Lost Your Job? Move Abroad!

“Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages” – Dave Barry

As the job search lingers on without success and the trailer walls seem to close in on us, a la Edgar Allen Poe’s story The Pit and the Pendulum, I cast my thoughts outside of my job search box.  If I can’t find something locally we will have to move.  If we are going to move, why limit ourselves?  Why not do what some other unemployed Americans are doing?  Look abroad!  After all, story after story on outsourcing tells us that is where the jobs are going and some studies indicate that the chances of landing a job are far better overseas.

A recent Employment Outlook Survey by Manpower Inc. shows employers in 25 of 35 countries and territories surveyed expect some positive hiring activity in the first quarter, and that employment prospects are most favorable in India, Brazil, Singapore, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Australia, Peru and Hong Kong.  In the US employers are more optimistic than three months ago, but are still forecasting the weakest first-quarter hiring pace since 1982.

In another survey, of the nearly 30,000 people Manpower contacted, 79% of candidates were willing to relocate for work, and nearly one third were willing to move anywhere in the world. Forty percent were willing to make that move permanently.

Wow.  That’s a lot of people willing to leave the country for a job, isn’t it?  I couldn’t find out whether that Manpower survey was of people currently employed or folks who are out of work and I wondered are people really leaving the U.S. to work abroad, and if so who are they and what sort of jobs are available?

Some appear to be recent college graduates.  According to an article in Newsweek, “many of the nation’s top business schools report an increase in the number of students who are interested in working overseas in emerging markets such as India, China, Russia, and Brazil.”  In addition to working in finance and consulting, these M.B.A. students are moving overseas to work in real estate, investing, energy, and infrastructure.

There are similar trends in the UK which is also dealing with high unemployment, especially among the younger wage earners.  In an article titled “A Career Overseas for UK’s Talented Unemployed Graduates” the author points out the potential benefits of looking abroad for work- employment being the most obvious one, but additionally the acquisition of skills and experience that will help them find employment on their return to their home country.  In recruitment and employment surveys employers regularly cite the fact that they find those who have experience of working in other countries bring more to their company and to a given role.

The Huffington Post reports that young foreigners are going to China to look for work, driven by the worst job markets in decades in the United States, Europe and some Asian countries.

Many do basic work such as teaching English, a service in demand from Chinese businesspeople and students. But a growing number are arriving with skills and experience in computers, finance and other fields.

“China is really the land of opportunity now, compared to their home countries,” said Chris Watkins, manager for China and Hong Kong of MRI China Group, a headhunting firm. “This includes college graduates as well as maybe more established businesspeople, entrepreneurs and executives from companies around the world.”

In an article titled, “Should Unemployed Americans look for Jobs Abroad,” Fastcompany.com profiles some of the countries that are hiring, India prominently among them. 

Dr. Kailash Khandke, professor of Economics at Furman University and assistant Dean for Study Away and International Education says he’s found that Americans are moving to India since the economy soured. “Americans are embracing the notion of a globally interdependent world in the service industries, computers, information services, and hotel industry.”

Dr. Khandke cites several reasons for this including the fact that English is spoken in all the urban centers in India and the general hospitality of the population. He does note that the standard of living in the cities is no longer inexpensive, however, “It is quite manageable and it is even possible to get some domestic help. I think American find this a welcome change,” he adds.

From what I could discover most of the Americans moving abroad to work are new college graduates or the younger working set unable to find the job they want here, and middle/upper management professionals relocating at the behest of their companies or for better opportunities.  It does not appear to be a solution for the majority of unemployed Americans- especially those with families, homes they can’t sell or job skills that aren’t in demand abroad.

Has my out of the box thinking about my job search made me want to renew passports and board a plane?  Yes and no.  Yes, because I think it sounds like a wonderful adventure!  I’m adventurous and have done some foreign travel (Europe, Peru, China) in my life and think I could adapt to living in another country.  It wouldn’t be hard for us to pack and we don’t have much that we’d have to give up.  My kids are resilient (although I’d be lying if I said they are as enthusiastic about the idea as I am) and good travelers.  So I’d head to Vietnam or China or India to work and live without reservation – if I could afford to. 

