How to Score a Career as an International Occupational Therapist
As occupational therapists, we are instructed to constantly think outside of the box when coordinating and designing therapy interventions.
We come to better understand our patients/clients if we strongly acknowledge our patient’s goals and lifestyle needs within their own environment. However, we are unable to fully comprehend individuals’ lifestyles and cultural influences by sitting in one clinical office for the entirety of our careers.
If you want to take the next step to – not only think – but LIVE outside the box, there is no better way than to work as an international occupational therapist.
Working as an occupational therapist internationally can have a positive influence in many circumstances. These could include refugee resettlement and rehabilitation, disaster management, human trafficking, political activity and advocacy, vocational training, teaching opportunities, and research (WFOT).
Therapists who are interested in overseas clinical work are expected to stretch themselves in more ways than one. This means putting away the Theraband and daily modality treatments and exposing themselves to leadership and advocacy opportunities.
Occupational therapy opportunities around the world are endless…
But where do you start?
If you have a desire to pursue a career as an international occupational therapist, keep reading for a list of examples and resources to help you get started.
If you’re interested in doing something international while you’re still in OT school, there may be opportunities to do your fieldwork in another country. Some OT programs will offer shorter one or two week trips abroad to experience OT in another country. This is the best way to experiment with travel and to see if you would like to work overseas in the long-run.
Some students are fortunate enough to attend prestigious programs that have accessible study-abroad opportunities. Others may have to work a little harder and assist their school in creating those programs themselves. If your program is lacking international opportunities, you as the student may have to advocate for those programs to be established.
For example, three OT students expressed interest in participating in a Level I fieldwork in Perth, Australia. However, their program did not have a fieldwork agenda established with Australia.
Starting in their first year of schooling, they petitioned for a contract with their fieldwork coordinator. It took two years, but with some perseverance, the fieldwork coordinator was able to create a contract with the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The students were sent out for a two-week fieldwork experience which included writing grants and researching adaptive equipment resources for clients in Perth. The contract continued with future students for the next two years.
Be sure to refer to AOTA’s resources for international fieldwork for more information on how to get started.
Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs)
The next scenario is also based on a real-world fieldwork experience.
A third-year occupational therapy student wanted to go all-out for her last Level I fieldwork. Instead of completing her fieldwork locally, she asked her professors about using an upcoming study-abroad opportunity and converting it into a fieldwork. After obtaining permission from the school, she joined a non-governmental community group funded by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and traveled to two refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border. While there, she conducted pediatric OT presentations for the camp rehabilitation group.
NGOs are constantly traveling around the world to assist groups with needs of a wide variety, including medical and rehabilitative needs. Students and clinicians just need to do a bit of research online and visit local organizations to see if there are current opportunities for OTs to serve internationally.
AOTA’s CommunOT Forum has an International forum where opportunities are often posted.
For those out of school and practicing OT, you may be interested to know there are grant programs available for OTs.
These are usually programs outside of NGOs and mainly refer to OTs who are willing to go out on their own and create the program themselves. Clinicians can seek out and apply for federal grants to establish their own therapy programs worldwide.
Examples include wheelchair assessment/fitting programs, educational forums for local rehabilitation groups, etc. In many ways, it is like trying to create and own a company.
Obtaining funding and establishing an international program takes a lot of time and work. However, if you are a therapist that can see a unique need for a group somewhere in the world that no one else is addressing, starting from the ground up might just suit you.
Projects Abroad in Occupational Therapy
Projects Abroad started in the 1990s and has flourished as an organization that provides international work opportunities for countless professions.
Recently, Projects Abroad has posted several, short-term international projects located in Kenya, Cambodia, Tanzania, and Morocco. Occupational therapists would be sent out for up to 2 weeks to work in hospital settings, schools, and care centers to provide care.
Short-term projects are perfect for individuals who would like to travel internationally, but not have to dedicate their lives to being away from their home country.
World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT)
The World Federation of Occupational Therapists is recognized as a non-governmental organization (NGO) that specifically promotes OT on an international level. There are currently 101 member organizations around the world (representing over 580,000 occupational therapists). The WFOT assists qualified occupational therapists in finding work outside of their own country.
Their website has constant updates about current job positions, research positions, and volunteer opportunities for clinicians.
World Endeavors is an organization that provides study abroad opportunities for OT students. Current placement opportunities include Argentina, Australia, Thailand, South Africa, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. Depending on the location, students will work alongside OTs in school settings, hospitals, or care centers.
Online Job Searches
Simply searching the internet for OT job listings will prove to be an amazing way to find available positions anywhere in the world. For those who really want to make a vastly different career change, simply hop onto Google for a couple of hours and research available overseas therapy positions.
Review contract durations and qualifications (including any language requirements). Make sure that whatever country you desire to work in is part of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the WFOT.
Some countries do not recognize occupational therapy as a profession, therefore, you will not get paid as one. For those who do wish to work internationally, but want some semblance of home, you can also look into military-base OT positions. Military positions are great options if you are not fluent in the language of the country you will be working in.
Pursuing an occupational therapy career in international work is a great way to round out your knowledge of individuals from hundreds of different backgrounds. International occupational therapists come back home with a wider perspective on people and what makes them tick, what makes them function successfully, and how their culture and environment have influenced them over time.
Have you taken the plunge into occupational therapy internationally? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments below!
This post was originally published on Dec. 22, 2017 and updated on Feb. 8, 2021.
Do you know if an OT who recently graduated with a U.S. Master’s Degree in OT can get easily licensed in Europe?
