Monday, November 29, 2010

What opportunities are there?

For the first few posts to this blog, I'll just be laying out background information for people and naturally, "how do I get there?" is a big one. First off, you have to know why you want to move to another country. It's not just going to magically happen. You have to plan and if you don't know why you're doing this, you can't plan. For example, if you don't plan on living outside your home country permanently, maybe trying to marry into another country isn't your best bet.

First, let's be honest. There are three things which make moving to another country easier. Having a college degree, being single, and being young. Many country's immigration systems look for those three things. That being said, I've also met plenty of expats for whom this is not true. You don't need those qualities, but if you're a 52 year old high school dropout who's worked in fast food restaurants your entire life, you're probably not going to get accepted into any highly skilled migrant programs; you just need to figure out a different way of going about it.

Scams.

A word of warning: if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it is. In particular, women should be worried about jobs as "au pairs" or "hostesses" which offer to fantastic opportunities. Human trafficking is still one of the most common and lucrative crimes in the world, though the press often ignores it. It's also not always hooking a girl on drugs, beating and raping her and forcing her into prostitution. Sometimes it's as seemingly benign as taking away her passport and then not paying her for maid duties. It happens to American women, too. It's not just some poor slavic or asian girl who didn't know any better. Be sure to do your research carefully. If you accept, contact your embassy as soon as you arrive, let everyone know where you're going and make it clear that if you don't contact friends/family shortly after you arrive, something's gone horribly wrong.

Teaching English Abroad

Do your research here as this is your best bet unless you have specialist skills. In fact, I've read a number of accounts of people just buying a ticket to a target country and finding this work under the table. Due to the popularity of the English language, there's a huge market for teaching English abroad. There are various certificates available for teaching English as a foreign language and you probably want one of those as it will open up career paths, but failing that, many people report simply being able to go abroad, scan the papers and get a job. You really want to do your research on this one. Allegedly, Hong Kong prefers British English and Japan prefers American. Some countries have a higher demand than others and presumably a higher tolerance for you staying past your visa time

Teaching English
Photo by Neale Bryan
One good resource for teaching English is the ICALwiki. Though it's affiliated with an organisation which offers ESL certification and is thus commercial, it still has plenty of high-quality content. You may be specifically interested in their country files. See their wiki page for teaching English in China for a good example.

I've also heard anecdotally that this book is a great guide to teaching English overseas, but I can't actually vouch for it. However, there are still plenty of other resources which can help you with finding an English teaching position overseas.

Volunteering

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer to work abroad. Many non-profits welcome volunteers with little or no experience, but you often have to pay your own way. If you're looking for a short-term break and have some cash saved up, why not do a good deed and help out? The problem is that there are many scams out there and even volunteer opportunities which are not scams can be expensive. Here's a great article explaining what's going on and good international volunteering blog.

Working Remotely

Next, consider "work anywhere" jobs. These are becoming more common, but they often require an internet connection or phone line (something hard to acquire if you've just bought a plane ticket and jumped on). There are plenty of positions available as freelance writers, translators, medical and legal transcription, data entry and so on. If you have programming skills, there are tons of remote jobs available. Many of these jobs require special skills, but others do not. Also, be aware that some are scams and they'll pay little or no money, but if you can get a remote job, many people just travel from country to country, simply leaving before their visa time limit expires. If you get such work, Uruguay is a great destination, but I'll cover that in a later blog post.

High demand/low supply skills

I'm sure there are many areas for which this is true, but I mostly know the tech arena, so I'll focus on that.

If you know much about the "dot com boom" of the 90s, you know that to get a good paying job in tech, often all you had to have on your résumé was HTML. Today HTML is like typing: it's taken for granted that you know it. However, there are still plenty of opportunities here. For example, COBOL is easy to learn and it's still the most widely used programming language in the world (though it doesn't get much press). As a result, there are COBOL jobs all over the place and many companies desperate for COBOL programmers will import them. My specialty, Perl, is another good example. Due to a silly Perl is dead meme going around, some programmers aren't going into the language, but there's still a huge demand for it when compared to many of its major competitors:

"perl developer","python developer", "ruby developer" Job Trends graph
"perl Developer" jobs - "python Developer" jobs - "ruby Developer" jobs


Thanks to this, I get to travel all over the world. Perl's still incredibly popular, but due to a weird technological culture shift, demand has dropped relative to supply. That will change again, but for now, it's a great opportunity (and if you're curious, you can see that it's remained one of the 10 most discussed programming languages for many years).

What this "high demand/low supply" strategy means is that you can take advantage of this. Get a bit of experience in your field and if something starts getting popular fast, learn just enough about it to put it on your CV/résumé and start contacting recruiters/companies abroad. For a while, Ruby on Rails seemed like the hottest thing in tech and companies were even contacting me for Rails jobs, even though I didn't know Ruby (this happened twice). A programmer with Rails "experience" could have a chance at converting this into a legitimate job overseas. It's not easy, but you can do it.

To learn more about the general high demand/low areas for your target country, try searching for "shortage occupation" for said country. You might be surprised. For example, the UK shortage occupation list (pdf) has social workers in child and family services, but who would have thought that "social worker" is a high demand job? You should also check out the Australian skilled occupations list. Don't just focus on Europe!

Conclusion

If you really want out of your country, for whatever reason, you can. You just have to remember that it will take time, effort, and research. Read other traveller's accounts of their adventures. Some people just drive down to Mexico and work under the table. Others work study for a TESL certificate and start applying like mad to any place which will sponsor you (or they fly to their target country and start working). Still others find jobs they can do remotely or save money to travel around India for a few months. You can make this happen, but you have to make it happen. Wishful thinking is the start of the process, not the end.

Good luck and happy travelling!
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