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.
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.
—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-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.
Contact the embassyIf 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.
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.Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!