Career

50 Ideas To Create a New Career Abroad

I thought my career was dead when I moved abroad. I was about to move to China with my husband. I had given up my job back in The Netherlands and would not have a work permit in my new country, China.

I was a newbie expat wife and clueless about the possibilities of careers abroad.

Instead, moving abroad turned out to be a great way of exploring other possible careers before finding my love of coaching. And in the past 5 years I have met so many inspiring expat partners who created a career or business abroad for themselves, with or even without a work permit.

Some (re) started their new career out of financial necessity, some out of enthusiasm, and others out of sheer coincidence. By coincidence I mean they missed an item abroad and started importing, designing or producing these items themselves.

Others have done it and so can you

These professional transformation stories I still remember vividly:

  • The male expat partner who reinvented himself from IT Manager back home to Commercial Photographer abroad. He taught himself better photography through endlessly watching Youtube movies about photography, and experimenting in his apartment and outdoors. An acquaintance in the hotel business liked his ideas for a new commercial campaign, which set him off in this new direction.
  • My mentor in Beijing who arrived there as a six months pregnant, non-Chinese speaking lawyer and left 7 years later with 2 kids and 2 shops retailing international brand baby items as well as a successful online store on Taobao, the major Chinese internet shopping platform. At her next destination, she now manages a team of lawyers, thanks to the added experience of managing her sales team in China.
  • The stay at home mum who started a party decoration business (sourcing and producing) together with her Chinese driver and went on to decorate many a party at Beijing embassies.

The examples are endless: the secretary who started a school, the marketing assistant who set up a high end brand of indoor kids clubs, the art historian and the translator who became writers, the commercial real estate agent who became a cycling guide.

It May Take Time

For most people, like for me, the new path wasn’t immediately clear. It took a time and energy to get settled abroad, and sometimes ideas only took shape after babies had grown into school kids, leaving the house empty for dreams and desires to emerge. Often, they tried out a few new jobs and careers before they found one that fitted.

Success depends on many factors

Individual skills, financial necessity and location related circumstances (like local demand for your skills, number of expats and the languages you speak) all influence the possibilities to find jobs or switch careers abroad. As does the size of your dreams and the time you invest.

Sometimes you will need to adjust your definition and expectations of what a career is (will you have a boss, an office, and a business card?) and how much you will earn. And sometimes the available options do not match your interests. For example, someone advised my friend, then an English teacher, to use her Dutch heritage to start flower arrangement classes for rich and bored Chinese women. She could charge three times as much per hour. However, she decided against it as she was not interested in working with the target group and did not consider herself a flower girl.

Individual skills, financial necessity and location related circumstances (like local demand for your skills, number of expats and the languages you speak) all influence the possibilities to find jobs or switch careers abroad. As does the size of your dreams and the time you invest.

But do not despair

If you do not have a work permit, that doesn’t mean you will not be able to work abroad. That being said, please be careful to comply with local law and do this at your own risk of course (there is still a lawyer inside of me).

The Expat Career List: 50+ Ideas for a New Career Abroad

This list will hopefully give you some inspiration for starting your own journey of discovering new professional avenues abroad, whether you’ll be an Overseas Study Adviser, a Wine Expert, an Actor, Photographer or a Recruitment Specialist.

Teaching, training and tutoring

The “classic” spouse profession, school teacher, has expanded so much over the years.

1. History teacher- Physics teacher- Biology Teacher etc.: for those with a background as teachers it is easiest, but others can enter the field as well. To heighten your chances abroad, you could consider taking courses or self-study into curriculums used in international schools.

2. Language Teacher or tutor e.g. Spanish/ English/Dutch/Mandarin Chinese/French and so on. Teaching can take place in schools, at private homes or offices, in universities (or you could start your own language school). Students can be locals or children of expats, Embassy personnel, university students or people with a partner who speaks this language. I was surprised at the number of people in Beijing interested in learning Dutch- not exactly a global language like English or Chinese. And no, you do not always have to be a native speaker, although that will really help of course. The online option is also becoming more popular, for example teaching via online platforms of Berlitz or Rosetta Stone. Or become a Youtube star with your classes 🙂 For many languages there are courses to teach this language to non-native speakers. TEFL is one of the well known systems for people wishing to teach English abroad, but French, Chinese or German have similar systems.

3.Music teacher- at a school or giving private classes, if you’ve learnt how to play an instrument really well and have the patience to teach others this is a career you could consider. There are programs online to help you get started. From piano to flute to violin, there will be students, both kids and adults. Another option is to start music classes for kids, these are in high demand (in Beijing at least). The Music Together programme is a lovely programme for babies and kids to sing and get to know instruments. The first time I took my baby the teacher came to my friend’s house, so you don’t always need to hire a venue.

