Career, Features

How to Land an Engineering Job Overseas

August 8, 2014

Hopefully, our last piece (6 Reasons to Consider Overseas Engineering Jobs) has inspired you to think about taking a job overseas. Whether you’re doing it for the professional advantages or the adventure, it can be an unforgettable experience. But how do you actually get a job in another country?

Finding a job overseas

Just as you would with any job search, identify your goals. It’s the same process, except you’re working with a far wider range of options. Start by deciding where you want to go, and what you want to achieve. That will enable you to narrow your search. Are you looking for a well-paid job in a glittering high-tech metropolis, or do you want something more rural and rugged? Are you heading for Germany, Dubai, Fiji, or Ghana?

Once you’ve got some initial ideas, the next step is simply to search on the job boards. Although our job boards currently only cover the US and Canada, there are plenty of places where international jobs are advertised. Look around and find out what qualifications or experience they expect. That’ll give you a great idea of what’s out there and whether this really is the right route for you.

Now the real hard work starts. Research, research, and more research. Find out how your qualifications match up to the local ones. Find out what the visa requirements are. Find out what the climate’s like. Find out the cost of living. Find out about their laws, their diet, and their customs. Find out everything you can about your chosen country. Read the local news. Visit if you can afford it. Most importantly, talk to other expats and see what they think of it.

When you send anything overseas, consider the language issue. A company in Milan or French-speaking Senegal won’t be impressed by an application or resume in English. Get both your resume and your cover letter translated. It’s okay to admit that you don’t speak the language fluently, but this will at least show you’re willing.

“The ideal solution is often to start locally and go from there,” advises Kathy Prem, Associate Director of the Engineering Career Services department of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Find a local employer who has a multi-national business, and use them as your springboard. Actively network, and see if you can transfer to a project overseas, or get to know their overseas clients and partners and find out if they can help you. Alternatively, if you’re planning on volunteering, contact your local Engineers Without Borders chapter, or the Peace Corps.

Another option to consider is overseas internships. “We have a dedicated office on campus that looks for those opportunities,” says Prem. “There are a lot of great opportunities, especially in Asia. What students need to be aware of, though, is that overseas internships don’t often pay well. That’s a huge barrier, especially to those who are only mildly interested.”

The last route Prem recommends is to study abroad. That will provide you with a perfect opportunity to get to know local employers and make great contacts. You’ll also have plenty of time to improve your language skills before you start applying for jobs, and you’ll have the opportunity to get to know the country before you decide to work there.

The interview process

Taking on a foreign worker is a big commitment for any employer, so expect an in-depth interview. Curtis Poe, who’s had many overseas jobs, advises that there are four questions every employer will ask:

“Why do you want to move to our country?”

“Can you legally work here?”

“How long do you plan on staying?”

“How soon can you get here?”

Make sure you’ve got answers for all these questions. If you’ve done your research, you should know exactly what the work permit situation is, and you should be able to demonstrate that you’re thoroughly familiar with the country. As Poe says, make it easy for them to understand how they can hire you and show them that you really, really want to be there.

Negotiating a salary

This is where your detailed research really pays off – literally. They’ll mention a number. You’ll mentally translate that back into dollars, and you’ll get a sense of how much they’re offering. And you’ll probably be wrong. The dollar amount isn’t nearly as important as what quality of life you can have for the money. $50,000 in India is worth a lot more than $50,000 or even $100,000 here. In Malaysia, you can live well on $1,000 a month, and live like a king on $3,000 a month. If you’ve figured out the actual cost of living, you’ll be in a much better position to evaluate their offer.

Find out what else is included. Some employers will cover the cost of accommodation, visits back home, emergency medical treatment, or repatriation and more. Some will pay for your relocation, including shipping your belongings and family over. They may cover the cost of your work permits and visas.

This is where the calculations get a little more complex. If you have to pay for your own flights home and relocation expenses, you’ll need to ensure your salary covers that. 30,000 baht a month in Thailand buys you a pretty good lifestyle, even though that’s only $1,000 in US dollars. But if you want to fly back to the US, that’ll cost you nearly $700 – most of a month’s salary – and all of a sudden that 30,000 baht doesn’t seem so attractive.

Visas and work permits

Unfortunately, bureaucracy almost always gets in the way at some point. Every country has its own rules and regulations about foreign workers, and some of them are decidedly labyrinthine and confusing. In some cases, you’ll need a job offer before you can apply: in other cases, you may need the work permit before they’ll offer you a job.

If you’re heading to Europe, the Blue Card may be your best option. It’s designed for skilled workers such as engineers, and allows you to work in most European countries and bring your family.

It’s impossible to give specific advice for every circumstance, but these are our four universally applicable top tips:

  1. Do lots of research. Find out exactly what the regulations are and how the process works. Find out what experiences others have had, and then double-check everything.
  2. Engage a specialist. Find someone who can help you with the application forms and can give you legal advice. You may be able to find someone locally, or you may have to engage someone in the host country. It may cost you a bit, but it will save you time and frustration in the long run.
  3. Expect delays. These things rarely run smoothly. Visas can take months, and it’s common for paperwork to be lost or for officials to raise queries.
  4. Don’t try to cheat the system. Going over on a tourist visa instead of getting the proper paperwork may seem like a great shortcut, but it could land you in a lot of trouble.

Checking your qualifications

It may not be enough simply to have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree or your PE. Your new employer may demand proof that your qualifications are adequate. Most countries have some approved professional body that will verify your qualifications. You will normally have to submit evidence of your qualification to the appropriate body before you can start work.

In 1989, the International Engineering Alliance established the Washington Accord, which sets out the benchmarks for internationally recognized engineering degree programs and other qualifications.

If your engineering degree is from the USA, it will be recognized by other signatory countries: Australia, Canada, Tai Pei, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, UK, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines. Other countries should recognize it, but are not obliged to.


Landing that job can be a long, drawn-out, and frustrating process. The best way to approach it is to prepare in detail for all eventualities. Know what you want, know what you’re letting yourself in for, and know what you’ll have to do to achieve it. It’ll be worth it in the end.

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