Working Abroad: What Does the Data Say?

Grab and Go Highlights

  • Interest in moving abroad is growing by 15% every year.
  • Studies show as many as 75% of millennials are interested in moving abroad for work.

I can go on and on about how awesome and, like, totally freeing living abroad is, man, and, like, how you should like, totally just rock that man bun and flip flops and find yourself.

And I might. Later.

But for now, we need some baseline information about professionals who move abroad. Mainly, who moves abroad and where they go. And we need empirical evidence to do it. 

New studies on the topic are regularly being published and they help frame the current state of moving abroad for work, as well as provide some context for where people are moving to. These studies are far from conclusive, but they will help us get a feel for the current state of what has previously been an alternative career path. So, what do studies show?

Do Millennials Even Want to Work Abroad?

Admittedly, the topic of moving abroad for work, especially for those new to the job market, is virgin land. Until now, moving abroad has been an alternative career path, or a career path that was only available to executives in larger corporations. But the newest studies and data seem to suggest that is changing.

Young millennial working in an office abroad
 The numbers suggest there is millennial interest in working abroad.

For example, PWC, a financial company that focuses on appealing and attracting millennial workers, conducted a study in 2011 on millennials interest in working abroad and found that 75% of millennials want to be placed on an overseas assignment. PWC puts the data to practice, catering to millennials interested in working abroad by “making overseas assignments available earlier (before employees have family ties) and for shorter periods – forming part of a new approach to flexible career paths,” in their own company.

Supporting the findings of the PWC survey, a new survey conducted by Wakefield Research for Graebel studied the professional mobility of millennials and found that 82% of millennials expect to have to move to advance their career and that 41% of millennials would be willing to move abroad for work. The survey also confirms the figures cited in Millennials: A Generation Pre-Package for Working Abroad regarding millennial willingness to put off important life achievements for career advancement. According to the Wakefield study, 72% of millennials would put off having kids if it allowed them to relocate for a  better job. Additionally, 71% would be willing to put off getting married. Millennial willingness to put off the major life-accomplishments so highly valued by other generations indicates that for millennials, professional advancement is a top concern, and they are happy to move abroad to do so.

Man squatting on a mountain looking out at clouds working abroad.
Interest in moving abroad grows 15% every year.

And it does seem that it is young people taking advantage of rapid economic globalization. Movehub, a company that assists people with moving abroad, conducted a study and found that the people who are interested in moving abroad skew towards younger folks and that interest in moving abroad is growing. They found 65.8% of people moving abroad are between 25-44 and that 34.7% of those moves are for employment. Most importantly, the same study found that year to year, there is an increase of about 15% in inquires by people interested in living abroad.

The results of the studies that have been published indicate that millennials are going to be more inclined and willing to live abroad.  Add to that the growing interest in studying the trend and the new initiatives companies are putting in place to adjust how they handle overseas assignments, and all signs seem to point to this being the leading edge of a much more significant trend.

Where Are they Moving?

Even though we might be excited by the idea of going abroad, and we might even work abroad, a significant number of American professionals move abroad to places that are familiar, especially linguistically.

Data provided by shows that “31.14% [of the moves from the] USA are to the UK, Australia, and Canada, suggesting that many American professional migrants are primarily seeking English speaking countries.”

Aerial shot of the Big Ben clock tower. working abroad
English speakers tend to move to other English speaking countries.

Maybe not the most adventurous choices, but choosing UK, Australia and Canada as locations for working abroad make sense. Language barriers can be a concern for some and it can be outright inhibiting depending on the type of job you are interested in.

The other 70% group is comprised of people thinly spread out among a long list of different countries. In Movehub’s “Top 15 Places to Move To,” moves to Spain account for 3.69% of international moves, Thailand for .66%, Singapore for .85% and so on. While people are moving to more linguistically diverse and developing countries, the number of people doing so is small.  

The Takeaway

I look at these stats the way you would study a black hole. You can’t see a black hole, but you know it is there by studying the movement of the stars around it. Growing interest in studying the topic, companies changing policy to adjust to millennial desire to work abroad, a growing number of international recruiters and the data itself are a a larger trend at play.  Millennials are happy to move in order to advance their career, even if that means delaying important life markers. This is good for everyone. Young professionals have an opportunity to see the world while gaining professional experience, as well as have a larger job market in which to find work, and employers have a larger more international talent pool to recruit from. 

As globalization continues to take hold, I can’t help but hope that in the future as more countries work towards development, working around the world will become normal, and the fluidity in which young professional can move between different job markets will increase. Working for a few years in Australia and then Berlin and then Spain will not be an alternative career path fraught with difficulty, but instead will be an exciting and accessible opportunity helping to cross-pollinate the world with different ideas, approaches and solutions to problems.

And if this happens, millennials have made clear that they are ready to take advantage of the opportunities that it presents.

What do you think? Are you interested in moving abroad but have reservations about moving far from home? Given the opportunity to work abroad would you take it? Are you already working abroad? Let me know on Twitter @12hrdifference.


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Aaron Horwath Written by:

Since graduating from the University of Portland in 2014, I have worked abroad. Currently, I live and work in Da Nang, Vietnam as the Head of Global Training at an international technology company. Through my blog, I share my experiences of working abroad to give others a glimpse into international life and help them decide if working internationally is right for them.