4. Special Needs Teacher: International Schools (and sometimes local schools) have special needs teachers, who work with students on a range of issues, from dyslexia to English as a second language.

5. Overseas Study Adviser: many students (or rather their parents) would like to attend a university in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia or to a lesser extent to Europe. Some high schools or specialised agencies employ foreigners to advise students which university to choose.

6. Learning and Development Specialist: related to teaching, but usually more in a (training) business or higher learning institution. This could range from devising trainings for high potentials to developing e-learning courses.

Sports

7. Yoga Instructor: Given the ever increasing popularity of yoga, more and more people find a career in this field. Having specific qualifications such as prenatal yoga , kids yoga or acroyoga instructor may be helpful if you plan to teach more than just a few hours a week.

8. Fitness Trainer: personal trainers, but also Zumba or Pilates instructors are in demand abroad. Personal trainers could also work in high end hotels if they don’t speak the local language, and you could organise classes in your compound’s gym. However, as it is hard to get work permits for these kind of careers, be careful, although I have met several expats who had enough clients despite the permit.

Other trainings

9. Parental Effectiveness Trainer: parenting abroad can be a minefield of insecurities and cultural differences (tell me about it). Giving courses on parenting is a way to help other expat or local parents navigate the challenges of raising kids. A well known program is the Gordon Method.

10. Business Skills or Soft Skills Trainer: business skills such as time management and organisation, presentation skills, (intercultural) communication skills, but also Microsoft office programs are all examples of topics that you could train on, via a (foreign) training company, in company at businesses, via your national Chamber of Commerce or by organising your own open trainings. In booming cities in Asia, training hotel staff in customer service (and other job related training) is an option as well (you will probably want to work via a major international hotel chain).

Food

We all gotta eat, right? Food offers many options for expat careers, and here I’ve not even mentioned more specialised job such as Food and Beverage Manager for a hotel.

11. Bespoke Cake Baker/ Cup Cake Baker: if you are more talented than me in the kitchen, consider recreating those gorgeous cakes and cookies on Pinterest or design your own yummy treats. Themed, personalised and actually edible cakes are a staple at many an expat (kid’s) birthday, anniversary or wedding. Of course, teaching others how to bake is also a way to complement your income.

12. Wine expert or sommelier to use the French word. Restaurants, hotels, or private clients may use your services, and you could also organise wine tastings or courses in that to supplement your income. Whiskey tasting could be an option too.

13. Caterer or Private Chef: catering birthdays, embassy parties or providing fresh, healthy take out evening meals for other foreigners or locals.

14. Cooking School Owner: start your own (French/ Indian/you name it) cooking school or teach at your local cultural institution (think Alliance Française). One expat lady in China developed her own bilingual cookbook, with simple recipes that domestic helpers could follow. Or start healthy cooking classes for moms and kids (how to hide veggies in pasta sauce, healthy muffins, first foods, or cooking with kids). For the latter one I have not actually met anyone doing this, but I think it’s a great business opportunity.

15. Food producer: Making your own special food item. Abroad we often miss foods from home or things like really good bread, pretzels or decent meat. Making artisan chilli fennel sausages or 70% cacao strawberry chocolate could be your cup of tea- and yes, there are people making a living from that. A personal favourite of mine is Miss Muesli who started her own custom made granola and muesli brand. You choose your favourite toppings and she even delivered to your doorstep. Her business provided a great alternative to the insanely high priced foreign imported muesli.

16. Food tour guide: In many a metropolis you can go on food walks, sampling the best street food or signature dish at hole-in-the-wall restaurants. This career clearly gives you a good excuse to explore local restaurants at the very least.

Healthcare

Unfortunately, people also get sick abroad. And few things are more comforting than to find a doctor or other health care professional who speaks your language or knows your circumstances.

17/ 18. Doctor/ Nurse: Although it is not always easy to take your medical skills abroad as there usually are requirements for being recognised as a doctor to local standards, it can be done (but it will take effort). I’ve seen both expats and expat partners work as doctors, in particular with international hospitals and clinics. Places such as International SOS and Raffles or Parkway in Asia, as well as international or expat oriented hospitals in your new location are good starting points. I’m less sure about the opportunities for nurses. In international hospitals, I usually saw local nurses with good English skills, but international schools may occasionally hire foreign nurses.

