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The Pros and Cons of a Career Abroad

Moving abroad has a huge impact not only on your personal life, but on your professional life too. Earning a living in another country can be the start of an international career and network to match, but there can also be some down sides. Here are the pros and cons to keep in mind when deciding to live and work overseas.
Communication is key to working in an international environment

Pro: Experience the Global Marketplace

With ecommerce and international trade playing such a big role in today’s business world, moving to another country can help you join the dots and see the global marketplace from another perspective. If you do decide to move home, you’ll be the “expert” on your destination country, which can help you get noticed at work. You’ll also significantly expand your professional network, making sure that even if you don’t know the answer, you can get in touch with someone that will.

Con: Interrupted Career Progression

“Out of sight, out of mind” can be a phrase that’s all too familiar for expats. Even if you stay with the same company, not being around every day or working in a different time zone can mean that good impressions fade and you’re no longer first in line for promotion. In your destination country, a lack of local experience or limited language skills can mean that you’ll have to take a more junior position, which can feel like a step back professionally.

Pro: Cross-Cultural Communication

Having to navigate the world of work in a different language or even just as part of a different culture will make you a better communicator. Instead of rapidly typing an email or responding in a meeting, working abroad refines that brain-mouth filter by making you more aware of the different ways an email or conversation could be interpreted. Wherever you end up working, great communication skills will be an asset.

Con: Office Politics in a Second Language

Getting along with colleagues is important for a productive work environment. But cultural nuances and ways of communicating in the workplace can vary dramatically between countries; while in some countries, like Germany and Finland, direct communication is valued, others, like China, put the concept of maintaining “face” at the heart of business transactions. Navigating these cultural differences — potentially in another language — can make a day at the office pretty stressful.

International teams need to communicate to work well together.

Pro: Diversify Your Income

At a time when it’s hard to predict what’s coming next politically, having income in a different currency can be a good way to spread risk and secure your financial future. For example, there’s been 30% more variation in the Pound’s value compared to the value of the Euro over the past two years. If you’re particularly concerned about the economy back home, moving can also be a way to unlock better job opportunities and salaries in a more stable economic environment.

Con: Hidden Costs of Living Abroad

From buying your plane ticket to getting your possessions to your new home, everyone knows that the move itself is expensive. But the costs don’t stop once you arrive. Whether it's figuring out foreign tax systems (or paying for help to do so) or contributing to different models of medical care and social security, moving abroad is a significant — and ongoing — investment. Even if you’re moving somewhere with lower living costs, budget for the unexpected.

Pro: Experience Different Ways of Doing Business

Studying a particular discipline then working in that field in the same country means you have a fairly fixed set of assumptions and expectations. Seeing how a different country approaches your sector and business in general can be a great way to open up your mind to new ways of doing things. The best part? You’ll take those learnings with you wherever you go.

Con: Feeling Transient  

Even if you’re adamant you’re staying for good, employers tend to assume that expats won’t stick around, often giving you a limited-term contract. While this offers a certain amount of flexibility, it can make your stay abroad feel quite transient, and a particularly short contract can cast a shadow over your time abroad by making you worry about finding work.

Working abroad helps you experience different ways of doing business

Pro: See the World

If you’ve got the travel bug, there’s nothing better than working abroad. Not only do you get to experience the country at a much deeper level, you get paid to do so! Rather than passing through for two weeks, you actually get to know a country’s personality and culture firsthand; it can also be a good opportunity to explore neighboring countries. If you’re learning a language, immersing yourself in the country can also be a great way to quickly improve your skills.

Con: Less Job Flexibility

Love your new country but hate your job? Unlike back home where you can shop around if a role isn’t for you, working abroad may mean your job and visa are linked: quitting might mean heading home. Even if you’re not restricted by a visa, language skills or a lack of local experience may also mean that your escape options are limited.

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