Few experiences in the life of a consultant can match the excitement of working abroad. Though it can be a long, arduous process, the benefits gained from such an adventure can be rewarding. Through my own experience as a technical consultant in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia late last year, I’ll try to provide some insight—and hindsight—into what you can expect if contemplating such a move overseas.

Finding the jobs
Experienced IT professionals from the United States are considered a commodity overseas. Skill sets that include Oracle DBA, any type of software engineering, Microsoft NT, UNIX, and networking (especially Cisco certified) are currently in great demand. In fact, with the way the market stands now, IT workers with even a year of experience can find themselves fielding offers from international contractors. Companies are clamoring to find qualified people in their field. In South America, for example, the telecom industry is booming since the enactment of recent deregulation. The United Kingdom, Holland, and Ireland are other hotbeds of employment for an enterprising consultant to consider.

If you’re convinced that international employment is right for you, the Internet is where your journey should begin. Many of the more popular—and boring—employment sites like Headhunter.net, Monster.com, and Dice.com contain international searches. Be sure to stop in at a few lesser known, but very good, sites as well. StepStone.com categorizes positions in a very easy-to-use format. BrassRing.com’s advanced search feature allows you to view IT positions in any country in the world. If you want to do an exhaustive search, 100Hot is a Web site that lists the top 100 job sites.

Be aware that some of the international contractors are just as untrustworthy as the domestic ones. The recruiter from the U.S. Midwest who hired me to work in Saudi Arabia completely misrepresented the position for which I was hired. I had quit my job and embarked on what I thought would be a life-changing experience. When I got there, I found that they were only looking for a warm body to generate revenue. I had no real job waiting for me when I arrived. It was a long tenure. When I informed the recruiter that I would not be renewing my contract, his demeanor toward me completely changed. This is not to say that these types of contractors are ubiquitous in the international arena. Naturally, you have to be careful with everyone in the business world.

Getting there, living there
Once you decide to take a position, be prepared to undergo an extensive background check as well as the mandatory drug test—all part of a rigorous pre-screening process initiated by the contractor who hires you. You will also need a passport and photos before you leave. In addition, some countries like Saudi Arabia require you to have recent immunizations and a visa to enter their country. This will be checked at the airport when you arrive, so keep it with you when you travel. It is especially important to keep track of your visa in Saudi Arabia because it must be renewed every three months.

Because of the expense involved in the process of hiring a worker from another country, most international positions will be contracted for a minimum of one year. Some countries will let you bring your family, others will not. Saudi Arabia, for example, takes a dim view of non-Arabic women inside their borders. I don’t wish to imply that they’re not allowed, but the conditions and laws that women must adhere to while in the country are steadfast and sometimes difficult. For example, they’re not allowed to drive an automobile anywhere at any time while in the kingdom, they are not allowed to work, and they must wear an abaya—a black robe—in public.

If you’re accustomed to the Western world, it takes a strong will to live and work in a country such as Saudi Arabia. But undoubtedly, it can be a financial boon. The exchange rate currently in Saudi Arabia is 3.75 riyal to one U.S. dollar.

International consulting can be an adventure of a lifetime. Choosing the right recruiter with whom to work, however, can be tricky at best. Remember to base your decisions on what’s right for you and your family—not what the recruiter may want or what you may think they want from you so you can land the job. It’s a high price to pay for an entry on your resume.
Have you worked abroad as a consultant? What was your experience like? To share your thoughts, post a comment or send us a note.