IT Employment

Got the travel bug? Consider contracting outside the United States

If you've considered working outside the United States, but you haven't taken the plunge yet, here's what you need to do before you pack your bags.
 Editor's note: This article, which originally published on September 10, 2001, was updated by TechRepublic blogger Susan Harkins.

Did you miss out on the study abroad program when you were in college? Have you thought that it would be great to experience a foreign culture by actually living there?

For a consultant, packing your bags and leaving the States for a time is a less radical idea than for many other people -- after all, you're accustomed to change, and you don't have to change the type of work you do. Chances are, you could leave as soon as you wrap up your current contract.

You can approach working abroad in two ways: Find the project first and let your employer initiate the work permit and visa process or apply for the permit first and then try to find the job.

The right approach depends on the country you want to work in and your tolerance for bureaucracy and uncertainty. But there's no better way to experience another country than to work there, which enables you to develop associates and friends in a context you'd never access as a tourist.

In this article, I'll discuss where to look for information about work permits and visas for the country that piques your interest.

Finding visa information for specific countries

The main obstacle you'll encounter in trying to find work overseas will be in securing permission to work there. Basically, you'll need one or more of the following:

  • A work visa
  • A work permit
  • A short- or long-term residency visa

Because requirements differ from country to country, you'll need to do a lot of research. In some countries, you can't apply for a work visa until a company in that country offers you a position and obtains a work permit for you. This often becomes a Catch-22: Companies can't afford to wait until you get the visa, so they won't hire you if you don't have it.

In other countries, you can apply for a work visa without sponsorship or a work permit, but the application process may take three to six months or longer. Fortunately, as a contractor, you may have the option of continuing to work stateside on short contracts while waiting for your visa application to be processed.

Many countries allow you to visit for a period of time either without a visa or with a tourist visa. Be aware that employment under a tourist visa is always illegal. Test this rule, and you could incur unpleasantries ranging from immediate deportation to an extended tour of a foreign prison.

Internet resources

Here are the best Internet resources I've found for locating visa information:

  • At Workpermit.com, you can find information about working in European countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Japan. It also has a special immigration guide for IT professionals and contractors. Although this site assumes you plan to immigrate, not merely work short-term, much of its information is still relevant. In addition, some of the information is geared toward employers and not individuals. Workpermit.com can also pass on your interest to recruiting agencies; follow its Jobs link to submit your resume.
  • Anywork Anywhere is a fun site that lets you search for visa information and embassies by country. Although this site seems geared to students, the visa and work guides are valid for everyone.

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Where to go

Language should be your first concern. Unless you're fluent in a foreign language, destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom will best suit most American contractors. However, you may be able to get by in The Netherlands and Belgium, where English is the tongue of most technical work.

For work in other countries, you'll usually need to be familiar enough with the language to think in it.

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Contact the embassy

If you don't find what you're looking for at these sites, your next best bet is to check the country's embassy Web site. It's best to start with the one for the embassy located in the United States because it's most likely to be in English. You can usually find it by typing "Country" embassy into a search engine.

You should always contact the embassy to inquire whether obtaining a short-term business visa is a possibility. If you're doing contract work, you may need only a 60- or 90-day visa, which, if offered, is much easier to get than a long-term work permit.

Look for special loopholes

Also be on the lookout for special exceptions that may get you into the country faster or more easily. For example, Ireland's technology growth has spurred the Irish government to institute a fast-track system for applications from non-EU IT professionals and technicians. At visafirst.com, you can actually check your status for obtaining an Irish green card, online (with a passport number).

You may find other such special conditions. U.S. citizens can take advantage of the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty. If the nature of your business is trade -- such as in computer hardware or software -- it's fairly straightforward to set up a branch of your office in The Netherlands and obtain a residence permit.

As you can see, investigating your opportunities for working abroad isn't for the lazy. But don't be discouraged by what you've read so far -- if you have the right skills, many foreign companies will assist you in any way they can.

Do your research

While your experience abroad will probably be rewarding and exciting, go prepared. The U.S. Consular of Affairs runs an agency that helps U.S. citizens abroad when in need. This site might be the place to start your research. As hard as it is to get into some countries, it can often be just as hard to get out. Check the International Travel site for more information on how the U.S. government can help you if you find yourself in distress abroad. In addition, you'll find a lot of good general information about every country in the world.

Part two

In the next installment in this three-part series, I will discuss how to find contracts from foreign clients and -- if the obstacles to working abroad seem like too much -- alternative arrangements that enable you to work in a foreign country.

