How to Move Abroad
You’ve finished up school and you want to see the world, camera in hand. Some photographers want the cultural experience away from home, while for others—such as budding photojournalists—it’s almost a prerequisite of the industry. However, making that dream a reality does entail quite a bit of forethought and preparation. Here’s a brief overview of what it requires.
Getting a Work Permit
The first step is to obtain a work permit, though the laws and rules that regulate the entrance of foreigners are complex and vary from country to country. The majority of countries require you to apply for one from your home country—not after you arrive.
First, contact the consulate or embassy of the country in which you want to work, and meet with an immigration official to find out what the country requires of you to work there. The U.S. Department of State provides links to foreign embassies in the United States, which will help you get started.
Typically it takes three to six months to obtain a work permit. Showing familiarity with a country and its culture is key during the process. To lessen the likelihood of surprises and delays, “plan early,” immigration attorney Peter Zhang says, “and engage local professionals for guidance. This is particularly important as the process for relocation can be very different based on the applicant’s nationality and the purpose for the relocation.”
Preparing to Move
After you’ve set in motion the process of obtaining a work permit, start chipping away at the following tasks:
-Start learning the language.
-Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months longer than you intend to spend in the foreign country.
-Gather important documents (birth certificate, driver’s license, medical records, etc.). You’ll need these for many reasons, including to set up a bank account.
-Get immunized and make sure your medical records are up to date.
-Determine the tax laws for working abroad in both countries.
-Find out if your current health insurance will cover you abroad. If it doesn’t, ask your new country’s embassy or consulate what kind of health coverage will be available to you and purchase it.
-See if you’ll need entrance and exit customs forms. If you’re traveling light, you probably won’t, but check with your new country’s embassy or consulate to find out.
-Make sure you have access to your funds in the U.S. while you’re abroad.
-Research the local culture and begin absorbing it while still in the U.S.
-Find a place to live. Consult websites that offer apartment listings in your new country and/or that are expressly for international travelers. Ask advisers in study abroad programs at your alma mater if they recommend any agencies or apartment brokers overseas. Also ask your family and friends and post on social media; often word of mouth is the most fruitful.
-Meet with photographers who have accomplished what you are setting out to do. The advice and experience of a fellow photographer can’t be underestimated.
Getting Assignments Abroad
It can be challenging to find work in a new country, but with determination, it too can be surmounted.
Middle East-based photographer Alex Potter became impassioned about living abroad after studying in Jordan and Lebanon. Raised in a small town in rural Minnesota, she caught the photojournalism bug while earning a nursing degree at Bethel University. After graduation, she decided to go to Yemen because, unlike most European countries, it didn’t have a large press corps. Then, she “fell in love” with Yemen. “To be based somewhere,” Potter says, “I need to connect with the local population, people, and culture. It’s not just a place to live; it’s a place that you can make your second home.”
But assignments don’t always come rolling in once you’ve moved somewhere. “It’s always been difficult to get assignments in Yemen,” she says. “[What I covered] was either not in the news or not important enough, or when it became important enough, it carried too much liability.” Depending on where you move and what type of photography you do, the challenges will be unique. But Potter’s advice for making work for yourself is universal. “If you really love the place and the story, getting an assignment there or not shouldn’t determine whether you continue to make that work. If it’s something you love, you should keep making the work whether people buy it or not.”
It’s also a good idea to have access to another stream of income in between photography jobs. Potter puts her nursing degree to use and funds her travels by intermittently picking up shifts with a travel nursing company. “This doesn’t stop me from doing the stories in photojournalism I want to do,” she says. “If anything, it enables me to work on the stories I care about for as long as I [want] without having to really struggle month to month. I feel like these days very few people don’t have a side hustle, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Even better is a side job that complements your field in photography. At the time of this interview, Potter was at a field hospital in Iraq to gather health statistics, which gave her access to a healthcare story she’s currently working on.
On a practical level, Potter says that getting assignments abroad is “like any other business: You make the work and then market yourself. . . . You make one connection, you maintain a good relationship, you make good work and you make sure the right people see it,” and that will lead to work down the road.
As with any big endeavor, you have to start with passion and commitment to your cause, and then figure out how to overcome any practical obstacles standing in your way. With research and tenacity, living and working abroad is completely attainable if your heart is truly in it.
This article was featured in the Spring 2017 issue of PDNedu. Read the issue for free at digitalmag.pdnedu.com