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[Special thanks to Karen Dwire, OTR for writing this informative piece about things to consider if you want to work abroad as a therapist. Karen has spent years working as a traveler in the United States and is now sharing her knowledge from working abroad as an occupational therapist in Italy.]
Last year when I took a job in Italy as a contractor Occupational Therapist with the Department of Defense (DOD), I got bombarded by my fellow therapist and healthcare buds. How can I do it too? I want to live and work abroad so bad!
But do you or are you just seeing the carefully crafted pics on Instagram and Facebook about the travel “glam life”?
The decision to live abroad takes a lot of careful thought and usually a year plus of planning, red tape, visas, etc. Also, there really isn’t travel therapy options abroad like there is in the states (usually at least a year commitment) and it is not easy to undo like a regular travel contract.
After being a year into this life abroad and laying it out to countless therapy friends, the following points are where you should start before you start doing massive google searches for companies that hire therapists abroad.
1. Is it possible for me to move to another country?
This may sound simple but you need to take a hard look at your life and current situation before you attempt to make the leap into expat life. If you have a significant other that plans to come too, it is likely that work will be difficult for them to find. What about children and pets? I’m single with no pets, debt, or children and it still took 6 months (WITH the help of the contracting agency) to get here and through all the red tape with several delays and more months of unemployment than I had planned. Do you have health issues that require ongoing care and can the country provide it? How is the health of your loved ones? My grandma has been moved into a nursing home and has increasing dementia since I’ve lived here and phone calls are super difficult. It kills me not to be there sometimes.
2. What is my top reason for wanting to travel and work abroad?
If your only reason for wanting to live/work abroad is because you love to travel, I would suggest working as a traveler in the US and taking extended breaks along the way to travel the way you want, when you want and where you want.
Do you have relatives in another country? Do you have lifelong wanderlust? What do you feel you have to contribute to the citizens of a foreign country or to military personnel and their families? Living and working abroad takes a lot of personal dedication and sacrifice. If your only reason for wanting to live/work abroad is because you love to travel, I would suggest working as a traveler in the US and taking extended breaks along the way to travel the way you want, when you want and where you want. I lived in Hawaii for a combined 7 years and worked on three different islands. To live where you consider paradise is a blessing and a curse. Either way, you’re bringing real life to a place where you have previously suspended reality. Whether I’m in Hawaii or Italy, most people have a grass is greener view of my life. But real life is real life! I set an alarm, have bad hair days, have to answer to a lot of different supervisors and I’m ruled by my schedule. My schedule is always booked. I have to do documentation, deal with difficult co-workers, etc etc.
3. Have I done my homework regarding international living?
I got licensed as an OT in June of 2002 and I began doing research regarding working and living abroad as a therapist in October of 2002. I connected with companies, read articles, bought books (remember those?) etc etc. When blogs and social media grew, I kept myself in the know about it (I thought) but either the job market or my own personal situation or timing was off. Then travel in the US took off and in summer of 2003 I started traveling around and enjoyed making good money (most of it tax free) and living in some truly wonderful places. Over the next 12 years, I got married, moved around to five different states, landed in Hawaii for quite awhile, got divorced and then started traveling again in 2013 and somehow I managed to stay in Hawaii for 2 more years working travel contracts. I always kept working internationally in the back of my mind but again, the timing was always off. As my last contract was ending in Hawaii and trying to figure out what to do next, the opportunity for Italy came up. It literally fell into my lap (ok by lap I mean my phone). It was the right time and I jumped fast and did whatever I needed to to get the job. Little did I know that networking, traveling and keeping this flame alive for 12 years to live abroad finally came full circle.
Do your homework, educate yourself, set the intention and remember that a conversation you had two years ago may be the one that changes your life next year. Or next decade.
Other points to ponder:
- Chances are high that your income will go down working overseas. Even if you make the same, your expenses will likely be more. If you contract with the government, get ready for less than stellar benefits and time off.
- Even the most American feeling non-US country is still a foreign country and things are different. Not bad, just different. Except for when it’s bad
- Do an extended stay in the area you are looking to move to if you can.
If your answer is still YES! I want to live and work abroad then get assertive, get serious and do your homework! That’s the best advice I can give you. Ciao Ciao for Now!
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