Working abroad is one of the greatest growth experiences you can have as a media professional. Not only do you learn about other parts of the world; you also gain new insight into your own country. Going global broadens your outlook in ways you can’t replicate by staying home.
So, where to? Here are some things to consider when choosing a destination.
Financial, cultural and social centers: If possible, find a city that’s the capital of all three. It’s harder to cover everything if the government is all in one city and the social and business life is a day’s train ride away, as with, say, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Work Opportunities: Can you get a media job right off the bat? Or is it easy to get editing, teaching and other acceptable jobs so you can support yourself while freelancing?
Media organizations: Is there a Foreign Correspondents Club or other professional network to tap into?
Current US coverage: Is the place lousy with journalists, or will you have it practically to yourself? Check with local journos. Also search news websites, especially those of organizations you think you might be able to sell to. Track whether good stories that make it into the regional media ever get across the ocean to the American market.
Where are journalists needed?: Talk to every Foreign Desk editor you can. Ask where they’re short on coverage and whether they would take stories from the place(s) you’re thinking of going.
Talking points: These are factoids that make stories easier to sell: “Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population.” “Qatar had the world’s fastest-growing economy in 2010.” “Ecuador is home to what scientists call the most biodiverse spot on the planet.” The more of these superlative narrative threads your target country offers, the better.
Safety: For dangers to journalists, check out these stats from the CPJ. For overall crime levels, I’m leery of comparisons among countries because data collection standards vary. Try asking bloggers and expats about the local crime rate. Personally, I feel safer in countries with fewer guns, and nobody has more guns than the US.
Censorship: See the Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders.
Cost of living: Check out this cost of living index. Also try asking bloggers or local message boards.
Visas and work permits: They can be expensive and hard to get. In Indonesia I paid $1700 for a visa for the one year I freelanced full-time. Here’s a list of visa requirements from Expatify.com. Double-check against other websites in case the information is stale.
Contacts: It’s a huge boost to have relatives or friends who can give you a place to stay, help you get oriented, assist with language barriers, and connect you to jobs and housing.
Language: Speaking the language is another tremendous asset. Failing that, is the local language easy to learn? Are translators affordable and available? Local journalists should be able to fill you in on the translator situation.
Quality of life: Is it a crazy, polluted, crowded city, and will that make you miserable? Can you easily get away to the countryside? Will you be able to get exercise? Is healthcare available and of decent quality?