Amsterdam, Australia, and South Korea: 3 Job and Visa Options For Americans

Need a job? A change of pace? A break from the States? You’ve got options

Hongdae, Seoul, South Korea 2017

I graduated college in 2009, the last time the economy was “down.”

A lot of my friends stayed near the university after they graduated, and understandably so. They found jobs using local connections and recommendations from professors, but I was itching to get out of Oklahoma (the elbow of America, they call it) after 4 years.

I found a job through a website called backdoor jobs and ended up spending the next two summers in Southeast Alaska. It was a win-win for me. I got to travel, have new experiences, and see the world, and at the same time, make money. I had a mountain of student loan debt to consider, after all.

Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but that decision to go to Alaska established a trend in my life. In the name of adventure, and in making a buck, I was willing to “go wherever the jobs were.”

It was one of those innocent little choices that starts to look like a major fork in the road as you get older.

These days I’m an American expat currently living in South Korea (I’ve been here for the past six years, with several travels in between), and what I want to show you is this:

You have options

Maybe you’re out of work. Maybe you’re looking to change careers. Maybe you’d like a break from America. Maybe like me, you want to travel but can’t afford it. Maybe like my brother, a year overseas could rejuvenate your existing career.

Moving overseas is not for everyone, but it could be for you. Perhaps later this year. Perhaps a few years down the road. If this pandemic has reminded us of anything, it’s that the future is unpredictable.

And as one of my favorite musicians David Bazan once sang, “It’s good to have options.”

Real quick, before we start, let me answer a few questions that will help define the scope of this article:

1. Why did you choose Australia, South Korea, and the Netherlands?

  • I have personally traveled to and/or lived in these 3 countries, which is why I feel qualified to speak on them.
  • I believe that these 3 countries give a nice, varied sample of what’s available for American expats. Better than showcasing 3 European countries, for example.
  • And lastly, most expats and digital nomads are familiar with the problem of “death by too many options.” Of course, there are other great countries that deserve attention, but in this article, I’m trying to simplify the process, not overwhelm.

2. What if I’m not an American Citizen?

  • There’s still a very good chance that you can travel and work in these countries. I’d encourage you to check the visa requirements for your country. I’m just speaking for U.S. citizens because that’s where my experience lies.
  • The U.S. has a strong passport, but it’s certainly not the strongest. Many Asian and European passports rank similarly or higher in terms of accessibility to different countries.

3. Who wants to travel during a global pandemic?

  • Not me! (Throws up hands in the “don’t shoot” position). I’m not recommending travel for travel’s sake. But the data shows that airline ticket sales have been steadily increasing since March. People are already on the move.
  • Of course, you’ll have to check all of the current regulations if you plan to fly internationally. You might have to self-quarantine for a week or two upon arrival, for example.
  • Now is not the best time to travel. But things will settle eventually, and when they do, certain jobs (like teaching positions for native English speakers) might be in high demand.

OK. Now that we signed all the paperwork let’s put our roller-skates on.

Part 1: Teaching English in South Korea

Incheon, South Korea 2018

The K-wave is rising these days. You might have seen the movie Parasite win best picture at the academy awards. You might have seen B.T.S. blow up the Jimmy Fallon Show, or you might have noticed that Netflix is suddenly full of K-dramas like Crash Landing on You and Itaewon Class.

I’m partial to South Korea because I live here and I love it here. Teaching in Korea has given me a reliable source of income over the years, and a chance to re-invent myself.

If the thought of teaching makes your toes sweat, or you’re already making six figures, and you’d never dream of stooping to a teacher’s salary, then feel free to skip ahead to Amsterdam or Australia.

But I know many American citizens like me graduated college with a lot of debt to pay and limited few options for paying them off. If you’re one of those people, then teaching in Korea might intrigue you for these reasons:

  1. Teaching jobs are plentiful
  2. The requirements are minimal

As long as you have a bachelor’s degree of any kind, and as long as you carry a passport from an English-speaking country like England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, U.S.A, South Africa, Ireland… you can find a job teaching English in Korea. Many countries like Spain, Germany, India, and China require that English teachers be certified with a TEFL or a TESOL. Of course, a certification looks good on your resume and will help you land certain jobs. But you don’t need it. I’m proof of that. I’ve worked for public schools, private schools, high schools, and camps over the course of six years, and I never took a TEFL course.

