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The worker's guide to being OS

By Jim Morris - posted Friday, 24 February 2012

Here are some practical ideas for people contemplating working overseas for the first time. I've worked in Nuigini, Turkey, South Korea, East Timor and Indonesia so I have experience to pass on. Working overseas has become progressively easier due to globalisation and the internet but there are still plenty of more difficult places to go to if you are up for a challenge. I hear Ulan Bator is nice this time of year.

Before I realised the benefits of working overseas I'd done quite a bit of 'travelling' but the need to conserve money and 'constantly' renew visas was a distraction from the pleasure of being absorbed into the exotosphere. My first overseas job was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time but I soon learned to appreciate having a work permit, an income, and a clear purpose.

From then on I only visited other countries as a worker because I appreciated the real friendships and deeper insights that came with the extended time and involvement. I also learned there are some negatives as well as the more obvious positives.


I suggest you begin by being open to the options and degrees of work available. My primary purpose in going to East Timor was to see what had actually occurred there so the meetings with UN people and movers-n-shakers in the church were more important to me than the money. Going to Korea only meant money and Istanbul was about the history and architecture. An organisation such as facilitates a combination of work and pleasure worldwide. Last year my daughter incorporated a month working at a horse stud into a visit to her cousin in Florence.

Depends on what you want. In Nuigini I worked as an adventure travel guide so it was an exciting job with plenty of responsibility keeping a dozen strangers safe and excited. After a couple of weeks in 5 star hotels and jungle camps and waving farewell to my clients I could explore new territory before flying home. While in Korea I just did my job and went home after work or between split shifts to go online and save money. The internet was much better there but being employed in a backwater city for a full year is not for people who are going to be missing their mother after three or four weeks.

Teaching English is a popular way to start, partly because many employers provide air tickets. There are some excellent websites that list job opportunities around the world. There are jobs from Mongolia to Tahiti. Keep in mind that the pay, cost of living, and necessary qualifications vary greatly and exchange rates can be a factor. Brunei is a country I would recommend because it is affluent, with a great climate; but no income tax. Get your passport and international license, don't worry about injections or anti-malarial medication. It is basically common sense, and having English as the international language makes it easy.

Whichever country or job you go for there will be obvious differences from Australia; which is what it's all about. So many people now speak enough English, nonetheless learning an extra language can be fun and cement relationships; or impossible. Before I went to live in Indonesia I learned the language as part of an Asian studies degree and that made all the difference for me. It naturally pleases people when you speak with them in their own language. In Nuigini learning Tok Pisin was continual fun whereas my attempts to learn Korean or Turkish soon came to an end because it was just too difficult and not really pleasant or necessary.

As in every country employers can be devious and dishonest so as a foreigner it is easy to be deceived and exploited. Some governments assist foreign workers with labour disputes but you wouldn't want to try that. If you think you'll be assisted by the Australian embassy you're in for a shock. Have a copy of the contract and keep the employer honest from day one. Keep in mind you may still have the aura of a foreigner so take advantage of the early connections by remaining conscious of the longer term possibilities. Those early contacts are usually the ones which last. Check your health insurance. After I broke my leg snowboarding in Korea I spent three days waiting for the medical insurance to be paid so I could go to the hospital.

The best type of jobs come with accommodation. Sometimes you'll be sharing accommodation but that is better than being locked-in to a bond and lease. Some places demand a year's rent upfront. Finding a suitable, affordable place to live can be a problem anywhere because real estate people seem to be the same all over the world.


At first you only see the differences but in a tiny highland village you'll also see the same kind of person you've bumped into in your home town. The old cliché about types of people all looking the same soon morphs into a realisation that all humans are basically the same but in different places.

Culture is a tiresome word. People do things in different ways. Lateral thinking develops because you are repeatedly seeing new and often better ways to do all types of things. The way the eye and brain adjust. I sent a letter to a friend complaining that I had gone to a country of plain looking flat-chested women but within a few weeks I was able to see them in a far more favourable light.

Romance should be a part of working overseas but as anywhere anytime that inevitable mixture of madness and magic can never be predicted.

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About the Author

Jim Morris is an Australian journalist who has worked in East Timor and Indonesia during the last ten years, most recently as editor of Indonesia Daily in Jakarta.

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