Travel TopOfBlogs Past and future wanderings of a travel bug . . .: Working Abroad--Why you should do it and why I wish I had done it sooner!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Working Abroad--Why you should do it and why I wish I had done it sooner!

In the streets of London.
I spent much of 2008 and 2009 living and working overseas.  Since I was young I had dreamed of experiencing life somewhere else in the world.  In retrospect it was an opportunity that I would not trade for anything.  I only have one regret and it's that I didn't do it sooner.

I recently received a message from an old friend of mine (who has been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in the UK herself) who was trying to help another friend of hers out in getting the type of visa I got to work in the UK.  I was more than happy to pass along any help that I could because I know how much that opportunity has enriched my life.  I  hope that the information I provided was of some help.  But that request also got me thinking--I wish I had known about these opportunities sooner.

Living and working in another country isn't just about earning pounds or euros when you are used to making dollars.  It's about learning about another culture, enjoying new food, friends and adventures.  If you are just getting started after finishing school a year abroad doing a job that may not be a career builder will not be a blight on your CV (or resume for those of us in North America).  Your time overseas can tell a possible employer that you are independent, adaptable, and willing to take on new challenges.  You just left everything that was familiar behind and journeyed out into the great unknown for heaven sakes!  Take a bit of credit where credit is due.

There are some great resources out there if like me you wish to spend some time abroad.  If you are a Canadian you should check out The Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada site - Canadians Travel and Work Abroad page.  This site lists destinations that young Canadians are eligible to participate in work exchange programs.  There are plenty of options, especially for Canadians, including the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Italy and Japan just to name a few. There is also a link on this page for young nationals of other countries who want information on coming to Canada to work for up to a year.  This page is a great place to start if you are still investigating the possibilities that are out there. Most work permits or visas available under these programs are require you to be between the ages of 18 - 30, however there are a few that participants can be eligible up to age 35.

If however,  you have already decided that you are ready to jump on the next plane there are a few things you need to consider first.

1.  For many of these programs you need to apply BEFORE you arrive in your destination country.  You have to prove a few things before you are accepted such as your age, your citizenship, and proof of sufficient funds to help support yourself when you arrive (or to purchase passage home.)  There can be other restrictions as well--research the program for the country you hope to visit.

2. In most cases once you have applied, paid the fee and ticked all of the other requirements off the list you will have to send your passport to the embassy or high commission of your destination country.  If all goes well it will be returned to you with a brand spanking new visa in it.

3. Some destinations will require you to have a valid return ticket when you arrive--if so don't purchase a one way ticket until you have checked this out.

4. Some programs restrict the type of work or the duration, ie you can only work for the same employer for 6 months on your permit.  Keep this in mind when looking for work.  However also keep in mind due to the magic of the internet you can begin your search for work even before leaving home.  A couple of sites I found helpful for my work search in the UK were WorkAbout and AnyWork AnyWhere and   If you looking for work in a specific field there are many other sites out there as well.

5.  You will probably need a tax number before starting work in your host country.  In Canada this is referred to as a Social Insurance Number, in the UK where I was working its called a National Insurance or NI number.  Apply for one as soon as you are able--usually once you have arrived.  Check into labour standards and minimum wages.  Know your rights as a worker!  Unfortunately some employers will try to take advantage of temporary foreign workers as they are more likely to get away with infractions.  I have my own story about this.

6.  A local bank account is helpful, especially when you are going to be in the same country for a significant amount of time.  It can be difficult to open as a foreigner walking into a bank in strange country so there are organizations that can help you get this done.  I used First Contact in London and setting up my account with HSBC was nice and easy (for a small fee of course).  First Contact or similar companies will help you out with other things as well.  If you are headed to another country inquire about similiar agencies that can help you get set up.  Once set up you will have a place to deposit and save your hard earned wages in the local currency.  The bank will likely also provide you with local cheques and a local debit card.

7.  Health Insurance!  This one I can't stress enough.  Foreigners are not often covered if they require medical attention outside of their home country and this can lead to big medical bills even for something as simple as a broken bone.  In some cases if you have a visa that is valid for work you may be covered as was the case with me while I was in the UK.  I learned after I was in A&E (Accident and Emergency)  that Canada has a reciprocal health agreement with the UK.  I had separate insurance as well but was lucky enough not to have to pay for anything and therefore I didn't need to make a claim.

So do your research and then have some fun--the experiences you have and the people you meet will teach you things that you can't learn in any book or by watching TV, or even surfing the web.  You will probably have the time of your life.  Life is to short not to take a chance once in a while.

So why do I regret not doing this sooner?  I got my visa after I turned 30, which is the cutoff age of many of the programs available.  If I had gone away sooner I probably would have taken advantage of the opportunity to have worked abroad in other countries as well.  But its a lesson learned and I still had the time of my life.  If you are thinking of working abroad and have any questions I might be able to help you with I invite you to drop me a line and I will try to cover any questions in a future post.

Until next time, happy travelling!


  1. Great post! Can I also recommend as a great place for UK visas, jobs and lots of useful stuff like that you've mentioned here! :)

  2. Thanks Pru! I agree that workgateways is a great resource for UK info. I used it myself. In fact I think the First Contact link in this post actually leads to that site. I was writing this post rather late last night so I am sure that I didn't include everything I wanted to. Thanks again!

  3. Hi, I'm sure you know this but New Zealand, Ireland, France and I believe Germany allow working holidays up until 35.

    I am Canadian and worked in the UK for 4 years (on a few different visas). I loved the experience and would love working internationally.


  4. Hi Miriam,

    You are absolutely correct. I'm afraid I didn't go into specifics in this post about cutoffs for various participating countries.

    I would love an opportunity to work abroad again myself as well and fortunately I still have a couple years yet as Germany ( I once studied German) or New Zealand would be excellent!

    Thanks so much for your comment.

  5. This is a really great post. I haven't found a lot of information for Canadians who want to work abroad, so this is very handy for me. I'm looking at working abroad, either temporary for the summer months, or in a few years after I graduate from college. I'll be close to 30, but I'll still be able work overseas. Thanks for this.

  6. Thanks Alouise! I can't say enough how worthwhile the experience was--even the things that weren't great at the time were valuable learning experiences if nothing else. When I was planning to work abroad I had a really hard time finding information about working overseas so I thought the best thing I could do is share my own experiences. If you have questions that I may be able to help with drop me a line!


Real Time Web Analytics