Ask An Adult: So I Want To Work Abroad – Now What?

More young people than ever are ditching the UK to work abroad. But how do you get a visa? And what happens to your mobile phone? Do you still have to pay tax? Arrgh! Illustration by Beth Hoeckel


by Stevie Martin |
Published on

Thinking about getting a job abroad and leaving the rain, emotional baggage and your arsey boss far, far behind? You’re not the only one. Recent stats show that a staggering 54 per cent of under 30s are leaving the UK’s crappy jobs market for a more exotic working environment, so if you’re looking to join them, we got four experts (three people who’ve actually done it and one professional whose job it is to know this stuff) to answer any questions you might have. Like, 'What do I pack?', 'Do I need to set up a new bank account?' and 'What’s a visa?' Because hey, it’s a big life decision. You don’t want to fuck it up.

Spoiler alert: there’s quite a lot of admin involved that you need to know about. Otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time crying at border control.

What in the name of arse is a visa?

If you’re going to an EU country, you don’t need to worry about this. If you’re going further afield, there are roughly 700 billion different kinds requiring different sorts of paperwork (read: ball aches) depending on the country. 'Working holiday visas are the easiest to get, and how long you can stay totally depends on the country – so for Canada and Australia, it’s a year and New Zealand it’s an oddly specific 23 months,' says Hollie Brooks marketing manager at BUNAC, who offer work and volunteer opportunities around the world.

Info for visas are on each country’s government website (you might want a gin and tonic before getting stuck in because my god they’re DRY) and you’d better triple-check things way in advance because countries will only release a certain amount per year and they can get snapped up pretty quickly. 'Canada releases 5000 a year, and they were gone in 40 minutes. I get lots of people saying "Oh, I want to work abroad in the next few months’ and you have to tell them that they just can’t!"' Hollie adds.

NB: If you want to work in the USA and you’re not a university student, it’s essentially impossible. 'We get so many enquiries from people who don’t realise that it’s just not going to happen unless you’re a uni student – in which case you can go for four months between June and September – or you can get a company to sponsor you,' Hollie adds. Transfers are a possibility so, for example, someone working at Google could go to America and work for the American branch, but they couldn’t work for any other company while they were abroad. Sorry wannabee Yanks.

S’alright I’ve got a boyfriend over there so we could get engaged and apply for an 'intention to marry' visa, right?

Yes, but make sure you research what’s needed because it can lead to what Becca (who lives and works in Australia) has affectionately termed 'a fucktastrophe' after filing for an ‘intention to marry’ visa for Australia. 'It cost $7000, required an HIV test, TB check, breast cancer check, and a barrage of documents including proof of contact while apart (the less dirty of the emails sent when we were in different countries), proof of how long we have been together, pictures, declarations from friends, statements from each of us saying how we got together and the names, birth dates and marriage dates of everyone in our immediate families.' She now can’t afford to leave the country even if she wanted to. 'I would advise that anyone moving country checks, checks and checks again what the situation is visa-wise. Getting caught out at the border is a horrible feeling and very upsetting,'. Also, bit of a buzzkill if you’ve just got engaged.

Do I need to know the language?

Some basic knowledge really, really helps. Scarlett, who moved to Berlin and got an internship at a start-up, can speak German: 'Knowing the basics mean you can get directions, doing admin is easier and you’re not so isolated,' she says. It also prevents any embarrassing mishaps; her non German-speaking friend moved to Berlin the day before her first job and had forgotten toothpaste, so popped into a pharmacy early the next morning to buy some. 'When she went to brush her teeth, it turned out she’d bought denture glue instead and ended up sticking both the toothbrush to her mouth, and her entire mouth shut.' Sometimes people (pharmacists) won’t help you, so you’ve got to be prepared to work stuff out for yourself.

What do I do with my phone and my bank account?