And there’s the rub.  Almost all of the opportunities I unearthed are suited for a single person or a childless couple.  Since most foreign jobs require that you pay your own way, the cost of relocating a family of 5 overseas puts those jobs beyond me in our current situation.  In addition in some countries it is very difficult to support a large family on say, a teacher’s salary, to find affordable accommodations, or acceptable schools for your children.   Most of the stories I found of families moving abroad for work were of men, generally in relatively high management positions, who were relocated by their companies and brought their wives and kids along.  

In addition to the expense of moving, I found it hard to locate any overseas jobs in my field.  Many of the jobs available are middle or upper management positions requiring a fair amount of experience or specialized knowledge and tend to be grouped in industries in which I have no experience- manufacturing, IT, teaching, and hospitality-  making my own prospects less than encouraging.

While I have considered obtaining my Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate one website on teaching overseas offers this discouraging assessment:

There are many more applicants than jobs available and it is not uncommon for a school to have twenty to one hundred applications for each vacancy. A single parent with dependents does not stand much of a chance, nor does a retired teacher looking for an overseas experience. Schools prefer to hire teaching couples with no dependents, though most schools will hire couples with children and a few will hire singles with dependents. Almost all will hire single teachers if they cannot find couples.

However, I do think opportunities vary from country to country and I plan to continue to explore the possibilities.

And if this sounds like an exciting and doable possibility to you, the internet is awash with information about how to find a job overseas.  Here are some resources to get you started.

Job Hunt:

http://www.jobsabroad.com/search.cfm (International Job Opportunities).  Searchable list of job opportunities – although a search for Environmental Management jobs in India only turned up one ‘job’ and it turned out to be a link to 3-6 month long internship, volunteer study abroad and relocation programs.  There were more openings in education and sales.

http://www.rileyguide.com/internat.html  (The Riley Guide to International Job Opportunities).  Links to sites with job listings.

Monster.com has a listing of international jobs.

 TweetMYJobs, a Twitter job search service, has a database of international opportunities. The Twitter offerings are in some of the same fields as those posted by traditional recruiters.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate Courses

http://www.teflonline.net/ (online and campus courses)

http://www.tefl.com/  (includes job listings)

Moving and Living Abroad: For Serious Job Seekers

http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/work/careers/index.shtml  (International Careers – The Guide to Long-Term Jobs Abroad).  This website has links to a wealth of resources for people considering committing to serious careers abroad.

http://www.expatexchange.com/ (Expat Exchange).  FREE reports from expats living abroad, country-specific expat forums, expatriate resource guide, international jobs, hundreds of articles, social networking tools, international real estate, travel warnings and several newsletters to keep you in the loop.

Moving and Living Abroad: For People Who Have Money and Time:

http://www.transitionsabroad.com/  (no-nonsense free portal—for meaningful experiential Work Abroad, Study Abroad, Cultural Travel Overseas, and International Living).  This site focuses on meaningful experiential work- not ‘make a living’ work.  Fun if you are a retired couple who have always wanted to volunteer at a wildlife reserve in Africa or a teenager who wants to travel to Europe as an au pair.  I’d love to sign up for the summer volunteer program in China – if I didn’t have to pay nearly $3,000 (plus travel expenses) to work for 2 weeks!

http://www.shelteroffshore.com/ (“Wealthier Living Abroad”).  This site is really aimed at people who already have money and want to live and work abroad.

Information from the Government

http://www.state.gov/travel/ (U.S. Department of State Travel Website). Information on visas, passports, travel warnings, and tips.

Best of luck to you – write if you find work!

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2 Responses to Lost Your Job? Move Abroad!

  1. Ozma says:

    I lived in Taiwan for two years (teaching English there) and Shanghai, China for one year. Next year I will be moving to Singapore. I have also traveled to most countries in SE and North Asia. Obviously I don’t know you or your situation in any depth, but based on my experience, I would strongly recommend against you moving abroad to work for the following reasons.

    1. The expense. Moving abroad is really expensive, even if you do it on the cheap (as I did). You must either store your stuff (expensive as you know), get rid of everything except 2-3 suitcases each, or ship it (expensive). You will need to buy plane tickets, passports, visas, luggage, clothes, etc. Once you are there, you will discover numerous unexpected expenses (this invariably happens): living and working is very different from just being a tourist (for example, to rent an apartment in Shanghai, you must pay a 1 month deposit+3 months rent+1 month rent in booking agent fee, in cash only). I have always needed at least $2000 starting money (once I had transported myself and my stuff) for myself and my husband. With 4 children, you would need a lot more. This is especially true for a relatively poor country like Vietnam or China: as a foreigner you pay a premium anyway; many things you want are only available at a premium since locals don’t use/have them; and public services are very few, so you will need to pay for more things than in the US.

