U.S. Expatriates! I want to join your ranks! Where do I start?

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve made it a goal to move overseas. I want to speak a different language, eat different food, and take in a different culture. The U.S. is also falling apart and I want out.

I promised myself I would get my Bachelor’s degree first. I’m about a year-and-a-half away from graduation, so I know I need to start getting a jump on things.

I’ve narrowed my choices down to France, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Australia, and New Zealand. France is particularly interesting because I already read and write decent French and it’s where I always imagined I’d be moving. Sweden and Germany are scientific leaders (which my degree is in), and Norway has a very common sense but liberal culture. Australia and New Zealand are on my list because of the the warm climate.

Turkey and Greece would be on my list, but their economies are too unstable right now. Other countries, such as England, wouldn’t be unheard of, but I’d need a very tantalizing reason to pick it (such as a very good job). I’ve already visited England, France, Turkey, and Greece.

So where do I start? How do I pick a country without knowing where I’ll be getting a job? Once I decide, I’m going to open a bank account in that country and start stockpiling cash there.

I’ve established a list of questions I need to research the answers on.
[li]How do I get a work visa? How difficult is it to obtain and how long does it take?[/li][li]What companies are very warm to expatriates and will help with the process and paperwork?[/li][li]Which countries will have improved economies in a couple of years? [/li][li]Who has the fairest labor laws?[/li][li]If I lose my job, what should I do?[/li][li]How do I get items over there that I can’t carry on me, such as a computer or 42" LCD TV? Do I give up on those?[/li][li]How do I transport and register cats there? How difficult is that?[/li][li]How do I get my car over there? Should I bother? I really like my car.[/li][/ul]
I’m not sure how to answer some of these questions. Are there any others I should be asking?

One more thing: Does the internet contain a checklist of to-do items for expatriation?

Thanks for the help and please talk about your experiences if you are willing.

I’ve been an expat and move in and out of the US frequently, but in the developing world. I’m a foreign aid worker. Currently, I’m in Afghanistan.

For the most part, if you want to live in the developed world, you need to have a skill that is highly valued. Remember, for anywhere in the EU you are not just competing against people in the host country, but all of Europe. Employers are going to be too keen on the cost of an American transplant, when there are lots and lots of people in Europe who can easily work in the country in question.

The old standby for first job overseas has always been teaching English. Your university might have an office that can help you find these jobs.

Here’s some answers to your specific questions:

  1. How do I get a work visa? How difficult is it to obtain and how long does it take?
    This varies hugely by country, most places I have been to require you to have a job offer and an letter of support from an employer. The agency that hired me always takes care of this.

  2. What companies are very warm to expatriates and will help with the process and paperwork?
    Oil companies, shipping companies, and communication companies often employ lots of people from all over the world and have the process of getting people squared away in host countries down to a science.

  3. Which countries will have improved economies in a couple of years?
    Asian markets seem to still be growing, not just China, but India and the tiger cubs.

  4. Who has the fairest labor laws?
    Probably Europe, I would guess.

  5. If I lose my job, what should I do?
    On my projects if you lose your job, they take away your work permit and visa (it is sponsored by my employer) and I have to get out of the country, and then come back in on a new visa.

  6. How do I get items over there that I can’t carry on me, such as a computer or 42" LCD TV? Do I give up on those?
    My employment contracts include a shipping allowance.

  7. How do I transport and register cats there? How difficult is that?
    It is all over the map, there are pet shipping facilitators who can help you, it’s not cheap. I shipped a dog from Afghanistan for about $5k and a cat from Indonesia for about $3k.

  8. How do I get my car over there? Should I bother? I really like my car.
    Maybe if you have a high powered job offer you could get vehicle shipping included, but not only would you have to ship it, you’d have to clear customs, and possibly retrofit it to meet specific host country requirements, it would be far easier to sell it and buy one in your host country.

For the most part, right out of college, you probably are not going to get the kinds of job offers that include shipping your car over. Like most entry level jobs, the benies aren’t going to be great. You have to have a skill that employers really need and can’t get closer to home. Hope this is helpful.

Very helpful, madmonk28! Given that I have about 2 years until graduation, what should I get started on now? I’ve already sent for my birth certificate so I can renew my passport. I suppose, based on your advice, I should now talk to my school about teaching English over there.

With teaching English, there’s a strong demand in countries like China, Japan and South Korea. If you are a native speaker with a college degree, I believe the processes for getting the right visa and getting a job are relatively easy. (I do know one person who has taught in Korea.)

You can also consider the foreign service, (state department website) or a civillian job with a federal agency that offers an overseas post. (usajobs.gov has all federal postings.)

You chances of taking your pets or your car on entry level government jobs, strike me as almost zero. Maybe it depends though.

Have you considered working for an American company with a large overseas presence? There are lots of benefits to being a long-term business traveler in a foreign country.

