In today’s increasingly globalized world, more and more people are choosing to live, work, and study abroad—and this trend is great. Covid may have temporarily dampened this trend with more extended visa and employment sponsorship lead times; however, with employers selectively supporting “remote” work, this trend remains strong.

Why have a global career

Social studies have shown that international experiences can enhance self-discerning reflections, thereby enhancing creativity, reducing intergroup bias, and potentially promoting career success. 1

Why are self-discerning reflections more likely to happen when living abroad? When people live in their home country, they are often surrounded by others who behave similarly. They are not compelled to question whether their behaviors reflect their core values or the values of the culture in which they are embedded. In contrast, people are exposed to new cultural values and norms when living abroad. This prompts them to repeatedly engage with their values and beliefs, which are then either discarded or strengthened, quite often the latter. This self-reflection and strengthening relative to different environments can have a compounding effect on a person’s career and leadership personality. 

To quote Michael Crichton, in his autobiographical book, Travels, “Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am…stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines…you are forced into direct experience [which] inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience.”

Here are some key things to consider if you’re planning a career move internationally.

Be clear about why you want to work overseas

A key question to ask yourself: Is it about my career or my lifestyle? If you like working by day and hitting the beach straight from the office, then a move from London to Costa Rica could be right for you. Such a move may be less dramatic regarding your career development, as you may be making a sideways move. Think clearly about why an international career is important and how it “enhances” your career.

Do your research

You might have been on holiday in Delhi or Tokyo, and while this will give you a good feel for the place, you’ll need a lot more information to make an informed decision about your move overseas.

  • What’s the job market really like in your space? 
  • How frequently do opportunities come up? 
  • How much will you need to make to cover rent and essentials like food and public transport? 
  • What does a work-week culture look like (37.5 hours, 40 hours, etc.)? 

A good recruiter can advise you on all such points, and if they’re a global consultancy, they can be working for you both before you leave and after you land.

Keep an open mind about your choice of location

If you’re primarily interested in international experience to accelerate your career, it pays to look beyond the obvious locations. Only by selecting innocuous places, like Singapore and Sydney (to name a couple), that are well established, you’re likely to have many competitors, and it’s harder to see results. Be adventurous and consider tapping into emerging markets like Thailand, Vietnam, or the Philippines. These markets are still maturing, hence less competition and plenty of opportunities – not to mention fascinating local culture and heritage.

Additionally, you may be part of smaller, less-experienced teams or helping business operations get off the ground in emerging markets. This could lead to a higher profile and greater responsibility, allowing you to develop experience and expertise more quickly. Look at opportunities where you have the potential to advance.

Consult with your employer

If you’re considering applying for an internal move within a global company, make use of your HR or talent development team. Sit with them and ask for their advice about how suitable an international move might be for you and what sort of progression you could expect within the organization as a result. Never underestimate talking with other executives who have had international assignments or lived and worked in countries you are considering. There’s a tremendous opportunity for learning and advice from others who have forged the same path before you. 

Don’t expect what you saw in the brochure – think about the long game

It’s not just your destination that could change radically when you make an international move, but the nature of your work, too. Being a manager that’s part of a 50-person team in an established market like Singapore, for example– where there could be lots of established systems in place and clear roles and responsibilities in a team – is very different to help set up your company’s new office in Bangkok, where you may have a skeleton staff, and you’re building things up from the ground.

In such situations, you’ll need a can-do attitude. Be ready to wear many hats and get your hands dirty. It can be tricky and not a challenge that everyone could pull off. If you focus on the big picture and deliver positive outcomes, you will have gained exceptional experience and significantly boosted your attractiveness to hiring managers, both internally and externally. Leadership is forged through strife, and the ability to remain calm under pressure and focus comes from navigating experiences.

Network, network, network

People don’t often factor in how much they will miss their friends and family and how hard it can be to get yourself settled into a new culture and country. It makes a massive difference if you can find friends, colleagues, or alma mater in town who can show you the ropes, not just for practical things like where to shop or how to get a good internet deal, but also how to navigate office and company culture.

Often, nationalities gravitate to established expat communities and researching these ahead of time can provide a ready means of support for new arrivals.

Make sure your loved ones are supportive

People often look for international experiences when they’re early in their career and less settled in life, and there’s a good reason for that. Moving overseas is a significant upheaval, and if you have a spouse and children, many more factors must be considered. But every individual will need to factor in the effect of their move on their loved ones and ensure they are entirely on board with your plans. At times, the best-laid expat assignments abruptly end due to family members being unhappy, and this causes stress within the family.

Be prepared to take one step back to move two forward

Sometimes, you may need to make a lateral or even a tiny backward move to prove yourself in a new market – especially if you’re moving from managing a larger team to a smaller team. In the long run, this can be incredibly helpful in a new culture and environment if you intend to stay for the long term and truly establish and develop yourself.

Immerse yourself 

In addition to career-boosting benefits, working overseas gives you a fantastic opportunity to develop an authentic local experience. It’s essential to look beyond your colleagues and expat community for ways to build your connections more broadly. Learn the local language and be open to trying something new – you never know what you might discover about yourself or where these new experiences and connections might lead you later in life. Most importantly, live in the moment and enjoy the journey.