There are lots of great reasons for North Americans to find work in other countries. Working overseas can look good on your resume, it gives you the chance to learn another language, and you get to see the world. There are a lot of pitfalls associated with getting a job overseas as well as a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. If you work hard and work smart, you can be successful in creating a new life for yourself in another country. I've done it, and so have a lot of other people that I've known.
Here is a step-by-step process for building a career for yourself overseas.
Step 1: Before you go, Research!
This might be the most important step, and also the most nebulous. Read everything you can on the country you want to go to and the industry you want to work in. Be familiar with current trends and insights. This is so much easier these days with the advent of the Internet. The best source of information is people who have lived there. Track down people who have lived in your target country and are in your target industry. Its called informational interviewing, and you might be surprised at how easy it is to do. People love talking about their experiences. I like finding people on Linkedin and taking them out for lunch.
Step 2: Go first, find the job later.
I recommend that you show up without a job. This is for a couple of reasons. First, the only people who recruit from overseas are the ones who are desperate. Good business won't offer jobs to people from out of country without meeting them first because it is too easy to make a bad hire. If someone hires you from overseas, they are probably desperate for an employee. The second reason you should show up first is because you will have a better understanding of the layout of the city. This will help you making choices around things like housing and commutes. In many poorer countries, these things can be incredibly important for your quality of life.
Step 3: Be flexible
Despite doing your research in Step 1, you will still have a very incomplete picture of your host country. This is because a lot of what differentiates countries are unconscious ideas about things like relationships and money. The research you did in Step 1 will help decrease your learning curve, but your host country will be different from your idea of it. It pays to be flexible and continue your learning process.
Also being flexible about your first job is important. Its unusual that someone will step off the plane and land their dream job. Consider taking a position that is a stepping stone to what you want. It might be in another industry or it might be a lower position than what you are looking for. It might even be an internship. Remember to keep your eye on the prize and be ready to move on when the time is right for you.
Step 4: Network
Networking is absolutely key in getting jobs overseas. Expat communities tend to be small and tight knit. The better jobs don't get advertised, they are filled through word-of-mouth and relationships. This is the key step in you getting the position you want.
In most cities there are networking events, which are a good place to start. However, you should evolve beyond those sorts of events. Charitiy work, clubs, and social events are also great places to meet people.
Step 5: Learn the language
Learning the language will open a number of doors for you. Employers like to see that you are investing yourself in the country, as it signals stability. Being able to communicate with local people on their level is a huge leg up in the job market. Consider getting a private tutor instead of language classes. It tends to be more time and cost efficient, and won't give you the false sense of security that a curriculum gives you.
Step 6: Keep moving on up.
Like I said, it is rare to land a great job after just stepping off the place. You need to think long term (5 years +) when you move to another country. You will probably make some career mistakes and some less than optimal choices. That's perfectly reasonable when you are new to somewhere. Just keep what you want in mind and be flexible.
Also, there is no point is staying in a bad situation. If you find yourself in one, consider leaving as gracefully as possible. It happens all the time, and how you handle it will say a lot about you.
Good luck and happy job hunting.