Working Abroad

Working abroad can be a satisfying and exciting addition to anyone's career development plans.  The rewards include not just a paycheck, but the opportunity to live in another country and experience a different culture.  Before deciding if working abroad is the right choice, we've put together some information that can help everyone make a more informed decision.

Learning about other Countries

Prior to moving, or taking a job abroad, the first step is to truly learn about a country.  The best approach is to research the country as if planning a vacation.  Travel agencies will provide tourist information, airlines carry brochures for the countries they fly to, the country itself might have a department of tourism, and certainly foreign embassies can provide up-to-date information.

Make sure to learn about cultures, local customs, and the political environment.  It is difficult to learn a new language as an adult; if English is the only language known, think about working in countries with a significant English-speaking population.

Travel Advisories

The U.S. Department of State maintains a current listing of travel advisories.  Such advisories, or warnings, are an important source of information when conducting this research.  Warnings or advisories can be a result of health conditions, crime, unusual entry requirements, or unstable governments.

The Department of State maintains consular data sheets for every country in the world, and their website is an important source of information for anyone considering working abroad.

Required Documentation

The documentation needed while working abroad will vary from country to country.  That being said, it's still possible to make some generalizations.  The first requirement is a passport.  Even if the foreign country does not require a passport, having one will make it much easier when returning to the United States.  That's because a passport is recognized as the single best proof of U.S. citizenship.

A visa may also be required, which is an endorsement or stamp that is placed in a passport.  A visa permits someone to stay in a country for a specified period of time, and this is usually for a specified purpose, such as working.  Getting a visa is much easier if it's done before departing.  It's possible to apply for a visa through an embassy, a consulate, or even a travel agent can help with the process.

Records of immunizations may also be required under international health regulations.  In particular, a country may require proof of immunization against cholera and yellow fever.  In some countries, typhoid fever vaccinations are also required.

Health Insurance

If someone becomes hospitalized due to injury or illness, medical care overseas can be very costly.  Learn about the process, and the health coverage someone might be entitled to receive.  For example, it's important to understand the effective dates of insurance if covered by an overseas company.  If continuing coverage under a health insurance plan obtained in the United States, make sure the medical, dental, and healthcare coverage under that policy is clear.

Even if health insurance covers medical expenses while working abroad, supplemental insurance for medical evacuation back to the United States may be warranted.  Emergency transportation to the U.S. can cost in excess of $10,000.  If the health care system of the country is considered inadequate, it may be a good idea to purchase this insurance.

Tax Implications

In general, Social Security and Medicare taxes will apply to wages earned while working abroad, if one of the following conditions applies:

  • The work involves a U.S. employer.
  • The taxpayer is working in a country in which the U.S. has entered into a Totalization Agreement.  This type of agreement is a Social Security agreement between the U.S. and the foreign country.
  • The work involves a foreign partner of an American employer under a voluntary agreement with the U.S. Treasury Department.  A foreign partner is one in which an American corporation owns a 10% interest in voting stock or profits of the partner.

Finally, self-employed citizens that are working abroad are subject to a self-employment tax on net earnings of more than $400 up to $118,500 in 2015 and 2016.


About the Author - Working Abroad (Last Reviewed on March 29, 2016)