Great question! Every country will be a bit different in terms of obtaining work visas, their specific OT certification requirements, etc. so I would first look at the individual country you’re interested in’s OT association and contact them for what they require. The World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) also has a free online forum where you can ask about country specifics as well, as there might be OTs that have made the move and can give their perspective. Good luck!
Are there work opptys overseas (england to start) for COTAs???
Yes! You can browse Indeed’s UK site here for OT assistant jobs here so you can see what is available and then can follow up with what requirements you’ll need to work there.
This was helpful. I’m a 4th year student in South Africa looking to start working abroad as an OT.
Thanks for the information
Please get in touch if you’re still looking for work overseas. I’m an OT from Melbourne, Australia 🇦🇺 and we are searching for OTs to join our friendly & supportive team.
hello I am OT plz Can you please email me ur Job Description and want to discuse some knowledge about OT
my Email is firstname.lastname@example.org
I have just completed my Batchelor of occupation therapy, is it possible for me to do job in abroad
Hi Mohd, it’s definitely possible to work abroad as an OT. It will take a bit of extra research on your part depending on what country you want to practice in, since everywhere has different requirements. Be sure to start by researching the countries you’re interested in to see what additional steps you may need to take. Each country that utilizes OTs will usually have a national board, so you can start by reaching out to them as well. I hope this helps!
I’m an OT in the USA…How can I work in Australia?
Can you please direct me?
Hello fellow OTs! My husband and I are moving to Portugal in about a year and by the time we move I will have completed my ppOTD and have 22 years experience. I am having difficulty finding information on jobs and working abroad. Do you have any suggestions beyond the WFOT website?
I’m interested to know how you went finding work in Portugal? I was wanting to move there and pursuit my career as an OT in Portugal.
hi, I am an O.T from Argentina, looking for an international experience, i would like more information regarding other countries apart from the USA. thank you.
Hi Sofia, this article is all about working as an OT in non-U.S. countries, so be sure to check out the mentioned resources 🙂
Hi hello fellow Occupational Therapists? My names are Rop Gilbert an OT from Kenya, I would like to extend my warm and sincere gratitude to the entire participants in this platform for having this site to allow us to get reach out to our outside world. I personally is looking for a chance to go abroad either in US,Canada,Australia or UK for further studies. Thanks everyone!
Hi fellow OTs .Am also looking forward working abroad and such a chance will be highly appreciated .Am OT from kenya and thank you for sharing the information
I completed my bachelor in OT so can I get job of OT in abroad
Hi Prince, the most important factors to consider are what country you’re interested in working in and what that specific country’s requirements are. You’ll want to reach out to the country’s OT board to find out what you need to complete in order to practice OT there, since every country will have different requirements.
I have completed Ayurvedic therophy in 2014, completed Reflexology course in 2022 and followed chiropractic basic knowledge of the full body . Is it possible for me to do job in your place.
I’m LWRM Fernando
What’s app +94770295815
Hi Fernando, to work as an occupational therapist you will need to have OT schooling (currently a Master’s or Doctorate in the US, some counties are still a Bachelor’s), pass the OT boards and then obtain a state license (if in the US).
Good morning there
Am hemant from india pursuing my masters (MOT paediatrics -final yr.) here.
I want to work as an OT at USA.
And don’t hv any lead or connection…what to do, how to do?
So could you help me out how to do preparation for that…i searched about NBCOT exam!
Please help me out in anyway you are comfortable 🙏🏻
It’ll be glad to me🌺
Hi Hemant, for your first steps in working in the US, you’ll want to contact NBCOT directly to inquire about certification and requirements. If you know what state you want to live in, I would also recommend you contact the state’s licensing board for additional direction. Those two avenues can at least point you in the right direction with how to get started. Best of luck!
I’m searching for info on MOT jobs in Mexico for US liscensed therapists. I’ve already posted on WFOT discussion boards with no replies. Any tips or advice would be GREATLY appreciated.
Hi Jesse, if you’ve already tried the resources in the article, I would also recommend networking/asking around in the larger OT Facebook groups to try to get some leads on this. Good luck!
Thanks, will do!
I’m an experienced occupational therapist (17 years) seeking guidance on how to obtain a work visa is Paris, France as a possibility for employment, research or teaching opportunities.
Hi Danielle, I can’t help answer your question but I would love to know if anyone else has been able to? I’m from Aus but also keen on working in France.
Hi Everyone, I hope you are all well. I am a qualified OT, studied and live in the UK, currently working on stroke/neuro wards. I have 2 years of OT experience in hospital settings. I would love to work either in UAE, AUS or NZ. Any advice on the topic please?
Thank you in advance.
I’m an OT from the UK and have worked in NZ previously. I’m in the process of setting up a service to help other OT’s take their work around the world. If you’re interested in support and guidance please email at email@example.com. Look forward to hearing from you.
I am currently a second-year student obtaining my MOT degree in the US. My husband and I are looking to move to mainland Europe *hopefully* after graduation in Dec. 2023. We are looking at Italy, but open to any connections. I have done extensive research through WFOT. Forums on WFOT and AOTA seem to always fall flat. If anyone has any advice or connections, it would be greatly appreciated!
Hi Whitney and good luck with the final year of school! I’m an OTR wanting to move to Europe as well. The search for me has just begun but I would love to connect with you so we can share any information that we come across.
I am located in the United States and I am currently an occupational therapy assistant. Been working outpatient pediatric as well as school based. Are there any job opportunities for OTA’s outside of the U.S.?
I wasn’t able to find any current postings but would love to hear if anyone knows of any info on OTAs working abroad.