How Does A Foreigner Find A Job In South East Asia?

With the economies of the world in their current challenging economic statuses more and more job seekers are being lured into the South East Asian job market, but very few people know how to leverage themselves into the unique job markets of this region. To give a hands-on guide, we have compiled a list of essential steps to follow within this article. This advice goes out to those desiring a new career in South East Asia as well as those foreigners that have been based in the region and wish to remain. 

Look within

The best option if you work for a multinational company is to apply for an “interoffice transfer” to the region. Many companies have policies to consider internal applicants (even those from abroad) before they look outside their organizations. These positions are by far the easiest to adapt when relocating and often come with an “even” or even increased salary package for those who are granted the transfer to an overseas posting.  Before approaching your company’s HR department, make sure you inform your line manager about your transfer intentions as your boss will undoubtedly receive a phone fall for a reference check, and you don’t want to be caught in an awkward situation.

Network Abroad

If your chance of an international transfer is not going to happen, it's time to start leveraging yourself in the region with your intentions. The best place to start is by contacting international associations such as your country’s Chamber of Commerce or other local intercultural groups. LinkedIn is also a good place to start by finding other employees who are associated with targeted companies or global executive recruitment firms like Glasford International. Tell these contacts of your ambitions and how keen you are to take your acquired experiences to the region to help their organizations develop into a genuinely international company with you potentially joining.

Make the Move

It's very difficult to convince a prospective recruiter of your abilities by sending email without actually being physically present in the country that you are looking to relocate too. The hiring manager is taking a significant risk and will want to meet with you in person before making a decision. There are thousands of candidates in your exact situation sending emails, but without being physically present in the country, your chances of finding a position are reduced significantly. So plan a trip with sufficient time to network and make one on one contacts with Recruitment Consultants or companies themselves. This requires planning and also enough time and money to ensure you are taken seriously. This also gives you and your family an excellent opportunity to truly research the country/city at the source.

Tailor your resume and your expectations

This is a crucial step in relocating and including such things as a local phone number and emphasizing your language abilities in the country of choice is essential. Be sure to research salary levels as if you are applying in countries of lower costs of living, be sure to tailor your earing expectations to a reasonable level. If you need advice on market salaries, a good source is contacting a Recruitment Consultancy as they know first hand what salary levels are and can assist greatly in this regard. Spend time to research print and on-line as there is plenty of economic data and reports that are free. A good place to obtain broad cost comparisons between cities is here.

Be prepared

Being prepared for the potential move is crucial, and this includes considerable research on such things as living costs, housing, local taxation regulations and also work permits and visa formalities. You will most likely be employed on “local conditions” meaning you are obligated to the same conditions as a local national unless you were lucky enough to get the transfer from your home office to the country of relocation. If you have a unique skill set coupled with strong network in the region or a formidable reputation within your profession, then you might be on the radar for a full-fledged expatriate package, but this is becoming less common and applicable for a select few. Many expatriates that wish to remain in the country after their expatriate contract expires (typically three years) have to go through the sometimes painful process of switching to local terms and conditions if they wish to remain. That does not necessarily spell gloom and doom, but it will be felt in the pocket. Having sufficient information and savings to make the transfer is crucial and more importantly, make sure your expectations are realistic. If you had struggled to find employment in your home country, do not expect to get it any easier in a new country. As an expatriate, you will be only considered if you have something the locals do not have and if employed you will be expected to work twice as hard to show it.  A potential employer will be taking considerable risks and money to use you outside of your own country and its crucial that you are prepared to work very hard and more importantly “stand out in a crowd.”

Learn the national language

In many South East Asian countries, you can still get away with knowing only English, but an ability to communicate in the local language(s) will provide you with a powerful added advantage when seeking work. It will also make you enjoy the stay so much more.

Many sticks in the fire

Imagine your job hunt through a wide-angle lens. Don’t use a shotgun approach spreading your CV like a plague but do use multiple avenues to reach your destination. Building a relationship with an Executive Search firm alone many not be sufficient. Always remember that search firm works on assignments from their clients. The clients are corporations seeking talent, and the candidates are the ‘product.' Search firms are thus very dependent on the assignments they have in-hand. They will only be able to place you when they have a matching opportunity in hand. That can take time. Not every career opportunity goes through a search firm. Company’s go through multiple means to find talent, so it is worthwhile to be pro-active and resourceful.  Continuously review print and online media. Most importantly try to engage directly with the companies where you wish to work.

Be flexible

If you are not prepared to be flexible think twice about moving from your home country or remaining in a posted country when your expatriate contract has expired. Most of South East Asia countries are emerging markets. They are exciting locations but don’t expect it to be the same as your home country. Local companies are very different from the MNCs so if you have come from an MNCs be prepared for a culture shock. The work environment here is different. Try to accept people as they are. Ultimately they will change you rather than you change them.  When you are in a foreign country, you must respect different cultures and traditions. If you don’t, life will become a living nightmare. End of the day, you wanted a new experience so take it in.

Be considerate

Expatriate failure is not uncommon, and the cause is often that the spouse and children fail to adapt to the new environment. Moving to a new country will affect everyone in your family so consider carefully. Make sure the move is something your family wants to experience and not only you. An unhappy spouse will undoubtedly make you less efficient at work. In many South East Asian countries western style housing and education are at a premium or in some places hard to find. If you don’t have accommodation and education allowance built into your packages, please consider these items very carefully before making a hasty decision.

One region, many differences

South East Asia is not a singular location, and the differences are startling. For most people, it would be far easier to settle into Singapore than rural Laos. There would also be far more career opportunities in places like Singapore or Hong Kong. Indeed, these two metropolises could be excellent entry points for new expats as living there require less adjustment than many other South East Asian cities. Many countries in South East Asia have restrictions on work permits, and many HR departments prefer not to go through the hassle unless necessary. Traditionally Singapore and Hong Kong have been more open to receiving foreigners, and the income levels are also more in line with western levels (and so are the costs of living).

A Continuously Changing Landscape

In the old day's expatriates came almost exclusively from the west, these days it’s a much more open and competitive landscape. South East Asia has seen a large influx of Indian expatriates, and Asian expats are in demand. They know the culture and languages better than their counterparts from the west. Expatriates from Asia have lowered the hiring costs as they are prepared to work at more localized conditions. If you can perform the job, and willingness to learn, and adapt to local conditions, then you stand a much greater chance of getting that job. The emblem on your passport is not very important. You need to decide if it is a worthwhile trade-off.

Stay legal

Some companies may suggest that you work for them without a valid work permit. We strongly suggest you refrain from this however tempting or risk-free it may appear. If you follow the laws in your home country, there is no reason you should go breaking them in another country. You do not want to be messing with immigration or tax laws.

Last but not least….Be Patient

If you are expecting instant results, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.  Seeking a new career takes time anywhere in the world but even more so when you are exploring opportunities in a country away from home.  Also, keep in mind that a country is very different on a holiday than it is when conducting your trade there. The chances are that you will not be residing in that five-star resort and you will need to adapt to cultural differences and working norms if you stay for a longer period.  It is an enriching experience so enjoy the culture shock.  

Santi Campanella Director