As a brand new teacher, you can expect a take-home salary in the range of $1,800 to $3,000 per month. For more detailed info on teacher salaries, here’s a first-hand account from someone who taught English in Taiwan, China, and Korea.

If you’re interested in further details like visa requirements and how to apply for teaching positions in Korea, I’m going to recommend you to one of my favorite online personalities, Drew Binsky. Here’s his Ultimate Guide to Teaching English in South Korea.

Or you can do what I did. Back in 2014, I didn’t have any connections in Korea. I had never been a teacher, never been to Asia. I was living in Wrightwood, California, at the time, and I opened my laptop, and I went to a website called Dave’s E.S.L. cafe. I emailed my resume to a handful of recruiters, got a few calls back the next day, and a few months later, I was waking up in Incheon, wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.

I’m interested in South Korea, but I’ll never be a teacher. What are my other options?

Digital Nomads are on the slow rise in Korea, emphasis on slow. Visas for Americans are free-on-arrival, which means that you can arrive at the Incheon Airport with no prior plans, stamp your passport, and instantly be granted 90 days in Korea. Making quick Visa Runs to Tokyo or Fukuoka can extend your trip indefinitely. You’re going to have trouble renting an apartment in Korea for any extended period of time if you’re on a tourist visa.

You’re in luck if you work for an international company like Samsung or the Green Climate Fund. I’ve met a lot of people in Incheon and Seoul who work for companies like this, and who opted to spend a year in Korea with their families. Of course, these company relocations are downright fantastic, because the company usually takes care of your flights, visa, housing; they’ll probably even help get your kids enrolled in the nearest international school.

Here are a few things to consider if you’re interested in moving to South Korea:

PROS of living in South Korea

  1. Public Safety. Bad stuff happens here as it happens everywhere. But it’s hard to explain, or overstate, the feeling of safety and peace you get when living here. My wife never thinks twice about walking alone at night. I never look over my shoulder when I’m withdrawing money from an A.T.M. I’ve been a bike commuter in a big city for years, and I’ve never once had my bike tampered with.
  2. Health Care. Again, it’s hard to overstate how your stress level lowers when you know that your health care system is A) cheap, and B) state of the art. All residents of South Korea, foreigners and citizens alike, are automatically enrolled in the national health care plan. I currently pay about $60 month for my health insurance, and my employer contributes close to the same. My wife’s employer doesn’t help at all, so she pays the full $110 per month. Standard doctor’s visits cost us $3 — $20. A teeth cleaning at the dentist costs $40 — $60. A random M.R.I scan might cost $400.
  3. Public Transit: Buses, Taxis, Trains, and Subways are safe, clean, and affordable. If you live in one of the big cities like Seoul, you’ll pay $1.00 for a one-way subway ticket to anywhere in the city.
  4. Housing: I live in a neighborhood of Incheon called Songdo, about an hour’s drive from Seoul. My 3-bedroom, modern, high rise apartment costs about $1,000 per month, all utilities included. (If you want to see a tour of my apartment, click here.) Before this, I lived in a modern studio apartment for $600 / month. Of course, if you live in the heart of Seoul, you’re going to pay more. But in general, Korean apartments are functional and affordable.
  5. The Incheon Airport: Pull up any list of “top-ranked airports” over the last 10 years, and you’ll consistently find the Incheon Airport ranked in the top 5. South Korea is conveniently located if you’re interested in traveling while overseas. You can fly direct to L.A., San Fransisco, and Seattle, and you’ve got easy access to Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and the rest of Asia.
  6. Legendary Seoul Nightlife: I’m a boring married guy who likes to go to bed at 9 pm, so I won’t pretend to be knowledgeable on this topic. Instead, I’ll refer you to this article, complete with photos. Or you can just imagine flashing lights, k-pop, lots of soju.
  7. Incredibly Unique Culture: One of the first things you’ll realize about South Korea is that Koreans enjoy a surprisingly homogenous culture. This can be a bad thing, of course, if you’re an individual who doesn’t fit the standard. But I find Korean culture a refreshingly different worldview when compared to the individualism of western societies.