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21 comments
mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

You are putting yourself in an exposed situation even in the best of conditions. I have friends who have been tossed in jail, stranded by revolutions and abducted. Many of these situations created by circumstances that rapidly developed beyond their control.

hcombs
hcombs

When my children went off to College I decided I would find work abroad. I quickly found out that an independent contractor faces huge obstacles in working overseas. I looked in the UK and other EU countries and found that I had to be sponsored by a company for a work permit and that meant going the full time employee route. After several trips to London to meet with prospective employers, I convinced a small firm in Nottingham to hire me. Then my application for work permit had to be approved by the UK government and I had to convince them that my specialized experience could not be found in the UK. It took six months from the time I got the offer to the time I arrived in the UK with my permit in my passport. I stayed there one glorious year before a death in the family made me return to the US. Two years later I decided to go back to the UK but took a different route this time. I contracted to a US firm with offices in London, I made my desire to work in London known, visited the offices and managers there, and was offered a position. The big international firm handled all the vetting I had had to do myself before and in just 2 months I was back in the UK. After living there for 3 years I was offered a transfer to Hong Kong. After my firm went bankrupt in 2002 stranding me in Hong Kong, I found that New Zealand has a very welcoming attitude to skilled, English speakers. I worked in New Zealand for 3 years before coming back to the US. Working and living abroad is fantastic and a wonderful way to see the world and broaden your horizons. Everyday is an adventure.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

If your parents or grandparents were born in the UK and your birthday is prior to 1983, you may be eligible for automatic British Citizenship or a five-year work permit. (Keeping in mind that SOME countries do not allow 'dual-nationality' -- so this program may or may not be of interest.) The information is here: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/britishcitizenship/eligibility/registration/britishmother/ Application forms are here: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/applicationforms/nationality/ukm The benefit of having EU citizenship is that it allows you to live and/or work in ANY of the European Union member states -- opening up HUGE work opportunities for high-end professionals which are scarce in many countries.

Alces
Alces

Funny: There are masses of people objecting to and complaining about handing out work visas for foreigners in the US, because it takes away jobs etc. And here is a manual how to do the same thing in reverse. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". The article is good, I am not against people working in foreign countries (no matter which role the US plays, sender or receiver), I am just making a point that the grumblers should consider that this also happens in reverse.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Jeez they'll let anyome in... :D I'd recomend a stint abroad to anyone, just the change in the social context, even if you are doing the same old sh*te, is a rewarding learning experience. Not to mention the beer is better. You should have added a picture of you supping a pint of Theakstons Old Peculiar, while wearing a Leeds Utd shirt, with a loverly northern lass on your arm Marty.

jck
jck

What does an IT person do? Sit here and weave baskets and collect welfare?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

does, competing would be a better description. Anyone know how many full brits are on H1B? Most would say "you want me to what", tell you go forth and urinate and then about face. US and UK attitude to work is very different, we gave up indenturing a century or two ago.

Alces
Alces

And why is this thing always replying to the first posting when instead I click "New comment?" Isn't supposed to be a reply, or maybe I should get out if IT into the corn farmer field or so if I can't manage that :)

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Don't know if you've heard but Annheiser-Busch (sp? who knows/who cares it's all p.w.) is suing a Canadian brewery (Brick) for selling Lager & Lime (not the brand name but the Brits will understand the reference) .... Seems the Yanks think they invented Lager & Lime! (Scary thing is it's their version of a white beer they've dumped lime into). The real frustrating thing about this is that Brick is one of our mid-sizers and actually sells half decent beer and ales. Oh, well too early in the day for me... Oops just realized it's after 1 ... hmm nope got work to do.... :D

jck
jck

Does this mean I can come do your PC support, Tony? :^0 I'd love to have a stop at the pub for a pint or two each evening before heading home. Just can't do that here where I live...considering the walk home would be 40 miles, and there's not any good pubs between here and there to lure me to go by foot. :^0

jck
jck

This guy seemed fully Irish born and raised to me. Although, he did have a penchant in the hours I chatted with him to leave to go to the bookmakers to place bets. I'd have just stayed in the warm pub and had pints. To heck with the bets. :^0 My goodness....My Guinness! :D

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Certainly common up North, like the denizens. :p

jck
jck

Was from this bloke named Andy I met at a pub in Dublin. He told me: "You Americans live to work. We Irish work to live. If I have enough in my pocket for a couple of pints at night and to put clothes on my wife and babies and feed them, then I'm a happy man." That is the attitude I want to live in. Just one of the reasons I liked Ireland so much. Everyone realized that family and life is most important. Glad to hear the UK is like that too, by the sounds of it.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Now that gave me a good giggle. :^0

seanferd
seanferd

a wedge of lime stuffed into a bottle of porter or stout. :-&

jck
jck

Americans created that... Al Gore created the internet... and Henry Ford made the first car! The land of milk and honey is now the hood of crack and weed.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

There are certain types who drink lager and black as well (blackcurrant cordial). We have a name for them up north... Now a bottle of Corona, with a wedge of lime stuffed in the top, when you are chilling out the day after a heavy one, that's okay. Even a glass of ice cool Lime and lemonade if it was well past sensible last night. Fruit juice and beer though, not happening.

jck
jck

Might have on one of my nights in Dublin or Edinburgh when I was a bit more than tipsy. :^0

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