Portable careers

Moving overseas with a portable career

While some people can relocate their lives overseas without having to contemplate their career (retirees, lottery winners…!), the majority of us have to work to get by. Or stay sane!

Sure, you might be moving abroad because your partner’s job is moving there, but giving up your own career can be really difficult in many ways. There is the massive and often mentioned problem of losing your identity.

We often need a job in our lives to provide structure and a sense of independence, and for many, a job or career is directly responsible for our sense of identity. We gain a sense of purpose and validation from working; helping others; being of service or following your dream by using your time for something valued.

The good news is that a portable career can help. Accompanying a partner and moving overseas with a portable career allows you to juggle different elements and stay connected to your own self. After all, family comes first, but you still need a sense of direction to stop you from getting bored and frustrated.

I sold my magazine publishing business when I first moved overseas back in 2006, yet I was able to continue working by becoming a freelance writer, editor, proof-reader and webmaster. However, I was lucky in that I left employed/corporate work many years before and had been self-employed and self-sufficient since 1994 (yikes!). The career I had before I had my daughter was unsustainable for a mother (I travelled the globe teaching people how to use computers), so I had already come to terms with that portion of sacrifice. Not everyone is so fortunate, and many accompanying partners sacrifice a lot of their lives and identities to move abroad.

There are countless jobs that accompanying partners actually do while overseas; these few examples from a handful of the people I know show how varied and enterprising expat partners can be; they work as independent financial advisers, artists, yoga instructors, writers, teachers, marketing gurus and many more entrepreneurial choices.

However, not everyone works like that. It may be that your current career is simply not viable to move to another country. You may have young children and a very different school system to navigate, meaning ‘working hours’ simply aren’t an option right now. There are countless other reasons why you won’t be able to continue working while overseas.

The other thing I’ve noticed a lot over the years is the assumption that certain careers are easily transferable anywhere in the world. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Make sure you do your research to see if your degree or licence is valid in your future country. You may need to retrain there if not. I’ve seen some very shocked and saddened people who haven’t checked it all out first.

Careers that are easily transferable

Here are some ideas for jobs that can usually be transferred anywhere. If your current career is necessarily coming to an end for this relocation, then perhaps take the opportunity to grab some new training and qualifications before you leave. See if any of these ideas work for you.

Remote working

You may be able to keep your existing career going if your company supports remote working.

Ask! If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

You may be able to continue working in the same, or similar role for your current organisation. If you try it and remote working doesn’t work out for you, then you can be sure you tried and will have gained experience and skills you can carry forward.

Information technology

IT plays a significant part in society as a whole, but there is a shortage of people with the right skills. If you are good with HTML or CSS and can write code while fixing glitches, the world is your oyster. Digital nomads are becoming increasingly more prominent because all they need is a laptop and an internet connection. (A digital nomad can be someone who is a freelancer who doesn’t need a fixed abode or a desk in an office.)

Anything that can be done on a computer that doesn’t require your physical presence in an office can be considered here; web design, graphic design, writing (yep, this is IT too, basically), social media management, virtual assistant… the list can go on and on, truly! Think of anything that you can do from a home office and that probably comes under the guise of ‘Information Technology’.

A digital nomad needs an internet connection that’s up to speed, or you won’t be able to work. This was tricky in South Africa for me, as not only was the internet flaky at first (they upgraded shortly after we arrived) but more often we had no electricity either!

If your work is entirely online, then you need to take this into account. However, if you only need access from time to time, for example, to email your completed work, take advantage of free WiFi in cafes and libraries.

Also, remember the time difference. Are you expected to join meetings or make calls? Are you prepared to get up at 4am to do this? Also, keep an eye on deadlines – they are hard to hit when they are in the middle of the night on the wrong side of the globe.


If you have a second (or third) language, your skills will be in demand. Seek out companies in your new country who do business with countries who speak your language.


If you’re a fast and accurate typist, this could work well for you. There are so many podcasts around these days, and they all need (in my personal opinion as a reader rather than a listener…) a written version of their words.


TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and it’s perfect for anyone with a teaching background – or even anyone without a teaching background, to be frank.

English is the language of the world, so more and more people who don’t speak it want to learn to boost their options. Going online and obtaining a certificate from an online university is the easiest and most simplistic way to get started, however, face-to-face classes are highly recommended. Of course, to make sure you land a job, it’s best to sign up with an internationally recognised establishment. And if you can specialise in something like Business English, you’re sure to find plenty of openings for your skills in many countries.

Careers that are not portable

Some careers seem as if they are portable, yet aren’t. This is usually due to educational requirements (a certain type or level of degree, for example) or licensing issues. And some countries insist on fluent language skills.

For example, you would expect everywhere in the world will accept any medical professionals… nope. Even teaching in local schools in some countries isn’t as straightforward as you may expect. Counselling is another career that requires certain degree levels and licensing in some places.

Again, do your research before you go, and don’t make assumptions.

Things to keep in mind

I feel daft for stating this, but some enquiries I’ve had recently lead me to put it in writing. You can’t simply turn up at airport immigration and expect to get into the country to live!

There are formalities that you need to deal with first before you can live and work as an expat.


Holidaymakers can get a short-term visa on arrival, but anyone who wants to stay longer and earn money needs permission.

It’s illegal to work in the majority of countries without one, and some even don’t allow volunteering without one (Mexico). Check the country’s immigration website for up to date information. Be sure to check whether your or your spouse’s visa actually permits you to work. Sometimes the visa it only applies to one person, and expressly forbids the accompanying partner from working.


‘Positive discrimination’

Some nations have laws about employing locals before expats. To avoid this problem, you should target gaps in the market and fill niches. If there is no one offering the service, you can’t be overlooked for a job.

Studying before moving is an excellent way to secure qualifications and a job. However, you may be better placed to study while you live abroad and you have a better idea of how life is working out there, what with weird school runs and so on! A portable career should be location independent and shouldn’t tie you down to one place; so you can continue it when you move on.

As ever, do your research!

So, do your research, keep an open mind, and be enterprising.

What skills and passions do you have that you can pass on to others?

What are your hobbies? Can you teach them to others?

Go on, you can do this!

Need to talk 1-1 about your move and life overseas with someone who 'gets it'? Consider me your own, personal expat expert! I'm here for you.

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