Can you work abroad with disabilities?

  • personne handicapée au travail
Published on 2024-04-30 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Yes, it is indeed possible to work abroad with a disability, and yes, there are obstacles, whether the disability is visible or not. However, these barriers do not jeopardize the expatriation plan—far from it. Here are some practical tips for moving abroad with a disability.

Expats with disabilities: Overcoming common misconceptions 

This is by far the most significant obstacle faced by people with disabilities. The association of disability with inactivity is still too common, supported by authentic statistics. For instance, in France, only "38% of recognized disabled individuals" were employed in 2022, which is half the rate of the overall population, according to the French Directorate for Research, Studies and Statistics (DARES). In the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.3% of individuals with disabilities were employed in 2022, compared to 65.4% of those without disabilities. 

Although the gap remains significant, the employment rate for people with disabilities has slightly increased (up from 19.1% in 2021).

Organizations that support workers with disabilities in their moving abroad efforts emphasize these figures to highlight that not only is working with a disability feasible but so is expatriation. They maintain an optimistic view without ignoring the real challenges. The significant employment gap between those with and without disabilities, evident in many countries, shows that accessing the job market is more challenging for those with disabilities.

It's more difficult, but not impossible. This is the ongoing struggle of associations and organizations that support the integration of people with disabilities. For example, the European mobility program Erasmus+ provides support to help expatriates with disabilities.

Building your professional project 

Proper planning is key, and this advice is given to all potential expatriates, regardless of whether they have a disability. The importance of preparation is even more emphasized for those with disabilities. Consider the circumstances of moving abroad; whether it involves an international transfer (with an expatriation contract or not), make sure to negotiate the contract carefully with the company. Generally, the contract includes support for settling in a foreign country.

When it comes to disability, many regions of the world still need to make progress in terms of accessibility, which remains one of the main obstacles for future workers with disabilities. It's essential to choose your host city by considering these practical parameters. Depending on the disability, moving to an area with poor transport services (and accessible transport) should be avoided, as should regions where access to healthcare is difficult (few doctors, specialists, hard-to-find medications, complicated care, etc.).

The professional project thus encompasses all practical aspects of life. It's also crucial to ensure with the employer (if there is already an employment contract) that the company has considered the nature of the disability and will adapt the workplace and working conditions accordingly. A review of the host country's disability legislation will confirm the advancements (or lack thereof) of the country in this area, and the government's commitment to defending and protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

Seek information and support

While resources exist for people with disabilities, they are still too little known. This includes Erasmus+, which is expanding its communication to reach more people with disabilities. Too many potential expatriates abandon their projects without realizing they were feasible. Erasmus+ offers support not only financially but also in guiding future expatriates in developing their career projects abroad.

At the state level, several other structures support workers with disabilities. These organizations advocate for better inclusion of people with disabilities in the labor market and may have an international branch, like France Travail in France, or Canada's government tool for self-declaration of disability, which allows online access to federal public service job offers reserved for people with disabilities. In New Zealand, the Ministry for Disabled People offers resources for support and job finding.

More tips for working abroad with a disability

Be cautious about allowances: those provided in your country of residence will be discontinued if you relocate to a foreign country. For example, French people have to give up their disability adult allowance (AAH) when moving abroad unless they are going to pursue studies, vocational training, or learn a language abroad.

Other aids are available for European citizens moving to other EU countries, so you could benefit from assistance in those countries. If you are moving to a non-European country, you are advised to contact social services to discuss your project and learn about the steps to receive aid potentially. When in a foreign country, expats should apply through the social service of their consulate, which assesses disability severity to decide on the aid.

Obtaining feedback from people with disabilities living in the host country is invaluable. Connecting with them provides insights into practical life in that country. Even if these expats do not have the same disability, they can provide a different perspective, highlighting aspects that those without disabilities might not notice. They can also serve as role models for the potential expatriate, confirming that moving abroad with a disability is indeed possible.

Useful links: 

Erasmus+: Support for People with Disabilities

World Disability Union

International Disability Alliance

France: Mon parcours handicap

Canada: Self-Declare as Disabled

New Zealand: Whaikaha, Ministry of Disabled People

Accessible Japan