Tips and preparation on working abroad

Working abroad tips

Many veterinary graduates express an interest in working overseas as a ‘volunteer’; that is, on an unpaid basis or for a modest salary. Such postings can last for only a few weeks or extend for several years, but you need to be well prepared.

Do your homework

Before considering embarking on a post overseas:

  • Speak to someone who has done similar work
  • Check on the credentials of the organisation with which you want to serve
  • Familiarise yourself with the country where the work is to be done, including its cultural traditions and languages(s)
  • Ascertain whether you are mentally and physically fit for the responsibilities and lifestyle involved, including exposure to natural and human-induced hazards.

The BVA Overseas Group can usually put you in touch with someone who has served as a volunteer and, even if this has not been with your organisation or in the country in which you intend to work, such exposure is invaluable. Information about organisations is usually available on their websites, but try to get an independent assessment too.

Advice on different countries, their visa and other requirements, can be obtained from the relevant embassy, or (for Commonwealth countries) the high commission in London. Also consult travel guides and the web.

Prepare yourself well

There is a personal and a professional side to preparation. The personal side means ensuring that you have the right clothing and other items for your time overseas. Remember to check the cultural, especially religious, sensitivities of the region. What may be acceptable clothing in one country may be considered improper elsewhere.

"Remember to check the cultural, especially religious, sensitivities of the region"

Attention to health is also largely a personal matter. Check which vaccinations are considered advisable or mandatory for the country in which you will be working and be sure to have the full course of immunisation. Keep a note of all vaccines and medication you receive, and ensure that a photocopy of such documents is stored safely elsewhere. Be sure that you are adequately insured for medical or other emergencies — or be prepared to spend a large sum of money if things go wrong and, for example, you need medical evacuation.

The professional aspect concerns preparation to do your work adequately. You may need special equipment (including, perhaps, a computer that is portable and battery-operated) or require some training or refresher course in tropical diseases. Seek advice from those with experience of the project, the country or the subject matter.

Make sure that you are legal

Obtain the correct visas or other documents that permit you to enter, stay in and work in the country of your destination. Be sure to register as a veterinary surgeon if this is a requirement in the country where you will be working. Remember that the authorities may require proof of your status in the UK; take photocopies of certificates and consider having them authenticated by a notary public (someone legally empowered to witness signatures and certify a document's validity). Ask the RCVS if it will issue you with a certificate or letter saying that you are qualified as a veterinary surgeon in the UK and are in good standing.

"Obtain the correct visas or other documents that permit you to enter, stay in and work in the country of your destination"

You may need other permits also — for example, from the relevant government department if you intend to work with wildlife. Do not contemplate taking specimens, including plants or derivatives (even tiny diagnostic samples), out of your host country until you have the correct authorisation.

Be careful about carrying veterinary medicines or instruments that may appear dangerous until you are familiar with the requirements or restrictions of any country that you are visiting.

Leave your contact details

When you embark overseas for your project, ensure that you leave contact details with appropriate people in Britain. Consider joining and staying in touch with the BVA Overseas Group. On arrival in your host country, contact the British embassy or high commission and register with them; keep them informed of your movements if you travel in-country or if you take a holiday elsewhere. Have a note of their address, phone number and e-mail details to hand so that if an emergency occurs (for example, civil unrest) you can easily contact them. When in your post, keep in touch with the world outside by, for example, listening to the BBC World Service on shortwave radio (do not rely on computer access to this or other international broadcasting networks).

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