Opportunities Overseas

Last month, I posted an essay from a father in Spain (where the unemployment rate is more than 25 percent) who wrote about watching his daughter leave the country in search of a job. The Washington Post had a piece this weekend about Americans who are leaving the country to do the same: look for jobs that pay a decent salary and provide good benefits rather than continue their fruitless job hunt, or settle for jobs that underpay:

When Liz Jackson, 31, earned her PhD in educational policy from the University of Illinois, she hoped to find a job as an assistant professor. She applied for about 50 jobs in 2010. But U.S. colleges and universities were shrinking; layoffs and hiring freezes were rampant. Jackson’s only nibbles of interest came from the Middle East and Asia.

She ended up taking a position as an administrator at a university in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. There, in addition to a tax-free salary of $45,000, she was given a three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment to live in rent-free, plane tickets for her and her husband to visit the United States every year, 44 annual paid vacation days, an $8,000 moving allowance, and a promise to help find a job for her husband, who’s a physicist. Plus, there was great health insurance, with no co-pays, dirt-cheap drugs and free dental coverage. This was a major draw for many of Jackson’s friends, almost all of whom are fellow Americans.

“We can pay off our student loans in the next six years,” Jackson says. Together, she and her husband owe about $200,000. “That would be impossible in the United States.”

A few Billfold readers have moved abroad and found similar success. I would have liked to see the WaPost provide some examples of people who went abroad and found the move wasn’t as ideal as they originally thought it would be, but maybe those stories aren’t as prevalent as those who’ve found a way to thrive. Also, because of the U.S. foreign earned-income exclusion, you don’t have to pay U.S. taxes on money you earn abroad (or at least up to $95,000 in 2012), and income tax in places like Hong Kong are generally lower than in the U.S.

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17 Comments / Post A Comment

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

I’m surprised that trend pieces like this are only now starting to appear. I’ve felt for years that some of the best options for educated young people are overseas. Higher wages and a quality of life more in line with ones education are pretty appealing. I’m surprised at how resistant many Americans are to seeking opportunities abroad. As a long term strategy life as an expatriate is challenging but working abroad for a few years post-college can be an excellent way to get your loan debt under control and still have something that resembles a personal life. I greatly preferred working overseas and being well compensated to the uphill battle that is life here at home.

julebsorry (#1,572)

@EvanDeSimone I think many of us are attached to our families, and feel strange moving so far away from them for extended periods of time. I moved to NYC to pursue opportunities not available to me in the rural south (where my family lives), and even just that relatively shorter distance causes all sorts of practical and emotional complications.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@EvanDeSimone Maybe a lot of people don’t know about the opportunities? Because this sounds awesome to me, but I wouldn’t even know where to look for overseas jobs that I could possibly qualify for.

sventurata (#27)

@EvanDeSimone For myself, I don’t have the funds to put my gear in storage, buy a plane ticket, and restart adulthood yet again.

It’s a gamble – who’ll take the cat while I figure life out? What if it’s a scam? What if I hate it and am trapped thousands of miles from “home”?

Some people are adventurous and take it in stride. Others are forced into economic refugeedom. I’d prefer to stay where I am, where I belong, in my familiar community as long as I can.

I didn’t move to the UK specifically to make more money, and actually, getting a masters degree here was quite expensive because of international student fees. So I have loads of student debt still, and I don’t have a particularly high-paying job, but that’s more because I work in the arts than because of what country I’m in.

All that said, I do think I have enjoyed a higher quality of life here than I would do if I were in the US. I don’t have to worry about health insurance, I get scads of holiday, public transport is excellent and I only ever wish I had a car for trips to IKEA or something, and the UK laws on how animals need to be raised and stuff like that ensure that I can get much higher welfare food here much more consistently and affordably, which is important to me, and is hard for me to do when I come back to the US to visit.

So, while I don’t think I’m doing better on the money front, there’s a lot to be said for the security and comfort of free healthcare, plenty of time to take holidays, the ability to live without a car, and knowing the animals I eat had a happy life. I really do hope I get to stay here.

faustbanana (#2,376)

@Kate Amann@twitter I too went to grad school in the UK, and thought it was a great deal. It still cost me about 40k all told, but that covered my tuition and other school stuff, rent, general expenses, and many, many pints. I was in a one year program, so for that price I got a masters in half the time it would have taken here, and got to live abroad. The tuition alone would have been more than 40k if I’d stayed here for grad school. Not to mention the non-monetary value of the friends I made, the opportunities I had, and the chance to develop a crippling addiction to Coronation Street.

I kind of lucked out on the post-school job front. I contracted for my company in the States while I was in England, and when I finished school they offered me my job back, at a higher salary. I went overseas for school not necessarily to pad my resume, but for the experience, so I was OK with going back to my old job. I also finished school in September 2008, so I was just happy not to be living outside at that point.

Okay, so where specifically can you look to FIND these opportunities abroad? I don’t often see them in the usual job listings, aside from the usual teaching-English-abroad jobs.

Mike Dang (#2)

@werewolfbarmitzvah From what I’ve seen, many of the jobs are tech and academia-related, and I think another common way people do this is to take the teaching-English-abroad job, which is an easy in, and then live on that income while looking for other opportunities. Sometimes the job hunt gets easier and broader once you’re in a country and already have a visa.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

@werewolfbarmitzvah Job boards like “Gulf Talent” are a good place to start, but honestly, in UAE, it’s very common for people to come as “tourists” and then convert their visa once they find an employer.

