Everybody has that friend. The one that spent two weeks in London and now doesn’t shut up about “when I lived in Europe....” Here’s the thing, champ. You haven’t lived somewhere until you earned a little local cheddar. If you want to do that, you’re gonna need to settle in for a little longer than usual, and you’re gonna need to get a job. Once you break out of the backpacking routine and into a 9-5, that’s when you really become a resident. It’s harder to do than most traveling, but it’s easier than you’d think.
The beautiful thing about working abroad is that it’s the same as working at home – everybody’s gotta do it, and there’s always a role that needs filling. This means good things for you, the intrepid and cash-starved wanderer. Here are some options for gainful employment.
The internship is the least stressful way to work abroad, because chances are you’ll have the job before you ever step foot on a plane. Organizations actively advertise work abroad internships through job boards and college programs – check out a bevy of them on this very website. They range through industries like journalism to music to medicine to business, so there’s usually a cuisine available for even the pickiest eater of experience. And best of all, these programs will usually organize everything from on-the-job training to visas to living arrangements. The only thing easier would be to not go in the first place, in which case, what?
Straight on the back of the easiest method of getting work abroad comes the most difficult. Casual employment refers to the part-time work you’ve probably been doing to save up money to travel in the first place. Construction, festival volunteering, retail, hospitality. Of course, there should be plenty of this kind of work, right? There’s a coffee shop on every street corner. But it’s not finding the work that’s hard. It’s the getting it. For every position, there are dozens of people passing in resumes of generally equal substance. Add in the distrust most proprietors have towards backpackers (flighty as they can be) and you can expect a nice buffer while waiting to get hired.
How about a little optimism after that depressing little paragraph? Teaching is one of the most common ways to go abroad, and it can pay out in a big way depending on the location. Many opportunities come from programs that you can find on this very site (wink!), and offer the same benefits (visas, etc) that the internships do. If you’ve been listening to a little too much Pulp and want to see how common people live, try some of the rural areas, such as China and Africa. Just think of the difference you’ll make in the lives of children. Or if you’ve got a cold, cold heart, think of the moolah.
WWOOFing and Farm Work
For those interested in getting those man-hands (chicks dig calluses), there’s farm work. This often relates more towards casual employment – especially in terms of getting the jobs in the first place – but it has several differences. Unlike standard jobs, farm work often comes with accommodation and meals, as you’ll be living on or near the farm. Farm work is seasonal (you mean crops don’t grow year round?) so finding the work can vary. Try WWOOFing. It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and it offers farm work in exchange for free housing and food, along with the occasional payout.
Australia: For a place that started as a penal colony, Oz is doing pretty well at making people want to visit. It’s got everything – beautiful landscapes, exotic wildlife that wants to kill you, and a location just a puddle jump away from even more jaw-dropping places. With the variety of visas that allow employment there, Australia should be the first choice for people looking for that gap year green.
Thailand: When most people think about Thailand, they think about elephant pants and ping-pong shows. At the most, they think about over-privileged kids paying hundreds of dollars to volunteer at an elephant camp just so they can get a new Facebook profile picture. But Bangkok is the modern gateway to Southeast Asia, and not just for drunken backpackers. Industries of all kinds bring in young people from all over the world to work. And if the office job isn’t your thing, there’s enough conservation work with elephants to go around - get that new profile picture for free.
United Arab Emirates: For a while there, it looked like the UAE overplayed their hand, building engineering marvels to corner the tourism industry as a replacement for their dwindling oil supplies, only for the economy to crash. But come on, you don’t think a little thing like global economic pandemonium could bring down the people who built an entire archipelago in the shape of a world map, do you? Nowadays, the UAE is a wealthy, relatively liberal country standing as a beacon amid a troubled region, ready to offer work to anybody willing to go.
Singapore: Speaking of shining beacons, Singapore is essentially one big ivory tower. Nice progress for a city younger than most baby boomers. Most of the work that goes on here is business related, but it’s great experience if you can get past the draconian laws on public hygiene. If you’re looking to invest in your own future, your resume can do worse than a year in Singapore. It’s worth not being allowed to chew gum on the train.
China: It’s pretty telling that most of the best places to work abroad are in Asia. The region is becoming an economic powerhouse, and that’s more true than ever in China. More and more business is being conducted in the big cities, while the rural regions remain unspoiled natural gems filled with opportunities to teach English. If you go the latter route, make sure you absorb some of the Mandarin along the way. If trends keep going the way they’re going, you may need it in the future.
Earning money abroad is pretty awesome. Who doesn’t like money? But it comes with it’s tradeoffs. Rather than the “up and go” mentality travel can embody, working abroad requires careful planning.
Visas are the biggest part of this. Tourist visas usually stipulate a ban against earning currency for the duration of the stay. If you plan on working while abroad, you’ll need to research the appropriate visa, which can sometimes be a costly and time-consuming process. Of course, under the table work can be found in many countries, but the more developed ones are usually keen on keeping paperwork legit. Gamble away, but know that deportation is a real risk if caught. This is where programs come into play – they’ll often file all the visa papers on your behalf, so all you need to do is get the job, lean back, and pick which movies you’ll watch on the plane ride over.
Another key difference is in duration. Working abroad is a different animal than the city-hopping of normal travel. Programs will give you the security of know-before-you-go, but if not going through a program, plan for a buffer period in your finances in case employment doesn’t happen fast. It often doesn’t, and you don’t want to run out of money halfway through the hunt.
When planning finances, consider the salary you’ll be receiving. Programs can offer certain benefits such as college credit and financial aid, especially if they’re found through specific college recruitment. However, it’s important to find out if this is all they offer, as many internships can be unpaid or treated as a college course rather than a job. In a non-program job, your salary will depend on the job you choose (shocker). Salaried positions can be difficult to find if only looking after arrival, and hourly wages for short-term farm work or casual employment can be less-than-sustainable if trying to save money.