The 7 Best Careers & Sectors for Working Abroad

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What are the most in-demand and highly sought-after professions for international work—and how can you get your foot in the door?

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve just graduated from high school or are a mid-career professional—working abroad has the potential to transform you both personally and professionally.

Countless studies have demonstrated that working abroad results in improved intercultural competencies, soft skills and language skills, which in turn improves job prospects. It can even result in a higher earning potential; according to HSBC’s 2018 Expat Explorer survey, half of respondents earned more as expats than they did at home.

Here are seven of the most in-demand and highly sought-after professions abroad, and how you can get your foot in the door.

1. Education

For years, new Canadian teachers, especially in Ontario, have graduated into a saturated and highly competitive job market—and the situation looks unlikely to improve. The Government of Canada projects that the number of new graduates will far exceed available positions well into 2028.

Finding a permanent teaching position close to home might be hard, but the opposite is true if you’re willing to go abroad. International and TEFL schools in the Middle East and Asia are hotspots for recent education graduates, but they’re not the only option. For example, in 2019, New Zealand needed as many as 1,000 new foreign teachers in order for schools to function. Likewise, the United Kingdom reportedly needs twice as many STEM and foreign language teachers as it’s able to produce. These are just two of the many countries that actively recruit Canadian and American and teachers.

You can start your search at TeachAway’s Job Board, which lists hundreds of positions abroad, including opportunities with international schools, government programs, universities and language colleges in over 40 countries. Once you’ve got an idea of the landscape, there are four main places to apply for teaching jobs:

• International schools

If you’re looking for a higher starting salary than those offered by the public school system, international schools are a good option with plenty of openings. According to ISC Research, the number of international schools has quadrupled in the last two decades to around 10,000 schools worldwide. They employ half a million staff, mostly in Asia or the Middle East.

In order to land a job, you’ll need a Bachelor of Education, some teaching experience and the ability to demonstrate intercultural competencies. Want to stand out? Teachers who specialize in secondary education or STEM subjects—such as physics, chemistry or computer science—are particularly sought-after.

• Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL)

Working in education abroad isn’t just the domain of those with a teaching degree. If you hold an undergraduate degree (in any subject) and are willing to complete a TEFL certification, you can join the legions of recent graduates who head abroad to teach English every year.

With the right qualifications, teaching EFL is a relatively easy job to land. (Although it should be noted that the industry is notorious for its prejudice against “non-native” English speakers.) Positions often include relocation packages, housing and insurance. Recruiters or employers will also often assist with visa procurement and costs.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job. The hours can be long, there may be a lack of support from school administration, and the pupils—particularly the pint-sized ones—can be demanding.

To help you navigate the industry, Verge has produced numerous articles on TEFL (including first-person advice from teachers in the field) about the process of finding and applying for jobs—from using recruiters and getting certifications—varies widely from country-to-country. That’s why we’ve produced several destination-specific guides on how to find jobs and what to expect once you get there:

• How to teach English in Bahrain

 

• How to teach English in Italy

 

• How to teach English in Thailand

 

• How to teach English in Colombia

Established and well-regraded government-sponsored TEFL programs include Spain’s Auxiliares program, English Open Doors in Chile, Japan’s JET program and the France’s Foreign Language Assistants program.

• Post-secondary institutions

In 2018, RAND Europe conducted a survey of nearly 2,500 researchers in 109 countries, three-quarters of whom had moved abroad for training or work at some point in their career. Nearly all respondents believed that “international movement is important for research.”

Heading overseas for a teaching post won’t just better your career prospects—it also has the potential to boost your research outcomes “by forging new collaborations and developing ideas, skills and expertise.” Another 2018 study published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, found that mobile researchers gain up to a 17 per cent increase in citations relative to their non-mobile counterpart.

Much like attending international conferences, working abroad can put you a position to study source materials or connect with experts that would otherwise be inaccessible. TeachAway.com, HigherEd Jobs, and Times Higher Education’s Global Job Board all list academic and research posts at universities worldwide.

• Online tutoring

Not ready to unpack your bags just yet? Teaching any subject online—from math to English—is a solid career option for digital nomads. As long you have a strong Internet connection, this is a career that can take you around the world, no experience necessary.