CONS of living in South Korea

  1. The Shock of Moving to Asia: Culture shock is real. Of the three countries I’m reviewing here, South Korea will push an American Citizen the farthest outside of their comfort bubble. Although the Korean alphabet is surprisingly easy to learn (far easier than Japanese or Chinese), it’s much harder for westerners to adapt to the Korean language than say, Spanish or Dutch. And although the foreign population is growing rapidly, Korea is not as accustomed to accommodating foreigners as a European country like the Netherlands.
  2. Air Pollution: Seoul’s air pollution is not as bad as Beijing or Delhi, but it is worse than other major cities like Paris, Berlin, and London. Korean cities like Busan and Daegu have better air, but in and around Seoul, pollution is a constant concern.
  3. Lack of Diversity: Korean culture is strong because it is well-defined. As with any country, you will find more tolerance for diversity in the big cities, less so in the rural areas. (You might try visiting Hong Kong — the “culinary capital of Asia” — if you want to see a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities). The U.S.A. is a large and diverse place that celebrates its diversity. South Korea is a small country, smaller physically than the state of Florida. They know exactly who they are and what they like, which makes for an incredibly rich cultural experience.

OK. That’s it for South Korea. As I said, I think teaching is a great opportunity for graduates who want to travel but also need to work. I’ll always be thankful for the opportunities that teaching in Korea has given me.

Part Two: Working Hospitality, Customer Service and Construction Jobs in Australia

Northern Territory, Australia 2017

I’ve joked before that America and Australia are like strange alternate versions of the same universe. It’s like the butterfly flapped its wings JUST ONCE, and instead of football as your national sport, you get footie. Instead of driving on the left side of the road, you drive on the right side. You can read the street signs and restaurant menus; the language looks the same, but it’s not quite the same. I distinctly remember yelling into my two-way radio while in the middle of an intense construction job, “I’m sorry, mate, but I can’t fucking understand what you’re telling me to do!”

When an American arrives in Japan or India or Africa, she instantly knows that she’s not in Kansas anymore. It’s obvious and undeniable. Sure it’s the people, but it’s also the smell, the signage, the sounds, and the feel of the place. But when an American arrives in Australia, she’s going to need some time to tease out the subtle cultural differences. It might hit her in waves when she sees the colorful money notes, or when she first tries to order a latte and learns that maybe what she really wants is a flat white.

I’m saying that, for Americans, Australia provides a much easier cultural transition than Europe or Asia, and it’s all made easier by a thing called “The Working Holiday Visa.”

This is how I worked for a year in Australia. It’s what thousands of people from all over the world use to work and travel in Australia. There are two sub-classes of the Working Holiday Visa, the 417 and the 462. As an American, you’ll apply for the 462. Here’s a rundown of the most important information:

  • You must be between the ages of 18–30 when you apply. You can apply when you’re 30 years old, but not when you’re 31
  • As of this writing, it costs $485 AUD (about $320 USD) to apply for the visa
  • You’ll have to complete a health check and prove that you have $5,000 AUD (about $3,300 USD) in your bank account
  • Once granted, you’ll be free to work and travel in Australia for 12 months. Come and go as much as you like. Work anywhere that will hire you.

The magic of this visa is the amount of FLEXIBILITY that it provides. Since your visa is not tied to any one employer, you are free to travel and work as you please. (By contrast, if you’re an English teacher in South Korea, your employee often sponsors your visa and pays for your housing. This is usually very convenient, but it also gets messy if an employee quits their job or gets fired.)

The Working Holiday Visa gives you freedom and autonomy. No jobs in Perth? Move to Sydney. Manager at the pub not treating you well? Try your hand as a barista instead.

The Working Holiday Visa is geared towards the young, the opportunistic traveler, the student on a “gap year.” If you’re willing to share a flat with a few other flatmates and work hard for long stretches of time, you can do well for yourself in Australia. Many people end up extending their Working Holiday Visas for a second and even a third year.

I’ve seen friends make good money, especially when they have experience in a relevant field like construction project management. But even if you’re young or have minimal working experience, you can often find work at retail stores, bars, restaurants, and you can even get paid $26 AUD per hour and $52 AUD per overtime hour to hold a stop sign as a traffic controller. (But take it from me, that job is way harder than it sounds).

I mentioned my brother earlier. He worked at a winery outside of Melbourne. He arranged the whole thing through email while he was still in Oregon, then he applied for his Visa and bought his plane ticket. But when he arrived, he was surprised at how BIG the operation was. He ended up working for a huge staff that had a lot of turnover, feeling more like a robot in an assembly line than a valued employee.

But after a week at that first job, he had a chance meeting with another winemaker while watching Serena Williams at the Australian Open in Melbourne (How Aussie!). Long story short, he ended up leaving the first job and having a much better experience at the new one. These are the kinds of things that you can’t plan for, no matter how much googling you do before you go.

