Take a long break from the daily grind – and make it count

Working abroad can be rewarding – and it's not just for students, says Kate Hughes

Working abroad for a season or two has long been the jurisdiction of the gap-year student, but you don't need to be an 18-year-old, enthusiastically carting around a rucksack heavier than you are, to enjoy a new challenge overseas.

Taking a few months or years away from the norm is fast becoming a popular option among retirees and those after a career break. Volunteers working with international development charity VSO, for example – who have historically been school- and university-leavers – are now, on average, 38 years old and with professional careers under their belts. And more than 30 per cent are over 50.

The opportunities are endless, whether you're intent on working at a ski resort for a season, spending the summer in the Med, or teaching in Borneo. But failing to take care of money matters, both at home and abroad, could mean your trip of a lifetime is hindered by cash barriers.

What are you looking for?

Deciding what you want from your overseas working stint is the first crucial step. This ranges from improved earning prospects, a professional step-up and learning new skills, to meeting new people and seeing new places. Prospects (www.prospects.co.uk), part of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, suggests that the clearer your objectives, the more likely you are to succeed. "Decide why you want to work abroad, what your motivation is, and what you hope to achieve," the site advises. "How will you make the most of it?

"Be realistic about timescales," it adds. "The process is time-consuming and requires perseverance, determination, good organisation and planning, and careful thought. Also, bear in mind that getting meaningful work experience for a period of only a year can be difficult – your year abroad can easily become two or three. If you go with a partner, remember that they may face challenges and difficulties too – you will need to take this into account."

As a national of a European Economic Area (EEA) or European Union (EU) country, you have the right to work in any other member state, without the need for a work permit. You will also have the same rights as nationals of your destination country in working conditions, pay and social security matters. Further afield, be clear about who will be arranging any work permits and visas you may need, and what domestic rights and protection are extended to you, especially when it comes to the healthcare system. Few countries outside the EU, including the US, have a national healthcare service, so you will most likely have to foot the bill if anything goes wrong. You may also have to get specific travel insurance as many policies will not cover you if you are working for an extended period rather than being on holiday. This is particularly important if you are an older, or retired, traveller. Check your policy well in advance of leaving the country.


If you choose to volunteer, you will certainly get something back. A study by the University of Southampton, Enriching Education, recently found that 84 per cent of volunteers said that the years spent overseas had had a substantial effect on their personal and professional development.

The more established volunteering organisations will try to reduce the amount volunteers have to contribute financially while involved in their programmes, but you may have to pay a number of expenses, including your flights, food or accommodation, although the more reputable the charity, the less you are likely to have to pay. As an added bonus, public sector workers may be entitled to a share of the £13m recently put aside for pension contributions for those volunteering overseas. VSO (www.vso.org.uk) places volunteers, aged between 25 and 75, in developing countries around the world for about two years, although some programmes can be shorter. They often teach, but the charity encourages volunteers to use their existing professional experience, and often recruits engineers, health workers or IT specialists.

Bevis Man, a spokesman for VSO, said that volunteers should not have to spend any of their own money to take part in overseas programmes. "VSO covers the cost of the return flight, and your accommodation is arranged and paid for by the local organisation you are working with. We also provide a certain amount of money for food and drinks on a daily basis while you are away. It's not pocket money but nor is it a salary."

If you're not sure you can commit to a two-year stint, Camp America (www.campamerica.co.uk) offers placements at one of their children's camps for a summer, followed by up to two months' free time to explore the US. Volunteers often become "counsellors" – simply meaning they look after the children, many of whom are disadvantaged. UK volunteers pay a total of around £380 to Camp America, which includes medical insurance and airport taxes, but your flight from London is free. Additional fees for visas and police and medical checks come in at around £215. In return, a standard counsellor gets pocket money of around $575-$1075 (£296-£553) during the season, rising with more responsible roles. Applications have already closed for this year, but it's not too early to start making enquiries for 2009.

