Infosec career abroad – my two cents


I’ve now decided to write on this blog in English as another means for keeping up with the language study and possibly reaching out to more people. Skipping directly to the topic and making the long story short, the last 15 months have been very exciting and challenging for me. In August last year I received a job offer to work for an infosec consulting company in The Netherlands. Journey had begun.

After one year working there as a contractor, I got an opportunity to move to a permanent role in Germany. “So, that means you know Dutch and German?!” No way! Any native English speaker would easily notice that even my English needs some improvements. But that can also mean the infosec market is full of opportunities and professionals are in strong demand worldwide, they just need to get prepared and face the new challenge.

As one friend told me once: The greater the challenge, the greater the reward. I believe it’s really worth experiencing some time abroad, I got my own 10 reasons as anyone else might have theirs, so I will not elaborate on this here.

For facing the challenge and taking this big step, I have no idea how to advise you, but I would say it’s better to make sure your wife agrees with your decision, if applicable. As for the technical preparation, I dare sharing a few ideas.

Salary and all that matter$

This is the top question ever: what would be a good salary for a given position? Trying to avoid “it depends”, I would say trying to get in touch with someone on the same level of expertise you have or will have when applying for a job is mandatory.

Good/bad employers, must-have benefits, estimated expenses would be good starting points for discussion. Needless to say that you should not directly approach people or forums asking for people’s salaries! It’s quite normal to have the (yearly) salary rate on the job ad itself but you can also play the recruiter role and research on job boards about base pay for a given position.

Another very important step is to – at least – find out how much money will be taken by the government as income tax, but preferably to have full understanding about how to calculate the net salary after all taxes apply. Some people say it’s worth paying more if you get more as a return or gov benefit (security, public transport, health care, etc), but to avoid any surprise, a simple expenses vs budget spreadsheet will do the job.

Did you know? You must pay up to 9% of your salary if you declare yourself Catholic resident in Germany (otherwise, no wafer!).  The Highly Skilled Migrant Program aims at professionals willing to work in The Netherlands and grants a tax free allowance amounting to 30% times 100/70 of the gross salary for eligible applicants (know as 30% ruling).

Paperwork stuff

As most Brazilians, all I have is my blue passport, no Blue Card and no EU passport. After walking through lots of documentation and undergoing a few residence permit applications; I can say for sure, at least for Europe, the lack of a Bachelor degree or a good diploma is not good news for those willing to move. Unless you make it via a special programs, internships, or by providing a very good reason (family matters, marriage, etc), not having a high degree will only make things harder.

For those countries (NL/DE), the entire VISA process took about 1-2 months. In ANY case, make sure the employer will sponsor all paperwork-related costs, including the VISA and residence application. These procedures can be costly and it makes no sense paying for it, so if this is not possible, do yourself a favor and find another employer.

It’s also important to include relocation allowance as part of the package or at least to have the employer provide you a company to advise you in regards to paperwork. One single mistake can ruin your plan and schedule. Too many docs to bring together, translations, copies, forms, etc. So the best thing to do is either hiring a company (using the allowance) or being provided with relocation services.

Did you know? Once your work permit is granted for The Netherlands as a highly skilled migrant, the same rights apply for the accompanying spouse, which means both can work and enjoy the tax benefits mentioned above. Applicants willing to live/work for more than 1 year in Germany, excluding EU passport holders, must provide a certificate of German language skills, otherwise a high education degree is required prior to application.

Language

Is it possible to make it with only English as a foreign language? Sure it is, I am here to say so. But have in mind that life extends beyond the office premises.

In The Netherlands, a 10 years old kid may speak better English than you, pretty much any Dutchman will be able to speak English with no big problems. I’ve listened to more Dutch from the train station speaker than in the office. In Germany, despite working for an American company, even in the office, you will be exposed to more German than anything else. This may differ depending on the region (Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich and other big cities).

