How to Become an Expatriate – Step By Step

Expatriates work abroad in many different roles, from manual labour on farms to highly skilled surgery in hospitals. Often the type of work you are most suited for will have an influence on where in the world you wish to travel, as financial consultants are rarely needed in the same areas as fruit pickers.

Yet one thing all expatriates have in common is a long tussle with paperwork. Legally moving and finding work in another country is a lengthy process, requiring a lot of forms and applications to different governments. Part of the problem is the vast intricacies of different situations, so it is impossible to give specific instructions of exactly how to apply for a certain work permit or visa.

The first port of call for any prospective expat should be the embassy of the country they wish to move to, preferably to speak with an adviser in person who can answer any questions in greater detail. This is not always possible, particularly if the embassy is very far away, so another option is to arrange a telephone consultation. This can work as well as a face-to-face meeting and may be easier to organise, but the adviser may not have as much time to discuss technicalities with you.

However, most people do not scurry off to the embassy immediately after deciding they want to up sticks and move abroad. Research is often done online first, thanks to the interactivity of expat message boards and forums that allow established expats to trade information and offer advice to those starting out. There are dozens of such websites, but the risk with asking anonymous posters for help is that you cannot be sure they are in the same situation as you.

So let us take a hypothetical look at the entire expatriate process, giving a general view of the different steps and processes along the way.

expat travel photo

STEP ONE: Decide where you want to go, who will go with you, how long you wish to stay.

This will vary from person to person. If you are single, the process is slightly easier because you will only have to worry about finding one job, applying for one visa, sorting out one set of financial arrangements and moving one set of personal belongings.

If you are married or wish to move abroad with a partner, not only is there twice as much to organise but you may need to complete different paperwork. Often only one person will find work abroad to begin with, with their spouse or partner requiring a different visa, which may restrict or prevent them from finding a job. In some cases you may have to work and live in the country alone for a specified period before you can apply to bring your family with you. Taking children as well brings the added complications of childcare and schooling.

Length of visit may depend on many things as well – are you on a year-long sabbatical from your current role? Do you want to spend a couple of years abroad but return to your home country when the time is right to “settle”? Is the job a fixed-term contract? Or do you plan a permanent move with a view to applying for naturalised foreign citizenship if possible?

STEP TWO: Find a job in that country.

This is easier said than done, particularly after the global economic turndown caused some countries to reassess their foreign worker policies. Australia, for example, has a Skilled Occupation List of professions it considers have a lack of internal supply, and are open to overseas applications. In 2010, this list was cut from more than 320 to about 170 roles, leaving thousands of expatriates in jeopardy as their jobs are now supposed to be given to Australian nationals. It remains a general rule that you need to have a position lined up in the country before you are accepted if you intend to stay there for more than a few months. We wrote previously about working abroad in Australia in this blog post.

Working holiday visas allow travellers to pick up casual work here and there, but tend to carry their own time and occupational restrictions – you may only be allowed to do entry-level work for a maximum of three months, for example. This sort of visa is usually unsuitable for anyone wishing to move abroad permanently, unless you are accompanying a partner.

So how do you find a job? If you work for an international company, it may be possible for you to request a posting abroad, or apply for internal vacancies located in another country.

If this is not an option, job hunting for a foreign position is much the same as job hunting in your own country. The Internet is a valuable resource, as are overseas recruitment agencies that work for clients around the world. After uploading CVs and emailing application forms, interviews may take place via Skype, or the company may request you to visit the country temporarily for a face-to-face meeting and chance to experience the culture.

Dan Doyle, a web developer from Yorkshire, posted his CV to several agencies when he was looking for work after graduating. Months after he started a job in England, another firm unexpectedly asked him to fly to Gibraltar for an interview – it had noticed his qualifications online, even though he had not approached the employers for a specific role.

However, because of the lengthy approval process, many companies use agencies for their overseas recruitment, simply because it is cheaper than doing it in-house. Posters on expat forums can provide tips on potential employers, but are generally more helpful once you have a job offer already. If you want to take the initiative, JobMonkey has hundreds of overseas jobs listings on offer across dozens of sectors.

STEP THREE: Apply for the relevant visa.

Research aside, your new employers may be the greatest help in getting the correct paperwork. While they cannot apply on your behalf, in most cases they need to confirm the job offer or sponsor your application. Speaking to the HR department will give you a better idea of which forms you need, particularly if it is a large firm which hires many international employees.

While you are still in your home country, visa applications will usually be arranged through the relevant embassy, to organise the necessary paperwork to get into your new country. This is far from straightforward, as you will need to submit to a medical exam, provide supporting documents (such as a formal job offer) and fill in many forms about your personal, work, financial and tax history.

While some potential expats pay an external visa company such as VisaNow or legal firm to help them with the application, it is usually possible to complete the forms on your own. The trick is to be very through, complete everything to the letter, take multiple copies of all important documents in case you need them again, and – if in doubt – call the embassy to make sure you understand what is required. Bear in mind that many countries will require you to submit similar forms and evidence for a residence or work permit after you move.

To make life easier, it may be possible to apply and pay online, which allows you to save your details and check on your application’s progress, but you will still have to post supporting documents.

Again, each country is different and will probably require different details depending on your nationality. There is a lot of jumping through hoops, and you will have to pay hundreds of pounds for that important piece of paper or passport stamp. The process is expensive, and if your application is denied for some reason and you decide to reapply, there is a risk you will lose your initial payments and have to pay again.

STEP FOUR: Wait for approval.

This is the most frustrating part of the entire process, more than the initial job hunt. Moving to some countries ­- such as European Union citizens working in another member state – is relatively easy due to trade and movement agreements and you could be working abroad within six weeks ( Other countries, such as the USA, are notorious for not only requiring extremely detailed information about your employment, tax and personal history, but taking months to process it as well. People can wait years to receive a Green Card allowing them to stay in the USA permanently.

It is a good idea to tell your last few employers, landlords and banking providers about your new role, as they may be contacted. Very often there are strict financial requirements attached to becoming an expat, as you must prove you are able to support yourself in the new country. This could be through your savings or investments, or from a pension fund if you plan to retire abroad, but prospective workers need to show they have enough to survive on if they lose their job.

So let us assume, eight months or so down the line, the letter comes through and it is good news. You are on your way! And with the hard part over, now is the time to celebrate, right? Not exactly. You have passed the first few hurdles, but its still a long way to the finish. Check out the next blog to find out where you go from here.