Paid work

If you're trying to make a little cash while on your travels, seasonal work could be the way forward. Most chalet staff famously earn just enough to cover their après ski bar bill, eventually returning home broke and invariably in a plaster cast. But if you have a few extra skills, such as a couple of languages, you could earn a useful wage through organisations like Jobs in the Alps (www.jobs-in-the-alps.com). The company offers opportunities throughout the year, mostly at hotels and restaurants. Most workers are taking gap years or career breaks, but there are no official age restrictions – as long as you don't mind considering work as a waitress, porter or a similarly physical role. It won't help reduce the potential for liver damage, but you may have a few thousand pounds to show for it, as well as the ability to tackle a black run blindfolded.

Alternatively, if that all sounds a bit chilly, you could always spend a few months as paid or unpaid crew on a yacht. Crewseekers (www.crewseekers.net) is a subscription-based forum that puts boat owners and crew in touch with each other. With decent sailing experience you may be able to negotiate payment and flights to and from the boat at each end of the journey, but some skippers will at least cover expenses, especially if you have spent time on boats before. Passages can be across the Channel or around the world, ranging from a few days to a year away from home, particularly if you go from one voyage to another.

For some, working overseas is not a career break at all. Many people accept temporary overseas placements set up by their employer to further their specific career plans. This can be anything from a few months to a number of years. A report by Natwest found that more than 40 per cent of the 132,000 Brits who pack up to work abroad every year are professionals and managers. On average, they are 43 years old and earn salaries of around £67,000 a year. The majority make the move to develop professional skills or to get ahead in their careers.

If you are asked to relocate for work, compensation for the move is commonplace. International companies will often have a relocation programme, and should at least arrange your work permits or visas and initial accommodation, and help to find a more permanent home for you and any family. Many organisations augment this basic service by helping with everything from setting up local bank accounts to sorting out children's education needs and finding the best local restaurants.

More information

To find out about the pension contributions for public sector workers volunteering abroad, visit www.vso.org.uk/volunteering/faq/pensions.asp.

For tax refunds due to being out of the UK, you will need a P85 "Leaving the United Kingdom" form. This is downloadable from: www.hmrc.gov.uk/incometax/tax-leave-uk.htm.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), gives UK nationals information about the stability and security of countries around the world at www.fco.gov.uk/en/travelling-and-living-overseas/travel-advice-by-country.

The fine print: what travellers need to know

As a volunteer you will not necessarily receive an income – VSO, for example, offers only a small allowance to the people on its schemes – so your UK tax situation should not be affected. However, you may be eligible for a tax refund at the end of the year as your taxable annual income will decrease considerably while you are away.

If you are being paid while abroad, and spend at least a year overseas, you are treated as a non-resident for tax purposes in the UK. You will not pay UK income tax as long as the country in question has a "double taxation agreement" with the UK, but you will pay tax on your UK pension.

For more info go to www.hmrc.gov.uk/incometax/tax-leave-uk.htm. Paying local tax on your income will depend on the country you are working in, and you should make enquiries with your employer and/or the government's tax or revenue department.

Those who will be away from the UK for an extended period may wish to transfer the control of their UK assets, accounts and other financial arrangements or rights to a family member or partner while they are away. These representatives can then deal with any issues that arise without needing the traveller to get directly involved. This is known as temporary power of attorney or temporary guardianship. Your bank, solicitor or accountant will be able to assist you with arrangements, letters, etc.

If you are retired and receiving pension income by the time you leave the UK, that income has to be paid into a UK bank account. But you can then transfer it as you wish. Bear in mind that if you wish to use that income while you are away, it may be worth rolling it up for several months to reduce the effect of transfer fees.

"If you are regularly contributing to a pension plan, you may find that your contributions are problematic and you may not be able to continue saving while abroad," says Peter Chadborn of the financial advisory firm CBK. "Those embarking on overseas work should also check any protection policies like life insurance, as some will not cover you for such a change of circumstance."

He continues: "Your financial situation back home can depend on where in the world you end up. You'll probably find it easier to maintain your financial status quo while you are away if you are heading to another EU, or developed, country, rather than to a developing country."

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