Tips for getting a programming job abroad

On the way to the most northern part of New Zealand --- Cape Reinga

A few years ago I moved from the Czech Republic to New Zealand. I didn’t have a network, a job offer, or a scheduled interview.

There are lots of benefits of moving to a different country. You are opening yourself to different ideas, mindset, and experience. You can learn the language, better understand a foreign culture, and adopt new ways of doing things. It is a scary step but one worth doing.

I had never quit a job without another offer. And now I was moving across the globe with anything in my hands. In the end, I managed to find a great job. Sorted out a residency. And have an awesome career. I’d like to share a few tips that will make it easier if you decide to do the same.

Research

It is important to do your own research. Firstly, you need to figure out how much the cost of living in your destination is and how much money you might earn.

I found Numbeo to be a great source of information. You can compare the numbers in your current location and adjust them if they are not that accurate. Remember that you will learn by trial and error so the first few months might be more costly than you planned.

Also, searching for “Cost of living in [destination]” might lead you to other useful resources from expats, travel bloggers, and even governments.

Now it is time to figure out how much you might earn. There are heaps of global sources on this topic like PayScale or Glassdoor but the best place to start is a local job board. Some posts will have a salary range and you will get the feel on how many jobs are out there. For New Zealand there are two major boards: Seek and TradeMe.

Another great place to get information about wages is a report from local recruiting agencies. A few of them publish salary reports for different IT positions and technologies.

Money is important but don’t forget to take into account other factors that are dear to you. It could be pollution, commute time, work-life balance, ocean, mountains, sun, health care, active community, and many others. For that, I also recommend Numbeo’s indexes: quality of life, pollution, and a bit more time spent on Google. Seriously, I didn’t know that Wellington is one of the windiest cities in the world.

While you are scanning the job boards you will get an idea about the popularity of your tech stack. More opportunities equal to less stressful transition. And remember, your first position doesn’t have to be a dream job. A stable job that helps you with your visa situation and a good work-life balance can be a great choice for the first few years while you are settling in the new country. On the other hand, if you are highly specialized (e.g. research in computer graphics algorithms) and there would be a company that could use your skill (Wellington is a home of movie effects) it could be easier.

When you want to work in another country you will need a work visa. If you are moving from one EU country to another it is very simple thanks to the Schengen area. Similarly, New Zealand has a pact with Australia and I bet other countries do as well.

A few countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and others) have a working holiday program which might be a good starting option if you match the entering criteria.

Getting the visa can be the biggest hurdle but there is a shortage of good programmers all around the world so companies might go above and beyond to get your skills. Keep in mind that migrants are still a big risk for the company and getting them onboard is time-consuming and not that cheap.

Building a network

To find a great job it helps to have a network. The best positions could come from your friends and colleagues you worked and built great relationships with. But how can you get around that when you have no connections and starting from the ground?

There are a few things that you can do before you arrive at the new country. It won’t be as effective but it will do the trick.

Start making connections by cold emailing a few people from local communities. Find out if there is a meetup group for your stack (an example could be the WelliDotNet group in Wellington). Another place where programmers hang out “locally” could be Slack channels, IRC, or Facebook groups. Do a bit of a legwork and find those places. If all fails there is always LinkedIn. People are generally pretty helpful even to a complete stranger. A polite and informed stranger though.

Choose people that seem to be active in the community—explain your current situation and show them you did some research and put an effort into the message. Ask a few and easy to answer questions and start building that relationship. Best people to contact could be past presenters, organizers, administrators, or just the ones who seems to be answering others’ questions. Get in touch with at least a few different people to “diversify” so you limit a chance of reaching out people inside a bubble.

Hi Jane,

my name is John and I’m a .NET programmer from Prague. I’ve been programming for over 5 years and mostly in bigger companies in healthcare. I’m looking to move to New Zealand and was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.

I love working with diverse people that care, on a product that helps. Bigger companies might be a better choice for me as I’d like to have some stability to get my family settled first.

It seems that there are a few big .NET companies in Wellington. Xero, TradeMe, and Datacom. Are those nice places to work? Would you recommend any others? Should I stay away from some of the local companies?

There is also lots of opportunities in Auckland, but people seem to prefer Wellington. Would you recommend Wellington over Auckland as well?

Thank you for your time,
John

Once you moved it’s nice to get in touch with those that helped and buy them a coffee or a beer. A simple “thank you” will also do if you run into them at one of the meetups.

Applying

From my experience companies and recruiters won’t take you seriously until you move (unless your destination is just a short flight away). You can start sending CVs and cover letters but don’t feel bad if you are not getting any response. It will change once you arrive.

Always mention your visa situation in your CV and note it in your cover letter as well. If you have a work visa it will be to your advantage and if not at least you are not putting the company on the spot with an unpleasant surprise (some of them can’t afford to sort the visa out for you).

When you are new to the country you might fall into a certain bias and getting your first job will be harder than the next one. Employers might worry that you don’t share the same work culture and ethics, and will have a language barrier. Because of that, you might not get jobs that you are a perfect fit. If that happens to you don’t worry too much about it and don’t get discouraged.

Another point to consider is mentioning your family (or partner) situation. That’s a fair point because a common thing I’ve seen is that programmers (who get the job) arrive with their partners that can’t find any job. The partner becomes unhappy in a few months, and want to leave back to their country. The programmer will usually follow them and the employer loses a member of the team they invested in and need to start hiring again. To mitigate the risk show commitment to staying in the country and if you are not alone mention what’s the plan for your significant other. You don’t have to be too specific—just the fact that you thought about it shows a lot.

Lastly, it is easier to follow up with the leads you gathered through remote networking than applying to recruiters and job ads. But don’t frown upon any of those and use all the channels that are available.

It won’t be easy but if you persist you will find a good place to work for.

Tips

I can’t stress enough the importance of having enough money in your bank account. At least a few months worth of rent and food (and possibly a return ticket back home) will help your confidence and greatly reduce the already stressful experience. It will allow you to take your time to interview for different jobs, find a place to live that you will enjoy, and helps to settle in. You want to take enough time and don’t rush anything.

Make sure you have a plan for your family and your significant other. If they are following you and they won’t have a job it will be very hard for them to be happy. Remember that they won’t have a network of longtime friends and family to lean on as they would in your original country.

If you want this experience to be a success and not a stressful adventure do your research upfront and be prepared. And even if you do your homework there will be lots of surprises.

Lastly, when you have multiple offers to choose from you should think about a few additional things then you’d normally do. If you are on a temporary work visa is the employer willing to help you with getting the permanent one? You might be better off joining a bigger team to expand your professional network than a small startup with just a handful of people. Also, don’t underestimate the social aspect of the job—it might be the place where some of your work relationships transform into your first local friendships. Maybe in a diverse environment that supports immigration you will find people in similar situation and that will bring you together.

Working in a different country is hard, stressful, but in the end, it is worth it. Good luck!