Sometimes it’s wholly tempting to leave these grey shores for somewhere a little bit more exotic. After all, when you’re looking for work experience, why restrict yourself to the British Isles? Work experience abroad can be a hugely beneficial experience and not just something extra to put down on your CV.
Why should I do work experience abroad?
Really, there’s not much stopping you (well, apart from visas and other niggly bits and pieces). Work experience abroad is a great way to develop language skills, communication skills and other work-based skills. It’s a great way to truly immerse yourself in the culture of a country and meet other people. Plus, it gives you an insight into an industry from another cultural perspective.
You don’t just have to settle for office work either; you can get involved with conservation, international development or humanitarian projects. You could even gain experience in an industry which is unique to a specific country.
If you find the language barrier truly daunting, you could always find work in English-speaking countries, otherwise many companies have English-speaking offices in places like France, China and Germany.
What do I need to think about?
First of all, what is the aim of your work experience? Do you want to find out more about a particular company? Develop certain skills? Do something relevant to your degree?Or pursue a lifelong career interest?
The golden rule is not just to pick a country you’ve always fancied visiting (holidays are for that). Instead, look at the kind of work experience you want to do and which countries are best for it.
Inspect the quality of the work experience on offer. You might want to choose a country with a burgeoning market, or somewhere that’s renowned for the sector that you’re interested in; for example, if you’re looking for banking work experience with a twist, Bangladesh has some particularly interesting ethical banks. If you’re stuck for inspiration, take a look at some of our work experience ideas.
Think about when you’re going to do this work experience? Do you have the funds to cover the costs, such as travelling and living in a foreign country for a few weeks? Even if your work experience is paid, you’ll need to budget carefully and work out how much money you’ll need. You might even want to consider doing work experience as part of the Erasmus scheme.
Other important things…
Even though you’re only doing work experience, there might be some visa restrictions depending on the country. If you’re a UK national, you shouldn’t have any problems with work experience in the EU, but you should find out about visa regulations for countries outside of the EU. To put it lightly, visa regulations can be a pain in the neck and they can be costly too.
You should also think about the language barrier. Although some work experience opportunities will be offered in English-speaking offices, it helps to be proficient in the mother tongue of the country that you’re living in.
It’ll be a good idea to brush up on your language skills and pick up a few useful phrases. GCSE-level knowledge of a language might not be sufficient to get you through the work experience. You might even want to think about doing a language course.
Finally, make sure you know your stuff about the country. Do a healthy bit of research into where you’ll be staying, the cultural practices of the country and where you’ll be working. It’s all about preparing yourself in order to alleviate the cultural shock when you start out.
How can I apply? Where can I find work experience abroad?
The process involved when it comes to applying for work experience will vary from country to country, and from company to company. Not everyone expects the same thing from a CV or a covering letter, so make sure you research what employers in each country will expect. Use our International CV article for more guidance.
As for finding work experience abroad, milk any contacts you have, i.e. anyone you know who works abroad or knows someone else who works abroad. You could always try international companies and see if they have any work experience opportunities in their offices overseas. A significant number of companies in our list of graduate employers have international offices and you can find a handful of opportunities on our jobs board.
Alternatively, you could try speculative applications. This means finding companies in other countries who you want to work for and getting in contact to see if they’ll offer you some work experience. You could also approach charities and NGOs in certain countries; often conservation and animal charities are on the lookout for an extra pair of hands.
How can I fund my work experience abroad?
Funding will depend on your situation. If you’re at university, you could look into any travel bursaries on offer. If you do a work placement as part of an Erasmus year, you’ll be eligible for an Erasmus grant. Alternatively, you could apply for funding or support from the Leonardo Da Vinci programme, or a travelling grant from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.
If you’re using an agency to get work experience abroad, shop around, some charge extortionate fees and you’ll be able to find cheaper deals elsewhere.