to be an Ozzie, Kiwi, or Brit for life).
There are a lot of places to consider, though. If you have a degree, you’ll have even more options. I’ve worked in Zimbabwe, Italy, France, Canada, the Caribbean, and more, and a lot of the time I just went where the work was. But I also selected places based on them being hot/cold, city/rural, modern/traditional… you need to have a think about what would best suit you; what suits your skills, academics, and career path, and then work out what’s possible - and do-able - within a reasonable timeframe – because nobody wants to plan for years… this needs to be sorted within a couple of months!
A great way to start – if you’re unsure as to what your options are – is to look at the guardian jobs website (https://jobs.theguardian.com/ or similar sites), go to the worldwide section, and see what vacancies are available in what places. Open a few listings, as you’ll then see what companies require from prospective employees – degrees, experience, attitude to being able to live various places etc. – and once you have an idea as to that, you’ll then be closer to knowing what’s possible for YOU.
It’s worth remembering that salaries vary wildly.
The more random the job the more you may get paid, but it also depends on your industry. If you’re an oil engineer in Saudi Arabia you’ll be creaming it in, but if you’re a journalist in Sofia, your pay packet won’t be much to sniff at. The Gulf pays well, but you need to think of the downsides too – heat, human rights issues, lack of green space – yet everywhere has downsides. A job in the Caribbean may seem idyllic, but island fever bites many people, leaving them itching to get somewhere busier. It’s down to you and your personality as to what you’ll enjoy – or endure.
I’ll be breaking down the ‘Top Places to be an Expat’ as this blog goes along, seeking feedback from the 'been-there-done-that' crowd. For now, if you’re starting to think about places, write down a list of options (jobs and places), thinking carefully about what sort of location you’d like, and what’s possible to your experience, background, education, character, passport…
It’s a big world, and it’s certainly worth exploring…. But be realistic. Wanting to be a big player at Vanity Fair in New York is likely to end in disaster (and for more on that read one of my favourite career calamity stories – How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young), as well as reading my own tale of course!
Don’t be put off by those people who are too scared to cross the road. There will always be naysayers. Be focused, do your research, and remember that being an expat can be amazing, depending on what you do and where you go.
Worst comes to the worst?
Take a flight out, flee home.
And start again.