How to Move to Another Country as an Unskilled or Low-Skilled Worker

Tourist visiting Barcelona
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I recently received an email from a reader who would like to move overseas as a unskilled or low-skilled worker but isn't sure how to make it happen. It got me thinking about my own experience when I was much younger, traveling from country to country with no special skills except the ability to wash dishes, pour drinks, and wait on tables with a smile.

But it was enough.

While that was a long time ago, back when borders were more permeable and travel a little safer, I still think that moving to another country isn't only for those with a degree and five years of relavant work experience. I think anyone who wants to do it, can. It might take a little more planning and time and determination on your part, but if you really want to move overseas, you should.

Where to Go?

The first step is to determine where you can go or, more specifically, which countries you can legally stay in and possibly find work. Many countries are looking for low-skilled workers and often have work permits available. For example, the European Union has put out a guide book for unskilled workers, while Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (Alberta in particular) have actively recruited workers for various industries and provided work permits to match. I've also seen notices for countries in Scandinavia as well as Singapore and South Africa.

Visas and Work Permits

Once you've chosen some countries to consider, check with each country's official website for the latest information. You may find a notice calling for foreign workers, or you can navigate to their work permits page for details on how to apply. 

Keep in mind that some work permits may be tied to a specific job, although this often applies only to visas that a company obtains for you. Again, know the rules before you apply.

Some visas and work permits take a while to process. If you don't want to wait at home, you may have the option of obtaining a visitor visa and, after you've moved, applying for work from within your new country. Just be aware that some visas require the applicant to be in their home country during processing.

How to Find a Job

While online postings are a great way to see what kinds of jobs are available in the country you'd like to move to, it's not a good idea to accept a job without first researching it thoroughly and/or visiting the company in person. Some work permits may be tied to a particular job, while others allow you to move from job to job as needed. A good place to start is to find out which area of the country, and which industry, needs workers the most. For example, Canada may be your destination, but not all provinces are looking for workers. You may land in Ontario only to find the work is in three provinces over.

Next, look at what kind of jobs are available in a given location. Your permit will note whether there are restrictions on the type of job you can apply for (temporary or seasonal, for instance) or whether you're restricted to a specific industry or area. Once you know the details, you can start checking the online job sites, like Monster or Indeed, to see what's out there and available to you. Again, be careful of accepting a job without researching the company.

If you're looking for work after you land, you'll find the search a lot easier. Look out for "Help wanted" signs, search local job ads, and talk with locals. Keep copies of your resume and references with you, and spend much of your search time out in public spaces where a brief encounter could provide a possible lead. Again, if your work permit is tied to a specific job or industry, your options may be more limited. However, such limitations also mean that your search will be more focused, which always helps when trying to secure a job.

Can You Earn a Living Wage?

Be aware that the work you'll be doing may pay less than what you can make in your home country. So before you pack your bags, make sure you look at the local cost of living and weigh that against the average wage offered. Some industrialized countries have raised wages for foreign workers in order to attract them to their doors, while others may offer less than what locals would receive.

Most importantly, know how much you'll be paying for rent, food, and transportation. Check local rental ads, ask on forums about food costs, and go to city websites to learn about costs of getting around town. Also, check out health care costs and whether you qualify for health care coverage or if you have to purchase your own insurance. Most industrialized countries outside the U.S. cover the cost of health care.

Be prepared to just make ends meet. Saving money while working overseas is tough unless the employer provides accommodation and/or meals. Choose your job wisely. Restaurants or fast food chains may offer employees a discount on meals or even provide a daily lunch or dinner as part of your employment agreement. There are ways to save, but know before you go.