Advice for the would-be expatriate

With my email address published alongside some articles I’ve written about life in Germany, every now and then I get an email from someone who wants to know how I managed to expatriate there. Mostly people write out of frustration. Teaching English, as it does elsewhere, seems to offer the best employment opportunities. But competition’s tight, jobs are slim. And European Union labor laws keep you from doing just about any other kind of work (legally, at least). So what’s a body to do? they ask.

I empathize, y’all. I landed on my feet in Germany by sheer luck, and I couldn’t have pulled it off without major help from some resident family. I’m happy to help when I can. But I think my advice surprises people: Germany’s great – don’t move there. (Yet.)

A few days back I got this letter, from Brian in Kentucky:

I am a 27 year-old guy living in Kentucky and have never even been out of the United States. My dream is to live abroad for a year or so in Germany. I do not have a degree and this makes it daunting if not impossible altogether to find work in Germany by myself. I am getting frustrated as every (job) avenue I have ventured ends in a dead end. I have sent out hundreds of emails to various hotels, pubs, etc., with no success. I would be willing to do any type of work, like sweeping floors, washing dishes, whatever. I am beginning to think that only the rich get to see the world while the have-nots see the world through others’ blogs and movies/t.v. While I never expect to be rich, it would be nice to to see the world through my own two eyes and accumulate my own memories rather than reading about others’ memories online.

I’m posting Brians’s note because he has a lot of the same ideas and concerns people who haven’t yet traveled much tend to have about moving abroad. It sounds wonderful and life-changing. It can be, I tell them. But it’s not the only way to experience the world. It may not even be what you’re really looking for.

I advise people worried about the barriers to moving abroad to do some traveling first. Living outside your home country is harder than you think, and traveling better prepares you for the challenges of it. Plus, the kind of low-wage jobs abroad long-term travelers look for are much easier to find in-country than online. Then they ask: Sounds great – who can afford it?

Vagabonding has good answers for that. But answers are one thing, and stories another. So I’m passing this on to you. Has anyone else out there struggled to afford travel? How’d you pull it off?

Posted by | Comments (3)  | June 26, 2007
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

3 Responses to “Advice for the would-be expatriate”

  1. Cindy Says:

    I would suggest that people look into working for companies that have overseas sites. Also, don’t forget the US Civil Service,the Department of Defense,and the Foreign Service. A college degree is not always required. Look into teaching English through a reputable service that offers placement and assistance. Get a TESOL certificate. Be willing to start in a country that is NOT your first choice, and then move around as you gain experience. It takes a bit of work upfront, but the rewards are well worth it.

  2. Wallet Rehab - Ways to make money Says:

    I would suggest looking into WWOOFing. Willing Workers on Organic Farms. You pretty much get room and board on a farm in a foreign country for labor. I hear that in some places, it’s just a half days labor, and in other places, you actually get paid. My friends tell me that Australia is the best place to WWOOF, though I myself enjoyed my time in Japan.

  3. Stephanie Boegeman Says: is a great place to start researching how to work/volunteer opportunities abroad. I suggest starting with the list of organizations in that country and soliciting the ones that interest you, as there are much fewer actual posts for specific jobs/internships. Another option is to get an overseas job through BUNAC ( Their job is to help you get through the red tape, visas and permits, and aid you in finding a place to live. It looks like they’ve even started a Germany program. This option takes a bit of cash up front, but at least results in a paying job. Best of luck!