On most pages on our sites we focus on the good aspects of working, living and travelling abroad but here we pay some attention to the bad and the ugly. Adventure, whether it is looking for a job abroad via the internet, travelling or going on a gap year is, by its very definition, not without some risk. By asking the right questions and paying attention to warning signs these risks can be minimised.
We have provided some warnings on the Jobs Abroad Bulletin but because our biggest worry is that something will go wrong for you - either financially or otherwise - we want to be a bit mumsy and emphasis a few points here too.
We get our information from various sources: some organisations we have known for years while others we have not heard of until they appear in our inbox. Often we spot something interesting and think: ooh, that looks good - that’ll make a great job for someone.
Please bear in mind that we could be wrong. If you adopt the same mentality that you would when applying for an advertisement in a classified ads newspaper then you will probably be fine. We do not offer an agency service with all the reference checking that this entails. We are simply two backpackers and it should be borne in mind that we are limited in the checks we can make on organisations possibly from the other side of the world.
As we do not apply for the jobs sent to us or ultimately take these jobs ourselves we cannot review the whole application process. An advertisement that looks fine to us may be revealed to be less so further down the line.
We recommend that when following up any leads to a job abroad or a gap year from this, or any other source, that you do your own research, make your own checks and take notice of any alarm bells that start to ring in your head.
Looking for a Job Abroad
Be particularly wary of paying a fee to secure a job. The internet is an ideal hunting ground for scammers and con men. Though reputable agencies do expect to profit from matching staff with jobs they do so by charging employers, not employees.
In the UK it is not legal for employment agencies to charge employees for job placement services. Au pair agencies are one of the few exceptions and even then most tend to direct their fees towards employers.
Here is some advice for registering with recruitment agencies in the UK:
Au pair and hotel work are two areas where we are frequently targeted by bogus employers pretending to be something, and somewhere, they are not. We moderate our job boards and are able to intercept these attempts to scam our readers but often see the same fake jobs sent to us on other recruitment and classified websites.
Once you know what to look for you should be able recognise these scams. We've included a few tips on Spotting Job Scams on the Jobs Abroad Bulletin. Childcare jobs are a particular target for scammers as noted by the agency Au Pair Connect who have put together this page of complaints and warnings.
Even when a job is genuine a pinch of skepticism is still in order. Ask why the employer is recruiting abroad rather than looking locally. The reason may be innocent enough. The local labour force may turn their noses up at low paying tourism jobs or perhaps at certain times of the year more jobs are available than employees to do them, but darker reasons may be that the employer has a reputation locally for not paying workers or sexual harassment.
Teaching English is one area where promises and reality do not always match. China, in particular, has a bad reputation with problems ranging from identity theft and bogus vacancies to real positions with poor quality employers. The excellent magazine and website Transitions Abroad offers some advice on Teaching English Abroad: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Also investigate Common Job Scams Recruiters Use On English Teachers. Other useful resources include www.chinascambusters.com and www.chinaforeignteachersunion.org.
Gap Years & Volunteering
Those looking to take a gap year or arrange volunteer work from a distance will find large fees are the norm rather than the exception. Though we have recently started to collect organisations that offer free or cheap volunteer work abroad on our new site Free (or Cheap) Volunteer Work Abroad, there are many good reasons to go through an reputable organisation based in your home country or abroad.
Among other things a good gap year company will offer the security lacking when making arrangements by yourself over the internet and iron out in-country difficulties.
As with any industry there are good and bad practices and organisations and if your time and money is going to be spent wisely, both for yourself and for the volunteer organisations that hope to benefit, it pays to be armed with a few questions.
In a market that has expanded hugely in the last ten years the main questions you should ask concern who benefits from your efforts and your money. Does the project exist solely as a form of quasi tourism to exact funds from volunteers or will your presence make a real difference?
The Year Out Group has compiled a list of things to consider and question to ask when choosing a gap year:
Katy Stewart, in an interview on Mallory on Travel, also raises several pertinent points:
Working with children is one particular area to pay special attention to whether you are doing more harm than good. The Voluntourism Gal, pays particular attention on how to responsibly work with orphanages.
In this article in the Guardian, students are given tips to stop gap year travel being 'a new colonialism':
When Things Go Wrong
Most of our readers have a great experience once they have found a job abroad but a few have sent us details of their bad experiences and warnings to pass on.
Other negative stories we have found include:
Lies, Lies, Lies (Or, Volunteering in Nepal)
VolunTEARS: A Tale of Woe From a Traveling Do-Gooder
The Pitfalls of Gap Volunteering
The Credibility Gap
It should be borne in mind when reading complaints from others that some may be from disgruntled ex-employees with an axe to grind or are the opinions of those who just didn’t have realistic expectations of working abroad to begin with. Many people are disappointed with the reality of what can be hard work for low pay or to find out that foreign bosses can be just as annoying as those at home.
Through our websites we often see or hear both sides of the story, including that of employers critical of flaky employees. Some agencies and employers actively discourage gap year students from applying for their positions while others contact us to emphasis that though their jobs offer the promise of a great social life and location, the job itself is not a holiday.
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Other nationalities may prefer to consult their own nation's travel alerts:
US State Department
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade