the graduate's guide to working abroad

The graduate's guide to working abroad

A quick guide to everything you need to get the most out of working abroad. Advice on where to go, who to work for, visas and work permits and day-to-day practicalities.
You can increase your employability and develop your skills while experiencing different cultures.

Planning | Which country? | Overseas internships | What kind of work? | Finding employers overseas | Visas, work permits and qualifications | Day-to-day living

There are many advantages to working abroad after graduating, whether you’re planning to take time out and pick up casual jobs while you travel or want to start your career overseas. The benefits can be both personal and professional: you can increase your employability and develop your skills while experiencing different cultures.

During tough economic times when graduate jobs are hard to come by in the UK, working abroad may increase your chances of getting the role and experience you want. You may also benefit from better living conditions or higher pay than in the UK.

As you explore your options further, check out our country guides to working abroad. For each country, you’ll find out about the job market, sources of vacancies, visa requirements, the language skills you’ll need and the preferred format for applications and CVs. We also explain how to set about getting work experience and provide an overview of what it’s like to live in each country.

Planning: what do you want to get out of working abroad?

It will help you to plan your time abroad and make the most of it if you know where you stand on the following questions:

  • Why do you want to work abroad?
  • What do you hope to achieve from the experience?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • What do you want to do?
  • How long would you like to spend abroad?
  • How you will benefit personally? And in terms of your career?

It will also help if you think ahead about what you want to do after your time abroad. What will you do when you come back to the UK? If you plan on using your experience abroad to help get a job once you return, think about how you will market this to employers.

Your initiative in getting a job overseas, as well as your motivation in following it through and making it a success, will impress employers. The ability to communicate and work as part of a team with people from a broad range of cultural backgrounds is also an invaluable skill.

Which countries offer the best employment prospects for UK graduates?

The state of the local jobs market, work permit requirements and immigration procedures will all affect your chances. You can find out more from the relevant embassy or high commission in the UK.

  • Broadly speaking, European Union (EU) nationals have the right to work in any other EU member state (as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) without the need for a work permit. One exception to this is Croatian nationals, who still face temporary restrictions on working in the EU. It’s also worth bearing in mind that unemployment tends to be higher in some of the newer member states, so it may be more difficult to find a job there.
  • Immigration to Commonwealth countries is becoming more difficult, as they produce large numbers of their own graduates.
  • Overseas organisations are often only interested in recruiting British graduates if they are unable to satisfy recruitment needs from their own nationals. This applies in reverse too, as it is difficult for non-EU nationals to get employment in the UK if there are British people who can do the job.
  • Immigrant visas will usually only be issued to individuals applying from their home country. Graduates who get offered permanent employment whilst in their destination country will usually have to return home to obtain the proper visa. This can be a lengthy process, sometimes lasting up to 12 months, so you should not rely on finding a permanent job when you get to your new country.
  • Some countries, such as the US, will only issue work visas to individuals with definite jobs to go to, and the visa application process has to be instigated by the employer. It may be possible to be transferred on a temporary basis if you already work for a company that has offices in the UK, as well as your destination country. However, such employment will not allow you to stay permanently, so you need to look into what visa you would require if you wish to stay longer.
  • Other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan, offer working holiday visas that allow you to combine work and travel for up to a year. These schemes are particularly aimed at people who want to take on casual work while they travel to top up their funds.

Apply for your visa in plenty of time as obtaining a visa can be a long and complicated process. You should also get up-to-date information on your destination country to make sure it is safe to travel. Always remember to check the website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) before you leave.

Overseas internships and exchange programmes

The following schemes offer UK students the chance to gain work experience abroad:

Popular career choices for UK students seeking to start work overseas

Voluntary work. Volunteering projects overseas are often based in the developing world, working with local communities to tackle issues around health, social care, education and conservation. You can find out more about planning international voluntary work as part of a gap year in our work experience section.

Teaching. Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) teachers are employed in commercial language schools, state schools, education and development organisations, and large companies. There are more structured teaching programmes specific to individual countries as well.

There are also international schools all over the world in need of qualified teachers. Experienced teachers are recruited to teach the normal range of subjects at primary and secondary level.

You can find out more about TEFL from our TEFL job description and guidance on alternative careers in education.

Finance. The financial sector is a global industry with major financial centres throughout the world. However, with the decreasing numbers of visas available and banks demanding that their graduates have knowledge of the region they will be working in, it is very hard to land your first graduate job overseas. Working abroad is more likely once you’re established in your career.

Oil and gas. The oil and gas sector offers many opportunities to work overseas, predominantly in Africa and the Middle East. Working for an international energy company does not guarantee that you will work abroad though, as many companies choose to employ local people.

Consultancy. There has been a steady growth in the volume of consulting business undertaken by British companies overseas, and many UK companies plan to branch into new and emerging markets.

Creative industries. The creative arts industry offers good opportunities for work abroad, from touring musicians to artists promoting and selling their work. The European Commission Creative Europe programme provides funding for transnational cultural activities both within and outside of the EU and helps artists and others working in creative fields to develop their skills and work across borders.

