Should Unemployed Americans Look for Work Abroad?

Fast Company takes a look at employment opportunities for expats overseas in developed and developing nations.

Nine point eight percent. That’s the current unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Let that sink in as you consider that as it’s been inching up monthly, this is the highest it’s been during the last 10 years. Indeed, American workers had good reason to party like it was 1999 that year when unemployment was a relatively low 4.2%.

businessman and globe

Still, there are jobs out there. And some studies indicate that the chances of landing a job are far better overseas.

A recent survey by Manpower Inc. found that employment prospects are most favorable in India, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, China, Australia, Singapore, Costa Rica, Canada, Taiwan, and Poland. Jeff Joerres, Manpower Inc.’s chairman and CEO says a reason for this is because the populations of developing countries are increasing nearly six times as fast as those of developed countries. “This essentially creates a magnet pulling American workers to developing nations, and moving them along as each destination stabilizes. So you can see how Prague was hot for a while for American workers, then Vietnam and Dubai.”

That survey also discovered that laborers, engineers, technicians, IT professionals, and accounting staff are among the top positions that employers are filling with foreign talent.

Greg Scileppi, director of international operations at Robert Half International adds, “We’re seeing growth among financial services and natural resources firms in parts of Asia and Australia. In Western Europe, demand for skilled professionals is increasing among insurance companies as well as boutique banks and private equity firms.”

Joerres estimates that Manpower has placed several hundred U.S. workers in jobs overseas over the past year. It’s no wonder. Of nearly 30,000 people Manpower surveyed, 79% of candidates are willing to relocate for work, and nearly one third are willing to move anywhere in the world. Forty percent are willing to make that move permanently. Are you out of work? How far are you willing to go for a paycheck?

Namaste India


Though many American companies have been outsourcing call center duties to the subcontinent for years, India is looking for a few good men and women with experience in public administration, education and wholesale/retail.

Although their hiring expectations are considerably more conservative than they were just a year ago, employers in India remain the most optimistic in the Asian-Pacific region with a brisk hiring pace forecasted in those industry sectors, according to Manpower’s survey.

Dr. Kailash Khandke, professor of Economics at Furman University and assistant Dean for Study Away and International Education says in addition to naturalized Indian-American IT professionals, he’s found that Americans too are moving to India since the economy soured. “Americans are embracing the notion of a globally interdependent world in the service industries, computers, information services, and hotel industry.”

Dr. Khandke cites several reasons for this including the fact that English is spoken in all the urban centers in India and the general hospitality of the population. He does note that the standard of living in the cities is no longer inexpensive, however, “It is quite manageable and it is even possible to get some domestic help. I think American find this a welcome change,” he adds.

Hello Canada

Our friends to the north are experiencing similar high levels of unemployment, theirs hovering at 8.4% in September, though it represents the first monthly decline since the beginning of the downturn in 2008, according to Stats Canada. Still, it is in sharp contrast to reports that have placed numbers of needed workers as high as nearly 100,000 in some provinces.


How to explain the paradox? Dr. J.C .Herbert Emery, associate Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary, who authored a labor study for Alberta, points out that their expected shortage of 93,000 workers was a number based on trend changes in the province’s economy. “It assumes no adjustment in wages or changes in educational choices of students to 2015 so it is not a real shortage but instead an indicator of an emerging imbalance if nothing changes.”

But that imbalance is definitely making itself felt in the IT industry. Though help desk workers and tech developers abound, Kevin Brice, North American president of MSEmploy, a job and training portal for Microsoft specialists, says there’s a shortage of IT professionals in Canada, despite the shortage of jobs. He’s heard at least 400,000 workers will be needed over the next three years, in particular those with specialty skills. “Companies are looking for architecture specialists, those who are designing enterprise-level applications,” says Brice. It’s good news for the highly trained, as well as for the economy as a whole. “It’s a good sign that companies are investing in infrastructure and Microsoft has a large number of new products launching.”

Brice has observed some cross-border recruiting, with more contract work on offer than full-time positions. He said no specific perks are being offered to American expats, although Alberta is offering a fast-track to permanent residency for those willing to immigrate.

Ni Hau China

Steven Weathers was co-founder and creative director of PenPointe LLC, a marketing firm, when he decided to relocate to Shanghai just before the downturn. Now the producer and host of Foreigner Perspective, Weathers has had a front-row seat to observe how the U.S. economy is affecting the Chinese.

“I’ve seen a decrease in foreign experts in Shanghai as many have returned to their home countries earlier than scheduled. The slowing economy here has affected many closings of schools, restaurants, and international offices.” Job opportunities still exist for ESL teachers in China, just don’t expect to be paid much, says Weathers who says that averages around $1,000 per month.


“The cost of living in China is still far below that of America. Renting an older Chinese apartment could cost as less as $300 a month. A good Chinese meal can cost less than $3,” notes Weathers who points out that this is applicable to a large city such as Shanghai. “China’s second- and third-tier cities also offer many opportunities to both foreigners and Chinese professionals from China’s larger cities. While the pay there may be lower, cost of living is even 1/2 or 1/3 of that of major cities.” Additionally, Weathers says that many companies are eyeing China’s smaller cites for offices and plants since they are also considerably less expensive.

Get Social

In addition to getting the appropriate work visa, potential candidates should brush up on their Social Media skills. Scileppi says Robert Half has expanded their social media presence to LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, while Manpower’s Joerres says in addition to their proprietary network on, they have an exclusive agreement to provide career consulting to LinkedIn users.

Don’t forget Twitter. Gary Zukowski, CEO of TweetMYJobs says that his Twitter job search service now has a database of international opportunities. The Twitter offerings are in some of the same fields as those posted by traditional recruiters. “The industries most prevalent outside the U.S. are IT, sales, business management, retail, hospitality and tourism,” he says.


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.