    2. Working conditions. In general, unless you are a highly paid recruited manager, working conditions in Asia are going to be worse than in the US in many ways. Lying about wages, benefits, working hours, etc. is standard practice in China and sometimes in Taiwan. (This is one reason why it is better to get a job once you are there unless you are working for a large multinational). In most of the wealthier Asian countries, working extremely long hours is standard (English teaching has different conditions). Often people also work on Saturday. There will be absolutely no consideration for your situation as a single parent. You may receive health benefits, but other benefits like retirement, etc. are unlikely. Depending on the country, rampant sexism may be a problem (the US is far ahead of most of Asia in this respect). If you are young and looking for either adventure or experience, this isn’t a problem for many, but in your situation it would probably be really difficult.

    3. Your children. In general, in Asia single mothers are harshly judged. They are looked down as second-class citizens and of dubious morality (divorce is very uncommon): their children will also be judged harshly. Unless you are making a very good salary and can afford expat school, your children will have to go to local school, where they will be expected to be fluent in the local language (there is no tolerance for second language learning as a general rule); study until 11 pm or later most days from the age of 7 or so; and experience corporal punishment and harsh public humiliation as a form of punishment. The schools may be academically rigorous (and often are) but it is a very pressured, competitive environment with little tolerance for difference. Your children will probably be ostracized as different, and may be extensively bullied (schools often tolerate this and may even incorporate it into the daily routine as a way to maintain order). Also, any learning differences or disabilities are not treated or even acknowledged.

    In addition, living in Asia is pretty difficult from a cultural adjustment standpoint. Most people do not speak English. They think very differently from Americans in a wide variety of ways. While initially one might think it’s not so different (KFC on every corner! they have Walmart and Starbucks!), the longer you are there, the more you will realize how alien it is. This can be exciting, but is also really stressful (you are never quite sure of the rules, and will screw up often). As a tourist, you will probably not be aware that these rules and strangenesses even exist (you are a guest and thus people will be especially polite; also, you probably can’t understand what they’re saying), but if you live there, they will constantly impede on your life (and the longer you live there, the more this will be true). In addition, in certain countries, dealing with the government can be difficult due to any of: corruption; non-democratic methods; lack of transparency; or inefficiency.

    As a former English teacher, I can tell you that teaching English is different from a “regular” job. In some ways, your working conditions are better (often can set your own hours; don’t have to participate in extensive office politics). The pay is good, especially in Taiwan, Japan and Korea (Taiwan has probably the lowest cost of living and is a great place to live). But schools have a strong preference for young teachers: anyone over 35 or so will face a significant amount of ageism and may find it very challenging to get a good job. While I did know single mothers teaching, being hired from overseas with children is probably impossible (especially given the prejudice against them): it would be a big cost to the school. Getting a job once in the country is possible (and when I was in Taiwan, extremely easy), but a gamble that you probably wouldn’t want to take.

    I don’t want to come off as totally negative, since I have really enjoyed my experiences working and living in Asia, and there are certainly advantages (seeing the world; in general, a higher standard of living; experiencing a different culture). If you have questions, I would be happy to answer them.

  2. Ellen Fields says:

    That’s exactly what we did… eight years ago, after getting hit upside the head by the dot-com crash. We moved to Merida, Mexico and started writing about it.

    What we found is that moving out of the country turned our pain in all its twists and turns into an adventure that helped mitigate the pain. We started to learn Spanish, the Yucatecan and Latin cultures, new histories we had no idea existed… a whole new world literally and figuratively opened up for us.

    We still miss our homeland sometimes… and we still visit often. But we found a lot more job opportunity here than there would have been for us back home (by starting our own business… finding employment here is not so easy). And our lives have become so much richer and more interesting.

    In fact, we started our website, Yucatan Living, to make it easier for others to follow in our footsteps, to show them that moving to another country isn’t so horrible. And in fact, it is our firm belief that if every American lived outside of the USA for a year or two, the world would be a very different (and probably more peaceful) place.

    Keep writing… this is a great website!

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