Hoping to Work at a Nonprofit Overseas? Keep These Five Points in Mind

Seeing the world — while also making it a better place to live in — has vast appeal and draws many people to nonprofit posts overseas. While young people in their 20s are often the mainstay for overseas charities, in today’s world experienced professionals also take such posts overseas. In fact, many retirees or people nearing retirement have been known to take the plunge.

Taking a nonprofit job in a foreign country requires attention to many personal and financial detailsAs with virtually any life-changing experience, it’s always best to ponder your own set of circumstances before leaping at an overseas opportunity. Keep these points in mind:

Make sure you’re a good match

Depending on the assignment, you might be living in a foreign land day in and day out for more than a year. Accordingly, you’ll need to have a strong affinity for the work the organization does and the contribution you’ll make to that mission. Consider, too, that an overseas assignment for a nonprofit won’t necessarily be a fast-track career move — though many future employers in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors will view such an assignment favorably.

How patient and adaptable are you? You’ll be living in a setting unlike any you’ve lived in before, so you’re wise to approach your decision cautiously.

Square the move with your family

If you’re married, taking an overseas opportunity probably won’t be a unilateral decision. Be sure your spouse understands what’s truly in store and will be comfortable living in a particular country for months or even years. You may want to inquire whether an assignment or volunteer post can be arranged for your spouse as well, even if it’s with a different organization.

If you have children, some organizations will frown on them accompanying you to an overseas assignment. Children aren’t permitted to accompany you on a Peace Corps mission, for example. If this is the case, would your spouse or partner be agreeable to remaining at home with the children for an extended time?

Though plenty of people have done just that, it’s not usually considered ideal. If this will be a stumbling block for you, you might want to consider postponing your overseas ambitions until your kids reach college age.

Don’t ignore financial issues

You can expect to live modestly when you’re employed overseas for a nonprofit — but you don’t want to be destitute, either. Some organizations will house you or provide you with a housing stipend. Travel is another important matter. Who pays for it, and will you be able to come back to the U.S. periodically? As with anything, obtain as much information as you can to make an informed decision.

Often, overseas assignments with a nonprofit pay somewhat less than you’re accustomed to earning in the United States. If you own a house and carry a hefty amount of debt, you’ll want to ensure your overseas salary and benefits will be enough for you to meet your financial obligations. Of course, you may be able to rent your house or sublease your apartment to ease the financial burden.

Pay attention to local politics and customs

Take social and political circumstances into account. Living in certain tradition-bound countries might be a poor fit depending on your outlook on issues such as gender equality or religious pluralism. Think twice before taking an assignment in an area plagued by civil unrest.

If you have any health issues, make sure your destination will have the medical infrastructure to deal with your condition in an emergency. And even the healthiest people can expect to endure a battery of inoculations before departing the United States.

Minimize risks

The same advice given to those bound for well-paid corporate assignments holds true for people who are going to work in less-developed countries for a nonprofit. Get as much in writing about your future assignment as you possibly can before leaving home. Ask for a minimum length of time that your job will last.

It’s difficult enough to face a job termination when you are at home in the U.S. — it might be downright terrifying if you’re overseas and your employer closes its doors. In such circumstances, your ability to remain in the country might abruptly end, and you’d also need to spend your own money to get back to the U.S. Seek assurances ahead of time.

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