Unless you get a fancy company phone with work, you’ll need to get your phone unlocked and do fiddly sim-swapping shit like Scarlett: 'Argh it was a pain, and took three months to get sorted – when I finally got my phone unlocked, the new sim didn’t fit.' Her top tip? Cut it to size with nail scissors and file it down. No, seriously. 'This was a real life hack and I couldn’t believe it worked. I wouldn’t stop yelling about it to because I was so proud of myself.'

In terms of bank accounts, you’ll need to set up an entirely new one (unless you’re with HSBC). Anna, who moved to Belgium, warns that you’ll need to prepare yourself: “GETTING A BANK ACCOUNT WAS RIDICULOUS,” she yells. 'I didn’t have my ID card yet so the woman told me I needed an E84 form that you get when you register your refugee status, and when I told her I wasn’t a refugee she totally panicked.' Going through an organisation, like BUNAC means that all this stuff is taken care of: 'Bank accounts and changing your phone over can be a real nightmare when you’re over there, but we take look after it for anyone going through us,' says Hollie.

** Do I still pay off my student loan when I work abroad?**

Yes. And don’t forget, like Anna did: '[The UK] require copies of your salary statements to recalculate it every April. Otherwise they charge you £300 a month by default. I’ve had that happen to me. It's bullshit,' she remembers. While we’re on the subject of boring shit, be prepared for very different tax rules, too: 'In Belgium, tax on my hopeless salary is 40 per cent. I cried when I saw how much was being taken off my paycheck,' Anna remembers. 'Even though I’m as leftie as they come..'

What do I pack?!

'A good rule is to lay everything out on your bed, then halve it,' says Hollie from BUNAC – after all, you can buy stuff while you’re out there. In terms of your office wardrobe, it’s best to wait until you can figure out what everyone else is wearing before buying loads of pencil skirts. Plus, the temperature can be a confusing factor: 'Getting to work is so bloody hot, then the office is kept arctic with air con, plus you’re not allowed flip-flops or anything remotely tight or fitted, which meant I felt like a bag lady in the beginning,' says Becca.

** I’m going to an EU country. So I just get on a flight and it’s all gravy, yeah?**

Sure - but triple check what the rules are for declaring yourself a citizen once you get there, though, because that can be a fresh hell if you weren’t expecting it. 'I think there were seven stages and it took a year,' remembers Anna. 'I had to find the world's most unclear website and book an appointment. Once I had that appointment I had to turn up with endless documents.' What followed was a hilarious farce involving proof of address that Scarlett, over in Germany, got round by erm...a spot of forgery (WHICH, AHEM, WE ARE OBVIOUSLY NOT CONDONING): 'Within ten days of arriving in Germany you have to register, so you need proof of address, but you can only rent a place if you’re registered,' she says. 'I, erm, faked a letter from a landlord who had a flat I really wanted to move into. Thankfully, it was accepted and I got to move into that flat after all so it worked out…'

** Do I really need all those injections?**

Even if you’re going to be in an office all day, rather than rolling around in lagoons, shots are important. Getting them does cost money (and hurts) but it’s better to cough up cash than your own spleen, right guys? 'I've been really lucky and have never been sick in Asia at all, so I think I'm probably a god – I drink from the taps and have become incredibly blasé - but I wouldn't recommend that,' says Becca. 'I lived with someone in India who got so sick they had to go to hospital then get flown home proper emergency-style.'

** What if I get The Fear?!**

Anna got so homesick she cried. A lot. Becca thought she may have to spend Christmas alone in Malaysia. Scarlett arrived at a job and quit after five weeks because it was so awful. 'The Fear is actually really important. People who save up pots of money and then go abroad to find a job are often not very successful because they don’t have The Fear,' explains Scarlett. 'When I quit my job, I got The Fear - it means you’ll work extra hard, and it’s all about contacts. Loads of people go over there to do any job, and then start hunting for the job they really want.'

On that note, job hunting abroad isn’t as scary as you’d think either, says BUNAC’s Hollie: 'Although people can do research and have a look at the type of companies they’d want to work for in advance, it’s unlikely an employer will agree to hire you before you’ve gone over there anyway,' she says.

Bon voyage, guys.

Follow Stevie on Twitter @5tevieM

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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