Is Working Abroad Bad For Your Architecture Career?

Sara Mandeed
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Full disclosure

I am writing this article because I’m sitting in a cafe near the Eiffel Tower at 6:30am while I wait for my carpool to arrive to the Metro station to head back to Mavricks at Disney and I’m exhausted!

The ride over here was at rush hour (6am Paris time, 9am Orlando time). OMGosh, the traffic is horrible. I’m sitting in line for coffee at the local cafe and I’m listening to the conversations. There are eight French people talking and laughing at the table next to me. I’m really not trying to eavesdrop, but I can’t help it. One of the women just looked at me and said in English, “You speak French?” How embarrassing!

We talked for a few minutes and she invited me to join them. It’s amazing how many English speakers there are here. So after they finish their coffee and croissants, four of the French people get back on the Metro to their offices. The other four, two women and two men get up and exit. They were just going to walk to work. I’m exhausted just thinking about this.


When you’re trying to make it in the architectural world, you may often be faced with a difficult decisions. If given the chance, would you stay in the U.S. or move overseas to advance your career?

In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why you’d choose either option and, hopefully, the pros and cons of both.

Your career options are not limited to the U.S. If you’re an experienced architecture graduate, you can always work abroad. For years, architects have flocked to developing countries with limited regulations for more opportunities. They’re able to work in a variety of projects from skyscrapers to shopping malls.

One of the greatest reasons to work abroad is the experience that you gain. You learn to be adaptable and flexible in situations you may not encounter otherwise.

Moreover, the skills you learn while you work abroad can help you relocate to a more advanced city when you’re ready.

On the flip side, you may have a difficult time retraining yourself in the U.S. if you’ve been working abroad. For instance, you’re used to working in CAD and may not know how to work with the AutoCad software available in the U.S.

"I will just go for a year"

Many architects I hear from say the same thing "I will just go for a year. I just need to get this project out of the way so I can focus on my own practice, I will re-enter the US and be ready to take on the projects that are waiting for me."

It sounds like the perfect plan!

A new project, new experiences, new challenges, a new way of life… who wouldn't want to do that?

The reality is often different.

In this article I have wrote about the reasons why and the impact it could have on your career. But there is also always the question of a better life etc. What happens when you don't come back?

It's not uncommon for someone living in the USA to get a job offer in another country. Often it is a country where they have spent "time in the past" traveling, for example. The company wants to incorporate the American workforce with the other employees from other countries.

Having already spent time in that country, I often hear from candidates that they are tempted to accept this position.

Want to live in a nice tropical city in Australia?

Perhaps you just needed that last project to get several great projects lined up and now it's time to call it a day and take it easy.


This may be one of the biggest advantages of working abroad. Beyond the obvious fact that you are no longer in your home country, you will have the opportunity to meet new people from other cultures, which will broaden your horizons and provide you with fresh perspectives. Thus, not only will you learn about foreign architectural trends, but you will also get to meet creative, talented people.

Most of these professionals you meet are very active in terms of presenting and publishing their work. In addition, they will also provide you with a list of professional connections and a network for future collaborations. It’s not uncommon for these professionals to ask for feedback from you regarding their work.

Architectural networking is a worldwide phenomena and one way to ensure success in your career. Since architects from all over the world are needed, getting in touch with foreign designers, engineers, and builders will only expand your network. Plus, being able to work abroad will allow you to learn more about your own culture and better understand the perspectives of people from different countries. Plus, you’ll be earning work experience in other countries, which will provide you with invaluable information about how different cultures relate to construction.


Most software development work is done by accepting a job offer from a company and then working from their offices. The most obvious advantage of working this way is that you get a steady salary from a reliable employer. The disadvantages are that you’re somewhat under the control of the company you work for. If you really love working for the company, then this is probably not a problem. If your company is acquired or goes out of business, your job is in jeopardy.

On the other hand, working as a freelancer or independent contractor gives you a lot more independence, although you have to be more responsible for your own health insurance, taxes, work equipment, and extra hours. Company stability is not really a consideration … you’ll have to rely on the availability of new projects or return to a client if the work dries up. You also have to calculate in some of your time and effort in marketing yourself and finding new clients.

Another way of earning money as a software engineer is to start your own business. This can be risky and, at first, you might be doing most of the work for little or no pay. However, once your business grows and you’ve succeeded in capturing a big share of the market, you can earn a lot of money. Some of the world’s wealthiest people work in software development.


Architects are often expected to have a global awareness of contemporary architecture and a thorough understanding of the history of architecture. Given this, it should come as no surprise that these in-demand professionals have an adroit ability to switch back and forth between different languages and design vernaculars. Code Switching is the term coined by linguist John McWhorter to describe this linguistic phenomenon.

Let’s say a building is going into a historical district in Gainesville. In most cases, the architect is expected to build something that fits seamlessly within the context and with the look and feel of the neighboring buildings. After all, who wants to drive down University Avenue and be confused about whether they’re still in Gainesville? The architect is expected to remain true to the historical vernacular of the neighborhood.

However, you have a client who is building a high-end boutique hotel along a beachy, trendy, touristy strip. They want something that looks like it was grown out of the ground rather than something that was built next door. This is another situation where the same architect will be asked to code switch because it’s a completely different environment with different expectations.


While working in another country can be an amazing experience for any architect, it comes with its own set of challenges. How you handle these may be the key to success or failure.

It all begins with a new paycheck. Depending on your contract of employment, it might be in another currency. In most cases, it’s best that the architect’s contract is in his home currency (the U.S. dollar for example). This will allow the ATM to spit out a nice chunk of change without any ATM charges.

However, the client might require your billing to be in their native currency. Keep in mind that if your bank is back home, the conversion might not work out in your favor. If you’re in the middle of a project, try to determine whether it will be worthwhile to change currencies.

As an architect, you are also responsible for the purchase orders, as well as your time. Be sure to get a 10%-50% deposit and bill in a timely fashion. Missing a major deadline might cost you your job, but sending a couple of invoices too soon will cost you the job as well.


As a working architect, you must be aware that there are tax rules that differ from those of your native country. Spain, for example, has some very nice tax benefits for foreigners.

If you are an architect or an architectural designer, these benefits are especially valuable for you because you are legally required to be registered outside the municipality where you live. In this case, the foreign tax benefits are really useful.

First of all, when your country of origin allows you to change to a special taxation status in a foreign country, make sure that you do so. This situation will allow you to avoid two types of taxes back in your country.

The first is the income tax and the second is the municipal tax. Changing your status in the foreign country without doing it in your homeland will force you to pay both of them.

The income tax in your country can be in the form of a percentage or a fixed income (the latter being particularly popular). It can also be calculated based the amount of income earned or on the value of your possessions.

The tax usually changes every year along with the cost of living.

It is important to know that the income tax should be paid to your country of origin. The municipal tax should be paid in the country where you reside.

Friends and family

And people back home or in your office may feel proud for you that you’re working abroad, but you might have also heard that working abroad is bad for your resume, that it might ruin your chances to getting a job back home.

That’s simply not true. Working abroad is not bad for you architecture career at all. In fact, it’s very beneficial.

So how does working abroad help your architecture career? Here are 5 reasons why working abroad is not bad for your resume:

Final thoughts

Working abroad is certainly not for everyone, but it offers amazing possibilities to expand your horizon and make connections that can help further your career. You can find remote and flexible work, travel, make new friends from different cultures and countries, and earn money. I have met so many architects who have worked abroad and now have multiple job offers, know multiple languages, and have an international network that will help them with their careers for years to come.