How to Move Abroad and Find a Job in 11 Steps
By Tamara Murray
"I wish I could live here," many of us say while on vacation somewhere far away. Meet Kerry, who actually made it happen. Here's how she made Rome, Italy her new home.
Kerry was in love with her career and life in San Francisco, where she worked in marketing for a financial services company. She had no reason to leave, until she visited Italy in March 2013.
"Italy was romantic, challenging, charming, beautiful, and delicious. I was smitten," Kerry writes. "And I couldn't stop thinking about it."
One year later, she was on a plane to Italy. Her goal: find an employer who would sponsor her within 90 days, the maximum visit for a U.S. tourist without a visa. Now, she's working in Rome for the United Nations World Food Programme and eating pizza along historic, cobblestone streets.
How'd she do it? I caught up with Kerry via Skype from her apartment in Rome to learn more. While every situation is unique, much of what Kerry did is universal.
Step 1: Consider getting help with the decision
"When I came back from Italy that March, I asked, 'How can I live there?' First, I enrolled in Italian classes at a school I found in downtown San Francisco. Then, I got a life coach I found through Yelp. I read the reviews and saw that she'd lived abroad. You get a free consultation and, if it's not a fit, there's no obligation to keep working together. People think life coaching is really touchy feely, but it's structured and goal-oriented. She gave me homework and asked questions that moved me forward. My goal of moving to Italy took over our sessions, and by August I'd made the decision to go."
Step 2: Make a savings plan
"Talk to people who've done similar things and don't be afraid to ask questions. I talked to a colleague who took a year off in Europe and she was very open about how much she'd saved which helped me plan. My goal was to hit $30K in savings to last me for six months. I stopped contributing to my retirement plan and factored in when I knew I'd be receiving a bonus. I saved for eight months."
Step 3: Research visa requirements
"Google really helped me. What are the rules for being a resident? What do I need to know? For someone my age who isn't retired, it's either a work visa or student visa. I wanted to go the work visa route. So I needed to find an employer that would sponsor me."
Step 4: Ask yourself what jobs you don't want
"Your job search depends on where you are in your career. Ask yourself what you are NOT willing to do - it's an important question. People will say you should be a barista, English teacher, or au pair. I had researched the job situation: there was no way an Italian cafe would sponsor a work visa for an American, especially with the Italian youth unemployment rate at 40 percent. A colleague of mine taught English abroad and said the pay isn't good. Plus, in Italy they'd rather hire someone from Britain because there's no visa required. And to be an au pair, it's not for me. I'm going to live in Rome and watch three kids? That's not the experience I wanted."
Step 5: Research the job market and explore possibilities
"I looked at three categories of organizations: Italian, international, and American. I kept everything in a spreadsheet. From my research, I knew most jobs were located in Rome or Milan. I didn't have the language skills for an Italian company, so I focused on finding an American or international organization based in either of those two cities. From there, I looked for openings with those organizations where my marketing and communications experience would be a benefit. LinkedIn was a great resource because you can narrow your search by city and see how many other people are applying, and I would also just Google 'jobs in Rome' to find local job boards."
Step 6: Reach out to your network for help
"Once I narrowed down possible companies to work for, I sent people in my network an email asking for connections, which got a lot of responses. I treated those responses and connections like informational interviews. I respected their time, had questions prepared, and my goal was to walk away with three or more things I could follow-up on."
Here's a sample networking email:
I'm reaching out to you because I trust you, I respect your opinion, and I value your professional perspective.
After much personal reflection and soul searching, I've decided to take a massive leap and move to Italy. I spent a wonderful month there a year ago, and fell in love with the culture, the language, and the food. The plan is to resign from my current job at the end of March, enjoy one last month in San Francisco in April, spend time with family in Pennsylvania in May, and move to Rome in June.
I'm in job search mode now. I am looking for positions in which I can use my marketing and communications skills, either as a contractor or in a full-time position. As you know, successful job searching is all about networking and building connections.
Here's the Request!
Therefore, I'm asking your help in connecting me with personal or professional contacts in any or all of the following:
1. Introductions to other marketing and communications professionals.
2. Introductions to professionals who work for the following companies that are either headquartered or have offices in Rome:
-Salesforce, Nike, Google, World Food Programme (WFP), UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Microsoft, Doctors without Borders, Save the Children, and any Financial Services company
3. Introductions to personal or professional contacts in Rome or in Italy; and/or
4. Introductions to professionals in the food and wine industry.
I'm attaching my resume as background, and you can feel free to forward this email/resume on to others, introduce us by email, whatever is easiest for you.
I really appreciate your help. My announcement is not public, so I ask that you keep this confidential for now. Many, many thanks!
Step 7: Start applying before you leave, and don't let the written job description dissuade you
"Once I figured out the job market, I started applying for jobs. I had some phone interviews while in San Francisco, including one with the United Nations World Food Programme. I didn't get that job, but another position in the same division opened a month later. It was a more junior position, but I applied anyway. When I arrived in Rome the next month, I got a phone and in-person interview. It was apparent to everyone that the position was a bit too junior for me, so they decided they could just give me more responsibility to match my experience. I was offered a one-year contract, with a special work visa for the contract period."
Step 8: Understand unique salary and tax situations
"Because it was the U.N., most of the salary information is public and consultants are paid based on a set structure. Still, I had already done my homework on the pay scale. Google is wonderful for that. I also had to get a sense of the tax situation. Would I qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion? Or is this considered self-employment?"
Step 9: Be over-prepared when it comes to visa processing
"After I received my offer, I went back to the U.S. and stayed with family in Pennsylvania. I had to wait for two weeks for my paperwork to arrive at the consulate so I could apply for my visa. Then I could return to Italy. My advice? If you know an offer is coming, book an appointment with your nearby consulate as quickly as you can. You can always reschedule, but it's better to get it on the books because sometimes there's a six-week wait. I had appointments at the Philadelphia and Baltimore Italian consulates and just kept moving them. You should also call the consulate ahead of time and find out EXACTLY what you need to bring. Once the paperwork arrived at the consulate from Italy, I had an appointment already scheduled for the next day. They got me the visa the following week and I flew back to Rome."
Step 10: Enjoy your new home country, but remember you're not on vacation anymore
"You can't live in Rome and be unhappy. It is a challenging place to live though. Getting things done can be a long process. One of my colleagues said it was easier for her to get her Internet installed when she lived in the Sudan. Traffic is bad, roads close at weird times, and there are public transit strikes monthly. But I can also go eat a pizza and sit outside and it's fantastic. I pulled it off! I did it; I live here. The grocery stores are so interesting. I have an apartment in a cool, historic neighborhood. I had dinner the other night with the 89-year-old woman who lives downstairs."
Step 11: Leave with gratitude
"Don't leave where you live when it sucks. Leave your job, your life, on a good note. I can't stress this enough. I was grateful to have lived in an amazing city like San Francisco for 14 years. At the end of my contract, if I don't get an extension or a new contract, I'll have to leave Rome and go back to the States. I don't have an apartment or even a city to go back to. But I've learned so much from the job I have about what I want and don't want, how important a team environment is to me. It's so important to challenge yourself no matter what age you are or where you are in your career. It reaffirms your values. Just don't leave with a grudge - leave with gratitude."
- Written by Tamara Murray (@tamaramurray), a social-change communications consultant, full-time traveler, and author of Awesome Supervisory Skills: Seven Lessons for Young, First-Time Managers. She and her husband set out on sabbatical to explore Latin America in 2013 with two backpacks and their dog - and it transformed their lives. Now they're traveling across North America in a minivan-turned-camper while freelancing.