19. Psychologist: Expats (and their children) are not immune to mental health problems. On the contrary, the stress of moving and the work pressure abroad is taxing for many. Obviously, mental health professionals do need to work in accordance with local laws and registration requirements. There are also options to provide such services via the internet, see for example this French lady who I met in Beijing some years ago.

20. Counsellor: Relationship and family counsellors or autism specialists are often in demand.

21. Lactation consultant: Breastfeeding seems the most natural thing in the world, but it can be a real struggle to get the baby properly latched on. Many women give up after a few days when it appears their baby is not gaining enough weight. This is where a lactation consultant can be a real support, helping mum and baby to get the hang of it.

22. Doula: clearly this list of professions has been influenced by delivering my two babies abroad. I had no clue what a doula was, but as Wikipedia describes a doula (sometimes known as a birth companion or post-birth supporter) as a nonmedical person who assists a woman before, during, or after childbirth. While I did not use one, I understand why many women want a trusted person by their side, especially when living in a country where they don’t speak the local language well. Also, not everyone has partners or family members willing and able to accompany them during the birth process.

23/24/ 25 Nutritionist or Dietician or Weight Loss Consultant: As obesity is on the rise across the world, being able to advise adults and kids about how to eat healthily and how to lose weight in a sensible way are useful skills. With obesity also related diseases such as diabetes are on the rise, and the shift in lifestyle that entails professional nutritionists or dieticians can give advice. Of course, you could also be a Weightwatchers group leader or train in a specific weight loss method.

 

Finance

26. Financial adviser for expats. Some (but certainly not all) expats earn good money, and as housing and schooling is sometimes paid as well, and taxes may be exempted abroad, they can save up. So what to do with that money? This is where a good, registered financial adviser can be of help.

Or you could become a budgeting coach, to prevent expats from overspending when they return to their home country but take the same spending pattern as they could afford abroad (or advise women about to get a divorce abroad). If you can’t afford an adviser yourself at this point, check out this interesting blog about achieving financial freedom of any employer.

Arts and Crafts

27. Photographer: Teach others to take better photographs in workshops or photo walks or earn money taking photographs (especially family and maternity/new born shoots are in demand in the expat community). Sell prints of the location you live in, offline or online. The lucky few can get assignments with magazines for expats (or perhaps newspapers), or you could become a commercial photographer, either for companies or as a stock photo photographer. (shutterstock.com).

28. Craft designer: Visit any international school fair or expat event and you will find fabulous, often handcrafted items that give standard souvenirs like fridge magnets a run for their money. From Christmas baubles to mother of pearl pendants and custom made water colours of your house, I have seen so many unique and quality items being sold. Some entrepreneurial crafters design and print their own fabrics to make tea towels, cushions or children’s clothing. If you have got two left hands, you may be able to find and hire a local seamstress or woodworker to help you. Some products ended up being sold in local stores. Some expats have even set up charity projects, such as the fabulous Helping Hands Penan bags project. You can set up an Etsy store too if you would like to sell internationally.

Here are some examples of expat businesses in China: Kids Fashion Brand Tang Roulou, Gorgeous Pillows Designers Tu Textiles and Iconic T-Shirt Designer Plastered T-shirts.

29. Crafts Teacher: Maybe this should have been under section 1 of Teaching, but giving courses such as on sewing, scrapbooking, knitting, making chocolate, upcycling old furniture or flower arranging are all in demand for both adults and children.

30. Painter: Selling your paintings, especially those with motifs related to your location is certainly an option. I even met an expat who painted entire walls in children’s rooms with a fabulous décor.

31. Art centre manager/ curator: You would not be the first expat to set up your own gallery abroad or who works with an existing gallery. Or who sells e.g. jewellery and ceramics from local (young) artists in their gallery.

Writing

32. Blogger (travel, parenting etc.): Not referring here to your updates-for-grandma blog obviously. As the pioneer days of blogging are well and truly over, becoming a professional (i.e. paid) blogger will require a modern looking blog with beautiful photos and content that provides value for your audience. It pays to learn about social media marketing in order to get you up to those 5.000-10.000 followers as a first start (and way beyond to actually make a living).

33. Analyst/writer energy industry: One of my friends held this job when she moved abroad. She did it part time for her former employer. Another friend did something similar for the online health magazine she used to work for. This type of writing assignments will be easier to come by if you are an expert in a specific (preferably commercial) field such as energy, oil and gas, finance, or online sales. A niche such as art history or sports may get you newspaper or magazine assignments.

34/35. Novel or Travel Guide Writer: Writing a concise guide book on shopping and eating in Beijing was on my list until I realised the turnover of shops and restaurants there is so high it would be out of date by the time it was published. That being said, if you have a dream of writing and can afford to do that while abroad, do not miss this opportunity. Seasoned Expat Writer Jo Parfitt is a publisher specialised in books for expats.

