Students Abroad: Working Abroad

Posted April 15, 2013

While studying and volunteering abroad are great opportunities to broaden your horizons, finding work overseas, whether over the long or short term, is a great way to understand what life is really like for those who call your host nation home. In nearly every country in the world, students can find opportunities for work of all kinds, from summer internships to long-term employment with a multinational company. These experiences offer a chance not only to meet and learn from those in a new country, but also to learn what it’s like to live, work, and be a part of society wherever you choose to travel.

In the third and final part of our series on students abroad, we’ll address working abroad, including some major trends in foreign work, the kinds of opportunities students can expect to find, student feedback, and loads of resources for planning your own employment abroad.

Trends in Work Abroad

Going abroad to work or to take on an internship is much more common and perhaps even desired than it has been in years past. A study of 30,000 people by Manpower found that 79% were willing to relocate for work and nearly one third were willing to move anywhere in the world. What’s more, 40% of those who would move abroad were willing to do so permanently.

Part of this trend in moving abroad for work has likely been caused by the poor economy, which has driven even highly qualified candidates to seek work in places they may not have previously considered. Of course, it’s not all economics; the world is simply a more interconnected place and there are a growing number of opportunities to work for domestic companies in their international offices.

While long-term work overseas is growing in popularity, so are internships. The total number of students traveling abroad for internships and receiving academic credit increased from just under 7,000 between 2000 and 2001 to nearly 14,000 between 2007 and 2008, according to the Institute of International Education, a New York-based nonprofit. For some, this kind of travel and work experience is a way to stand out to employers or gain critical experience for taking on jobs in global business, policy, or other fields.

While not nearly as common as traditional internships abroad, a growing number of students are finding work with international companies and organizations virtually. These virtual internships allow students to connect and work with those all over the globe without ever leaving home. While some may find the lack of travel unappealing, these experiences could prove useful to those who don’t have the funds to travel and live abroad but who still want to work with international employers.

It is estimated that four to seven million Americans live and work abroad and many more may be heading that way soon, as a Zogby poll found that 1.6 million U.S. households planned a move abroad. Due to this trend, students who choose to work abroad either for a semester or the foreseeable future certainly won’t be alone and will likely be able to find individuals from their home country anywhere they choose to settle down.


The Basics of Work Abroad

Like both study and volunteering abroad, work abroad comes in countless varieties and permutations. With so many options, there is something that will suit the needs of almost every student out there, making it possible for most students to make their dreams of working in a foreign country a reality.

As varied as employers and work may be abroad, most experiences can be divided into several major categories, as follows.

  • Childcare: Love kids and travel? Working as an au pair will give many students a chance to embrace both as they sign on to care for children, often for two years at a time.
  • Teaching English: One of the most common experiences working abroad is teaching English. These types of programs set up grads with their own classrooms where they’ll help young children (and sometimes adults) hone their English language skills.
  • Internships and Research Opportunities: For short-term stays abroad, a popular choice is an internship or research opportunity. Through these programs, students or recent grads will get to experience what it’s truly like to work at the company or facility in their host country, spending as little as a month or as long as a year working abroad.
  • Short-Term Work: Chances are good that you’ve encountered a young person taking advantage of this kind of short term foreign work if you’ve visited an amusement park, hotel, or vacation destination here in the U.S. Similar opportunities exist for American students abroad, often putting them in jobs within the hospitality, retail, customer service, or manual labor industries.
  • Long-Term Work: While it’s not always easy to find work overseas, it’s not impossible and many young people may get a chance to establish themselves through long-term employment in countries all over the world.

Working in some countries may be easier than in others, as each has its own visa requirements, some more strict than others. As a U.S. citizen, short-term travel won’t be difficult, especially for unpaid positions, but things get a little trickier for those planning to stay for years at a time or who want to take on paid positions. In some parts of the world, getting visas can be time-consuming and expensive, and may be difficult to obtain for long-term work. Make sure you do your research with regard to the requirements in the country you hope to call home, as it may change your timeline and budget.


Opportunities in Work Abroad

There are many options for working abroad that can take students and recent grads to new and exciting places for a few months, years, or even a lifetime. Here’s a brief overview of some great programs and opportunities students can take advantage of to get experience working outside of their home countries.

One program worth looking into for those who hope to teach abroad is Disney’s English Foreign Trainer program. This program sends recent grads with experience in education to China to teach children ages 2 to 12 how to speak and write English. The program has an award-winning academic curriculum, and because it’s through Disney, brings in a variety of the company’s most popular characters to help them learn, play, and engage.

If you’d prefer to work in a more tropical locale, there are opportunities for that, too. One example is Balamku Inn’s semester-long work abroad program in hospitality. Through this program, students travel to Mahahual, Mexico to work at the hotel, talking with clients, managing the bar, helping with reception, and showing and checking rooms. While ideal for those hoping to work in the hospitality industry, the experience might also excite those studying environmental or conservation issues, as Balamku is an ecological hotel. Located right on the Caribbean, it offers a range of outdoor activities that explore the reefs and beaches of a nearby nature reserve.

For those who are looking for something that’s both more urban and more career-focused, there are programs like The Washington Center’s intern abroad in London program. Past internships have matched students up with employers like the British Museum, CNN London, and the Labour Party, putting them to work two to three days a week in an internship. When they’re not at work, students will take courses on British politics, history, crime and justice, economy, or immigration, giving them a well-rounded look at their host country and preparing them for a career in international politics or business.