I think the best approach would be to figure out what you want to do and then figure out how to ‘internationalize’ that career. There’s not much point in pursuing a degree in geology for a career in the oil industry if you are going to hate every minute of the work. Also note that you want to work in the developed world of Europe and so does almost every European, lots and lots of people everywhere else in the world, it’s very competitive.

If you pursue a job in the State department, or in an agency like USAID, you should know that you are pretty much expected to do at least one tour early on in your career in a hardship post like Iraq, Afghanistan, or whatever conflict zones are active when you enter the service.

Also, a foreign language is helpful, of course.

Interesting question. I’ve actually been thinking along similar lines for myself. The circumstances are different…I’m nearing retirement, but sometimes somewhere else - anywhere else - looks pretty good. The problem (at least for an American) with Western Europe, Austrailia, and parts of Asia is, as others have pointed out, that that’s where everyone wants to go. Competition is fierce and cost of living is fairly high. New Zealand, from what I’ve heard, is a lovely place in every way, but it’s very hard to get into. The people there know they’ve got a good thing and are not terribly anxious to share it with a lot of newcomers. Smart of them, not so good for the rest of us.

Canada is one of my most favored places. It’s accessable, progressive and altogether one of the nicest places I know of. I’ve travelled there quite a bit, esp. in Quebec and British Columbia, and have given serious thought to moving there. The problem there, for me, is climate. I don’t like cold, and most of Canada is cold most of the time. Same is true of Iceland (yes they’re having some misery at the moment, but they’ll bounce back). Nice place, but the climate is wrong.

If I were you, I’d look at some of the - what shall I call them? - “second tier” countries. Not the highly developed nations of Western Europe and Asia nor third-world holes, but the developing nations like Brazil, Argentina and the former Soviet Block countries of Eastern Europe. Some of the island nations also have possibilities…Tonga, The Phillipines, etc.

Then, there is the place that I’ve discovered and am thinking most seriously of. Scenery, wildlife, open spaces. English-speaking, good semi-tropical climate with the occasional hurricane to keep things interesting. Decent government, steady-state economy (neither dirt-poor nor super-rich). Reasonable cost of living and not too hard to get into. I’m not going to name it here, I scarcely even speak of it to my nearest & dearest. My fear is that it’ll be “discovered” and ruined before I can get there. :wink:

What’s your ancestry? You don’t have an Irish or Italian grandparent by any chance?

Look elsewhere. Australia won’t take you unless you have something very special they want and they don’t have it already. Their immigration requirements have tightened up tighter than a dropbear’s ass since I was accepted by them. Even if you have something they need, expect up to two-three years from application to notification you’ve been accepted, or rejected. Unless you have several million dollars and apply as a business immigrant, but that’s not a sure thing, either.

And don’t bother to just get an Aussie visitor visa and overstay your temporary visa. If you do that, and get caught, consider your entire overseas travel life gone, as in forever. Australia, America and many EU countries will blackflag you severely.

Might I suggest, if you’re attached to your big screen TV, your pets, and your car, that perhaps an expatriate lifestyle is not for you? You’re going to have to leave a lot behind if you want to live overseas, and if you want to continue the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed, the best way to do that is to stay home.

Get used to travling light, and remember that if you’re not a citizen of your host country you can be asked to leave at any time, for whatever reasons seem good to them.

I’m also a bit concerned about your idea that the US is “falling apart” and you want to get out while you can. You think other countries like France don’t have conflict, budget problems, corruption, and so on? You just don’t notice it because the political and economic problems of France don’t make front page news over here.

It could be an amazing adventure to live overseas, but you should take a good look at exactly why you want to, what you hope to get out of the adventure, and what you’re going to have to give up.

I’m not so attached to my TV and car that I can’t fathom the thought of leaving them behind. If I can’t take them, I can’t take them. My cats will be a little harder to let go of, but my parents would probably take them, and I can live with that.

I understand other countries are having the same problems we are, if not worse. But I’ve gotten so sick of the American political system that I need a change.

One way to test the waters would be through an international student exchange program. Check and see if your university offers such a thing, and if so which overseas universities would be available.

Start with lifeline back to the US. Go as a student, language instructor, US aid group, US company, or government worker. Try a couple of countries and jobs. Things are different, way different (I’ve done long term [>one year] Japan, Italy, Saudia Arabia, Qatar, Phillipines, and visited all the 'stans except one). If you find a good situation, develop local contacts with businesses or educational institutions if you want to return as “local”.

Forget your possessions, it’s just not going to happen. They won’t work (PAL, SECAM, voltage, etc… vs NTSC), won’t meet local standards for safety, emmissions, wrong side of road in the case of the car. Pets are the least likely to travel well - sorry.

Don’t leave off Central and South America from consideration. Most are more friendly than Europe or Aust/NZ from a worker prospective.

I’m curious why you want to stockpile cash in a foreign country right now? Stockpile cash, sure, but I think it would make a lot more sense to get the job before you pick a country. The job will pave the way to a generally smoother process (including the fact that it may be really difficult to find a job – basically you’re going to have to prove, in one way or another, that the company could not possibly hire a citizen of their own country/the EU for that job, and that you are basically the only one who can do it).