36. Writer/ Columnist for expat magazines: This probably will not bring in much money, but it looks good on your CV to be published.

 

Marketing, Public Affairs, Management and HR

If you do not speak the local language, getting a job in these fields may be challenging, but have seen expat (partners) wing it in the following positions:

37. Marketing Officer at e.g. an international hospital (or a local milk producer) – connecting to expats locally or even to an international customer base if you live in a place attractive for medical tourism.

38. Chamber of Commerce Manager: Although speaking the local language is of course a definite plus, with the right local support staff, you can inform and interact with businesses from back home and already based in the city.

39. HR officer at international company or hospital: Being the HR contact point for foreign doctors or staff. At large international companies these jobs are often contracted via Headquarters in another country but you may be the right person at the right time.

40. Recruitment Specialist– One of my LinkedIn connections successfully set up a business connecting foreign companies with Chinese candidates for their vacancies.

41. (Public Affairs) Consultant: there may be possibilities with large international PR/PA and head hunting firms. Building a network and a name for yourself in the expat community is the first step in this direction, as it is all about connections.

Other opportunities

42. Embassy Staff: If there is an embassy or consulate (preferably of your nationality) in the city where you live, this may provide you with job opportunities. That being said, the well paid international staff is usually seconded from your nation’s capital, so chances are you will be a “local staff member.” This often means your salary is in conformity with local salaries (i.e. lower than at home), holidays are less et cetera. You increase your chances at being hired if you speak the local language. Depending on the size of your embassy there may be jobs in economics and trade, culture, communications, consular affairs (visa related), HR, security matters (like police issues), but also answering phone calls and emails from national citizens or organising logistics for visiting Ministers.

43. Kids entertainment: kids want to play, so that provides opportunities for entrepreneurial expats. From starting a luxury, smog free indoor kids club in China to being a magician or a singer, to distributing craft kits like Kiwi Co’s (https://www.kiwico.com/), the options are endless.

44. Model, actor or movie extra: depending on the size of the local movie industry (and your looks), your presence may be in demand on the set, or at photo shoots for local products or fashion shows.

45. Coach: The profession of my own career change. Among the many specialisations are Executive coaching, Life or Career coaching, but also e.g. coaching authors, parents or people about to retire. It is a good portable profession, especially if you also work online with clients in other countries.

46. Tour Guide: from history tours to cycling tours, if you know your facts, are good at storytelling and/or know how to take tourists and expats on and off the beaten track, this is a great option for you.

47. Hairdresser or make-up artist: one of the things I’d never thought about before moving abroad, was how to find a hairdresser who can cut European curly hair in China. Foreign hairdressers tend to have a busy agenda, whether they work in a salon or from home. Make-up artists are in demand before fancy dress parties and theatre shows by the expat community, but who knows where else you could end up.

48. Party Planner: for kids’ parties in particular, although birthday parties for grownups and even companies would also be a market. Arranging the themed decorations and party bags, the food, the entertainment (water slide anyone?), the serving staff or cleaners, busy expats love to outsource such tasks.

49. Direct sales: From Aloe Vera products, to good old Tupperware or more modern housewives toys, representing a brand via home sale is a tried and tested method to add some extra income. See for example this article for more information or this one on how to find legit from home work.

50+ Online Careers

The internet is full of advice for setting up a completely online career, from Virtual Assistants (a sort of online secretary with great web skills) to graphic designers and copy writers, to social media managers to website builders to translators or copywriters. Or start your own online business, shipping worldwide. Obviously, internet speed at your new location must be sufficient (and for the latter, local post or shipping options too). See this article to get more ideas or check this one on finding remote work.

More Information

In conclusion, the list of possible careers abroad is long (I did not even mention becoming an AirBnB rental service company), and your skills and dedication in combination with the location will likely decide how successful you will become. For more information on careers abroad or changing careers, I can recommend the books A Career in Your Suitcase by Jo Parfitt and Colleen Reichrath- Smith and Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra. And for some inspiration and a laugh about your Expat CV, check this great blog post.

About the Author

Margot Stroeken, LLM, CPCC, coaches expats on issues of expat life balance and career change. She is a Dutch coach and trainer based in Brunei on the island of Borneo. She left The Netherlands nearly 6 years ago as an international law/ human rights programme officer and worked a.o. as a Dutch language teacher at a University in Beijing and Communications Officer with the Netherlands Embassy in Beijing before discovering her love of coaching.

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