Get clued up
Moving abroad is a scary but exciting prospect. After all, youre potentially moving away from everything that is familiar to somewhere full of new people whose culture, language and way of doing things may be completely different to what you are used to. However, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Living abroad makes you realise that your way of doing something is not necessarily the only way of doing something, says Nannette Ripmeester, managing director of Netherlands-based career consultancy Expertise In Labour Mobility. It gives you a greater flexibility of mind and opens your way of thinking, making you more aware of new ideas. Even if you dont end up working abroad for long, a lot of employers will value your experience of another culture.
So what are the key challenges of moving abroad? While each persons experience will be unique, there are some basic things that all migrants will need to be aware of. These can be categorised as follows: language and culture, paperwork, budgeting, accommodation and getting a job.
Language and culture
When it comes to living and working abroad, language can be the most difficult barrier to overcome. Jo Constantinides, originally from London, went to live and work in Barcelona. I had some Spanish lessons before I got there, she recalls. I was able to communicate on a day-to-day level but still couldnt really compete with the locals for jobs that required Spanish! Constantinides found that fluent Spanish speakers were taken more seriously when it came to the workplace. Catalan makes you more popular with the locals, but most businesses especially if youre going to work for a national or international company work in Spanish.
While a new culture is there to be experienced and enjoyed, it pays to know what is the done thing in your new country. Much of this can only be learned once you are there, but you can research in advance by talking to people whove lived there about their experiences. There is also likely to be an expatriate community to which you can hook yourself up. The Expertise in Labour Mobility website (www.labourmobility.com) has useful information on cultural differences and how they may affect your working life.
While the creation of the European Union has made it easier than ever to move between its member states to live and work, there is still paperwork that needs completing, and this is something that people often overlook. Even those that work for large multinationals and are being send abroad as expatriate are not exempt from paperwork, advises Nannette Ripmeester. If an EU national wants to work in another EU member state for a period longer than three months they need to complete some formalities, but the work permit is always granted.
For working in Belgium, for example, anyone wishing to stay for longer than three months will need to have a residents permit, which for EEA (European Economic Area) citizens involves having a valid passport or identity card from their country of origin, and registering at the town hall of where they intend to live within eight days of arriving there. You may also need to produce evidence of income.
Once residence paperwork is sorted out, you will be able to open a bank account and register for things like social security and healthcare, as well as paying tax. Christelle Chenard, originally from France and now a teacher in London, found this to be one of the simpler aspects of moving abroad. I remember it being easy enough to open a bank account, finding a GP and getting a social security number, she says.
It is worth finding out beforehand whether you need medical insurance cover countries such as the UK have a free healthcare service, but in others you will need to take out health insurance. Either way, you are likely to need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
The easiest (and often cheapest) way of getting accommodation is once youre in your city of choice. This is why many migrants use temporary accommodation, such as hotels and hostels, until they find a suitable place to rent. Renting accommodation can be quite costly and they often ask for six months deposit! says Constantinides of landlords in
Barcelona. And if anything goes wrong it seems to usually be the tennants responsibility to resolve it. However, it is advisable to be careful who you give your money to, as Chenard warns from past experience. I remember staying in a B&B near Shepherds Bush in London for a couple of weeks, and looking for a suitable flat in the area, she says. I lost about £300 to a deceitful estate agency: they never found me a flat and they disappeared when it was time to get my money back. Thats the only time I remember ever having been taken for a ride, though.
Getting a job
If you havent already got a job before you go, finding one once you are there can be the biggest challenge. Constantinides found that in Barcelona, many people gain employment through someone they know. I got a job in IT through a brother of a colleague of an uncle in Cyprus, she says. Getting a job through who you know is very common. They even have a term for it, which when translated, literally means plug, ie someone got plugged in by who they know. However, job agencies and local newspapers are also worth checking, as well as shop windows and the internet. Remember, once you are in your country of choice it becomes much easier to network, and youre more readily available to attend interviews.
However, if youd really rather get a job before making the move, please see our article on page 31 about how to look for work and network online.
Worth the effort
For those ready for the challenge, the benefits are quickly reaped. When I came back, I was much more open and friendly, Constantinides says. It was a very liberating experience for me. Quitting everything and going on an adventure into the unknown was very scary but very exciting.
Chenard still enjoys the buzz of living in a cosmopolitan city. To me, the rewards were exactly what I was after when I decided to live in London: the buzz of an ever-busy city, bursting with originality and energy, she says. Meeting people from other horizons to yours is also a great reward. It opens minds and requests a deeper questioning of oneself and the world.
(About the Author: Sara MacDonnell has edited numerous books and magazines about careers and higher education.)