What are the challenges of working abroad?

While most people are content to settle down, there are those brave few who want to get out and sample the world. Some travel purely for the experience; others travel merely to move on to new, possibly greener pastures. Whatever the reason, planning to work abroad can be a daunting task for even the most adventurous of souls. Fortunately, I have laid everything out for you in one handy post based on my experience working abroad.

There is a multitude of challenges to overcome when transitioning from domestic employment to working abroad, both from logistical and cultural standpoints. Some of these challenges may be easier to overcome, depending on where you are planning to work. For example, an American working in Canada will not face nearly as much culture shock as an American moving to Japan, or any other non-English speaking country.

One of the most crucial aspects to get your head around if you intend to work abroad is the legalities. Knowing how long you can legally work in a country, what your rights as a foreign national are, even your responsibilities regarding the payment of tax. Not having a full grasp of the local culture can be frustrating and embarrassing, but it’s unlikely to get you in trouble with any governments. I can’t say the same for working without a visa.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the main challenges you will face when working abroad, as well as what you can do to overcome those challenges.

The 12 Main Challenges of Working Abroad

1. Language

One of the most apparent problems you will encounter working abroad is any language barrier that may exist. Of course, if you are moving from one English-speaking country to another, this is not an issue.

The key to overcoming the language barrier is to talk with the locals regularly, even ask them to speak more slowly if needed. Don’t shy away from interactions; it may feel awkward and embarrassing, but it will help you improve your grasp of the tongue in the long run as well as forcing you to be part of the local culture more than you might otherwise have done.

2. Culture

While the language barrier may only be in place in countries that don’t speak the same language as you, culture shock is possible in any foreign country. As with language, the trick is not to shy away from interactions that would immerse you in that culture. The more you speak with people and the more you go out and socialize, the more comfortable and familiar you will become.

Consider joining in with group activities, or attending classes where you will be in a group setting. Anything that pushes you to be part of things.

3. Personal Life

Moving to a new country—especially one with a different language—can make having any personal life difficult. Being away from your family and friends is difficult at the best of times, but the Internet provides a wealth of ways to keep in touch with them.

As for meeting new friends, as mentioned above, attending classes and group activities will help. Put yourself in social situations. You can’t meet new people if you don’t go where people are.

4. Business Practices

When moving to any new job, there can be a desire to “improve” things if you see your new place of employment doing things in ways you perceive as less efficient. This is not specific to working abroad; however, the differences in how things are done can be far more pronounced when moving from one country to another.

Try to resist the urge to “correct” any systems you may perceive as inferior. Once you have become established at your new place of employment, you could begin attempting to introduce alternative methods. You should keep an open mind; however, it’s just possible that the methods used in your new place of employment are better than the ones you are used to. It’s also worth remembering that culture is ingrained in every facet of society, in all countries. You may encounter systems that are the way they are because of cultural aspects as much as any business concerns.

5. Work-Life

While you’re overcoming the language and cultural barriers in your new life, it is understandable if your work-life suffers a little. Try not to let this get to you. The more you familiarize yourself with the culture and new work environment, the easier it will be to realize your potential at your new job.

Try to remember that work experience in a foreign country will undoubtedly help you stand out in future employment opportunities, and enjoy the experience in the meantime.

6. Obtaining a Visa or Work Permit

Before you’re allowed to work as a foreign national, you need to have a legal right to be there. The mechanism for this is often called a visa or work permit, and the exact requirements and procedures will differ from country to country.

Ensure that you have your paperwork in order, as most foreign governments will not think twice about sending you home if you don’t. Visa’s can come in many different forms, such as special visas for seasonal workers, or foreign nationals who are providing a service to the country.

7. Adjusting your Salary Expectations

Depending on your situation, it may be necessary to reset your expectations regarding pay. If you are being deployed to a different country by your employer, then your salary will likely be unaffected—perhaps even increased. For others, there is a possibility that some of your skills and qualifications will not carry the same weight in your new country.

You will likely progress more quickly if you can demonstrate the ability your new employer requires, but don’t be surprised if you have to start lower down the ladder than you would have in your home country.

8. Networking and Relying on Word of Mouth

You may find that some job opportunities are not available through more traditional methods, such as job listings. Many countries prefer a more informal system whereby new vacancies get filled based on recommendations. In these cases, you will need to network and build a list of contacts that might provide a path to the type of job you desire. The need to network dovetails nicely with the requirement as mentioned above to socialize and interact with locals. However, if you are aware of any ex-pats from your country of origin working here, now would be an excellent time to get to know them. They will be able to fill you in on any nuances about particular jobs that you might have missed.

9. The Logistics

Moving to a new country to live and work involves a good deal of logistical challenges. Starting with the visa I mentioned earlier, you will also have to take care of several seemingly mundane tasks that it would be easy to overlook.

Things like opening a bank account, tying up any loose ends in your country of origin, ensuring your finances are in order, arranging for the transport of any personal items you may be taking with you. Even ensuring you have a presentable CV to show your prospective employers.

The list of logistical concerns can seem a little daunting, to begin with, but you must make sure all of your ducks are in a row, so to speak because it can be much harder to take care of these things when you are in your new home and trying to find your feet.

10. Finding a Place to Live

Finding a house is a stressful enough experience when doing it in your own country, so you can imagine how difficult carrying out that process in a foreign country might be. Be especially vigilant; every country has its share of people who are happy to take advantage of foreigners who perhaps are not fully aware of their rights. Be sure to look around, don’t settle for the first place you see and end up stuck somewhere unpleasant.

11. Worries About Future Finances

There is a lot of uncertainty around moving abroad, particularly if you do not have your employment agreed in advance. It is vital to plan your finances and ensure you have a safety net if things don’t work out. You do not want to be traveling abroad with barely enough money for the week while struggling to find employment.

12. Building Relationships

If you are traveling alone—as many do—you will undoubtedly feel lonely at some stage. Building relationships in a foreign country while also focusing on your career is hard, but you just have to persevere. You eventually will find someone to connect with.


Moving abroad to work is not easy, but few things of value are. By pushing at the boundaries of your comfort zone, experiencing new cultures, and gaining unique experience, you will be rewarded amply for your initial hardships.

Working abroad will also give you a new perspective on humanity. We all come from different walks of life, but it’s hard to truly appreciate this fact until you’ve seen a different culture up close.

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