The mail function has been disabled by an administrator.

The First Steps to Working Abroad

The view from Switzerland's Furka Pass. pixabay.com CC0

Here's what I've learned it takes to make it in a new country. 

Okay, so technically, I took my first proper steps (by "proper," I mean not a holiday or extended period of travel) abroad two years ago when I studied abroad in Paris. Since then, I have gone on to study in Zurich, worked in Berlin, worked in Rouen and moved back to Zurich as a working professional.

Whether you are about to embark on a year abroad as part of your studies or have just finished university and are ready to start your life abroad, there are choices to be made and information to be gathered before you go anywhere. This article will provide a guide of what to expect when moving abroad.

Make your first decision: Where?

It might sound obvious, but choosing where to study or start your adult life is a key part of being happy. For me, it was easy. After spending a semester in Zurich, I knew when I left that it would be a "see you later" and not a "goodbye."

It is important to be open-minded and consider a few options—especially if the decision is out-with your control and you will be allocated a destination—but remember you are going to live there. Top tip: when researching your options, write a list of pros and cons, even for your preferred choices.

After you have made your decision or received your placement, you need to take the plunge and book the flight. This is the scary bit, but it motivates you to take the next steps in making your dream a reality. 

Put a pen to paper

The next part of the journey can be summed up in one word: paperwork. Tons and tons of paperwork.

Even after moving country multiple times, I am still dumbfounded by the sheer volume of paper I am handed from the immigration office. The requirements will depend on your destination, but you should still be prepared for the basics. For example, in Switzerland you are required to register with the local authorities within 14 days of your arrival. This involves a series of forms and signatures and is actually pretty simple. Check out the local immigration website for country-specific information.

Get in the right frame of mind

This might not spring to mind straight away, but I cannot highlight the importance of being aware of your attitude enough. I have met my fair share of people who think they are above everyone else because they have travelled. Newsflash: you are not. Especially when you are on an exchange program with a lot of students or joining an expat club.

Everyone knows that first impressions count and this is particularly important when you are meeting people from another culture. Remember you are the outsider—don’t be over-confident or walk around with an air of entitlement. You are going into another country, so you are the person who needs to adapt their language(s) and lifestyle.

Set goals

Whether you are on a study year abroad or kick-starting your career, it is your chance for a fresh start. I had always been quite shy and reluctant to participate in classes, and this was something I vowed to change on my year abroad.

This is your time to make a name for yourself and make the changes you have been hesitant to make at home. It is at this point that networking becomes important. For those of you studying, this means lecturers, exchange networks and making friends with local students. You never know what might happen after your study or work placement has ended and you could be glad of these contacts one day.

For the ones just starting out on the career ladder, networking has a bigger sense of purpose. At this early stage in your career, contacts are everything. They are your lifeline and could well give you that big break. Attending conferences and meet-up groups is the best way to meet like-minded newbies and experienced professionals in your field.

Challenge yourself

You will and should be out of your comfort zone most of the time. You should feel nervous, anxious or even downright scared on several occasions and you should absolutely not feel like a failure when you do. If I had a pound for every time I have had to psych myself up before going into an office/bank/social meeting, I’d be a very rich woman.

The aim of this article was to provide a helpful and realistic guide to moving abroad. The content might have set alarm bells ringing in your head and these feelings are all part of the process. Moving abroad can be a daunting prospect at first, but I promise you it will all be worth it in the end.

Add this article to your reading list
Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Kirsty Smith

Originally from Scotland, Kirsty Smith has a Master’s in languages and is a keen traveller. She is currently based in Zurich, Switzerland, where she is a language assistant for the British Council and also a freelance translator, proofreader and post-editor.

Website: https://littleladygoesglobal.wordpress.com

Join the Verge Community

Verge Magazine Membership

Join our community of savvy travellers and put nearly two decades of inspiring articles, authoritative information and expert advice to work for you.

Show me more > Login >


Travel Intelligence Bulletin


The latest openings overseas—direct to your inbox.

Subscriber Login


Travel with purpose; travel for good. Articles, resources and events for ethical and meaningful travel, volunteering, working and studying abroad.

Verge believes in travel for change. International experience creates global citizens, who can change our planet for the better. This belief is at the core of everything we do.

Like what you see?

Follow us on social media