Wanna Live And Work Overseas? Here’s What You Need To Know

Wanna Live And Work Overseas? Here’s What You Need To Know

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).

My story

Wanna Live And Work Overseas? Here’s What You Need To Know

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.

Wanna Live And Work Overseas? Here’s What You Need To Know

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

Wanna Live And Work Overseas? Here’s What You Need To Know

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

Wanna Live And Work Overseas? Here’s What You Need To Know

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

Wanna Live And Work Overseas? Here’s What You Need To Know

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.

Wanna Live And Work Overseas? Here’s What You Need To Know

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.

More: How To Prepare For A Move Overseas What Do You Do With Your Gadgets When You Move Overseas? Prioritise These Tasks For The Best Start In A New Country 8 Things About Australia I Took For Granted


  • Nice write up.

    Me personally, while I like the idea of travelling, I don’t have a major desire to work overseas, and potentially even visit – at least, not before I’ve seen far more of our own continent first.

    Judging by the sounds of the article; at 27 without a degree or any form of formal education or qualification (other than my HSC) – it sounds pretty unlikely I’d ever fit the criteria for an extended working visa overseas anyway.

    • The important thing to remember is to pick your battles with respect to foreign currency. You want to work in places with a high valued currency, and be a tourist in those with a lower valued currency.
      It’s always a good time to explore locally though so it’s a smart idea to explore and support your home continent.

      I’m about to make a move overseas myself, if you decide to take the plunge on an overseas work stint, have a read of my tips and tricks here: http://suitventure.com/career/want-to-explore-world-be-a-traveling-professional/

    • It depends on which country you want to go to, but you may be able to apply for one of the special visas. If you’re over 30, the working holiday option is usually a no-go.

      • hi elly…i want to move to abroad and ilive in india .so pls tell which country is the best for me and how i can go abroad.i had a tourist visa of united kingdom and i came in the suitable time this may be a plus point
        tell me procedure how i can get visa and for which country is the best?????

      • Okay, I have quite a bit of experience in foodservice, particularly in light prep and dishwork. I actually love dishes, but I am over 30. And on kind of a tangent is there a network of jobs somewhere I can go where I can see what specialized skills are required for any particular destination, so that I know what I’d have to work on here in the US in order to go there?

        • trunkmonky, you’ll find that the best way to determine what skills are needed in each destination is just via its job sites, ie. seek, indeed and so on. If you look at the volume of jobs in a particular industry, you’ll quickly work out what’s in demand with not enough supply.

  • UK Canada Australia NZ.
    Once upon a time we all had British Passports, and we could move around fairly freely (by ship).
    My grandparents did.
    Now we have the benefit of nationalism,… buraeucracy, paperwork, visas,…

  • UK> Australia. 2 year process from start to finish (permanent resident). Very stressful; tonnes of paperwork; medical examinations; skills assessments; very expensive; very emotional; tears; hard goodbyes; sleepless nights; excitement; trepidation; satisfaction; pride; . Be prepared for all of this is you’re serious about the move. Why did I do it? – because I could, and also because I believe life is an adventure you get to do once. Was it worth it? – yes. I’ve been able to experience so many things which would not have been possible had I stayed at home – blue skies being the main one :-). Would I do it again, given what I know now? – No. Australia’s natural beauty is becoming over-shadowed by an increasing obsession with money, greed and protectionism and a decreasing sense of liberty. Have now obtained citizenship for myself and children so am able to come and go if need be to meet the family’s changing requirements.

    • +1. Canada > Australia. 2 year odyssey, not yet completed, due to an employer backsliding on their promise to sponsor me for permanent residency. The app’s in now, via employer 2, and I’m just waiting.

      Why did I do it? Because a lot of my friends had gone overseas to work, and because I figured “why not?”, instead of “OMG, I can’t do THAT!” when I visited Australia a few times and decided that I liked it. Another factor was that Australia seemed to be weathering the GFC better than Canada or the US, so I see better long term resiliency for the economy than we have in Canada.

      My big tip. And this is huge. Unless you already have somewhere to stay, like a friend or relative with an open-ended “yes you may crash on my couch” or like a pre-arranged rental deal by you or your employer, it is going to cost you more than you think, to live wherever it is that you’re going. I know many people who’ve gone to work overseas, and whether it’s Mexico or Costa Rica or Germany or New Zealand or Australia, ALL OF US admit to having underestimated housing or utility bills prices. I recommend figuring out the minimum salary you think you require to live at your destination, and add a 20% margin of error to tell you what you REALLY require. Remember that not all countries honor Medicare and that in many of those countries, health insurance is not part of the compensation package, too.