Out of my social circle in UAE, I could have very easily found you a lot of people who had bad experiences – one UK woman who came to work for an advertising agency, which didn’t pay her for 6 months. A few consultants who found the ethics of their employer highly questionable. Various IT professionals who found their agreed to homes or salaries not up to par. English teachers with stories of crazy out of control students and no support from administration. Of course, they were all still there, mostly by choice. And I know lots of people who loved it.

There was also a huge different in UAE between being a native English speaker educated in the west (and how you were treated, paid, the opportunities available to you) and the experiences of other Gulf nationals, Asia sub-contintent workers, Phillipine nationals. Really shocking, actually.

selenana (#673)

@Mike Dang I taught English for several years, and am now working as a temp at a tech firm (just got extended again, what started as a three month gig is going to be at least nine). Here in Japan the places for international folks to find jobs both English teaching and non are Gaijin Pot, Daijob, and occasionally Craiglist.

Otherwise, I think there are industry specific places to look. My ex is a graphic designer and used AIGA to find overseas job opportunities (including a teaching position in UAE – that seems to be really common). If you have an advanced degree, you may be able to find a teaching position in an overseas college or university – just google universities in the country you want to live in and check out their job postings. In Asia, it seems like companies like Bloomberg and Merrill Lynch are always hiring.

Of course, having a working knowledge of the local language is a huge asset. My opportunities outside of teaching were severely limited until I got enough language under my belt to survive in a Japanese office environment.

Keck (#2,466)

Don’t forget that the UK is an expensive place to live. I interviewed for positions in the UK (and Australia) just two years ago. There are plenty, but the average salary for my profession was $20,000US LESS than is offered here. Plus high cost of living added to my high student loans (and was my partner going to be able to find a job? or even get a visa? and what about the pets?). I couldn’t justify the move.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

Ok, this may be a dumb question, but can someone explain how taxes work if you’re an American working overseas? I know everything below $80k or so is exempt from US federal taxes, but do you have to pay taxes on it in the country you’re living in?

Alice (#392)

@WaityKatie You do have to pay taxes in the country you’re living in. Which makes sense, since you’re living in that country and using it’s services. I’m Canadian, and have lived in the UK for years. I pay tax here, and haven’t paid Canadian taxes since I left, except for last year when I earned some money through a property sale.

I’ve always thought it was crazy that the US can tax you for money you make while working and living abroad (although I guess only over a certain amount). That makes no sense to me.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@Alice Hm, so that makes working abroad less appealing to me from a let-me-pay-off-my-loans standpoint (although not from an awesome adventure standpoint). A lot of other countries have way higher tax rates than the US! (although still maybe not higher than the exorbitant local plus state plus federal rate I pay in NYC? Hard to know…)

Alice (#392)

@WaityKatie I know there are tax calculators for the UK like this one: http://www.listentotaxman.com/. I’m sure they exist for other countries too.

I definitely don’t think that Western Europe is the way to go if you’re looking to save lots of money. I think the cost of living is comparable. Some things are more, some are less, but it essentially all evens out. (Also, don’t forget that you won’t have to pay for health insurance! That’s a big savings for most people.)

If you’re looking to make enough to seriously save, you’ve got to go somewhere where the cost of living is way lower.

Markham (#1,862)

I’ve thought about this topic for a while, especially since I have dual citizenship (UK) and have had some overseas opportunities, quick thoughts:

Don’t judge things by success stories. Sure there are opportunities specifically geared towards foreigners (or Americans) overseas, and/or places with more opportunities than people to fill them, BUT…..

…thinking that foreign countries (many of whom have their own issues economically) are just these huge lands of opportunities presupposes that the native born citizens are either not smart enough to take advantage of the opportunities in their own country, aren’t aware, etc., which begs the question of why would the opportunities exist in the first place.

Meaning: yes you can find a job board with some jobs geared towards us Yanks, but if you were to look at the job market on aggregate and consider few Americans are looking for those jobs and start doing the math, it really means there are a few opportunities out there that no one is really looking at, so it’s not a broadband solution.

I also think people do trade-off math: as in my gf and I would probably be willing to earn 1/2 of our collective income to be able to live in say the UK or Hong Kong for a year, but would it really be a better career and financial opportunity?

No.

Other trade-offs abound:

My gf and I joke about our lives together as 80 year olds, but we have zero intentions of getting married. Meaning: if we were to move to Dubai we could go to jail for well, enjoying each other’s company, or due to the fact that she’s really affectionate.

Maybe being a child of immigrants who reads the economist makes me jaded, but while I think there are “some” opportunities overseas, I think people’s expectations are a bit inflated.

Plus as another poster noted a lot of developed nations have significantly higher taxes than us, PLUS VAT with a value added tax that really adds up because everything in the supply chain is taxed.

Overall the US has one of the lower tax rates by developing nation standards: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/tax_hig_mar_tax_rat_ind_rat-highest-marginal-tax-rate-individual

Also cost of living is a big issue too, or scarcity of things, etc. Even if you get a low tax rate like Hong Kong the cost of living is really high, especially if you want to get an apartment with a proper shower and not a shower head that’s over the toilet.

Anyway, I find these discussions kind of funny because I work with a really international company, have a lot of friends who live in other countries and they often want to come HERE or get the best of both worlds.

Plus – like I said, there are horror stories.

The best stories I’ve heard personally are people who went overseas to work for the American company they already worked for.

In any event – my GF and I are trying to help some of our foreign national friends find jobs here, as in people who live in developed affluent nations. So…….

Grass isn’t always greener, mileage varies WILDLY.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@Markham I wish there was a way to do some kind of magical job-life swap with one of these foreigners who wants to come here. They can come have my NYC life and (ahem, crap) job for a while and I can have their wherever-they-live life and (possibly also crap) job. Then we can both switch back and appreciate what we have (?)

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