READER FEEDBACK - Is Working Abroad Bad For Your Architecture Career?

I received a lot of feedback on one of my previous articles that was featured in ArchDaily.  If you haven't already, I suggest having a look so you will be in the loop on the topics of conversation. Is Working Abroad Bad For Your Architecture Career? 

When I wrote it I knew that just the title would get people fired up.

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I have a general rule that I don't read my comments on other sites, usually because they are filled with angry people that enjoy the benefits of web anonymity. However, I felt a lot of great points were brought up in the subsequent conversation so I wanted to share them with you.

While some of them are obviously more positive than others, I didn't want to just feature the people who agreed with me. The only edits were to fix typos in the original text.  Feel free to add your own comments at the bottom.

As I clearly stated in the article, I spent the better part of a decade working abroad in architecture and clearly explained the benefits. However, lets take a look at some of the comments it generated. I have included my feedback after each of the comments in bold.


Applicable only if you belong to a first world country.

But for us rest of the world, global competence is the key if one wants to be a successful. Yes, even in Architecture, there is also politics.

Coming from a 3rd world country, working abroad is a great advantage. Getting enough experience trying to cover all the bases (consultancy path or design path or construction path or all). We need to be better than the average Joe to be in the loop, or suffer by witnessing our (first world) apprentice becoming our own boss in the future.

May it be you, wanting to have your own Architectural firm someday or just be an employee until you retire or get rich first, you need to be exposed to as many different countries and culture as possible to understand Architecture.

The author selfishly just don't want anyone to be successful as him.

I was speaking from the perspective of a first world environment. Certainly there are places in the world that make achieving your career goals more difficult. In that case, changing locations would likely be beneficial. It is not true that I want others to be more successful. I want all of my readers to be MORE successful than me. That's why I write these articles, so others can learn from my both mistakes and accomplishments.

If you are a US citizen, be mindful that you can also get stuck in another country and have a hard time applying for US jobs while living abroad:

I got my M.Arch in 2009 and had to move to South America because of the housing bust (not because I was looking for adventure). But now that the recession is over, I´m trying to move back to the US.

I have been mindful to develop skills that could be used internationally, such as Revit and LEED as well as steel, concrete and wood construction. I haven´t bother learning the local building code because I know it is useless back in the US.

Now that I´m looking for work in the US, I found something the article doesn't mention and it´s the difficulty of applying for jobs while living abroad. Automated applications ask for local US addresses and phone numbers which I don´t have at the moment. Despite the fact that we have Skype and other similar media, most firms want to have face to face job interviews. I don´t even know if my applications are being considered!

Has anyone applied for a US job while living abroad? any tip or advise would be appreciated, Cheers!

One more little thing for US citizens,

If you shut down your credit cards while you’re abroad (long term), you’ll be starting over from scratch when you go back home.

Any credit history you built up before you left will be lost...

As "hana" covers in the response below, applying from abroad is not without its challenges. I typically recommend that you leave off a physical address from your application documents regardless of where you live. Where you live isn't relevant at this early stage of the process. However, providing a phone number local to that country is important. There are providers mentioned below that can give you an appropriate number. 

hana (in response to question: "Has anyone applied for a US job while living abroad? any tips or advise would be appreciated, Cheers!"

I can't speak specifically on the US, but to get a local address, have you considered using the address of a family member or close friend? Or failing those, are PO boxes applicable for your purposes? If you need mail sent to you outside the US from somewhere that will only send to a US address, there are companies that will receive and forward your mail (very useful for Amazon purchases).

Similarly, Vonage is a great option if you need a local phone number - though there is a fee. With this, you can also call to follow up and make sure they've received your application/reiterate your interest.

What I've done previously for face-to-face interviews is tried to arrange them around a trip. This can get tricky and expensive, and really only works if you're applying to a specific city and get several interviews around the same time (or, if you have lots of air miles). Otherwise, definitely try to encourage a Skype interview.

If you're really committed to moving back to the US and are still struggling with all of the above, it might be worth saving up a bit, making an initial move, and getting an interim job to cover your basic expenses while you job search (only an option if you can legally work there already). This can be risky, though, so make sure you have a plan B! Good luck! It's definitely tricky applying from a different country.

Great advice here. Many employers are hesitant to go through the hassle of hiring someone from abroad. Techniques such as arranging interviews during a trip and letting the office know that you will be in town work very well. Skype is also a great backup option.

As a dual citizen with permanent residency in a third country and experience living and working in two other countries, I think this post raises a lot of valid points. However, the issue of local experience is, I think, particular to North America (and smaller cities elsewhere).

In places such as London, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and larger European cities the workforce is very transient. There will be people who have vast local experience but equally there will be many people who have a range of international experience - and these people tend to move to and from other international cities. Working in these environments can result in networks that span the globe - when you're starting out in this environment, using your colleagues' international networks is the best way to build your own - along with making connections with other young nomads (even outside of the architecture industry).

Where I find this falters is in North America, which seems to have a weaker connection to the global network (my theory is that the geographical isolation and self-sufficiency of Canada and the US has made them very inward-focused nations). International experience (or lack of local experience) can also be a hindrance in smaller cities and towns, or places where fluency in the local language is more critical (ie. where English is not the dominant language of business).

