Work Abroad Frequently Asked Questions
For most students and recent graduates, your best bet is to go through special programs for working, interning, volunteering or teaching abroad. Students (especially at the graduate level) also find their own placements abroad, sometimes with help from their professors. The International Center has extensive resources to help you find programs for working abroad. International Career Pathways is a series of panels that provides information on global internship and career options, as well as an international opportunities fair.
In most cases, you will need a special type of visa known as a work permit. Some countries even require work permits for unpaid internships or volunteering. Working for pay without a work permit is usually illegal and may put you at risk of deportation. Special programs for working, interning and volunteering abroad can usually help arrange for a work permit. For examples such as BUNAC, IAESTE and dozens more, see our articles on programs for working abroad. If you are not going through a work abroad program, a work permit can generally be obtained only with assistance from your overseas employer. Most countries give information about work visas on their Embassy's web site. See Embassy.org.
This is possible in certain countries that have wages at the level of the U.S. and where paid work abroad programs exist, but if saving lots of money is your main priority, that is easiest to do in the U.S. See our article on Short-Term Paid Work Abroad.
Basically, no–since the average wage level of countries in less-developed regions of the world is much lower than in the U.S., you will be unable to recover expenses even if you manage to find a paid job (an unlikely possibility in areas where there's high unemployment). Some longer-term programs such as the Peace Corps and Fulbright do offer paid positions that are funded from the U.S. side. Your best bet for the short-term would be to save up or obtain funding. See our article on Funding Your Work Abroad Experience.
There are quite a variety of options. One very basic consideration is how long you want to work abroad. Some programs are limited in duration to several months, or in some cases up to a year. See our article on Short-Term Paid Work Abroad. Note that some programs may be available only within a semester of graduation, or may have an upper age limit for participation (typically age 30 or 35). If you're willing to commit a year, programs for teaching English abroad would be an excellent choice, as would fellowship programs such as Fulbright. See our article on Teaching Abroad Abroad Without Certification. Finally, for those willing to commit to a stay abroad of two years or more, there are programs such as the Peace Corps.
If you do choose to work in a foreign language that you've already studied, communicating in a foreign language at the workplace is certainly one of the most challenging parts of working abroad, but it should not intimidate you for several reasons. First, you will be surprised at how comfortable you become in the language, since you will be immersed in it every day. Second, employers understand that you are not a native speaker and will have a certain level of patience for language difficulties you might have. Be ready to work hard, but most likely you won't be required to independently publish reports in a language you aren't completely fluent in. Finally, your superiors will be excited to have someone from another country working with them and will want their company to make a good impression on you. In short, do not be intimidated. The atmosphere probably won't be as stressful as you think. Of course, you can work in a country in which English is the local language, especially since programs like BUNAC make it easy to work in Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Also, note that it's not always necessary to work in the language (if other than English) of the host country. For example, teachers of English as a foreign language are rarely required to know the host country's language.
Just showing up in a foreign country and finding a place to live is certainly a challenge, but it is not as difficult as it might sound. Research can be done in advance or you can begin your search after you arrive and stay in a youth hostel until you find a room. Usually, university or student housing postings are a great place to start looking. Information can usually be found online, in local newspapers, or on public posting boards on university campuses. Also, while your employer, work-abroad or study-abroad program might require that you find your own housing, this doesn't mean they won't provide you with any help. Most likely, they have assisted others in the past and know the best places to start looking. Be aware that housing is a significant cost. In addition to monthly payments, most landlords require an up-front security deposit, so be prepared to make a sizeable cash payment directly upon arrival.
You might experience culture shock both when you go abroad and (more unexpectedly) when you return, since being immersed in a foreign culture changes the way you view your own. Usually returnees are excited to see friends and family, but there is certainly a chance that you will find yourself bored after a few weeks at home. While you were off having the time of your life, having new experiences every day, life at home has probably not changed much since you left. When you get back you might want to embrace your culture again or even be tempted to reject it. Either way, you should give yourself time to readapt before forming any permanent opinions about your home. An excellent resource for preparing to go abroad and returning home is What's Up With Culture.
See our Departure Checklist for Travel Abroad.