Whether you’ve been hoping to travel the world since you started freshman year, or you just watched Emily in Paris last year and fell in love with the idea of living in another country, you may be wondering how to prepare for working abroad once you graduate college.
Anywhere between 3.2 million and 10 million Americans live and work outside the U.S. Many of them enjoy bigger salaries and better benefits than they would in the U.S., like parental leave and mandated paid time off. In fact, the average 18- to 34-year-old earns 35% more after relocating overseas, according to CNBC, so you could potentially receive better pay if you work internationally after college.
Of course, the pandemic has complicated air travel, and some countries are still closed to U.S. citizens. However, if you choose a region with less stringent regulations, reaching your destination will likely be the easy part. It’s finding a job that’ll prove difficult.
Freshman and sophomore year aren’t too early to start thinking of your future career, especially if you already know your dream is working abroad. Preparing is essential to scoring an international job — and building an international career in any manner. If life after graduation is on your mind even in your first couple years of college, this guide will help you prep. You’ll be flaunting your international life à la Emily in Paris in no time.
- LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE
Many Americans choose to work abroad in English-speaking countries like Australia and the United Kingdom, but there are also many opportunities in countries where English isn’t dominant, like Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates. You’ll have to learn a foreign language to work there, so you might as well start now. (Don’t be like Emily, who showed up in Paris without speaking any French!)
Start taking language courses while you’re still in college to get a headstart on working abroad. You can explore your college’s foreign language credit options — some schools offer full language instruction from beginner to advanced levels. If you still have time for the credits and you know exactly where you want to go after graduation, you could even make a specific language your minor or special concentration.
If you haven’t taken language courses in college yet, or don’t have room for them in your schedule, don’t worry! You have plenty of options for expanding your foreign language capabilities — from free apps like Duolingo to paid programs like Rosetta Stone or Babbel. You can search for in-person courses in your community as well, or an online language immersion community like FluentU might be more convenient.
Once you learn one language, it’ll be easier to pick up another, so don’t stress too much about which to choose if you don’t have an exact idea of where you want to work yet. Remember, you’re never too old to learn, and any time you decide to start is a good time. Learning a new language in college will prepare you for working abroad — and give you a better chance of getting hired.
- STUDY ABROAD IN COLLEGE
Studying abroad while in college can also prepare you for living and working in a foreign country. Whether you go for a year or a semester, this long-term arrangement will encourage cultural immersion, so you better understand more nuanced cultural differences like siestas and inemuris, idioms, and body language.
While the pandemic certainly impacted study abroad options and put many students’ plans on hold during the last two years, Europe and other countries are opening their doors to vaccinated Americans again — which means study abroad programs are resuming, albeit with a few more requirements. If you’re a freshman or sophomore, now might be the perfect time to start researching and planning ahead for a study abroad experience in your junior or senior year.
Studying abroad will also help you pick up on foreign language skills more quickly. Apply to live with a host family to make the most of your time there and befriend students who call the country home. Developing relationships with these people will also provide a sense of social safety and belonging if you decide to return and work there in the future.
Even more importantly, spending time abroad during college will help prepare you for the cultural immersion and personal development you’ll experience working overseas.
Olivia Fuller, Marketing Manager at Ultimate Budapest, believes that living abroad broadens your horizons both personally and professionally — and that will extend from studying abroad to working abroad. “Working internationally allows you to experience and understand other cultures,” she says. “It helps you to grow and develop as a person and promotes tolerance, inclusion, and learning.”
- VOLUNTEER OR INTERN OVERSEAS
You can also travel overseas to volunteer or intern. Try to find work in your field of interest so you know what to expect if you go back and work full-time. What does the workday look like? How do other countries conduct business? For instance, businesspeople in China often develop friendships with other professionals before talking numbers or forming partnerships.
Using your summers to gain valuable job experience will also expand your network so you have professional connections on a global scale. Maybe the company or organization will even hire you after you complete the volunteer term or internship. If you’re having trouble finding opportunities overseas, apply to intern for an internationally-based organization within the U.S. Maybe you can transfer to a new location later on.