      My answer to “Would I do it again?”. 50-50 on that. Assuming that I do get my intended outcome of Australian citizenship eventually, well, citizenship in a country with lots of opportunity is really a priceless thing. But I have been through some very hard times along my way. The first job for me in Oz was in a mining town at a family business that didn’t pay enough to meet bills in Dysart where prices skyrocketed monthly, and making up the difference decimated my savings. Then, the family-run firm closed, and left me and 5 others jobless. The others were citizens and got other work in town. I couldn’t, due to restrictions on pay and job title on my 457 skilled worker visa. It took just over half a year for me to find another sponsor. Impossible for me to have done a 6 month job hunt in Australia on a 457 visa, you think? You would be incorrect.

      Note to expats in Oz on 457s: the 28 day window is the /written/ rule for the max time you are allowed to stay in-country between sponsors. Due to paperwork backlogs, the practical application of the rule can vary substantially. Even though it ultimately worked out in my favour, and I now have the opportunity of my dreams, worry about immigration issues during that between time added to my stress levels considerably. Again, wherever you go, know that you may eventually have this kind of “fun”, too.

      Some lucky minority never run into arduous immigration processes, never used up hours of their lives scouring immigration blogs to learn “what happens if I get into (this) situation”, and have never memorized immigration’s phone number, but if you’re contemplating anything other than a simple working holiday or a temp worker situation in which you will be eager to leave the country when the job ends, the odds go up that you will.

      On the flip side, the existence of some minimal degree of risk kind of adds to the adventure aspect, and when you succeed at it, it does feel really cool. I have friends with great tales to tell about their 2 years working in China, their collection of three passports, their wife’s irregular medical results that (for a time) put their ability to emigrate in jeopardy but ultimately resulted in finding something that probably saved her life, etc.

  • These two points are not consistent:
    “..working holiday visas are by far the easiest and most flexible option, so long as you’re under 30..”
    “..once you’re over 30, you’ll need to convince a country to let you in to work in other ways.”

    I think that you are allowed to apply for Working Holiday Visa as long as you’re 30 or under (i.e. under 31). I know as I applied for my working holiday visa when I was 30 and was pretty easy to obtain.

  • I found it easier to have UK born parents which provided me with a UK passport.

    It meant that I just had to turn up…..yes I know my advice is not helpful 😛

  • Going over to Canada in November and its definitely not an easy process but seeing as I have 6 months to get it all done it hasn’t been that bad so far.

  • Australia to the Philippines
    Australia to the UK

    To the Philippines was very simple from my view, I was moving to another section of my company so they took care of all the visas, moving, etc… Consider working for an international company to get your overseas travel fix! Saves you money and gets you a career!

    To the UK was much harder, getting the visa alone cost $1500 and if my application was rejected there was no refund! Finding a job in the UK was also difficult over christmas, but thankfully my wife was able to support us until I found something. Thanks suger-mama!

  • Working holiday visas are definitely the easiest way to go. I’ve worked in the US and Canada while in my 20s and the working holiday visa wasn’t too hard to get (as long as you’ve got plenty of time to organise). Travel agents can be very good with this sort of information.

  • Working holiday is fine for people who can take the time off or are at University. What about young engineers who would like to continue working as an engineer overseas?

  • Don’t forget the E3 visa aussies are entitled too to work in America.

    All you need is a degree or equivalent. Get on a visa waiver to search for work over there, and then get the employer to sign an LCA (Labour Condition Agreement) head back to a consulate, and get your visa. Much better than a working holiday which restricts you to dealing with fat, obnoxious yank offspring

  • Both a friend and I want to live in Europe but we both are over the age for working visas and don’t have a profession that we can lever off. The concept of trying to find a job over there that would sponser you is hard before you leave is hard.

  • I’m self-employed and the nature of my work means I can work anywhere in the world using the internet. I’m 47 and was considering basing myself in another country for 3 months each year to experience the culture and language. Any advice anyone?

