How can expats resume their careers after a long break?

  • young woan,
Published on 2024-02-13 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Are you keen on getting back to work after a long career break? Things might not be as easy as they seem to be, especially for expat women. Where do you begin? Here are some tips to help you get back on track.

Take stock of your situation

Before you start job hunting, assessing your situation to define your new goals and tailor your job search accordingly is essential. This approach, often referred to as the "staircase method," involves taking gradual steps toward your ultimate objective of getting back to work. The key is to break down your larger goal into manageable steps to avoid becoming overwhelmed or procrastinating. When faced with such a huge task, it's common to feel unsure where to begin or attempt too much at once, leading to inaction. 

Are you an expat mum, spouse, or living abroad alone? What prompted your career break? Was it a voluntary decision or due to professional reasons? Did you take a break when your children were born? Was it on medical grounds, whether concerning yourself or a loved one? These clarifications serve as your starting point, providing context and framing your career trajectory.

Now that you've established the context, it's time to focus more specifically on your final goal. When embarking on a progressive journey, having a clear vision of your objective is crucial to staying on track. For example, you might have to rejoin a previous job, explore a career shift within your current industry, or venture into a new field. Alternatively, you may aspire to set up your own business. Each of these paths requires different strategies and approaches.

Figure out how you can reach your goal

You've settled on a career direction. Now, it's time to figure out how to make it happen. If you plan to re-enter the field you were in before your break, consider how things are currently done in your host country. Were you previously working in your expat country or your home country? Inquire about the job market: is your profession in high demand? Are there plenty of job opportunities available? Do you feel ready to return to work immediately, or would it be beneficial to undergo training first?

Similar questions arise if you're considering working in a new sector or starting your own business. Research the industry you're interested in: look into companies that are hiring, job prospects, salary trends, and other relevant factors. Additionally, investigate whether your desired profession is regulated in your host country. If it is, you may need to fulfill specific qualifications and certifications. Regulations vary from country to country in this regard.

Many countries provide grants for foreign entrepreneurs to start businesses, especially in promising sectors. Check the eligibility criteria for these incentives and also consider your visa or residency status in the host country. Are you a permanent resident? Are you allowed to establish the type of business you want? If you have any uncertainties, don't hesitate to seek legal advice in your host country.

List all your experiences and achievements

You might not initially consider this step during your research stage. However, acknowledging the milestones at the start of your career can motivate you to keep progressing. Make an inventory of all your accomplishments—not to boast, but to gain a clear understanding of your capabilities. It's common to lose confidence after a long break from the workforce — it might make you feel out of touch or disconnected. You can gain a fresh perspective on your successes by listing your achievements. Consider the challenges you've overcome: relocating to a new country, learning its language, immersing yourself in its culture. Perhaps you've been involved in community activities, practice a sport, or are responsible for your children's education. These experiences can provide valuable technical (hard skills) and interpersonal (soft skills) competencies.

Update your CV

Are you worried about gaps in your resume? Compiling a list of your achievements can help you identify skills gained from various activities. It's important to remember that "work" extends beyond paid activity. Parenting, involvement in community organizations, tutoring, leading groups, or even starting a community garden are all forms of work experience. As an expat mum, you've likely become good at crisis management, communication, negotiation, budgeting, accounting, project development, promoting sustainable practices, and more. Similar considerations can be made based on your individual situation.

From these technical skills, you can also draw psychosocial skills such as active listening, adaptability, problem-solving, creativity, empathy, negotiation, and flexibility — which are highly valued by companies. Unsure of what to call your time away from the traditional office? Once again, you can "professionalize" your experiences during your long career break. For example, you might consider titles like "Educational Negotiator," "Family Management Manager," "Sustainable Development Coordinator," "Family Health and Wellness Coach," "Administrative Supervisor," and so on.

Don't forget to adapt your CV to the specific company you're applying to and the culture of your host country. Consider factors like whether to include a photo, use a structured or more creative layout, or if it should be bilingual in the host country's language, etc. Make sure your CV is formatted correctly for the audience you're targeting. And, of course, remember to include a cover letter.


