Working in another country affords a world of new experiences and opportunities, says Charlotte-Ashley Roberts, but there’s a lot to think about before you start packing

Q: I am a chemist with a strong interest in environmental chemistry. I am really interested in working abroad but am not sure how to go about it. I have thought about where is best for me and have narrowed it down to US, Brazil and Europe. Which do you think would be the best option?

A: Working abroad can provide you with a wealth of experience and can really enhance your employability. It can help you to develop in areas such as using your initiative and communication skills and it can make you more flexible through adapting to different cultures and languages.

It can also allow you to get experience in an area related to your chosen career path. This could be done long or short term, either paid or even through a volunteering role, for example doing conservation. I can’t tell you which option to choose but I can provide you with the tools to make the best decision for you.

Why, where and when?

The first thing to do is think about why you want to work abroad and what it is that you hope to achieve from the experience. If you are more interested in the experience of living abroad, you may be willing to consider a broader range of job options. If you are looking for career progression opportunities then you need to consider which country has the options you are looking for. The clearer your objectives, the more likely you are to succeed.

You have already begun to think about where you want to go, and narrowing it down to a few options is a good start. The key will then be doing your homework in terms of language, culture and visa requirements for each country. Many international firms prefer to hire local people who know the language and culture and don’t require a visa to work in the country, so you will not only need to demonstrate professional skills but also anything else that shows you are dedicated to your decision and that will make you stand out. For example, if you have time before you want to go you may want to learn or brush up on the language. 

It will take time to both find a job overseas and also to plan moving out there, so have you thought about when you might like to go? Planning to a timeline will serve to keep you focused and will help you feel a little more prepared. You should also consider how long you might want to spend in your chosen country: will a year be enough to get the experience you want or might your time abroad end up being two or three years? This will also help show employers your preparedness and commitment, which will be useful in applications and interviews. 

Local knowledge

I would strongly recommend that you talk to people who live or have worked in the country and, if possible, to visit the country beforehand with a view to visiting relevant employers. You could look at our list of International RSC representatives - we have representatives in each of the countries you mention in your email. We also have local sections in those offices and so you can get in touch with them to see what they might be doing in your chosen area. This will give you an understanding of how feasible it will be for someone with your skills to find work and where you should start looking. It might also help you to find friends with similar interests very quickly.

In terms of visa requirements, if you are looking at Europe and you are a European Union national this is fairly straightforward as you have the right to work in any other EU member state without requiring a work permit. The US often only issues work visas if you have a definite job offer but you should check with the relevant embassy to find out the most up-to-date information, and whether there are any changes afoot. 

I am unsure from your question if you are looking for a PhD, a postdoctoral post, academic or industrial role but there are lots of good places to find information. The sites listed below will help you find out about different countries and also to find potential job opportunities abroad.