Au Revoir U.S.: How to Make the Most of Working Abroad

UPDATED: June 5, 2023
PUBLISHED: June 1, 2023
happy couple living and working abroad

Ahh, Emily in Paris: the delightfully sinful binge-watch with fabulous fashion and sweeping romances (and occasional broken hearts) amid stunning international locales. For anyone who’s ever “luxuriated” in a cubicle in flyover country, life in Paris (even with Emily’s dramatics) and working abroad in general starts to look #perfect.

But just like anything that’s put on a pedestal, the fall will eventually come, and a dream position outside the U.S. often yields its own set of challenges. One family shares their story of the pros and cons of working internationally, as well as advice for how to broach the subject with your company if (insert exotic city name) is calling.

Working abroad in Switzerland 1.0

The Crain family is currently on their second go living and working in Switzerland. The first time around, Lauren Lenar Crain, a director of finance at a Fortune 100 company based in Switzerland, and Matthew Crain, a freelance marketing director, lived on the East Coast where Lauren worked at a big-four accounting firm.

For future career growth, she felt she needed to do something distinctive. That might have meant a potential domestic relocation, a tour at their national office or an international assignment. Then a partner approached her about an international tour to serve a priority client in Switzerland. Lauren told Matthew that night.

“I remember having a lot of excitement, intrigue and trepidation as I was also in my second semester of graduate school working on my MBA,” Matthew says. “We also had recently gotten engaged and I certainly never envisioned having to rush a wedding and not go down the more traditional path of exchanging our vows.”

The couple happened to be heading to Europe for a work/personal trip the following week, so after a day of thinking (other candidates were being considered), they both said yes, and Lauren communicated that to the partner who had approached her. She then met with the team while in Switzerland, and the couple took some time to explore the local area.

“When we rerouted our trip to have a look at [Switzerland], it was love at first sight,” Matthew says. “‘How could you possibly say no’ was the end result. The wedding, school, my career would all figure itself out.”

Within two weeks of the initial discussion Lauren was selected, and nine months later the Crains were living life en Suisse.

Return to the U.S., then Switzerland 2.0

After four years in Switzerland and the welcoming of their daughter, the Crains moved back to the U.S. for two years. Then, Lauren decided to make a career change.

“We discussed many times the ‘what if.’ What if we move back? Are we crazy?” Lauren says.

While the second time around can be better (like the song says), Matthew says it was certainly a much harder decision to make.

“Repatriating back to the U.S. in the height of [COVID-19] to a new community, well it just wasn’t easy and took every bit of our two years home to even get close to feeling settled again,” he says. “I had just found my footing once again professionally and I knew a move back would almost certainly derail the hard work I had put into getting back on track.”

He weighed those considerations against what was best for the family and their future.

“At the end of the day it was a return to Switzerland and once I came to the realization, it was full steam ahead,” he says.

Lauren had kept in touch with a client she served while in Switzerland, who found out she was on the job market, and it soon became a fait accompli.

Matthew then formed an LLC and started down a new path of offering his services in a consulting capacity.

Pros and cons of working abroad

While not the most pulse-pounding of plot points, Emily in Paris could consider delving into one key consideration to working abroad: Taxes (quelle horreur).

“As a U.S. citizen you have to pay taxes on worldwide income, so that was a detractor when weighing the pros and cons,” Lauren says. Other cons included being away from family, the cost of international schooling and selling their U.S. home to become renters again.

The pros for the Crains? Travel and culture, the better work-life balance Lauren’s job affords and the safety and quality of life that comes with raising a child in Switzerland.

Personally and professionally Lauren has reaped many benefits.

“You gain new perspectives from interacting on a daily basis with individuals from around the world. It’s one thing to talk about global acumen, and it’s another to experience it,” she says.

How can you make the dream of working abroad a reality?

In addition to U.S. News & World Report’s tips for transitioning to an international digital nomad lifestyle, the Crains have some recommendations.

“Seek out opportunities at your existing employer and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone,” Lauren says.

“Don’t listen to the word ‘no,’” Matthew says. “Keep on pushing until you find that ‘yes.’ Find that company who is willing to give you a chance, even if it’s not your current employer. If you’re interested in taking that step of moving abroad, you’ve likely already made your mind up to go, so do what it takes to make it happen. You won’t regret it.”

Photo by William Perugini/Shutterstock

Jill McDonnell

Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.