    • I’m in the same boat, currently working overseas. Unfortunately you’re not going to find much support out there for people in your position. Perhaps I was unlucky or simply didn’t find the right people to talk to, but I looked high an low for a way to do exactly what you’re asking about in a legitimate way… but to no avail. There seems to be no way for a self-employed person to work 100% legally at their own pursuits while in another country for longer than a few weeks (and even that would require proof that you’re travelling to a specific destination with a specific purpose for a specific period of time) – the best ‘official’ response I ever got was that for most immigration departments it falls into a grey area, because you’ve got no intention of entering the labour market of the foreign country, but at the same time you are planning on working (as opposed to visiting for recreational purposes).

      I wish there was something better I knew to recommend (aside from shelving your dream), but since I don’t… digitize everything work related so you don’t need to carry any work related paperwork, pack your suitcase as if you were going on holiday and just go on a year long “hiatus” with your laptop. Keep your finances in Australia and sort out a plan to access your money to minimise transaction fees and get yourself a flexi plane ticket so you can shift your return date around as much as you like up to a maximum of 12 months. You may not have the advantage of being < 30, but at your age I would imagine like me you probably have some money behind you that you can prove if necessary – that will ease your way significantly. If and when you get asked what you're doing? You're just a man taking a year to see the world 🙂

  • I moved from Australia to UK on working holiday and then transferred onto a work permit bearing in mind this was 15 years ago before the introduction of Tier 5, Tier 2, etc. It was really easy – the working holiday took 5 days to get issued and working in the UK was a great experience. Almost like a rite of passage there were so many of us there at once. Ended up staying 11 years.
    At one point I got offered a job in Chicago with H-1B sponsorship and I agonised for the longest time but in the end I wanted to get the British passport so I stayed in London. Would have liked to have worked in US or Europe at some point. Of course now you can use the Van Der Elst ruling to work in Europe under a UK Tier 2. I wish this was around ten years ago!

  • 3 months isn’t enough – I think 12 months minimum in each place would be better. I lived in Amsterdam for 6 months and then decided it wasn’t enough so ended up staying for 12 months instead. You only just feel like you’ve settled in after 6 months!

  • Hi Elly. I am 22. I have a qualification As a qualified chef. A passport and have traveled to other countries before. I’ll have atleast $6,000 with mewith research on a city I am aiming to go fo And with a holiday working visa whicj i am asuming is valid for 2 years from when approved. What are the chances of me going over their without accommodation or a job set up yet. Stay in hotels and travel a little bit hand out resumes then make friends and hopefully find a room. Or do they prefer that is all sorted out an better?

  • I Started a FB group to help Australians Living overseas like my self . I live in Montana USA. Our group name is Australians Living Abroad please join our group. Just started so its only small just yet but will grow I’m sure. Here is the link. We will be talking about almost anything to do with Australia.

  • Does anybody know if an Australian citizen is allowed to get more than one working holiday visa(not at the same time) within Europe? For example, a one year WHV for Denmark, then another one for a different country( or Denmark again) after the original one has expired?

  • Hi elly. I know this is a bit too late actually to comment on this post but I really look forward to your reply!

    I wanna ask sth. I’m a 19yo, Malaysian, who currently studying in Egypt, Bach. of Medicine. Now that I am stucked in a great dilemma – whether to continue studying Medicine, or to quit and go live somewhere like in UK (work as anything since the pay would be very much higher than in my country, so its gonna worth it). Lately the MYR currency is dropping, and so do my university fees. So this thing is kinda killing me and my parents to pay it yearly.

    If I plan to go to UK, do you think I can get a job somewhere? Be it waitress or even a shopkeeper, can I really get a job? I mean, do I have to possess anything in specific in order to get a job there?

    And yeah, about the accomodation, was planning to live in acquaintance’s house first (there might be one at least) and will later find a house to rent. So perhaps this is not a big deal to be worry about.

    In conclusion, can you please help me out of my situation now? Some few tips and advice will do. Thank you so much for your time!

  • Agree, it would be great if we didn’t have this nationalistic nonsense holding us back. It makes sense for countries like Singapore where its a necessity to prevent people from entering the country, and to an extent the USA because of how many people are trying to get in at any one time. But so long as you’re going from one similar country to another I don’t see the issue.

    As far as I’m concerned, it should be as simple as flying over, getting a job, and staying as long as you’re in that position. The visa rubbish is exactly that, it has no benefit at all.

  • Hi Kieren, I am currently applying for a 12 month position from Australia to the Philippines, similar to yours! I’m doing it through my current employer but the catch is that if I say yes its the whole year or nothing. What advice would you have for someone making this transition?


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