Flexible teaching platforms such as italki and Verbling allow students to connect directly with teachers, but online and virtual schools are also an option.

“Your earning potential is dependent on few factors, including if you have a degree, whether you’re a native English speaker, and if you have any prior experience,” writes Aisha Preece in her article on how to start teaching English online. “If you have all three, you can expect to earn between $45USD and $60USD per hour.”

2. Tourism & Hospitality

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism is the world’s fastest growing sector. It’s responsible for 330 million jobs globally, or one in 10 positions.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic and closure of international borders in 2020 has halted further growth of the industry, if you want to work abroad in the future, there’s arguably no better sector to make it happen. Tourism and hospitality is one of the few industries with ample entry-level jobs. Although education and experience can be advantageous, it’s not required to get started. You could find work with hotels and accommodation, restaurants, recreation outfitters, tour operators, travel agencies, airlines, cruise ships, and even non-profit organizations.

Want to be a tour guide? Work at a high-end resort? Live out your own Below Deck experience aboard a yacht? The best resources for finding gigs depends on what type of job you’re looking for and your destination country. For example, HotelCareer.com lists jobs for those interested in working in the hospitality industry, while Allcruisejobs.com is the go-to for cruise ship positions. Joining online networking groups (such as those hosted on Facebook, LinkedIn or Slack), membership-based associations, or listservs for your industry of choice can also be advantageous, as they often host their own job boards.

Whatever you do, don’t under-estimate the value of networking. Those who work in travel and tourism value social connections above all else, and maintaining good relationships will ensure you’re top of mind when a position becomes available.

3. International Development & Humanitarian Aid

From full-time field postings overseas, to head office jobs that allow for frequent travel, international development and humanitarian aid has long been the sector of choice for those who want to “travel with purpose.”

It’s also a career that allows for specialization, whether that means focusing on disaster relief, conflict, agriculture, environmental sustainability, health, education, economic development or women’s empowerment. Regardless of whether you excel at admin, advocacy, fundraising or have a more specialized background and training in engineering, micro-finance or law, there’s a job for you.

However, international aid is a demanding career that can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being. It can also be a notoriously difficult industry to get into. It’s a growing sector, but like education, there are more recent graduates vying for entry-level positions than there are jobs available, and experience is often needed to get the job. You’ll need to be willing to put in the time volunteering or working overseas, as well as have a few degrees under your belt, as those with Master’s or higher tend to be preferred.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments and multilateral organizations (like the UN), and research organizations have traditionally been the main employers within the sector, but today there’s an increasing number of jobs available in the private sector and within consultancies.

Countless sites exist for finding international development jobs, but a handful of our favourites include ReliefWeb, Devex Jobs, DevNet and Idealist.org.

4. The Tech & Business Sector

There’s a reason why there’s been a proliferation of global and international MBA programs—business graduates are in demand worldwide, workplaces are increasingly globalized and work environments are intercultural. According to Careers for Globetrotters, the scale of the world’s biggest multinational corporations—companies like Walmart and Apple—"means that opportunities for globally minded individuals with business skills are abundant.”

However, you don’t necessarily need an MBA to make your mark. This is particularly true in emerging economies, where there are often more jobs available than there are applicants, as Ola Mirzoeva explains in her article Work Abroad: The Blue Ocean Approach.

“[You can seek] opportunities in geographies or industries where you can add unique value, instead of chasing after high-profile jobs in markets saturated with qualified candidates,” she explains.

In Western countries, many international brands—including publisher Penguin Random House, advertising agency Ogilvy, and grocery store chain Aldi—are keen to recruit recent graduates, and offer an international hiring scheme.

Careers might include working as a data scientist; project management; financial services; human resources; marketing, communications or PR; or sales or supply chain management. The biggest sector poised for growth and international opportunities, though, might be tech. According to Michael Page UK, an international recruitment agency, software engineers and developers are the most in-demand job in the world.

For example, in Amsterdam, demand for junior IT employees has doubled, with companies only managing to find one candidate for every 26 vacancies. Individuals with skills and expertise in software development, analytics and database administration are often first in line for government visas, with recruiters aiding in the employment process.

5. Engineering, Construction & Energy

If software engineers and developers are the most in-demand profession in the world, it should come as no surprise that mechanical engineers are a close second, with civil and electrical engineers not far behind.