Academic research and lecturing. European Researchers Mobility Portal (Euraxess) is a one-stop shop for researchers moving between EU countries, and advertises academic posts in the UK and abroad.

Finding employers overseas: your best options

How do you set about finding an employer overseas who will take you on? Here are some of the best options for students and graduates seeking jobs abroad.

  • UK employer with overseas offices. However, the employer may be more likely to offer you an overseas placement once you have gained experience in the UK.
  • Companies that recruit worldwide. Examples include investment banks/retail banks; solicitors with international divisions; accountancy firms – particularly those with a consultancy arm; oil companies; fast-moving consumer goods companies and civil and structural engineering companies.
  • UK public sector and government organisations that offer overseas postings. Many government departments offer both short-term and long-term postings, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The armed forces and the Civil Service may also offer opportunities overseas. The main recruitment route for graduates entering the Civil Service is the Civil Service Fast Stream, and other vacancies are advertised by the individual departments via the Civil Service Job Search.

There are also job opportunities overseas with the following international organisations:

  • The British Council advertises jobs in TEFL and education as well as a range of other posts.
  • European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) – the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, based in Switzerland. It offers a range of career opportunities for undergraduates, graduates and experienced researchers in particle physics, computer science, engineering and mathematics.
  • European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) – organises open competitions to select highly qualified staff for recruitment to all institutions of the European Union (EU).
  • European Commission Traineeships Office – operates an in-service training and work attachment programme that gives recent university graduates first-hand experience of the workings of EU institutions. Traineeships last for about five months and start either in March or October.
  • International Monetary Fund (IMF) – offers a variety of programmes, including the Research Assistants Programme (for new graduates with a ‘superior academic record’) and the Fund Internship programme (for PhD students specialising in macroeconomics or a related field). There’s also the IMF’s Economist Program (EP), where participants typically either have a PhD or are studying for one.
  • United Nations (UN) – offers a range of opportunities, including programmes for young professionals, associate experts, internships and volunteers. They also offer temporary jobs. Roles in specific divisions, such as The UN Refugee Agency UNCHR, are advertised on the divisions’ own websites. The UNHCR offers internship programmes in its London offices and overseas.
  • The World Bank – operates the Young Professionals Program for the recruitment of people under the age of 32 for two-year postings. Applicants must specialise in a field relevant to the World Bank’s operations and have at least three years of relevant professional experience related to development or continued academic study at doctoral level.

International students graduating from British universities should note that UK-based international companies regularly recruit those interested in returning to work in their home countries. Similarly, companies from overseas regularly target international students (and home students) studying at UK universities.

You can also try international job posting websites and business directories, or recruitment agencies and online journals, magazines and newspapers in your target country.

Visas, work permits and qualifications for jobs overseas

  • UK or EU citizens do not need a work permit or visa to work legally in any other country in the European Union (EU).
  • For many other countries, including the US, it is much more difficult to obtain a work permit. In most cases, you will need a job offer before getting the relevant visa. This needs to be applied for, on your behalf, by your prospective employer.
  • Some countries have skilled migration programmes designed to attract suitably qualified foreign workers to plug skills shortages in the local economy. The immigration section of government websites will inform you of any specialist programmes.
  • Some countries, such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, operate a points system to determine visa eligibility. This is for those wishing to emigrate rather than work short-term.
  • Check the relevant foreign embassy in the UK for specific information about visas and other legal requirements. Contact details for all foreign embassies in the UK are available at Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
  • Certain countries require a passport to remain valid for a minimum period after the date you enter the country – make sure you check if this applies to you.
  • Potential employers who are unfamiliar with the UK education system might not understand your qualifications. In a bid to help with this, Europass, a European-wide initiative, provides a portfolio of five documents which are designed to increase the transparency of people’s competencies, skills and qualifications through a standardised format.

Day-to-day living overseas: health, finance and accommodation

Health. The UK has reciprocal healthcare arrangements with most European countries, which means that UK citizens are entitled to free or reduced-cost medical treatment. If you’re working in a European Economic Area (EEA) country, you will need to obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to qualify.

Outside the EEA, you will generally have to pay for medical treatment. It is advisable to investigate healthcare costs and options for getting health insurance. Details of your entitlements are available from the NHS country-by-country guide, which focuses on the EU but also includes information about a number of non-EU countries with which the UK has reciprocal healthcare agreements. Getting adequate travel insurance before you go is very important. If you require vaccinations, check with your GP when you need to receive them.

Finance. If you’re moving overseas inform HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and find out whether you will still be required to pay UK tax and National Insurance contributions. If you are already in a UK-based pension scheme, contact HMRC to find out about the implications of working overseas for your pension status. You may also wish to seek professional pension advice.

Accommodation. If you are arranging your own accommodation, the Association of International Property Professionals (AIPP) has a searchable database of members which will help you identify estate agents to contact. When viewing properties, if possible, take someone with you who speaks the language, and don’t sign anything you don’t understand. Be wary about handing over money in advance. Directgov – Preparing to move or retire abroad has a useful checklist to work through before you go.


Our information and advice on job hunting, further study and visas remains current in the wake of the result of the UK referendum on membership of the European Union, and will be reviewed in the light of future developments.

Written by AGCAS editors, 2017