Dr. Nabila Ismail, travel content creator and writer at Dose of Travel, says that her international work experience as a student has become an important factor in jobs and interviews down the line. “It shows that you are worldly, willing to step outside of your comfort zone, independent, and so many other things!” she says.
Dr. Ismail recommends highlighting this international experience whenever possible. “Do bring in any international experience, even if it’s study abroad, to an interview,” she says.
- RESEARCH APPLICATION CUSTOMS
The application and interview process will vary by country, so it’s important to research specific customs before expressing interest in a position. For example, if you’re applying for a job in South Africa, you likely must submit a comprehensive CV and brief profile to provide more in-depth information about your background and skills. In Europe, you’ll probably need a two-page CV as opposed to a one-page resume. Every country has specific application requirements, background checks and visa processes that will impact your ability to apply for or be considered for a position — so it’s crucial to know what these are before you find out in an interview.
You should also conduct some research to determine what kinds of questions interviewers might ask. Follow foreign media and look into industry trends to better understand current events should they come up in an interview. Your college’s career center may be able to offer you insights, and you can also find helpful international career information on international exchange sites like GoOverseas and GoAbroad. Prepare to divulge your marital status, race, age and other personal details, too, as countries like China often inquire about this information.
- PREPARE FOR LONG-DISTANCE INTERVIEWS
Unless you plan a foreign transfer, you’ll likely have to participate in a few long-distance interviews. Luckily, you already know how to use FaceTime, Zoom and other video chat applications, but are you familiar with Viber or Google Hangouts? Play around with various networking services so you aren’t thrown for a loop five minutes before the big meeting.
Make a good impression by organizing a space in your room for video calls and practice interviewing well before your meeting. How you talk and present yourself matters, even at a distance, so get comfortable with virtual communication. Then, adjust your outfit, microphone, camera, and tone accordingly.
If you’re applying to a job in a non-English-speaking country, make sure you’re especially prepared for the conversation — particularly if your last language course was last semester.
Bartek Boniecki, Head of People at Passport-Photo Online, suggests being extra comfortable with your conversational skills. “If you’re going to be interviewed in a foreign language, practice it with someone — your friends, teachers, even with strangers who are natives!” she says. Practicing will boost your confidence and keep you prepared for the pace of the conversation in your interview.
- UNDERSTAND VISA CONDITIONS
Understanding visa conditions is key to knowing how to work internationally. Typically, visas are valid anywhere from two months to several years, depending on the country and their reciprocity agreements with the U.S. Each nation requires different fees and supporting documents from those seeking approval, so do your research.
If your employer lets you go, most visas will disallow you from finding work elsewhere, and you’ll have to go home. But as long as you stay with a sponsoring employer, you’ll likely be able to renew your visa when it reaches the end of its term.
Even if your international career doesn’t last for life and one day you want to return to the U.S., your global job experience can help you score a valuable position at home.
Boniecki says to remember how important international experience can be to companies. “The international experience is warmly welcomed, as we live in a globalized world,” she tells Her Campus. “Don’t forget that the U.S. is a global center for many worldwide corporations with branches in different countries. and your experience may be very valuable for them!”
- Utilize YOUR College CAREER CENTER & JOB BOARDS
Finding international work can be tricky, especially during a pandemic. However, there are openings and resources you can use to find them. Peruse job sites like Indeed Worldwide and CareerJet to view opportunities around the globe. You can also find online job boards on websites like Craigslist, Payscale, Glassdoor, and Monster.
Talk to career counselors at your college’s career center, and express your interest in finding an overseas position. Universities have access to resources, contacts and connections that can be valuable in your career search — use them. Your school wants you to succeed.
Dr. Ismail suggests checking other resources your college might offer for international programs, as well. “I first go through grants, fellowships, etc. that schools offer, like Fulbright, Peace Corps, or Handshake, which is a career platform offered by my school,” she says.
Knowing how to prepare in college to work internationally is your best bet for finding an overseas job, so put in the effort now to reap the rewards later.
Olivia Fuller, Marketing Manager at Ultimate Budapest
Dr. Nabila Ismail, Dose of Travel
Bartek Boniecki, Head of People at Passport-Photo Online