Programmers Abroad: Why Aren't You One Of Us?
Programmers Abroad: Why Aren't You One Of Us?
Developers can do their job from anywhere in the world and there's a demand for us in most countries. With so many benefits to it, why haven't you moved yet?
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You are incredibly lucky as a developer: you can do your job from anywhere, whether that be a beach, a bar, or Brazil. Not only that, but the vast majority of developed nations have a strong demand for programmers at the moment. If you’ve never considered it then now is the time to start.
I speak from personal experience on this. Having been working in London for a few years my wife and I decided it was time to move abroad. We didn’t know where so we applied all over and ended up in Hong Kong. We both signed contracts before we’d even visited, and the words “isn’t that near Japan?” were uttered. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but it ended up being the best decision of my career.
Firstly, lets talk money. This will obviously depend on where you’re moving from and to, but personally we ended up much better off. In the UK the top tax bracket is 40%, plus there’s National Insurance, which meant that every month a very hefty chunk was taken from my pay packet. However, if you’re moving to somewhere outside of the UK or US you’re very likely to be better off. HK for example had a progressive system which averaged out at about 13% tax, and my salary was on a par with the UK. This made a big difference to our day to day life and savings. I’d honestly recommend anyone trying to save, for example to buy a house, go and do 2 years in either Dubai or HK. It’s a good shortcut.
Money isn’t everything, but fortunately the benefits keep coming. Moving abroad also provided me an opportunity to shortcut my career path. In the UK it would have been years until I was given a team of my own, but by moving I was instantly put in a team lead position. I was fortunate to be transferring internally with my firm (more on that shortly) and as I’d built trust in my home country they were more than keen to have me managing and reporting into the UK. I also found there were a lot more opportunities to make a name for myself. As our headquarters were in London we were “off the radar” which meant we could try out new ideas and tactics with less pressure, and I could create projects and initiatives with a lot less red tape. Whilst this scenario may not be applicable to everyone I’ve found it to be a common story with other people who have made the move. If your career has stagnated a bit and you’re looking for a new challenge and to move up the career ladder a bit then working outside your country is a great opportunity.
I believe that spending a stint abroad is also pivotally important for cultural integration. If you’re part of any global team then I’m sure you’ll understand that it can be incredibly difficult crossing cultural barriers. I know that both our offices had strong opinions on each other which are often unjustified and rooted purely in the fact that it’s very hard to build relationships over Skype and chat, and it’s impossible to understand a culture from thousands of kilometers away. I credit my time abroad as making me much more tolerant and world aware, which I think is pivotally important as the internet has removed many global barriers.
Both of these features combine to make me much more employable going forward. Particularly if you’re someone who is looking to move into a management career, having experience working and managing abroad is a key item on your CV to increase your chance of getting those roles.
If you’re interested but are nervous about the idea of moving so far away, I can’t encourage you enough to give it a shot. If it all goes wrong then it’s easy to reverse the move, but that happens very rarely. Any big city will have a strong expat community to provide support and a supermarket with food from home. I advise you choose wisely and go for somewhere with nice weather and a good airport; HK was wonderful for visiting all of SE Asia. With Bangkok 2 hours away it was doable in a weekend. Where are you heading this weekend?
This is much easier if you’re in a company which has a foreign office. If they do, just get your boss and ask him to move. Normally firms will jump at the chance to get someone they trust working in a remote place to manage things and keep an eye on it. If you’re working for a firm that only has local offices, then head to LinkedIn and try and find a recruiter in your desired area. They are always happy to answer questions about expected salary, taxes and visas. Another good way to find is to head to Twitter and search for “<city> Java” (or whatever language you want) as a great way to find people you can have a conversation with on any concerns quickly.
There’s always the DIY method. As companies are realising it’s impossible for everyone to move to San Francisco (and US Visa law remains ridiculous) there’s been a boom of remote work jobs. Stack Overflow Careers has a specific filter for them and is a great source of jobs, and We Work Remotely from 57signals fills a similar hole. If you’ve got a remote work job you can do it from anywhere (visa permitting). Why not go and do 3 months in Berlin? Then go and spend some time on a beach in Thailand (where your living costs will be minuscule).
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