Anyway, the better your English, the better your chances to succeed. English certs (TOEFL, IETLS) would stand out only if you are willing to study part-time, which is mandatory for some courses in The Netherlands, for example. For improving the language, nothing new here: Skype classes (cheaper, flexible time), tech podcasts, reading out loud (YES! IT WORKS!). What about writing articles (SANS paper!) and watching English subtitled movies?

Did you know? German government sponsors 600 hours language course for immigrants. In Amsterdam, there is a special immigration service office called Expat Center which provides advises for expats, including information about language courses and any help related to settlement.

I could spend days sharing tips, advantages, drawbacks and stuff like that, but hopefully this serves as a good start for those willing to move abroad. Comments are encouraged!

13 thoughts on “Infosec career abroad – my two cents

  1. Really inspiring to read that post…particularly the possibility to apply those rights for your wife. But tell me about Netherlands, was it easy to blend in with the locals and feel like “belonging” to a foreign place?

    1. Hey, Duma! Thanks for stopping by :)

      I feel compelled to say that depending on where you are here, you can feel like a martian, if this is really possible. Some places are truly for “locals”, some behaviors are weird for us but that’s part of living abroad, right? To get along well is sort of easy if you feel open to immerse in the culture and know about it as much as possible.

      If you spend some hours in Amsterdam, for example, you will easily notice that Brazil is not so far away…another interesting point is that once you get approved for any post-degree there, your VISA and residence permit are extended for at least the period needed for graduate plus some years. One friend got 10 years permit after starting his Masters study.

      There are also some tax benefits for those not working (housewives, for ex) so it would be good to research about it! In the end, just imagine an American living in Brazil, maybe, only after 10 or 20 years living there he will be able to feel like into the Brazilian way, so the same applies here for us when moving abroad.

      Hope that helps and let me know your thoughts!
      Alex

  2. Alexandre, very useful post, congrats!
    I’m getting ready to try this path too. January I’m going to try a GIAC cert (GREM) and over the next year I will work on my English to get fluent. In USA seems to be very difficult for non-citizen get a job but some countries in Europe or Canada seems to be easier. What do you think?
    Thanks for sharing your experience!
    Cheers!

    1. If you are who I think you are, I believe you are ready enough! :) I enjoy challenging SANS/GIAC certs exams, have you read this post https://foren6.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/certificacao-giac-gcia/? I have one draft post about tips on how to pass GIAC certs, will publish it shortly.

      I don’t know about Canada, but for US seems like it’s easier if the employer sponsors a Intern VISA for later turning it to a H1B VISA type, it’s good to research about it. Another point to be aware is that some US companies are behaving like gov agencies when recruiting infosec staff, that is, for some roles, only citizens or Security cleared pros are considered. Same seems to apply for some roles in UK as well.

      For Europe, if you have a red passport, that’s all about it :) otherwise, that’s about what I have outlined in the blog post. let me know if you need more detail so we can exchange some emails.

      Thanks for you comment! Cheers!

  3. Alexandre, thanks for reply!
    I’m Ronaldo, author of crimesciberneticos.com blog. :)
    I’ve read your post about GIAC challenge, nice! I will do the exam on January 12.

    In USA the biggest problem seems to be the security clearance, almost all positions related with malware need this requisite. I was looking for jobs in Ireland, their visa seems to be easier and it has some nice opportunities.

    Anyway, thanks e good lucky there!

  4. Hi Alexendre :)

    Do you think the SANS Certificates (of course along with the merit of knowledge and hard work) are recognized in the Brazilian job market?

    Many thanks for your answer

  5. First, thanks for the reply Alexandre, I think the discussion on topics of career are always welcome, his explanation of the “universe” SANS / GIAC is unknown in many HR’s here in Brazil, is absolute truth, I would say it is more a reason to continue persisting in the study and optimal technical training that these courses provide.

    Professionals who are serious about their careers, are already evolving and researching before any “fashion that exploded on the market”.

    Your blog and your ideas are rare in the desert of discussions about careers (very promising) and subjects of studies and challenges that exist for those interested in SANS / GIAC, thank you, keep posting your ideas on the blog, inspiration is always for us beginners :)

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