US technology professionals often work abroad but under different circumstances than their foreign counterparts. US techies, especially consultants, are often paid a premium for working in other countries. If you're working abroad for a US firm, assorted perks, like a housing allowance, may be part of the compensation. Those techies hired by foreign companies may take pay cuts but will likely enjoy double the vacation and a less work-focused culture, especially in Europe.
US technical professionals need proven expertise and in-demand skills to work abroad. “You're going to find more Americans wanting to go overseas, but it's going to be more difficult than it has been in the past," says Bob Senatore, executive vice president of information technology-staffing firm Comforce Information Technologies.
Strategies for Techies Looking for Work Overseas
- Gain a Particular Expertise: You may leverage that knowledge into international assignments, typically as a consultant. The expertise should be deep and industry-specific.
- See If Your Employer Is Overseas: If your company operates on the international stage, you may be able to spend a year or two in a company office abroad.
- Do Your Research: Applying directly to firms or through a recruiter typically requires you to research which firms need your area of expertise. According to Senatore, European firms are particularly interested in SAP, Web development and aerospace engineering experience.
- Expertise Is Key: "You need to have something to offer," says Helen Leong, director of software recruitment for Management Recruiters, the Bay Area office of executive search firm Management Recruiters International. "Just a love for overseas work is not enough."
Whether a US or foreign company, the organization will hire a US techie only when necessary. "Typically, it would be a lack of a skill set or a dire need that's not available locally," Leong says. "There needs to be a justification for it."
And don't expect to spend your time visiting museums, especially if you're a consultant. Robert Taylor, president of consulting firm Third Coast Systems, says a typical international workweek means flying to the assignment on Sunday night, often to Latin America, followed by long days (8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.), late dinners and then flying out on Fridays. "There is very little time to sightsee," he notes.
Consultants should be aware of issues specific to working in another country. "Billing rates are typically higher," Taylor says. "But collections can be slow, and the foreign client generally has a legal advantage if there are disputes."
The International Tech Job Hunt
Want to search for tech work abroad? Follow these tips:
- Look from the US: Unless you're truly adventurous, look for a job from home. That's particularly essential when traveling to a developing country, since workers hired there often receive wages far below those a US tech worker would accept. However, according to Leong, you’re generally treated well while working abroad. "If you're sent abroad by a US company, you get the red-carpet treatment," she notes.
That red carpet may include moving expenses and cross-cultural training. "Don't just go there," Leong cautions. "Everything is different abroad, and you have much less access. As much as possible, plan while you're here."
- Target High-Growth Countries: Research countries with vibrant technology industries and demand for your specific skills. Look for countries trying to lure technical talent. But remember: You'll have tough competition, because countries seeking foreign tech workers often look to the same countries US companies do, such as India and China.
- Highlight Your Expertise: Emphasize not just what technologies you know, but the depth of your experience. If a company believes you have something no one else can offer, you'll have a shot at breaking in, even if it must make a special effort to hire you.