A Therapists Guide to Working Abroad

The concept of pampering and luxury has exploded over the past few years and almost every hotel has some kind of pampering facility whether it be a single treatment room to an outdoor luxury thalasso experience!

You will find massage is very common in holiday resorts nowadays. The type of people that visit resorts want to relax, pamper themselves and get away. Spa and massage retreats are literally everywhere, which creates an opportunity for beauty and massage therapists to see the world. Travelling can be costly, so working whilst on your travels is an excellent way of funding it, and some places even throw in accommodation and food packages. The internet is great for finding massage jobs abroad; I would recommend to find your job this way as it helps to be secure with some accommodation at the very least before you land.

One top tip would be to get some experience in the beauty industry before you apply to work abroad. Employers who are based abroad can’t always make it to a face-to-face interview and often do the interview over the phone or Skype. The employer will want to know they are making the right decision about their prospective candidates especially if they are splashing out on flights and accommodation, so the interviews are very in-depth. Don’t be surprised if you are asked a LOT of questions! You will usually be asked to give details on your career history and then quizzed on what you’d do in a range of situations. Jobs abroad tend to be extremely competitive, so you need to stand out. Something that will definitely add some ‘pizzazz’ to an average CV or a newly qualified therapist is a funded international placement.

Placements

One popular placement that is offered through colleges is the ‘Leonardo Da Vinci Programme’. This is designed to introduce therapists to working abroad and give them the opportunity to improve their CV, whilst still at college. You will be interviewed internally and judged based on your performance throughout your time at the college, because the college are ultimately funding you to do the placement. If successful, you will attend language lessons and tutorials leading up to the placement to prepare you. 

Proving yourself whilst on the placement sometimes results in a permanent or seasonal job. It’s an amazing opportunity and I ended up working at a Four Seasons resort in Cyprus! If this program is not available through your college, it can be applied for online and is available to support therapists that are just starting out. The program is not open to experienced therapists; it is more of a stepping stone from college to the world of work.

Summer/ Winter Seasons

Summer seasons are a good option for therapists who want to try a short contract working abroad. You will generally fly out in April/May and finish October/November. It’s not unusual for companies to offer shorter 2-3 month ‘peak season’ contracts. Season workers tend to get really good perks such as flights, accommodation and food paid for. The spas in activity holiday resorts tend to be always busy- things like waterskiing and windsurfing give holiday makers all kinds of aches and pains, prompting them to indulge in some relaxation (or not if they love deep tissue!) 

Activity holidays usually let all their employees have free use of the activities, so it’s perfect if you’re the active type who likes water-sports, biking, fitness etc. The atmosphere is very social and workers are usually all very young around 18-25 years on average. A lot of these people have never been away from home before so there is very much a party atmosphere amongst season workers (and dirty, messy accommodation is not uncommon!) This could work very well for you, or not, depending what type of lifestyle you want when working abroad. The wage is low as you have all your basic needs paid for plus some good perks, but saying that you can still save your money as you ultimately have no expenses in this type of job.

Ski resorts typically open from November to April, which means technically if you want to work away all year round then you can. Again, skiers are very active people and want to indulge in relaxation after a hard day on the slopes! It is an advantage for ski work if you possess a sports massage qualification- people get injured and strain their muscles all the time on the slopes so need the body conditioning. Most ski operators employ massage and beauty therapists who don’t mind mucking in and helping with the chalet hosting- things like cooking, cleaning and childcare. 

Some holiday destinations such as Ibiza have adopted a new culture of massage where therapists will approach you in the VIP area of bars/clubs restaurants offering Indian Head Massage. The concept is still very new but has been going in Ibiza more than 10 years. This is how I started out working abroad!

Cruise Ships

The competition can be tough when applying to jobs abroad and something that will really make you stand out from the rest is cruise ship experience. Steiner, the spa company that works with most of the major cruise lines, will take therapists on just out of college and there is no experience required (however confidence and a good knowledge of beauty is essential!) This is because they have a training academy in London, where therapists are put through a boot-camp to learn the Elemis product range and treatments. Wherever you’re at with your career, the training from Steiner is a good refresher for experienced therapists and instills excellent standards into therapists just starting out. 

It’s easy to get the job, but working long days on a cruise ship for 9 months is the thing that will really test you. If an employer sees Steiner on your CV, this will stand you in good stead for future jobs. Everyone in the beauty industry has heard about how hard the work is onboard a ship and if you can do one contract at sea, you can do anything! On returning to land, you will probably find yourself turning down great jobs for better ones. I absolutely loved my time on cruise ships and believe me 9 months will fly by. The earning potential with Steiner is excellent as again you have no expenses and you can virtually save everything if you make it your goal.

Worldwide

There are many other different options. Countries that are predominantly Muslim such as Dubai take on English therapists so that they can massage both men and women. Places that are hot and sunny year round such as Australia will recruit all year round and it is easy to get into the country if you possess a relevant qualification, massage and beauty included. However, always check the salary when applying for international jobs. There are many places especially in Asia that prefer to take on therapists from developing countries because they can pay them a fraction of the wage of a UK therapist.

Top Tips

Always research the company and the job you are wanting to do. At interviews ask a lot of questions, as contracts can be long and you need to know what to expect. Moving abroad and fitting into a new culture is an experience in itself, let alone starting a new job, therefore it helps to be as prepared as you possibly can.
Be flexible to the company’s needs. This will earn you brownie points if you are wanting to stay with the company and progress. One summer I was contracted to work in Greece to the start of October, however cover was needed in another resort in Turkey till mid-November so I had the opportunity to visit another place, all expenses paid!

Always do your best and work to a high standard; it’s quite possible to live off your tips if you work at a luxury resort where tips are frequent! Imagine you were the client, you have come to the spa to escape and are spending lots of money on your treatment. You would want to be treated like royalty! So it all starts with customer care. These clients expect perfection and nothing less.

Be prepared to be doing mostly massage and don’t be surprised if you are expected to do back to back treatments. Most people come on holiday for a luxurious break and want massage rather than maintenance treatments (waxing, tinting etc). The prices on treatments in luxury resorts or cruises are usually bumped up so people will get their basics done at home. The only exception is working abroad in a high-street salon, but usually it will be the local therapists who speak the language that do this job. 

Time is money in the beauty industry; having less therapists and giving them more work to do is more efficient and cost effective. You need to look after yourself when doing back to back massage to avoid pain and physical burnout. Use forearms and elbows to massage when possible, rather than straining the wrists and hands. Keeping your back straight, bending your knees and moving in rhythm with the massage accommodates the alignment of your vertebrae and  reduces your risk of having pains and problems in your back, allowing you a long and healthy career!

If you are working a summer season, do make sure you pack something warm for the end of season. The Mediterranean is boiling hot July-September but after this it really begins to cool down at night. Some warm socks, a hoodie and a long sleeved jumper should tide you over.

Finally, I can’t stress how important it is to wear your SPF! The endless days of sunbathing WILL take its toll, if not now then eventually. As a beauty therapist, your best selling tool is the condition of your own skin and I will never sacrifice that for a tan!

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