Working overseas: what IT professionals need to know

Finding a position in a different country can bring personal and professional benefits, but navigating the potential pitfalls requires forward planning

Finding a position in a different country can bring personal and professional benefits, but navigating the potential pitfalls requires forward planning.

A stint overseas on your CV is likely to impress employers, says Dave Pye, CEO of Highams Recruitment, because you will have "gained a different outlook on how projects can be delivered, and wider experience of how people work and engage, making you more rounded".

For John Johnson, his job in Canada as a business analyst was "a sideways move career-wise it was all about the lifestyle". Johnson works in the Calgary office of ThoughtWorks, a company with an exchange programme that regularly sends staff overseas.

Johnson says, "I am just an hour and a half from the Rocky Mountains, so I can go hiking and skiing on a regular basis. I had lived in Canada as a child, so when I joined the company and found out the company had an office in Calgary, I applied for the exchange programme."

For Arjun Jamnadass, a business analyst at Shell, the move overseas was the next step on the career ladder after joining the company in the UK as part of its graduate intake.

Jamnadass divides his time between London and the Netherlands. "I applied to Shell in part because of the opportunity to travel and work abroad, but I took this role because it offered the chance to act as an interface between the business and technology. Relocation was really a bonus," he says.

Main drawback

The main drawback of moving overseas is the potential disruption to your family life and social circle. Johnson, for instance, delayed applying for the exchange programme until after the death of his remaining parent, when he no longer had commitments in the UK that he was unwilling to leave behind.

The experience has helped him decide whether to move overseas permanently. Although he has loved his time in Canada, he wants to return to the UK, where his remaining family is, in the longer term.

Jamnadass says that initially he felt a little detached from family and friends in the UK. "The world felt bigger," he says. "But now it feels smaller again. The internet makes it easier to keep in touch, and I have encouraged my family to use webcams. The benefits come from having a support network in both countries, and from learning how to deal with multiple cultures in a professional environment."

Of course, a disrupted personal life is something many IT staff are used to as a consequence of working on projects at client sites. With the advent of the Eurostar and low-cost airlines, it is often no more difficult to commute weekly between the UK and European cities than it is to do so between UK locations.

Opportunities abroad typically mirror those available in the UK - including the tendency for multinationals to offshore pure development roles.

However, there is particular demand for SAP, Java, Oracle and networking skills. Kevin Thorn, founding director of E-Resourcing, which recruits for positions across Europe, says, "Europe wants the business skills UK people can bring - analysis, communication, presentation and stakeholder management - because of their exposure to a wider environment."

First interviews for overseas roles are typically conducted over the telephone. The recruiter will then usually bear the costs of travelling to a follow-up interview in the country where you will be working. If you are invited for a face-to-face interview, the odds are high that you will be offered a position.

Although rates tend to be slightly lower in many other countries compared with the UK, this is typically offset by a lower cost of living, particularly accommodation costs.

Practical issues

Where you need to pay attention, Pye says, is ensuring you have sufficient health insurance and your tax affairs sorted out so you do not end up being taxed twice. There are other practical issues, such as work visas, the need to carry ID, and local customs such as tipping.

Many companies and agencies that recruit internationally have an immigration team dedicated to helping staff with the practicalities of making the transition.

Thorn suggests you should also consider how you will engage with the community. "Do you have a passion that will help you integrate? Will you be able to join local clubs? It is almost always a better experience if you do try to integrate rather than just being an English ex-pat.

"And it is not for everyone. People can get homesick, and you need to be generally comfortable meeting and working with new people."

Tips for successful overseas working

● Make sure you - and your partner if relocating with you - comply with local laws concerning the length of time non-nationals can stay and who can work there. Start by consulting the website of the country's embassy in the UK.

● Use your network: tap into existing contacts in your desired destination, no matter how slight the acquaintance, and use internet networking groups and forums to ask about names, companies and trends.

● Research everything you can about the country, such as hours and business customs, before approaching companies to avoid thinking stereotypically or coming across as not being serious enough.

● Even if English is the company's working language, you will almost certainly need some of the local language for general conversation - and perhaps also some of the relevant technical language.

● Be clear about what you want for your career long term - the dream of "living in the sun" often turns sour when boredom or frustration sets in as the result of a poor job match.

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