9 Ways to Move Abroad as an American

Travel is a great way to experience other cultures and fight ignorance. However, I wholeheartedly believe that every person (American or otherwise) should, if possible, live abroad at some point in their life. Living in another country forces you to leave the ‘tourist bubble’ and it opens your eyes to other cultures, religions, and beliefs. Living with people who look, think, and act differently than you helps you become more open-minded, understanding, and non-judgemental.

Obviously, there are negatives to living abroad (cultural appropriation anyone??) but if you move abroad responsibly, it is an amazing experience.

I moved abroad when I was 22 and I have not moved back to the States since. I lived in South Africa for almost 5 years (in three different cities/provinces), I lived in London for 6 months, and I have been living in Lusaka, Zambia for one year.

Despite all the benefits of moving abroad, let’s be honest, it is not easy. The applications are extensive, the requirements are strict, and the process is long. Bottom line: countries do not make it easy to immigrate, but there are ways to do it – and do it responsibly. Here are 9 ways to move abroad as an American:

Disclaimer: I am an American and I can only speak to my personal experiences moving abroad. I am also not an Immigration specialist. Please speak to an Immigration Attorney or Immigration Agent for more in-depth and up-to-date advice as this is an ever-changing issue.

P.S. I’ll be using “visa” and “permit” interchangeably, but usually, visas are shorter term and permits are longer term.

Extended Tourist Visa

Some countries, like Zambia, allow you to stay as a tourist for up to a year. After the initial 90-day tourist/visitor’s visa, you can apply to extend the visa for an additional three months, and you can do that 3 times. Your tourist visa needs to be tied to a local (aka, someone to take responsibility for you) and you need to prove that you have the funds to support yourself for your stay since you cannot work in the country. Many countries offer this option, but my experience is from Zambia.

Move abroad as a student

Moving abroad as a student is probably the easiest way to move abroad. As long as you are accepted to a school or university, you are pretty much guaranteed a visa. I decided to go to graduate school in London because I knew it would be the only time in my life when I could easily move to the UK. I wrote a blog post about moving to the UK as a student and getting a student visa. Study abroad programs are also a great way to move abroad, but usually, these programs are short-term and do not require a visa.

Move abroad as a volunteer

Some governments will allow you to live in their county as long as you volunteer a few hours a week (and do not earn an income). Although I do not support voluntourism (that is an issue for another post), there are responsible ways to move abroad long-term as a volunteer. Volunteering does not necessarily mean working at an orphanage or animal rescue (I do not know why that seems to be the default when people think of volunteering). I volunteered in South Africa doing communications work for a small organization. I created their monthly newsletter, ran their social media accounts, and created graphics for their website. My skills as a communications professional helped fill in gaps at their organization. That volunteering allowed me to stay in South Africa for a long time and I still help them out even though I no longer live in SA.

Marry/date a foreigner

I do not recommend dating or marrying someone solely to live in a foreign country (it is illegal and unethical), but if you happen to meet someone from another country and the relationship is genuine, this is one way to move abroad. Countries often give spousal visas/permits and some countries even offer partner visas for unmarried couples. However, not all countries give spouses and partners the right to work, so keep that in mind. The application also usually requires extensive proof of the relationship and interviews.

Work for an American company abroad

Most of my suggestions thus far do not allow you to work full-time, so this is a great way to move abroad if you also want to work full-time and earn money. Many American companies have offices abroad and employ a mix of American and local staff. Some American companies abroad are even required to have a certain amount of American staff, so you are not taking a job away from a local. It is sometimes easiest if you start working for that company state-side and then request a transfer. These companies also make sure you are legal and have a work visa and sometimes even provide a relocation allowance.

working holiday visa

Some countries, like Australia, allow youth (usually 18 to 30/35-year-olds) to live and work in the country for one to two years. There are about 62 countries that participate in the Working Holiday Visa program. Unfortunately, Americans are only eligible for Working Holiday Visas in five countries: Australia, Ireland, Korea, New Zealand, and Singapore (and Canada offers a young professionals visa).

Ancestry Visa/permit

Many countries allow you to move to that country and even obtain citizenship if you have ancestry there. This has to be close ancestry, so if your 23andMe test says you are Irish, that is not going to cut it. However, if your grandparents were born in the UK before immigrating to the United States, you could get a UK Ancestry Visa, which allows you to live and work in the UK, for example.

work permit

This is the most difficult way to move abroad. Companies are usually only granted a few foreign work visas (if any), so the spots are coveted and hard to get. Teaching English abroad can be one way to get a work visa if you are TEFL certified. There are resources for finding jobs abroad, such as Easy Expat, but you can also arrive in a country, apply for jobs in person, and hope for the best (if you are gutsy)! Some countries offer work permits for specialty fields. For instance, if a country does not have enough engineers, it will offer work permits to ex-pat engineers.

Be rich

This recommendation is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but 100% true. If you are wealthy enough, you can invest money into a country, like starting a business. This will automatically get you an investment visa. Depending on the country, the amount of money needed to invest changes.

Some final things to consider:

follow all the rules and Do not overstay your welcome

Make sure to always follow the rules stipulated in your visa/permit. Staying past the expiration date of your visa is also a huge mistake. You could be deported immediately and banned from re-entry to the country for months or years. Additionally, when applying for visas/permits, you often have to disclose if you have ever been deported or denied a visa in any country, so breaking the rules in France could hinder your visa application in Thailand, for example.

If you prefer the video format, watch 9 Ways to Move Abroad as an American, here:

Do you have any advice for Americans moving abroad? Do you know of any updates to these visas/permits? Let me know in the comments section!


Leave a Reply