A Decade of Working Overseas

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It’s been over a decade since I came to Singapore for work. Writing this now, I’m surprised I never wrote anything about my journey to the City State. In the past, people would often ask me how I got my job here, and how it is living here. Their questions were asked in awe and uncertainty. I can understand their feelings as taking this kind of leap is a big life decision. So finally, let me share some tidbits of my life as a Foreign Talent in Singapore. 

How did I get here? 

The seeds were planted in 2011 when I came here for a company incentive trip. We were sitting on the steps near the Merlion statue, across the newly opened MBS. My team and I were joking if the company could open a branch office there. On my own, I did think I can work here but thought it was impossible, I wouldn’t know how and it would be too scary. In 2012, my partner decided to work here and we were in a long-distance relationship for a couple of months. I still didn’t think seriously about working here. He went back to Manila for a quick visit and we had a conversation. Casual, light-hearted, nothing serious, nothing was forced. I then agreed to join him here. The decision was well-received by my bosses. I finished the rest of the year and left for Singapore in early 2013. I’m fortunate and grateful that my ex-bosses opened the doors for me to come here. 

To be honest, I didn’t have any connections here. I started my search from scratch and had to be much more proactive. I called companies, messaged people on LinkedIn, asked for job openings, and asked for appointments, including my current company where I am on my second stint. Fortunately, my current company was looking for Recruiters and I was interviewed and selected. The process took over a month from interviews to work pass application, which at that time was already becoming a challenge to get. I started working in Singapore in the middle of February 2013. 

How has it been? 

Photo by Adrian Moise via Unsplash

It is one of the best decisions I made in my life. Living in a different country opened my eyes to new experiences and learnings, new opportunities, and of course life’s privileges that I, unfortunately, would not have gotten or experienced if I continued to live in the Philippines. On a personal level, moving away from the place I call home allowed me to be free, and to shape my identity and my beliefs that I would not be able to do if I stayed in the Philippines, because I had to conform to the norm and the culture. 

So how do you get a job overseas and survive it? 

The things I will mention below are not just from my own experience but from the collective inputs I got and observed from fellow foreign talents and candidates. 

Connections, connections, connections – The ideal way to land a job is by merits and credentials, of course. In reality, having connections can help shorten the application process. The kind of connections I am talking about can be from within the organization you are working with, or through a recommendation from someone you know who already works for the company you are applying for. Being recommended by these connections give employers (who already know your connection) a sense of confidence that you are someone who can be trusted to do the job (it’s the reason you were recommended in the first place) as compared to someone they only know via their CV.

Photo by Jan Baborak via Unsplash

Perseverance – Job search is a job in itself. Oftentimes, even if you fit the bill, for some reason, you don’t get the job you applied for. Concurrently there are restrictions set by governments of different countries on who they hire, or how they will hire these people. In Singapore, there seem to be new regulations every so often in terms of the requirements to get work passes, the ratio of local versus foreign talent, etc. I’ve known and heard of people who had to wait for months on end to get their work passes to work here due to the long waiting times and various application challenges. These restrictions are beyond your capabilities so if a career in another country is your goal, you have to keep going in your application process and strive to find ways to overcome these limitations.

Open your eyes and ears to opportunities – I think opportunities rarely land on someone’s hands or feet instantly. I attest to this as most of the opportunities I got, whether my current job, the candidates I placed, or the clients I worked with, I had gotten because I proactively sought them out rather than wait for them to come to me. For the most part, for you to have opportunities be it in career, personal growth, or development, you have to actively seek them out. In the context of job search, you have to be in the know of the kinds of roles that are available in the country where you want to go, which companies are hiring, do you have connections or people that can recommend you there, what other ways can you reach out to the decision-makers other than sending your CV. 

Photo by Helena Lopes via Unsplash

Adapting to the culture – The phrase, when in Rome, do as the Romans is true to a certain extent. For you to survive living in another country, you have to adjust yourself to their ways of living and working so your living and working arrangements are smooth and peaceful concerning the countries’ norms and culture. This means learning the local’s communication and working style, their customer and traditions, and their laws and policies, among others. This entails you opening your mind to see that your style, culture, and beliefs are not the only things that are right or effective. 

Prepare to deal with homesickness – If you come from close-knit families and you aren’t able to bring them with you to the other country, or you will work in a country that’s vastly different from your home country (eg. from a tropical archipelago to a mostly wintery country), prepare to have many moments of sadness and longing as that is part of being away from people and things that are close to your heart. You need to be able to find ways to communicate with your loved ones, or maybe even bring them with you, or simply acclimatize to the environment and culture of where you are. Most importantly, your goals and your reasons for making your decision t move should be strong enough to withstand and fight off the homesickness you will feel along the way. 

Is working overseas for everyone? 

Photo by Rowan Heuvel via Unsplash

No, it isn’t. Many people are not willing to give up their comfortable lifestyles, their successful careers or be away from their loved ones on a long-term basis. Knowing the stories of my fellow foreign talents, working overseas is ideal for those who thrive on getting out of their comfort zones, those who seek to live differently, and those who may not be too rooted in their home countries and their lives there. Having said all of this, starting over and building something for yourself outside of your home is no easy feat. It sounds glamorous to some people but the process isn’t. You need to truly assess yourself before taking the plunge, and if you decided to do so, here’s me wishing you all the best on your quest. 

PS: On the contrary, let me acknowledge my fellow Filipinos who are on the opposite side of what I’m talking about. Many of them work overseas out of necessity. The financial hardship and the inability to make ends meet in their home country force them to work overseas even if they don’t want to. Unfortunately, many of them are placed under harsh working conditions. These people would not want to leave if it weren’t for their dire needs. I salute every single foreign talent for venturing out there, but I give a special salute to these unsung heroes of their families and our country. 

*If you like what you are reading here or on my blog, I hope you will consider donating or giving me a tip at buymeacoffee.com. This will help me get motivated to continue creating content for you guys. My link is http://www.buymeacoffee.com/halfreformed

One Reply to “A Decade of Working Overseas”

  1. That’s such a great story. I worked in Singapore for about half a year and realised that my career then just wasn’t working for me. It took me shifting countries to learn that. We’re all on this great journey together. Anyway, thanks for sharing your story!

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