Changing careers overseas: This is how you do it!

  • two employees at office
Published on 2023-02-17 at 10:00 by Estelle
Many people choose to change careers when their current job no longer suits them or when they want to find purpose in their professional life. Some decide to take the leap when moving abroad, by choice, by necessity, or by chance, just following the opportunities that arise. Expats who have switched careers talks to us about their experience.

Why do people switch careers?

Switching careers means changing jobs or professional status. It can be a radical change that also impacts personal life, especially in the case of someone who's relocating overseas.

Different reasons lead to a career change abroad. Sometimes it comes out of necessity, for example, when the sector is saturated, when a job is no longer available, or when one's skills are not sought after in the host country. But sometimes, a career change can just be the result of a real desire for change, an urge to move on and acquire new skills, or the will to earn one's living through a passion.

Younger people often choose to switch careers because they randomly opted for a path in urgency at a time when they did not know what they wanted to do or be. And living abroad opens doors, especially linguistic ones, but not only. You will come across expatriates who became language teachers or translators by sheer force of circumstance. Others only discover abroad that their skills are heavily sought after and that this could be their absolute career path, even if their new position seems far from their initial field of expertise or studies.

Expats and their career change experiences

Who is in a better position to talk about switching careers overseas than expats themselves? 

Daphne wanted to be anything but a teacher, and yet, she ended up on this career path. "I had just returned from a year in Greece after having been awarded a writing grant. It was, therefore, a way of "returning to reality" after spending a year out of this world on the island of Ithaca. I chose three cities: Paris, Rome and London, to look for a "real" job. In the end, I was hired as an assistant for disabled students at an international school in London. I had no training, and the first month of the trial period was just about showing interest, empathy and common sense. I was totally conquered by the students and the staff. Gradually, these students with atypical profiles proved to me that the teaching profession could be extremely creative. It is, above all, about transmitting knowledge and sharing experiences. This is not at all what I had imagined when I was studying literature." Today, Daphne is her own boss, heading a business through which she provides courses and workshops in artistic expression while striving to retain a few hours to give writing classes. "I enjoy coaching people and sharing my passion in this way." Daphne has written novels and created her center in Paris.

Patricia, another expat, simply changed the subject she used to teach. "I am fortunate to have been able to continue teaching. Only the subject changed. I currently give French classes while, in France, I used to teach economics." When she moved to the United States, she thought that her knowledge of American economics and her English language skill would not be up to the standard of American teachers. "So, I chose to teach French as a Foreign Language, as well as French for Business. This gave me a significant advantage over American teachers." This is indeed one of the ways an expatriate can adapt during a career change.

Parenga, who is a French expat in the US, has switched careers several times as he moved around the world. He talks to us about his atypical experience. "The main reason is that I always followed my wife in her studies/work and, therefore, in her overseas adventures. The job I used to have in France was not adaptable to the United States (I am a civil servant), so for me, switching careers was necessary if I wanted to continue working abroad. In my case, my job in France is a passion job, which makes things maybe a little more difficult." Parenga has a technical degree he obtained more than 20 years ago, an unfinished course in history, and professional training that only made sense in his previous job. "Basically, my studies and experience in France are useless in the US! So, whatever I do, I need to start from scratch. In the US, I worked as a security system technician for a few months. This is a job I did during my first move to New Zealand 15 years ago. I've also been a tennis coach for several years. In New Zealand, I was a landscaper and a security technician. Today, after a new move and due to family obligations, I am going to switch careers once again."

Tips for switching careers overseas

So how do you smoothly switch careers as an expat? Parenga is on for some very useful advice. "Don't be afraid to try, failure is possible, but you have to use it to move forward. Be humble. When you arrive in a new country, when you don't master the language, and when you are in the middle of a career change, you have to be ready to start all over again." While he believes that this might not always be easy, considering your age, Parenga insists that it's part of the process. "For example, in my case, I had a thriving career in France, with the possibility of working in prestigious departments and being in charge of important files, but all that doesn't really matter when you have to start from scratch. During my stays in various countries, I had to accept people 20 years younger than me giving me orders. The older you get, the more difficult it can be." In his opinion, the key to success is to work hard. "There is no secret, no one will come looking for you, and nothing will fall from the sky. Resume your studies or get some training: the stronger background you have, the easier it is. Of course, it's hard to get back to school after a certain age, and family life can make you short of time, but if you have the courage to go for it, it can make a big difference in your career plans. No matter what happens, you have to keep smiling and stay positive. There will be ups and downs, times when things won't go your way and you will sometimes feel down, but that's how it is for everyone. So you have to keep things in perspective." Moving abroad is, for sure, a challenge, but so is a career change. But for Parenga, if you're able to combine both, there's no way you won't succeed.

Isn't that inspiring? Indeed, moving abroad can lead you to open up to jobs that you would never have imagined doing. Changing countries and experiencing new cultures are part of the game, but they can also encourage you to take up new challenges, especially careerwise.