You can visit sites like Gumtree, similar to craigslist, to search for jobs and apartments before you move. However, most experienced Working Holiday Visa owners will tell you that the magic happens only after you’re “on location,” as it did for my brother.

I was lucky to have a friend in Australia. I moved into the spare room of his apartment, took a three-day training course to get certified as a traffic controller, and then I was off to work. Some months I made a few thousand dollars. Some months I only made $500. My wife served drinks at an event resort. We started out in the Northern Territory, then moved down to the Gold Coast, and eventually had a great vacation in Sydney before leaving Australia.

Obligatory Opera House Selfie

If you’re interested, you can apply for the visa today. Once you’re approved, you have a year from your approval date to enter Australia for the first time. Interested but not sure what you’d do for work? Here is a list of “14 Easy Jobs to get in Australia,” along with tips and advice on how to find them.

PROS of living in Australia

  1. Quality of Life. According to worlddata.info, Australia ranks #1 in a quality of life comparison among all the world’s countries. The rankings take 7 different factors into account: Stability, Right, Health, Climate, Security, Costs, and Popularity. Of course, you can find other lists where Australia is ranked lower, but the sunshine, laid-back attitude, and the friendliness of the people are undeniable to anyone who’s ever stepped foot in the country.
  2. Travel in Australia. Forget about traveling to other countries. Once you get to Australia, you’ll be amazed at just how BIG the country really is. Now realize that Australia has a population of 25 million, compared to America’s population of 325 million. If it’s road trips and open spaces that you’re after, there’s no better country than Australia.
  3. Ease of Adjustment for Americans. Of the three countries on my list, Americans will have the easiest time adjusting to Australia. Of course, you’ll have frustrating miscommunications and scary moments where you cross the crosswalk while looking left instead of right, but the language factor cannot be overstated. Going to the bank, the hospital, the grocery store, none of these daily living tasks will exhaust you like they would in Europe or Asia, which means you’ll have more energy to work hard and play hard.
  4. Quality Healthcare. My experience was that doctors and hospitals were slightly better than American standards as far as the staff’s friendliness, the wait times, the cleanliness, and quality of the facilities. Again, the similarities are close enough that you won’t be in for any shocking surprises.
  5. Coastline. Good lord, the amount of coastline!

CONS of living in Australia

  1. Cost of Living. The same website that ranks Australia #1 in Quality of life also ranks them #12 in Cost of Living, which is higher than the Netherlands, South Korea, and the United States. Groceries, bar tabs, and transit fares all add up in Australia. And unless you live right next door to where you work, you’re going to need a car. A car means gas and insurance and the added stress of buying and selling a vehicle during your time overseas.
  2. Isolation. Indonesia and Southern Asia are your closest neighbors. This is unlike living in Western Europe, where you can train or drive to any number of amazing countries for a pleasant weekend jaunt. Your flight to the States is going to be a 14–20 hour affair, and that’s if you’re flying to California. This is another reason why it makes sense to travel in-country while you there.

OK. I’ve made my case for Australia. But maybe you’re thinking,

“I like Kangaroos as much as the next guy, but I’m not interested in serving drinks in Sydney or selling sunglasses in Brisbane. What I want is the sophistication and traditional culture of a place like Western Europe. I want an established job at a global company with ALL the benefits. An idyllic city to raise my kids in. Parks and windmills and canals and weed in coffee shops.”

If those are your specific desires, then it’s hilarious that you’ve never considered Amsterdam before.

Part 3: Working for an International Company in Amsterdam

Photo: Chait Goli/Pexels

We’ve all seen the sexy photos of the canals, the houseboats, the bikes, and the bridges. Maybe you’ve ever visited. Perhaps you’ve done the tourist two-step, which is when your train arrives at Amsterdam Centraal Station, and then you spend the next 36 hours rushing from the Anne Frank House to the Rijksmuseum to the Red Light District and back again.

You may not be aware of the extensive amount of work opportunities that Amsterdam provides for foreigners.

Here’s are just some of the international companies that have regional headquarters in the Netherlands:

  • Netflix
  • I.B.M.
  • Adidas
  • Booking.com
  • Under Armour
  • Nike
  • Tesla Motors
  • Panasonic
  • IKEA
  • CISCO systems

And here are some of the Dutch Multinational companies that recruit international employees: In the technology sector, you have companies like Philips, ASML, TOMTOM, and Vanderlande Industries. In finance and insurance, you have companies like ING Group, Rabobank, Aegon, and Delta Lloyd. The city of Utrecht, just south of Amsterdam, has a large Science Park campus with numerous companies in the science and biomedical fields, as well as I.C.T. companies like Fujitsu and Oracle, and gaming companies like Nintendo and Ubisoft. Other notable international companies include Heineken, Ahold, and Royal Dutch Shell.

