Approaching the remote job search as a non-US citizen can feel very frustration as you come across job posts that require you to be either a US-citizen or US-based. These restrictions seem bonkers when remote means you ‘should’ be able to work from anywhere.
Well I’m here to tell you today as a UK citizen, none of my 5 remote roles have required me to be a US-citizen or US-based. I’ve worked for a remote-first US company in London; worked remotely for Montreal-based companies while based in London; and worked for distributed teams with founders based in London, Estonia and Hong Kong while I was in Mexico.
But this episode is all about helping you understand while some companies do have restrictions and how you can navigate your own remote job search instead.
- The remote work reality that affects how ‘remote’ companies can actually be
- The legislative tangle that remote companies face when they hire foreign workers or their citizens working abroad
- How to approach your remote job search as a non-US professional
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When researching for this season amongst wanna-be remote workers, many people had the same question: what do so many remote jobs seem to be USA-only?
Specifically a member of my community said this:
A lot of the remote work job sites are US-skewed, I don’t know if [the US are more] remote advanced when it comes to remote working or better set up in terms of digital hubs for these jobs.
And someone else said this:
A lot of the US sites only want US people so I haven’t followed up on stuff I’ve seen there as they do seem to want US people, it’s bonkers – why do they have to be in the US if they’re remote anyway?
Bonkers it may seem, but as a remote worker myself, none of my remote work contracts have been US location or citizen, not even the one US-based, US-founded company. So up front I want to say that even though it seems this way, it’s not necessarily going to affect your ability to get a remote job.
My first role was with Microsoft, a remote-first company and remote-friendly role while I was living in London, where I could work from the office, or from home, or from any of our European offices whenever without any disruption to my workflow. US company, yes. US-restricted, no.
My second and third remote roles had Montreal-based founders, and I worked remotely from home in Montreal and London for the duration of those. My 4th and 5th remote roles had founders in London, Estonia & Hong Kong and distributed teams across the world, while I worked remotely from Mexico for both.
So I can confirm that being a UK citizen has never been a restriction. So I’m here today to tell you, you can be from anywhere, and live anywhere and find the right remote role for you.
OK, that sorted, we can move onto why some companies do restrict you to a country, or even a time zone.
To Minimise The # Of Applications
This may seem counterintuitive since one of the benefits of a remote company is accessing the global talent pool. But let’s face it, not every company is fully remote yet, and they might just be dipping their toes in the water and getting comfortable with people working remotely within the same city, timezone of country before having to deal with multiple time zones and different country laws (which we’ll talk about in a minute).
But, with the increase in people wanting to work remotely, job posts are receiving up to 3,000 applications. So restricting the country or time zone, or the location to East Coast or West Coast is a way to keep the # of applications manageable.
I would say that a better strategy would be for the hiring managers closely watch the number of applications coming in, close the job posting after a certain number so they can go through the applications, and if they don’t fill the role in the first wave, open the job post and conduct a second wave of interviews, and so on. But I see an increasing number of companies not removing their job posts and letting applications mount up into the 100s which must be overwhelming for them, and leave us feeling deflated.
But don’t be disheartened. At least if you can see there’s been 100s of applications, you can cut your losses, choose not to apply and continue with your search. I have some search tips later in this episode.
The second reason so many jobs appear to be US-only is that…
Companies have to navigate the employment laws in their own countries as well as the countries of their employees.
Gitlab explain in this article that they can’t hire in 17 countries due to local laws.
Because, think about it, companies have to remain compliant when they’re hiring foreign workers, just like global companies, like Virgin & Microsoft who have offices in countries all around the world do, which for a small to medium size business, or a startup, or a solo entrepreneur might require more resources, legal counsel & investment than they have access to, or can divert to this at their particular stage of growth.
There’s so much they have to think about:
- When it comes to payroll, they’ll have to have different payroll systems in place to make payments in their home country and abroad.
- On top of that, yes, they will have different payroll rules for each foreign worker they have on the books, and hence this will affect the type of remote contracts they can offer too, remember from ep 56 the 5 remote working arrangements. They have a lot to think about.
- They first have to think about they business and salary model, and then the staffing model, whether they’ll have employees or independent contractors
- They have withholding and payroll tax to think about, which is different whether it’s a foreign worker, a local worker, or a local worker living in a foreign country.
- When companies hire foreign workers — or even local workers who choose to live abroad — they have to find the best way to transfer salaries, think about currency conversions, etc.
- They have to comply with the income tax laws of the country an employee is in and withhold income tax at the rate of the country of residency.
Many remote companies have the resources to hire remote specialists and intermediaries — like dedicated payroll companies — to help them with this, yet many as I already mentioned, don’t have the resources or budget for this. For this reason I’m not just seeing US-only roles, but also Europe-only and Australia-only too.
You see how tangled this gets for companies? They really have to stay on top of the finer details, so this is a learning curve for many companies just starting and transitioning to remote.
But many companies are also structuring their model to account for this, by adjusting compensation and benefits for foreign workers. Which means…
This might mean you receive different benefits based on your location.
Here’s an example from protocol labs who say on their careers page:
Just like the internet itself, we are a fully distributed team spread across the globe. We don’t let geography or borders define us — we want to work with talented and intellectually curious people of diverse backgrounds and different perspectives. If you align passionately with our mission, we want to talk to you, no matter whether you’re in Tokyo or Timbuktu.
And in the finer detail of what it’s like to work there, they say:
We have a great benefits package, including parental leave, contributions to your retirement, competitive pay, and unlimited time off. For U.S.-based employees, we also provide platinum-level health, dental, and vision coverage for you and your family.
So there is a chance that your compensation and benefits may be affected by your location, even if you can work with a remote company based in the US or another country from your home location.
Reading this as a UK citizen, I’d be fine with those conditions. We have the NHS, I’ve always paid for dental privately, and get free eye testing. It might be that in your country these employer benefits are less important for you anyway. It’s very individual.
So what’s the conclusion here?
Cut companies some slack. They have their reasons for restricting their ‘remote’ roles to certain countries, continents and time zones, as ironic as that may seem to you.
Each company is in a different position on the remote work curve, ranging from being a remote or distributed team, and even whether they are remote-friendly or remote-first. It’s an exciting time to be part of any company on any part of the remote work curve because you have the chance to help shape the remote work reality from the inside.
By listening to this podcast and listening to & reading other materials you can bring so many ideas to the table about how to improve the remote work reality for yourself, your team and your whole company. Which is pretty cool. And by vetting jobs before you apply, you also get to choose how far along the remote work curve you want to be, too. Cool, huh?!
So what can you do now?
Decide where you want to be on the curve. This comes back to your own personal life vision. Do you want to work from home, from a cafe, from a co-working space, from a different country, from a new location every two weeks? This comes back to you taking responsibility for your life and workstyle vision, and using that to fuel your remote job search.
Look closely at the remote role locations as we talked about in ep 67 as the first step in how to vet a remote job post before applying. Keep researching remote work & companies in the US actively looking to recruit from the global talent pool, actively look for remote opportunities searching for people in your country, your location, and your continent. It’s growing and growing everywhere. This is less and less a North American phenomenon and more and more a global reality.
As a UK person, I’m always on the lookout for curated newsletters sending information about remote roles relevant to UK citizens. I put two of my favourite newsletters in Worksheet 14, one of which scours the internet looking for roles that accept applications from The United Kingdom and anywhere around the world.
I hope that helps you understand why currently do many roles seem to be US-location based, or for US citizens. There’s no worksheet today, because this is what it is!
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That’s it from me this week. See you next week on Thriving Empire Live!
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