So, if you're happy to live and work in global cities for the majority of your life, diverse international experience is a great asset - it shows one of the most important skills - that you are open-minded, adaptable and a quick learner!

I would agree with the majority of these statements. The U.S. can be quite inward looking when it comes to international applicants, with the exception of New York and Los Angeles. This is partially due to the fact that the U.S. has such a large population and tends to have a huge citizen application pool. Also recent changes in immigration visas has made it more difficult and expensive for both employers and potential employees.

In my own experience there are at least 7 better reason to work abroad (when you are young)

Unfortunately Conor didn't provide us with those better reasons so I guess we will have to assume they are great.

The particular bias of this article prevent it to have any universal value. 

It's valid for a US cosmopolitan bourgeois between 1990 and 2008 obsessed with his architect career. 

1. the economic situation passed many European and american architect in 2008-2009 to go work abroad in Asia, Africa, South America. 

2. It's valid for nomad only, not migrants. You have to consider a lot of architects now as migrants, not nomads. 
3. Maybe one professional career can me more complex than the straight traditional Architect career. People need to regularly change jobs, orientations, location. Maybe the life turn by moving abroad is more important than the dream of resuming a career "Back in the US".
4. Tax. For US citizen only . 
5. Finances: the wealthy architect is an image of the 1950's. Most architect belong to the category of "Poor workers" . To get wealthy and get money, better work in Finance.

But again for a US architect who wanna resume his career back home at the end, it is probably better to go abroad only through the nomadic experience of "Expatriates". This will be safe and steady.

Wanting a successful architecture career has been misinterpreted as being "obsessed". Not sure I understand the migrant vs. nomad argument, however the purpose of the article was to highlight relocation primarily based on a career motivated move. Personal finances are important regardless of income or career path. 

Scott Smith
I think he makes a lot of fair points and I have reached the point in my career where I know a lot of people who went abroad after school and are now trying to come back. They are running into a lot of the issues he talks about potential firms not counting their years of experience either at all or fully because of it being abroad. It also depends on what country you work in - the UK to USA is a much easier transition than China to USA - so it's all relative.

That said, I think an alternate option to working abroad is to work for a large firm and make it known that you are interested in working on international projects (not everyone is). I spent about 6 months in China, all expenses paid working on a very interesting projects and was able to travel quite a bit around the region. It almost turned into 2 years. I have also been fortunate enough to travel to other countries for various projects/proposals that were all rewarding experiences. Also know others who have had very similar experiences working all over the world this way.

Having your experience "count" in the eyes of a potential employer is one of the many things I see when dealing with potential candidates. As Scott mentioned, some countries are more similar than others, making the transition easier. 

What a completely stupid article.

I'm all for working everywhere. The more the better to make a better, well rounded architect. I have worked for 20 years in Australia, 3 in Los Angeles, 17 in New York City and on projects in China, India, Dubai, US, and Australia. Maybe I misread something? I thought the point of the article was to discourage people working in different places.

Owwch. This is a common argument I receive. A "well rounded architect" is not a quantifiable quality to a potential employer. Try putting it on your resume. I completely agree that working abroad has the potential to make you a more interesting and educated human being. However, this may or may not translate into being a better architect for a particular region or firm. If I want to apply for a small office designing barns in rural Argentina, my airport construction document experience in Hong Kong might be irrelevant. 

I would suggest either moving back first and then finding a job or use a local address and phone number. Usually when a firm wants to hire, they don't want to wait for you to move. This applies for people from other states with the U.S as well. I went through this story and my advice is move back and stay with family. You will need to rebuild credit, tax history, transportation etc. If you can go to a big city that will help. Also like the article mentions, everyone will ask for local experience as well as specific project type experience.

Depending on your financial situation moving back can be risky without securing a job beforehand. It is true that when firms are looking to hire they don't want to wait months for you to relocate. These are potential pros and cons that you need to consider based on your particular situation. 

I disagree with you, mate. I used to work in Germany, Swiss, Italy and UK - almost 6 years, as an architect. Finally I am based were I was born, and feel quite successful. This makes me believe the article is not very stupid.

I guess this is a compliment? Again, this is anecdotal evidence. I am happy this lifestyle worked for Maciej yet it may not be the answer for everyone. 

Hugo Flammin
As a European Architectural Designer working in North America, I perfectly agree with what's been highlighted by the article. Another advice would be to understand which position you'll be offered in the new country you're moving in to. You can be called Architect in one country, Intern in one other, and this will affect your salary at the end of the day. Travelling is amazing though, it's just a matter of which sacrifices you're ready to make.

Great points in this comment. There is such a wide range of titles within the architecture community, especially from country to country. Since your title tends to follow you around on your resume, it is important to understand what makes you an "architect" in a particular region. Can your qualifications and/or license transfer?

7 fairly mundane reasons, to be fair.

I didn't say the reasons would be exciting... ;)

Eugenio Laponte
.. said the one who "have had the privilege of living all over the world and I have three different citizenship to prove it".

I wanted to be open and honest with the article. The choices I have made, which include working abroad, ended up being a good decision for my personal and career goals. However, this may not be the perfect answer for everyone. Each person's situation is unique and must be carefully considered before blindly selling everything and moving because it will be "a great experience."

Again let me be clear, I am not saying you shouldn't follow your dreams. By all means do so. Just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and chasing your own dreams, not just acting on what you think others would want you to do.

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