If you’re an expert in your field and looking to travel while working for an established company, Amsterdam might be for you. Of course, you can apply specifically to any of the companies above. But you can also take advantage of a helpful website called iamsterdam.com, where you can specifically search for English-speaking jobs in Amsterdam. You can filter your search results to the industries that you’re interested in, and now you’re off to the races.

One of the most appealing things about working in Amsterdam is the friendliness of the visa requirements. It is relatively easy for Americans to work, live, stay, and even transition into permanent residents.

Amsterdam has things like the Amsterdam Startup Visa, which openly and actively targets entrepreneurs from outside of the European Union. Not only do they allow foreigners to come and open businesses, they openly encourage it.

And get this: U.S. Citizens can apply for what’s known as a Residence Permit. You can apply as a foreign investor, a startup, a highly skilled migrant seeking employment, or an independent entrepreneur (I’m winking at all of you digital nomads out there). You will have to have a few thousand dollars in your bank account and all the necessary documents.

But here’s the kicker: After living in the Netherlands for five years, foreign nationals and their family members can apply for a Dutch permanent residence permit. This means that you and your family members are allowed to stay in the country indefinitely, and also allowed free travel within qualifying E.U. countries.

I think that these visa requirements are very favorable for U.S. citizens, especially when you factor in the attractiveness of a historical, but also growing and thriving Western European city.

I just don’t think that many people know about it. But now you do because I’ve let you in on the secret. And as you can probably guess, I’m very interested in Amsterdam myself. It’s the only one of these three countries I haven’t lived in, but that might not be the case for long.

Dazed and Confused in Amsterdam in 2009

PROS of living in Amsterdam

  1. Commuting by bike. You’ve probably heard the statistics about how Amsterdam has more bikes than cars. One of my least favorite things about America is how car-centric it is. While cars are certainly convenient, I’m a big believer that walking and biking lead to a slower, healthier, more balanced daily life.
  2. Language. Dutch is the primary language in the Netherlands, and you’ll do well to learn it if you’re planning to stay long term. That being said, English proficiency is high in the Netherlands, and especially in Amsterdam. The locals are used to seeing expats and certainly used to seeing tourists. Americans will have an easier time transitioning here than somewhere a little more “foreign” like Asia.
  3. Since Amsterdam is the only one of these three countries I haven’t actually lived in, I’m going to refer you to a podcast interview that my wife and I did with an American Expat living in Amsterdam. Her name is Austyn. You’ll like her. She and her husband moved to Amsterdam from the U.S. along with their four children. You heard that right. Austyn begs to differ that kids should prevent anyone from moving overseas.

CONS of living in Amsterdam

  1. The weather. From what I can tell, this is pretty much the only mustard stain on Amsterdam’s tie. It rains for somewhere around 2/3 of the year. So if you can’t handle the rain, maybe you’d better reconsider Australia. For me, a native of the Pacific NW, rain makes me think of clean air, vibrant green trees, and staring out of coffee shop windows.
  2. Tough to find housing. Since Amsterdam is such a popular destination, the housing market can be competitive. My friends who recently moved there have told me that it’s worth it to invest in a real estate agent who can lobby on your behalf.
  3. Cost of Living. It’s no Australia, but it’s a far cry from Asia. You get what you pay for, and Amsterdam has a lot to give

Wow. We did it — an in-depth look at three countries and three very different types of job opportunities for U.S. citizens.

I hope you feel empowered. I hope you know that you have options. I hope I piqued your interest in working overseas, just the teeniest bit. I know that working overseas is not for everyone, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t biased.

And if you do end up spending a year abroad?

I would honestly love to know about your experience. Did you make money? Fall in love? Start an online graphic design business? Feel a shift in your creative consciousness? Wake up on a pearl fishing boat off the coast of Western Australia and wonder what the hell happened?

Good luck out there in the big wide world. You’ll never know unless you go.

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American expat, writer, podcaster, living in South Korea. “The Migooks” and “Head Trip with Jackson Tandy” are my podcasts. @jacksonmarktandy on Instagram.

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