The allure of working overseas is hard to resist. It may not be as glamorous as you thought, but it’s certainly fulfilling, eye-opening and enriching in many ways, and brings unexpected opportunities and life paths that you may never have imagined. I have been working in Singapore for almost 5 years and thought I would only be here for my 2 year contract at a hospital here, but it has ended up being more like a second (or third) home to me. I think everybody, regardless of career, can benefit from spending some time away from their bubble of life. So here’s what it takes to land and prepare for an overseas job!
Before You Graduate
If you have planned in advance and know you already want to head overseas (and kudos to you for being so organised!), do your research and take on any opportunity possible. Whether it’s an overseas placement, volunteer/research project, competition, or even a gap year overseas, any experience to expand your horizons is an opportunity to seize. Even if it’s not in the country you’re interested in, it shows potential employers you aren’t afraid to go out of your comfort zone and thrive in a new environment. If you have a specific country in mind, read their local newspaper, join the university student associations or mingle with international students to network. You never know if your potential future colleague might be there!
Familiarise Yourself in Your Professional Network
Whether you want to move for adventure and travel, moving with a partner or with family, or for better opportunities abroad, there are several key factors that can help you land a job overseas. Your own professional board may have postings for overseas positions that can help you get started. It also may have guidance on mutual recognition for overseas job with Australian qualifications and registration. There may even be discussion forums or working groups where fellow health professionals can share their experiences and tips with you. Always keep a lookout for these. For example, the Dietitians Association of Australia has a “Working Overseas” Discussion Group. There may also be globalised groups like the American Overseas Dietetic Association with overseas postings.
Similarly, check out the professional organisation in the country of interest. They’ll have useful information on potential jobs available, licensure requirements and any necessary additional certificates or training you may need. Contact the person in charge if it’s not clearly stated.
Learn More About the Country
If you have friends who are already working there, pick their brains about the ins and outs of living and working there! You will get much better insight talking to a local or somebody in the same shoes. Learn a new language or visit the country you’re keen on working in. Dive into their culture!
If you don’t know anyone there, check out the professional bodies’ list of practitioners or network with people on LinkedIn. Connect with people in a similar situation (graduated from an Australian uni and moved to this country) and strike up a conversation with them. You may want to explore different areas of work in different countries: each specialisation in your profession may actually be quite different from how the healthcare professional in Australia operates.
Find the Job!
Other than listings online in the country you’re interested in (both on general job portals and associations’ websites), consider looking at individual hospitals or clinics’ job openings. In fact, I came across my first job simply by a curious act of Googling “dietitian jobs in Singapore” without really planning to move. You may also be interested in more global health organisations like PeaceCorps, AVID, or the UN. Don’t discount volunteer work if you are financially able to; it may be just the thing you need to get your foot in the door in the industry.
Make Yourself Attractive
Be open-minded and mentally prepare yourself for the application process. Do your homework as to what the job requirements are. If you have any overseas experience before (e.g. during practical placements) this will be a big advantage you can highlight to your potential employer. Think about how the interview will be conducted and prepare yourself for a call, Skype or even travelling all the way over to meet them. Don’t wear pyjamas pants when you’re doing a video conference: you may unexpectedly need to stand and be stuck in an embarrassing situation! Generally speaking Australia is a top-tier country for qualifications so it means that you should be confident of your abilities.
I Got the Job! Now What?
To accept or not to accept, that is the question!
- Evaluate the offer and do your research. It’s essential to know what you’re getting yourself into. Is the organization a reputable one? What are their policies and procedures, is the contract reasonable? Is the expected renumeration something you are prepared to accept?
- Bear in mind exchange rates, additional bonuses, superannuation and taxation (often tax is lower than Australia’s so the actual salary may actually be good).
- All things considered, does this cover the cost of living in the country?
- Your decision also depends on whether you’re looking for more money, or just a new experience.
- Be prepared that any professional experience you have in Australia may not necessarily translate to exactly the same level of recognition when overseas.
- What is the duration of the contract? If professional registration in the new country is compulsory, will your registration and visa be covered during this time?
- Safety is paramount: make sure you know it is a safe country you’re moving to and precautions to take. You can learn more about each country on the Smart Traveller website.
- If you know someone living there, it makes it easier to get support (whether it’s family or friends). An important question is whether you will you be homesick, and whether you’re ready for independent life in a foreign country.
- Even better is to speak to somebody who’s working in that organisation in the job role you’re interested in and discuss potential challenges like language barriers and work culture.
- Think about what your plan is: is it to stay for a short-term, long-term, or just play it by ear? Know that nothing is set in stone, but prepare for an exit plan if your intention is a stint only.
- Speak with a mentor to hear their experiences with working in that country and prospects if you move back to Australia.
- Will your employer arrange for your medical and police clearance, visa, relocation expenses, banking, transportation, and accommodation? If not, negotiate with them, and will you be able to do it at a reasonable cost?
Handling Things Down Under…
- Think about how you’re going to handle any property, investments, or bank accounts in Australia.
- Do you plan to exchange your salary into your Australian bank account, or will you keep it in your new country’s bank? Determine your taxation status, superannuation funds, Medicare, bank minimum balances, and so forth.
- Forward all mail to your new address.
- Will you maintain Australian licensure for your profession? (quite likely you will be, and applying for mutual recognition with another professional body in your new country if it is necessary)
- Importantly, hold a farewell party with your Aussie family and friends!
Getting Ready for the Move
Now it’s the nitty-gritties for a smooth transition! If this is your first time moving out of home, prepare yourself for a rollercoaster. Living alone is not easy and being away from family may not be for everyone. Culture shock is real as well; make sure you are ready to be independent and for the work culture of your new home (especially if you’re moving to a developed Asian country where work-life balance may not be as laidback).
Immerse yourself in your new home to learn the intricacies and their way of life. Try not to stick with just your fellow expat friends as tempting as it may be! For example, as my job as a dietitian, I browsed supermarkets and hawker centres in Singapore to learn more about the cuisine, and made many Singaporean friends. It will go a long way in helping you develop rapport with patients and people you work with.
Now go forth and explore; you can now look forward to getting that dream job overseas! The world is your oyster!
Bonnie Lau is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, with over 4 years working experience. She has worked in two hospitals in Singapore, and currently at GlycoLeap. GlycoLeap is an effective programme that offers everyday support from a dietitian to lose weight or lower HbA1c (https://glycoleap.com).