That said, you can ship large items on a boat with a shipping company, but expect it to be expensive and take a couple of months to get there. Not to mention that American-made electronics won’t plug into the wall in Europe/Australia without an adapter. It would probably make more sense to move with clothes and maybe a pot or two, and buy the big items once you get there.

Pets: each country is going to have different rules. Some have strict quarantine (I believe the UK is six months, plus medical records/proof of health), some don’t.

I’m no expert on the question in general, but I can tell you about my own personal experience. I came to Berlin 3 and a half years ago more or less on a whim. A German friend I met in NY was moving back home and had a place for me to stay. I didn’t have much of a plan, except that I wanted to make music and see if I could live the lifestyle of the starving artist. (I have managed the “starving” part quite well).

In Germany, as an American you can enter the country and stay for 3 months without a visa. So I had 3 months to figure out how to stay longer. I enrolled in an intensive German language course and applied for a language learning visa, but ended up getting the far superior “preparing to be a student visa” (long story). I taught (and currently teach) private guitar lessons (off the books my first 2 years) to get by at first. In addition to that I currently work as an english teacher, a performer, and I direct a musical theater workshop for kids (some other stuff too).

Ideally, life would be the easiest for you if you go and establish yourself within some existing structure for expatriating (e.g. a study abroad program affiliated with your school, a contracted job that you get before you go, etc.). But the point I want to mention is that it’s not exactly necessary. You learn a lot of what you need as you go. You meet a lot of people and they tend to help you.

(my responses are specific to my experience in Germany, and even more specifically to Berlin, which as a city is a bit of an anomaly in Germany)

  1. Getting a work visa can be tricky if you intend to freelance like me. It comes down to showing that you have work. If you have a full time job contract, that’s all you need. If you can show that you have a business plan for a business that will result in more jobs being created that’ll get you in too. (the government will even give you money to help). Of course the easiest way to deal with all things bureaucratic is to get married.

  2. I have no direct experience but I believe any major company that hires internationally can help you deal with the paperwork of getting your visa/work permit smoothly. Berlin is very international and very warm to Americans. There’s a lot of good feelings toward the US here because of our support during the cold war. And everyone wants to speak english with a native speaker!

skipping ahead a bit

stuff - Travel light. Bring only what you need or what would be difficult to get when you come. I sold nearly everything I had before I came including my car and quite impressive CD collection. I brought clothes, my guitar, my laptop, and an external hard drive (with my ripped CD collection). You’d be amazed what a relief it is to suddenly have so little. And then the fun becomes getting all the old stuff again piece by piece. I can’t imagine it being worth it to try and ship your car. And if you’re planning on going to a major city, your experience will be far richer taking public transportation, being out and about on the street, immersed in the culture. One of the things I love most about living in Berlin is NOT having a car.

A word about Berlin itself: I love the city and it is certainly one I’d recommend. Because it’s only been 21 years since the end of communism, the west has had to absorb the less prosperous east, and that has kept this city unbelievably inexpensive compared to other major cities like Paris, London, NY, etc. despite having most of the same cultural offerings. HOWEVER, unemployment is quite high and finding jobs is very difficult for expats in general. If you’re in the art/music lifestyle, it’s really a great city because you can live on so little. Teaching english is a very good option but of course you’d be competing with nearly every other english-speaking expat looking for work. But if you’re persistent it’s quite doable. Beyond that, finding a job here is tough.

:rolleyes: Don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya . . .

I think you are better off trying to start outside the developed world - costs are much lower and you’ll make some contacts. When my wife and left the USA 9 years ago, we bought a one-way ticket to Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. We taught English, worked for a newspaper and did a TV commercial… in addition to running our software business. After 6 months we moved to Prague, then after 6 months, spent 6-9 months going overland to New Zealand. We then laded a contract in Dubai that took us there for 3 years.

I’d suggest Turkey would be good place to start.

This is why I suggested working for a US company. I regularly travel with my pet, and my company understands that we have to maintain our US lifestyle. Sure, in some countries we live in “rich” neighborhoods. In other countries we’re stuck in hotels (at least they’re Residence Inn type of hotels). In the last 11 years, I’ve spent a combined total of one year in Canada (kind of par with the USA as far as lifestyle), four years in Mexico, and am about to accept a three year assignment in China, with only minimal differences in quality of life – some better, some worse, but overall acceptable to an American.

Right, but if the point is to experience something different, then rather than staying at the multinational company’s compound you might as well stay home.

Or, move away from your hometown to some other part of the United States with wildly different customs and climate. You can go to Alaska, North Dakota, California, Louisiana, Alabama, Maine, or wherever. The United States contains a lot of variety.

It all depends on what you think you want from your adventure. There are probably multiple ways to get what you want that involve different trade-offs. Like, if your primary goal is language immersion, perhaps Quebec, or Miami or El Paso could suit your needs. If what you want is a change in culture, then somewhere in the developing world might suit your needs better than Europe. And so on.