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What you need to know about working abroad

Advice for students and graduates considering working abroad. Tips on working practices, job applications and the practical/administrative issues to consider.

Cultural differences

Working practices will vary depending on the country you are in. For example, the working hours and office culture in Asia tend to be very different from Europe and North America. Local attitudes to work and efficiency vary considerably too.

In some countries, such as Germany and Japan, the organisational structure tends to be strongly hierarchical, while a horizontal structure is more characteristic of Scandinavian countries. In the Netherlands decisions are made by consensus with every member of the team, regardless of rank, while in France and Spain senior management make most decisions. In Germany and many Eastern European countries even long-term colleagues use formal language with each other, whereas in north American and Australian workplaces first names are used from day one.

Take time to research the work culture of your chosen country. Your careers service should be able to supply you with some alumni contacts, or you could ask prospective employers to put you in contact with someone in a similar situation so that they can answer your questions.

Job applications

Different countries have different application methods. In the UK and Europe, most employers will expect you to apply with a covering letter and CV, or an online application. A covering letter should be a page long while a CV shouldn’t be longer than two. In the US, the standard method of application is a resumé – a one-page document chronicling relevant employment history and academic achievements.

Your degree will not necessarily carry the same value, or status, in European countries. You can expect to be generally younger than your EU counterparts, as they spend nearly twice as long at university, and your lack of relevant work experience may count against you with employers. You may need to explain to potential employers how your A level grades or Leaving Certificate results directly compare with:

  • The International Baccalaureate – a programme widely respected in Europe and which grew out of international schools’ efforts to establish a common curriculum and university entry credential for geographically mobile students.
  • The Scholastic Assessment Tests (SATS) – the US university entry-level requirements.

Administrative and practical issues

As an EU citizen, you do not need a visa to move within the EEA (European Economic Area). Discuss your work permit, residence permit and visa procedure with your employer prior to travelling. Within the EEA, you have the right to a range of social security benefits. Before you leave, make sure you have adequate medical, dental and travel insurance cover. Open a bank account as soon as you arrive.

Before leaving, ask your employer if they can help with finding accommodation for the first few weeks. The up-front charges for accommodation can be very high – normally a finder’s fee to the estate agent, one month’s rent in advance and a significant deposit. Budget for this as you will probably not be paid for four to six weeks after your arrival. Remember that taxation and social security contributions will affect your disposable income and check an online cost-of-living index.

Check your careers service library and website for information on your host country and discuss your preparations with the relevant careers adviser. While abroad, keep up to date with the Irish job market by regularly checking jobs on gradireland.com.

Before you go

  • Make sure your passport is current and valid.
  • Make copies of all important documents.
  • If you are going to an EU member state, get your European Health Insurance card from your local health board offices (in Northern Ireland apply online at www.ehic.org.uk or get an applications form from the post office) and your E-200 pension form.
  • Make sure your family have all your contact details. 
  • Find out which authorities you will have to register with when you arrive in your host country.
  • Brush up on your language skills, if necessary.