Career advice

What to consider if you are thinking of working abroad

Working abroad can offer exciting oportunities for nurses, but do your research and plan your move carefully, writes Erin Dean. 

Working abroad can offer exciting oportunities for nurses, but do your research and plan your move carefully, writes Erin Dean 

Many countries outside the EU have specific requirements regarding
post-registration experience. Picture: iStock

One of the reasons Josie Gilday wanted to study nursing was the exciting opportunities it offered to work abroad. 

The HIV nurse specialist planned her career so that she had the right skills to work for an international charity and it has paid off, with job offers in a range of countries including Chad, Haiti, Myanmar and South Sudan.

‘Working for a non-governmental organistion abroad is often not hands-on nursing,’ she says. ‘It is about training, teaching and managing local staff, so you need to be competent and confident in your skills before you go. Working in areas such as accident and emergency, HIV and surgery offer useful preparation.’ 

Specific requirements 

Many employers outside the European Union have specific requirements regarding post-registration experience. Employers in the Middle East, for example, usually require at least two years’ post-registration experience, while Voluntary Service Overseas requires between three and five years’ post-registration experience.

British Red Cross international recruitment officer Kim Goodall says: ‘For ward nurses, we look for around five years’ professional experience, preferably with two or three years in general, orthopaedic or trauma nursing.’

The RCN recommends researching a country and its health system thoroughly before making a decision to go there. One well-worn route for UK nurses is travelling to work in Australia or New Zealand, where a nursing shortage and lack of language barrier for English speakers means their skills are in demand.

Life move 

Jan Dewing, Sue Pembrey chair in nursing at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, has been travelling to Australia for two or three months a year for the past decade as a visiting professor at the school of nursing at the University of Wollongong, New South Wales. 

‘For nurses thinking of living in Australia, there are fantastic opportunities and benefits, like lots of sunshine and a more outdoor, active lifestyle,’ she says. 

‘But work is just as busy and demanding as in the UK, so don’t rush into it. It is a life move, so take time to think about it properly.’ 

Issues to consider before moving abroad

  • Language: prospects of employment are generally poor for nurses who do not have a good command of the language of the country they wish to visit.
  • Qualifications: the UK nursing qualification that is generally transferable to any other country is the ‘registered nurse: adult’. Not all countries have an equivalent to the UK qualifications in mental health, learning disability and children’s nursing.
  • Level of experience required: this varies between jobs and employers, although many will want at least some experience after qualification.
  • Visas and work permits: these vary a lot between countries and can be complicated to arrange. Work permits are usually obtained by the employer from the immigration authority of the host country.
  • Registration: most countries have their own nurse registration authority and nurses are usually required to obtain registration in the host country before taking up employment.
  • (Adapted from RCN working overseas advice guide, at

Erin Dean is a freelance journalist 




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