Finding a Job Abroad

You’ve finished your education, gotten a job and are cruising along smoothly toward your career goals. Then, it happens: A PCS move.

But this time it’s not just any PCS, it’s overseas. To a foreign country. Where you don’t speak the language and where international law may or may not allow you to get a job.

You could try to find a position on the military installation where you’ll be living. But those jobs are often hard to come by and competition for them can be fierce.

So what’s a working spouse to do?

Those in the know say there are options, but they vary widely by country.

Whether or not a military spouse can work in a foreign country is generally dictated by the Status of Forces Agreement between that country and the United States.

In Germany, for example, the SOFA specifically states that spouses of active-duty service members and Department of Defense civilian employees can seek employment on the local economy. Military spouses can work locally in Japan, but typically are only hired for positions like teaching English. In Italy, people who are not citizens – including military spouses – are barred from holding any kind of job.

Janet Farley, a career consultant and author who focuses on the military, said the first step is to find out the rules for your specific situation.

“I would tell them to get their facts, not to be afraid to do it but definitely get your facts,” Farley said.

Those facts include rules on employment, taxes and labor laws.

Spouses can turn to their local military legal office for advice, and most military installations have an employment readiness center or program manager.

Kelly Measells, the employment and career development program manager at U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart in Germany, said that even in countries like Germany that are open to employing military spouses, there might still be hurdles.

Those seeking jobs that require a professional license – such as nurses or doctors – still have to meet host-nation licensing regulations. There are also myriad tax laws to abide by and language barrier to overcome.

Just looking for a job is difficult.

“It can be very frustrating because when you Google the German jobs you are going to get a German website,” Measells said.

He has helped place spouses in all kinds of jobs, ranging from motorcycle mechanic to social worker to architect.

The key, he said, is to find a niche not being filled by the local population.

That’s exactly what Renee Jeppson did.

The dental hygienist moved to Stuttgart with her Marine husband in January and found that local dentists who serve military family members might need an English-speaking hygienist. She started her research before she left the U.S., first by requesting the list of preferred dental providers for the area.

By making phone calls and networking with other spouses, she landed a job almost immediately.

“I was a little nervous in the beginning,” Jeppson said.

Initially, she worried about the language barrier and the paperwork involved in getting a job overseas.

“As time has gone on it has become much easier,” she said.

Like many aspects of military life, working in a foreign country requires an adventurous spirit and flexible personality. But Measells pointed out that doing so can be a fantastic opportunity and may even provide a career boost when you return to the states.

“I think there’s some career fields they can go out and really add to their resumes, because now they’ve worked on the international level,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive I think.”

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