If you grew up in a visibly multicultural country like Australia, you may think that taking yourself overseas to live and work is an easy thing to do. After all, so many people from all walks of life come here to do the same thing. The truth is those people jumped through many hoops to migrate to one of the world’s most desirable places to live. If you want to seriously make a go of it overseas, there are lots of things to think about — and the sooner you start planning, the better.
Photo by Vanessa (Flickr).
Late last year, it became apparent that my Canadian-born partner would need to start thinking about looking overseas for work after a potential opportunity that would have kept him in Australia fell through. The nature of his work takes him all around the world, but the fact that I was now a part of his life added complication. He had switched to a tourist visa from an employer-sponsored visa after his last job ended, but that would only allow him to stay for an extra six months — and he wouldn’t be allowed to work.
Photo by By Sébastien Launay (Flickr).
We considered a few options. First, we looked into the possibility of me sponsoring him as my de-facto partner, but there wasn’t much point since all the work in his industry had dried up in Australia. He loved the idea of being able to stay, but the idea of not working or switching professions? Not so much. So we then tossed around the idea of him going overseas on a short-term contract before coming back to join me in Australia, but the financial strain that comes with maintaining lives in two countries was unappealing.
The decision we finally made was one that appealed to me more than it did to him. I told him to find a job overseas, one that he would be happy doing, and I would follow him, even if it meant putting my career on hold. We both agreed that being together was the most important thing, and since his earning potential was much higher than mine, it ended up being the most sensible decision for us.
He successfully applied for a job that would take us to Vancouver in Canada. He was happy with the job, the company was reputable, he would be working with old friends, and he would be relatively close to his family in Montreal. He was to leave Australia, fly halfway across the world, find somewhere to live and start working within two weeks.
I started to freak out a little bit at this point. I had a bit of a poke around the internet for generic advice, but I had not seriously started thinking about what I had to do to move my life to another country. I made the mistake of leaving the details to the last minute, and that resulted in added stress and frustration, not to mention lost time and money.
The good news is that I can turn my experience into an opportunity to inform others so they don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Here are some of the key points.
Take advantage of the easiest and most flexible option while you can
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, hundreds of thousands of Australians move overseas every year, and that number is steadily increasing. The majority of these people are aged between 25 and 29, and there are two key reasons for this. First, it’s around this age that you start getting serious about your career, and the most lucrative gigs will often require you to relocate to another country. Secondly, many countries restrict the number of working travellers to those under the age of 30, which means people in their late twenties are wising up and looking to take advantage of the working while travelling opportunity before they get too old to qualify.
Photo by Diana Parkhouse (Flickr).
For popular Commonwealth destinations, such as the UK and Canada, working holiday visas are by far the easiest and most flexible option, so long as you’re under 30 and don’t have a criminal record. Fortunately for me, I still have five years to exploit the age restriction, but if I was over the age limit, my experience would have been markedly more difficult. Also, for those of you curious about working in the US on a similar visa, be warned that it will be a lot tougher since it technically doesn’t participate in any working holiday schemes.
At every given opportunity I try to tell as many youngsters as possible to keep the age restriction in mind and to take advantage of the opportunity while it’s there. This is especially the case if you’re still not sure what career path you want to pursue, because once you’re over 30, you’ll need to convince a country to let you in to work in other ways.
Be the best at what you do, and finish your degree
If you’ve missed the boat or don’t quality for another reason, getting a visa that lets you work in another country becomes an entirely different experience altogether. You have many more hoops that you need to jump through, but it’s not impossible. The conditions will vary depending on the country you want to go and individual circumstances, but for most popular OECD destinations, you’ll need to get an employer in the country of destination to sponsor you for the entire duration of your stay. Naturally, this comes at a great cost to employers, so you’ll need to prove that you have a unique or highly desirable set of skills that makes a compelling case to bring you over rather than hiring local talent.
Photo by Our Lady of Disgrace (Flickr).
In most cases, you’ll need to back up your skills with a bachelor’s degree or strong evidence of relevant and equivalent experience. In Australia, it’s not uncommon to see employers prefer someone with experience over someone with just a degree. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can get a job as a lawyer or doctor or engineer without hitting the books, but it’s worth keeping in mind that in other countries your level of education speaks for a lot more than your years of practical experience. Never in my life have I wanted to finish my degree so much. The thought of being denied entry just because I failed to finish my degree makes me want to cry.
Fortunately, each country has their own set of rules and visas, so all hope isn’t lost if you don’t have a degree. For instance, there are temporary work visas available for people with specialist skills, trainees, and those who work in hospitality or entertainment. If you work for a multinational corporation, there are special visas that may allow you to work for your employer in another country. Whichever route you take, it pays to be informed and give yourself enough time to research your options.
Be prepared for paperwork and expenses
If you hold an Australian passport, there are more doors open to you than there are for people of other nations. But nobody is exempt from the inevitable paperwork. If you’re apply for a working holiday visa, you’ll have to present paperwork to the consulate as well as customs when you arrive. If you’re going down other routes, you’ll have to provide written proof of your eligibility, and I’m sure your employer will have their own stack of forms that need to be filed.
The amount of time between applying for a visa and getting your visa varies enormously, but the general rule is to expect a lot of delays and not a lot of communication throughout the process — after all, you’ll be dealing with tardy government agencies. Working holiday visa applications for the UK can take as little as a week. If you apply for a Canadian working holiday visa around November when everyone wants to go skiing in Whistler, it will take longer than it would for someone applying in the low season. I was fortunate to only have to wait about a month for mine, but not before a lot of frustrated emails and phone calls with Australia Post, the consulate and immigration officials.
If you’ve ever watched Border Security, you’ll know that the first rule of thumb is to never lie about anything on your application. If you have a criminal history and say you don’t, they will find out about it and you’ll be denied entry for at least a few years, even if you decide later that you just want to go for pleasure and not for business.
Another very important factor to consider is money. As part of my application for a Canadian working holiday visa, I was required to undergo a federal police check at my own expense, pay my application fee in the form of an Australia Post money order, send it via registered mail and pay for insurance. If your passport has expired, or will expire within a certain period of time, you’ll need to front the cost to renew it, as well as get passport photos taken and print out various forms. The biggest surprise for me was finding a couple of appropriately sized suitcases at a reasonable price and finding a way to ship my iMac halfway across the world — but that’s a story for another day.
Photo by Neal Edgeworth Photography (Flickr).
You’ll also need to set aside a certain amount of funds — in my case it was $2500 — to prove to customs that you have enough money to survive for at least the first few weeks while you get set up. On top of that, there is mandatory travel insurance that can set you back thousands if you’re gone for more than a few months, as well as all the living expenses associated with finding accommodation, getting around, feeding yourself and just generally staying alive.
It’s also important to keep in mind that your visa — regardless of what kind you get — will have an expiry date. Overstaying your visa is a serious offence and is bound to give you problems for many years afterwards. Nobody will be there to remind you that your visa is about to expire — it is up to you to renew your visa in time or get the hell out of there.
If you can garner any good news out of the arduous process, it’s the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your destination country is serious about making sure only people of good character make it into its borders. You’ll also be preparing yourself for the experience of a lifetime — there is nothing quite like immersing yourself into the unknown and opening your mind to a new way of life.
I’ve only scratched the surface here — there are so many details that are beyond the scope of this article and it is imperative that you do your own research. In coming weeks I’ll be going into more detail about how to prepare for a move overseas and getting set up in a new country.
Are you an Australian expat? Have any questions about working overseas? Share your experience in the comments below.
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