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How to Work Abroad

BaristaForeign cities, new friends, cheap beer and a ragged, well-used passport: traveling the world while you’re young sounds so glamorous. And it is. I studied abroad in Argentina and loved my travels. But it really drained my bank account.

I’ve never been that money-stressed in my life! At times, I had trouble enjoying myself and taking advantage of the experience because I hated constantly spending and not having any income.

So if you want to live abroad while you’re young, is it possible to do it and make money at the same time?

In a word, yes. But you might have to get creative.

First of all, before you start a job in a foreign country, you must get a work visa from that country. If you’ll be working for an established company (especially one that is used to hiring Americans, or a foreign branch of an American company), they will probably help you apply for it. But if the company won’t (or you have additional challenges like not speaking the language), getting the visa could be tough.

Check what the country’s rules are for work visas before you commit to the big move.

The U.S. Department of State website has a bunch of helpful links on working abroad. Also, check out this list of countries CBS named the easiest to work abroad in.

Once you do commit, there are a lot of different jobs you can pursue abroad — and they don’t even all require a college degree. But they tend to be popular for recent college graduates.

Consider the following options:

Au pair

A lot of families abroad like to hire English-speaking au pairs so that their children can practice speaking English while they grow up. Some might want an au pair for just a summer, and others might be looking much more long-term.

My friend Rachel is currently working as an au pair in Germany. She suggested really taking time before you leave to find a situation that suits you. Will you be living in a dorm? In the family’s home? How much space will you have to yourself? If you’re miserable, it’s probably not going to feel worth it.

And know the realities of the salary, too, she said. The typical salary for an au pair in Germany is 260 euros per month. But you may benefit by being able to travel with the family on weekend trips, allowing you to see more places.

Woofing

After sitting in classrooms for the last couple years, you might be feeling a need to return to nature. You might like “woofing,” which has become hot recently — it means that you work on an organic farm, and some of them are abroad. One of my best friends is considering doing this after graduation. Check out more information on it here. I don’t think all woofing opportunities are paid, so make sure you find out before you decide.

Teaching English

Maybe your biggest value abroad is a skill you’ve been learning all your life — speaking English. You can teach in an established program, or even as a tutor in one-on-one sessions if you’re feeling entrepreneurial. You have to be very careful if you pursue the option of teaching English abroad, though, because some programs that advertise online are not legitimate organizations. To be safe, contact your university to see if there are any programs they recognize and recommend.

Working abroad for an American company

If you’re fortunate enough to have a full-time job offer after college for a major company with international offices, ask if working for one is an option.

My uncle worked in the Singapore office of his law firm for several years, and he loved the cultural experience (and the pay-off even more).

Getting paid under the table

Here’s an option I’m hesitant to recommend. Two of my friends did this while we were abroad; they worked in a restaurant without getting a work visa. It’s definitely possible, but very risky. In some countries, you could be deported for doing that, or worse.

No matter where you’re going, try to reach out to American ex-pats to see what they recommend. There are lots of online forums for Americans abroad, like Expat blog and this Fodor’s blog so if you do a little searching, you’ll probably find people who are willing to help you. And it might even lead to a job idea, or short-term employment like babysitting for those families whose kids might like to have an American babysitter abroad.

Have you worked while living abroad? What did you do, and how’d you find the job?

About Maria LaMagna

Maria LaMagna is a recent graduate of Northwestern University where she served as editor-in-chief of the university’s award-winning daily newspaper and studied for five months in Argentina. Before joining Money Under 30, Maria worked as a reporter for CNN and the Indianapolis Business Journal. Follow Maria on Twitter @MCLaMagna.

Comments

  1. Pro tip: pick a emerging country and learn as much as you can about it and ways that you can be practically useful to its growth. The more time and effort you invest, the bigger the pay-off will be.

  2. Depending on what you are looking for, there are usually opportunities for travellers to work small jobs advertised in backpackers. I’ve seen a number of places offering free accommodation in exchange for a certain number of hours of work, usually doing cleaning jobs around the dorm. There are often notice boards in hostels with short opportunities. If you’re on a long holiday and looking to save some money before moving on this isn’t such a bad deal, but not a great plan if you need something to fund your whole trip. In Australia (and likely other places) it’s also really common to get working holiday visas, and as a result, there are lots of places that are used to hiring travellers for short term stints. Mostly I’ve heard about people working on farms (farm work, working as pickers etc) or in bars.