There's no need to sign up for every social media platform and job board. It's crucial to align your online presence with your industry and career goals. Determine where job opportunities in your field are posted—are they on official job boards or more informal platforms? Professional networks, especially LinkedIn, have become standard references. Focus on the professional networks most relevant to your job search, including those specific to your host country, if applicable. Additionally, register with employment agencies in your new country and attend physical networking events like job fairs and professional group meetings. These activities can help you ease back into the job market gradually. When networking and applying for positions, use professional language and present yourself with a professional look.

Remember to reactivate your informal networks: friends, former colleagues, neighbors, friends of friends, and so on. Spread the word that you're back in the job market. Network actively. Consider working in a coworking space (because even job hunting is a job). Even if your coworkers are in different industries, being around them can inspire you. Whether you actively network or not, being in a coworking environment immerses you in the world of work.

Consider training programs

Do you feel you're missing something or want to add something to your CV? Do you need a specific qualification for the company you want to set up or the new job you want to do? It's a good idea to consider training courses. Take the time to choose your training organization carefully, according to your objective. Do you want to revive a few memories (in business language, for example), fill in some gaps (but without seeking a diploma), or, on the contrary, obtain a degree or certification? 

There's been a surge in training courses and organizations, especially online. Numerous professionals are offering online training programs as well. Before enrolling, it's essential to verify the credentials of the organization or professional you're considering, especially if you're seeking qualifications recognized in your host country. Unfortunately, among the reputable players, there are also individuals more interested in profit than in delivering genuine knowledge. Prioritize institutions that are officially certified, and don't overlook universities.

Be organized

Are you someone who is always organized? Here's some good news: returning to work requires proper organization. Start off like a pro by keeping track of everything: your research efforts, the job applications you've submitted, any unsolicited inquiries you've made, the contacts you've established, and the professional events you've attended, among other things. And, of course, don't overlook keeping a comprehensive record of your work history. Include dates and allocate time to follow up with your contacts.

Do you have organizational problems or a tendency to procrastinate? Think of the Eisenhower matrix, and divide your tasks into four categories: 

  • urgent and important: the priorities of priorities, like answering a recruiter's call;
  • important, but not urgent: tasks to be planned (going to a job fair in a week's time, going to class...);
  • urgent but not important: tasks to be delegated (helping a friend, for example), as they may overlap with important tasks. The task is important to the friend but not to you;
  • neither urgent nor important: limit or cross off the list (hobbies).

Urgent tasks require immediate attention, while important ones focus on the long term. It's the important tasks you should prioritize, even though we often tend to delay them (procrastination) in favor of addressing immediate needs that may not be urgent. While helping friends and family is a good thing, ensuring that their demands don't interfere with your schedule is essential. Your expatriate journey shouldn't be defined by constant sacrifices.

Regarding leisure activities, it's not about eliminating them entirely but rather about striking a balance. If leisure activities begin to overshadow your important tasks, there's an imbalance that needs to be addressed.

Extra tips for resuming work after a long break 

Keep an eye on the market: read articles on your sector of activity. If you're setting up your own business, get out into the field, observe and talk to other entrepreneurs.

Tell your friends and family about your project. Whether or not you've chosen to move abroad, you're responsible for your professional project. If you're a couple, it's up to your partner to support you. The same applies if you have children of independent age.

Set realistic deadlines for yourself. The goal is not to pressure yourself but to align your actions with your objectives. For example, if you're considering returning to school, determine how many years it will realistically take for you to graduate and get back to work.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are organizations dedicated to helping people to get back to work in their host country. Some of these organizations focus specifically on supporting women, who often encounter challenges such as sexism, unequal pay, and unfamiliar host country policies. Remember that returning to work after a long break is entirely achievable. It's a gradual process, not something that happens overnight. Take it one step at a time, and celebrate each milestone.