Need a change? Quit the UK

A wealth of opportunities exists for working overseas. And, as Nick Jackson reports, some expats fall in love with their new countries

For most of us, memories of summer holidays somewhere hotter, cheaper, potentially safer, and simply nicer dissipate as the nights draw in. But with plenty of agencies to help you on your way, foreign newspapers and classifieds published online, and cheap flights to help you to recce foreign climes for jobs, there is every opportunity to turn a holiday into a lifestyle. Firms overseas are not only looking for engineers and economists, but for skills in anything from ceramics to sales to hairdressing.

"I was just very bored," says Ian McLaren, 55. After 24 years working as a ceramics expert for Ideal Standard, a sanitaryware company in the UK, McLaren knew he needed a change. "And then I found out that my salary would be three times what it was in the UK, and tax free."

McLaren upped sticks and swapped Cheshire for China in 1998 on a four-year contract setting up a factory for Hong Kong-based HKR International. He ended up staying eight years and building a company from scratch with three factories.

"I learnt more in eight years in China than in the previous 24 years in the UK," he says. "In China you're on your own, you don't have the back-up of expert suppliers." And he didn't just learn more about ceramics and management. "Before I went I knew absolutely nothing about China. All I'd seen were mud huts and paddy fields on TV," he says. "But I went out and socialised, learnt about the culture and married a Chinese woman. Now it's my second home."

It is not all idyllic, though. Expat life can be lonely and if your family stays in Britain, it can be a marriage wrecker. "It's very, very dangerous for a relationship," McLaren warns.

If living apart is impossible you can always take your spouse. Sue Davey, 42, overcame the problem of an itinerant Anglophobe husband always off on contracts abroad by moving to the Gulf with him 13 years ago. Recently, a rise in the cost of living meant she started looking for jobs in Gulf News, a local paper available online. She soon found an ad for a sales job with for the expat magazine Connector in Dubai's Media City. "Dubai's absolutely buzzing with media, business, sales," she says. "There's a lot of very varied expat work to be had here."

But while Davey loves the safety and better quality of life she enjoys in Dubai, she acknowledges that it comes at a price. In Dubai your visa is dependent on your having an employer sponsor. You can transfer from one employer to another, but if your contract runs out or you lose your job you can be forced to leave pretty quickly. "I do sometimes worry that if my husband loses his job that's it, we'll have to go," she says. "But that's expat life for you. You make friends and they leave, but you get used to it."

You don't have to put up with the vagaries of an expat life to work abroad, though. Australia is now offering a solution with its recently expanded residency programme. "I used to watch Home and Away as a child and think, I'd like that," says Lynne Gillie, 26. "On Christmas Day a couple of years ago I woke up and decided I was going to go."

She left Scotland soon afterwards on a six-month working holiday. While there she fell in love with the place, decided to stay, and within two months had a visa that after five years will become a permanent residency.

"I heard that they never had brilliant hairdressers, so I thought I'd give them something they hadn't got," she says. Hairdressing is on few lists of essential skills, but it is on the list of priority jobs that the Australian government is looking to fill with immigrant workers. To obtain residency in Australia you need points more urgently than needing an employer. Points are given if your skills and experience match what they're looking for plus extra points for other factors such as if you are under 30 or speak English as a first language.

There has still been a cost. But Gillie thinks it's been worth it. "I do miss the football," she says. "But I love the hot weather and everybody's so easygoing. I'm making new friends and I'm happy here."

To find out if your skill set is on the list and for more information about moving to Australia go to www.skills4oz.org

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