Most in-demand, according to New Engineer, are experts in automation and robotics engineers; mining engineers; alternative energy engineers; and petroleum engineers. For those who are interested in oil, gas or construction, there’s never been a time like the present to work abroad. International development organizations, private firms and construction companies all recruit international hires, especially in emerging economies in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

You’ll need a bachelor degree at minimum, but mindset and drive may be your best assets when it comes to landing a position abroad.

“I only have a bachelor degree. I don’t think it’s about education; it’s more about attitude. You have to have a good attitude and be willing to try new things,” Mahmoud Azab, a telecommunications engineer who has work in Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States, told Careers for Globetrotters. “The field is growing so fast.”

To find employment, you may approach construction or engineering firms directly, but your best bet may be to work with a skilled recruitment agency. Or, if you’re already employed in the industry in North America and work for an international company, see if your employer offers postings or transfers overseas.

6. Healthcare

“After graduating university, I was a little lost. I had hoped to experience the world a little more before finding a full-time permanent position—working abroad was the perfect solution,” writes Andrea Battistuzzi, a radiation therapist who found a job working in the UK with the NHS.

Medical professionals are counted amongst the 20 most wanted professions needed to fill skills shortages in OECD and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries. Working in public healthcare systems like the NHS isn’t the only option—even cruise ships need professional medical providers.

In addition to clinical roles, medical professionals are needed to assist in international development and humanitarian relief, including nurses, physicians, midwives, mental health specialists, epidemiologist, pharmacists and laboratory specialists—with NGOs, governments, foundations and private consultancies all hiring.

In addition to your degree, it’s beneficial to have prior international experience, preferably in a healthcare setting. Volunteering, interning and studying abroad are all paths to gaining much-needed intercultural skills. Having a secondary language is also advantageous.

Like tech jobs and engineering jobs, you can apply directly to health providers—including through postings listed on government job bank websites—but you may have better luck if you work with a recruitment agency that specializes in placing medical personnel. These are often-country-specific—for example, ID Medical Group places healthcare professionals in the UK, while Medacs has offices in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, the Middle East and Australia.

7. Working Remotely & Self-employment

Once upon a time, the notion of convincing your employer to let you work remotely felt at best, challenging, and at worst, inconceivable.

One of the few positive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is this changed mentality. Seemingly overnight, we became a nation of work-from-homers, which has opened the eyes of many employers to the possibility of having employees working remotely. According to Upwork, by 2028, as many as 33 per cent of workers will be fully remote.

Traditional employment isn’t the only option for working abroad, though. Numerous freelance jobs lend themselves to location independence, including working as a writer, graphic designer, translator or stock trader. In 2019, 7.3 million Americans described themselves as digital nomads—up from 2.3 million the year before. It’s a number that’s sure to rise—and you could be amongst them. Essentially, all you need is a marketable skill, a bit of business savvy and a reliable Internet connection.

The earning potential for some of these careers can feel limitless, but it comes at a cost. Regardless of whether you’re working from your home or from a hotel room, going it solo takes dedication and diligence. It’s often long hours for little pay, and you can wave goodbye to your benefits package.

“It’s hard work—really hard work,” Candice Walsh, a freelance writer and editor told Verge. “But then I get to play harder.”

Conclusion

Want to learn more about how to launch your international career? Visit the Work Abroad section of Verge Magazine to gain real-life insight into working abroad.

Looking for sector-specific advice and inspiration? Our Careers for Globetrotters portal includes profiles of dozens of professionals working internationally, self-assessment tools, pre-departure checklists and even international job listings for all of the sectors listed above—and more.

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Published in Work Abroad
Jessica Lockhart

Contributing Editor

Although Jessica has travelled to more than 30 countries, her favorite place to throw down her bag is still her hometown of Cold Lake, Alberta. A freelance journalist, Jess has worked for international development organizations and tour operators. She’s conducted workshops in Vanuatu, perfected the use of a satellite phone in the jungles of Guyana and supervised teenage pool parties in the Dominican Republic. Although she's based in Toronto, Jess works remotely from all around the world.

Website: www.jesslockhart.com

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For more than a decade, Verge has produced quality resources and events to help people experience the world in a meaningful way, through opportunities to study, work and volunteer abroad.