The Student Perspective

One of the most common forms of work abroad, at least among recent grads, is Teaching English as a Foreign Language, or TEFL. Through a TEFL program, individuals can travel to non-English speaking countries around the globe to work with children and adults on improving their English language skills. While teaching experience is beneficial, it’s not required as students will take courses before departing.

Louise Creedon, native of Ireland, only a few weeks into her TEFL program in China, had never lived abroad before signing on to teach English in China. Nonetheless, she thought it would be a good way to put her English degree to work, help others, and getting to do something she loves while exploring a foreign country. For her, the scariest part of the experience was that it was so new. "You really have no idea what everything’s going to be like until you get here," says Creedon." "However, I’m happy to report that even though China is completely (and I mean completely) different than Ireland, I’ve settled in nicely and I really like it here."

Despite her early challenges, she would recommend the experience to others, but encourages grads to be smart about what program and destination they choose. "I think the best advice I could give somebody looking to work abroad is to just go for it and see where it takes you!" she says. "Just make sure you do your research carefully and really take the time to work out what path is most suitable for you. Moving abroad is decision not to be taken lightly, after all."

After her graduation from York, Amy Dunkley wasn’t sure where she wanted to take her career but she knew she wanted to travel and see more of the world. For her, becoming a TEFL instructor was the best way to combine her desire for travel with earning a steady living and gaining work experience. Already having studied abroad for a year in Paris, adjusting to life in a new culture wasn’t wasn’t a totally new experience, though there were still some adjustments to make as she settled into life in South Korea.

For her, the biggest challenges came from work itself, not living in a new culture, as this was her first time being a full-time teacher. "The most intimidating moment was definitely my first day of teaching. By the time I’d got my head around teaching the kindergarten students, I was faced with a class of 14-year-olds." It wasn’t easy, but she figured things out. "Flying them around the classroom like Superman and singing the alphabet song wasn’t going to work; it was time to actually impart knowledge. It turned out absolutely fine and now they’re my favorite class!" she says.

To those who are hesitant to pursue such a life-changing and scary experience, Amy encourages others to take a chance. "My advice to someone thinking of working abroad through TEFL or something similar is ‘Just do it!’ Moving to Korea was hands-down the best decision I ever made."


Should You Work Abroad?

Struggling with the decision to move abroad? Here are some things you should address before taking the leap to make sure you’ll be happy, healthy, and satisfied with your decision to work overseas.

  • When do you want to go? While there are many opportunities for students without a college degree, others only open up post-graduation. Decide if it’s more important for you to gain experience abroad before graduation or if you want to spend your first post-grad years traveling and working.
  • Do you have the money? Working abroad isn’t always cheap. The cost of living can be high and for unpaid internships fees can add up quickly. Procuring visas and other paperwork can be costly, too, so make sure you know how much you’ll need to shell out to make your work abroad dream a reality.
  • How is your health? In many countries, health is not an issue when living and working abroad, but those who choose to live in less developed countries or who have chronic health issues may want to carefully consider their plans. Additionally, it’s important to note that not all medications are legal in all countries, which could also be a major obstacle for those who need certain drugs to stay healthy.
  • Are you adaptable? Not only will you have to learn how to navigate a new culture when working abroad, but you’ll likely have to speak a different language and understand an entirely different business atmosphere from the one you know at home. Creature comforts may vary, too, and you may find yourself missing certain things from home. Being able to adapt and cope with these things is an essential trait to have if you want to work abroad.
  • How independent are you? While you can find groups of expats with whom to connect, you’ll largely be on your own when working in a new country. For some, this can be exhilarating, for others, terrifying. Whether or not it’s right for you will depend on your level of independence.
  • What are your career goals? Before you decide to work abroad, consider how the experience will fit in with your career goals. Those who want to work in international business or finance should definitely consider it, but for others the benefits may be more unclear. Make sure you’ll be helping further your goals, not hinder them by spending time abroad.



Need a little extra support and guidance to help you plan your time abroad? These resources explore some great work abroad options, tips for adapting, and will help ensure you’re ready to take on whatever challenges come your way.

  • Jobs at While GoAbroad has resources for study and volunteering, it also has a great collection of jobs abroad that students and grads can peruse.
  • CIS Abroad: Those looking for internship opportunities should check out this site for a list of great ways to get experience living and working around the world for as little as a month or as long as a year.
  • Intern Abroad: This is another great site for those looking to intern overseas, with help on finding positions and getting the paperwork required to pursue them in order.
  • Expat Forum: This community of more than 175,000 Americans living and working abroad is a great place to look for others to meet up with in your new city and can help ease the transition and leave you less homesick.
  • Uniworld: Through this site, you can search for American firms in foreign countries, which may help you get a leg up in finding long-term work abroad.
  • English International: If you want to teach English overseas, you’ll want to make sure to check out his site to learn more about what options you have, the training you’ll need, and more.
  • International Jobs Center: This job search site focuses on international listings. There are openings in a variety of categories which can help grads from a wide range of backgrounds find work.

Deciding to work abroad can be a scary decision but it can be one that leads to some amazing experiences, adds to a resume, and inspires a lifelong love of international travel, culture, and exploration. While it isn’t for every student or young professional, for some it can be the perfect blend of experience, education, and adventure.

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