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Working Overseas: It Takes More than a Passport

By Amy Yelin

You know you want to work internationally. Perhaps you studied abroad and are now sold on the notion of living and working overseas.

The excitement of working internationally often comes from the novelty and adventure of living in a foreign culture, and not from the job itself.

Or maybe you simply crave adventure and find the idea of adapting to a foreign culture an exciting and challenging prospect. Whatever the reason, you're ready to jump on the next plane for London, or Hong Kong, or some other exotic location.

But Wait. Don't go anywhere yet. Please.

The fact is, many people have unrealistic expectations about international work, which can lead to disappointment and frustration in the long run. So, before you pack your bags, take this short True-or-False quiz and see how much you really know about working internationally.

1. It's easy to get a job overseas.
FALSE. If you're looking for legal employment overseas, be prepared for possible obstacles. Required work permits and other bureaucratic measures make landing a job in many foreign countries quite difficult. In countries that are members of the European Union, for example, obtaining a work permit is virtually impossible without a job offer, and job offers tend to require work permits first!

One way of getting around all this red tape is to go through an organized work abroad program, like the Council for International Education Exchange (CIEE), WorldTeach or the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. For a fee, these programs can help you obtain overseas employment by granting necessary work permits, and often provide job placement services and housing assistance as well.

2. All international jobs are glamorous and exciting.
FALSE. While some jobs can be exciting, many are not. Many recent graduates seek temporary positions in order to live overseas for short periods of time. Restaurant and resort work, employment as an au pair or nanny, and teaching English are the most popular options, and while they may be fun in the short term, they are usually less than glamorous. In fact, the excitement of working internationally often comes from the novelty and adventure of living in a foreign culture, and not from the job itself.

3. Not all "international" jobs are based overseas.
TRUE. When it comes to work, the word "international" does not necessarily mean overseas -- at least not at first. While the term certainly includes employment in foreign countries, many international jobs are also located in the U.S. In fact, the majority of career-oriented entry-level positions -- such as those in business, non-profit service, and government -- are often based out of the States.

So what makes them "international"? Most include opportunities for international travel, as well as exposure to the global operations of a business. And in most cases, opportunities to transfer overseas increase with time and experience.

4. I need to know a foreign language to work overseas.
FALSE. Many jobs do not require language skills, and many -- especially in government and private business -- are willing to train you if they do. However, while language proficiency may not be mandatory for a job, it certainly helps when living abroad and can make otherwise challenging tasks, such as finding an apartment or using public transportation, a whole lot easier.

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