5 Tips Before Taking a Job Abroad


Editor’s note: This month we’re talking about careers, and many times that means bravely stepping out of our comfort zone. For some, that means making a career pivot. For others, it means pursuing a dream job on the other side of the globe. Thinking about working abroad? Take these tips with you, nav.igator!  

By McKenzie McCall | 13 May 2020

The question I seem to be getting time and time again is, “What brought you to China?”

The answer is much simpler than you would think. It was not months of planning and consideration. Nor was it a lifelong dream to travel the world and live in a foreign country. It was simply an opportunity that had found its way onto my path. It was a connection between friends that led to a Facebook conversation, and one late night Skype interview later, I had the job.

Moving from small town Texas to the big city of Shanghai was an adjustment, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have made lifelong friendships and had experiences I never dreamed I would.

There have also been some lessons learned, so here are my top five tips to consider if you are thinking about taking the leap and accepting a job in a foreign country.

1. Connect with other expats working in your office.

One of the best things you can do when preparing for your big move is to connect with the people who are already there. These people will be your lifeline when you arrive, and they will have answers to questions you never even thought to ask. As fellow expats, they will know all the struggles and adjustments you will be facing; they will have first- hand knowledge on how to overcome it.

They will also be a great source of information that you might be uncomfortable asking your new boss about, such as, “Where’s the best place to get a drink?” or “How exactly does one use the squat toilet?” These questions are perfectly suited to these seasoned veterans. These will be your go-to people, and as an added bonus you’ll have several instant friends when you arrive!

2. Prepare ALL the necessary documents BEFORE you arrive.

This one is extremely important. This varies by country, but China has a long list of documents you need to obtain and present when entering the country and applying for a work visa. Depending on the country you choose, they will have their own set of requirements.

If you don’t have all the documents required, you will need to leave the country and return when you have them. This can be quite a problem when home is a thousand-dollar, 15-hour plane ride away. So please, please take the time to get everything stamped, notarized, and copied as instructed by your employer and the embassy BEFORE your arrival. I’ve seen far too many people eagerly accepting jobs and then being let go only weeks later due to a failure to present the appropriate documents.  

3. Read your employment contract thoroughly! And ask questions.

In America, the contract your employer presents to you is usually a standard issue contract. Holiday days, sick leave, and even salary are all based on a pre-determined criterion and are the same for every employee. However, contracts may not work this way in your new country.

In China, it is quite common -and expected- to barter and debate on many things including your employment contract. Read and reread everything in your contract. Make sure you feel comfortable with each point and ask questions about anything you feel uncertain about. This is a business deal and you want to be happy and confident about it before signing on the line.

4. Figure out the most useful apps and means of communication in your country.

The first thing my new employer told me when I accepted my job in China was to download an app called WeChat. I had never heard of this app and didn’t realize how important it would become. Let me tell you, WeChat is EVERYTHING. There is limited access to western social media; WeChat is our all-in-one messenger, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. We use it to transfer money, buy groceries, and pay utilities.

Even with the pandemic, WeChat is able to check our health status and determine the type of risk we pose by using colored stickers in green, yellow, and red. So, depending on where you travel ask around to see what apps are most popular in your area to help you better adjust to your new environment.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your employer.

They are the ones who hired you! They want you in their company and they understand the responsibility it takes to bring an employee into the country. Don’t be overlooked and struggle on your own. They should be there to help you every step of the way. In countries with a significant language barrier you will need help with things like finding an apartment, setting up a bank account, and buying a cell phone plan. Your employer should provide you with help through all of these tasks. If that means they need to send someone with you to the bank (or the realty office on a Saturday morning) then so be it.

Making the move overseas can be nerve-racking and intimidating. But it can also be exhilarating and life changing. Looking back, I can’t imagine where my life would be if I hadn’t taken this opportunity. It has been the greatest experience of my life, and I can’t wait to see what adventures are next. If you are looking to make a change, I highly recommend looking at a position in a new country. You will experience things like new culture, food, and landscapes. You will make friends in the most unlikely of places and memories to last a lifetime.   

McKenzie McCall grew up in Victoria, Texas and graduated from Texas State University with a degree in elementary education teaching early childhood up to 6th grade. With secondary certifications in ESL teaching English as a second language, she is currently in her third year teaching kindergarten in a bilingual school in Shanghai, China.

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