How to Hire International Employees in 4 Steps
This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
Hiring international employees can bring a vast range of talent—and risk—to businesses. It requires careful consideration of laws, regulations, and cultural differences. With the right strategy, however, businesses can make the most of a diverse, global workforce.
To effectively hire overseas employees, you’ll need to determine the type of worker you need, create and post a job description, interview and evaluate candidates, and make your offer. We’ll walk you through the steps below.
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Step 1: Determine the Type of Worker to Hire
Just as with domestic hiring, the type of international employee you choose to hire is an important factor. When hiring, many small businesses choose to partner with independent contractors for specific projects instead of hiring an employee. You can do the same with international workers. A great place to find both domestic and international independent contractors is on Upwork.
Hiring an international independent contractor has its benefits. The individual worker is responsible for reporting their income to their government, not you. You simply make a payment to them, and they handle the rest under their home country’s laws.
Be aware that the same rules apply to international independent contractors as for domestic ones. So, you cannot cross the line of making an independent contractor an employee by giving them a schedule, telling them what to work on, and generally supervising their work. If you take those actions, the individual is most likely an employee (more on this later). Also note that in some countries, companies are required to provide benefits to independent contractors, like time off or access to healthcare options. Make sure you’re aware of these requirements when partnering with independent contractors in foreign countries.
If the worker you want to hire is not a US citizen and is only working in their home country, you will not need to worry about getting a visa. However, you may need to obtain a visa for the worker if you need them to be present in your office or when you’re hosting an in-person company event or retreat in the US. The foreign worker may also be subject to US taxes for any income they earned while physically present in the US.
Your international employee cannot enter the US as a visitor if they’re here for business purposes or staying for an extended period of time. Your employee would be considered a nonimmigrant worker for the duration of their stay in the US, so you would need to get a visa for them. You may also have to change the way you pay them while they’re physically present in the country, as they may become subject to additional taxes. If the person you choose to hire is a US citizen living abroad or they hold dual citizenship, they will be able to enter and exit the country freely.
You’ll need to be prepared for either situation. Be careful during the hiring process, however, about asking questions about citizenship. You cannot directly ask an applicant if they are a US citizen.
Step 2: Create a Job Description & Post a Job Ad
Writing an engaging and effective job description is crucial to hiring the right employee, knowing how their skills match up with what you need, and holding the employee accountable to stated tasks. When you write a job description, make sure you’re including required skills, education, and brief details about the projects or work the employee will do. Include a brief discussion selling your company. Why would an international employee want to work for you? What benefits do you offer? What sets your company apart from the competition?
After you’ve written a clear job description, it’s time to post the job ad. You may be unsure where to post your job ad when hiring international employees. However, you may already use job boards that can help you attract international candidates. ZipRecruiter, Indeed, LinkedIn, and other major job boards allow you to post jobs for international hires.
One of the easiest, simplest, and most efficient ways to attract international workers is on Upwork. Upwork is a freelance and hiring platform used in over 170 countries. You can post your job ad on Upwork, targeting specific countries, and choose whether you want to work with a freelancer or make a hire. Candidates can find you, and you can also search to find candidates you want to interview.
Step 3: Evaluate Candidates & Interview With International Details in Mind
Interviewing is always a crucial part of the hiring process. The interview allows you the opportunity to ask about the candidate’s skills and get a feel for their personality and how they’ll fit into your company culture. Hiring international employees requires you to be more focused during the interviews and consider additional aspects, especially issues like time zones and how the applicant will work remotely.
Many companies have moved toward a remote or hybrid work environment, and hiring remote workers presents its own challenges. Having employees that may be seven, eight, or even 12 time zones away creates logistical problems. Here are some things to consider to help you understand what your requirements are:
- Will this employee need to work US hours?
- Will this employee need to be flexible and join team meetings during their night hours?
- How will your company coordinate with the employee on events that may be outside of their normal working hours?
Beyond that, you’ll also need to consider technological issues:
- Does the employee have stable internet access?
- Will you provide them with a computer and other electronic equipment?
- How will you troubleshoot technical issues, especially if your domestic team is sleeping?
When you’re interviewing candidates, you can ask questions about their flexibility to attend team meetings. You can also pay attention to their internet connection and see if their video is choppy or freezes. While you shouldn’t eliminate a candidate based on an unstable internet connection alone, it’s good information for you to have when deciding on a new hire who will work entirely remotely from abroad.
Step 4: Make a Job Offer
Now that you have figured out which applicant you want to hire, it’s time to make a formal job offer. While it’s usually best to make a soft offer by calling the candidate, giving them the good news, and discussing any final details like start date and salary, doing that for an overseas employee may be impractical. If you are unable to speak with the new hire before sending a formal offer to them, be prepared for at least some back-and-forth negotiation, especially on salary.
In the offer letter, make sure you include the job title, start date, benefits, salary, and the full job description. Also include a timeline for them to sign and return the letter to you, generally around one week. Because the person you’re hiring lives in another country, using secure online signature software is your best bet to make this process smooth and efficient. Upload the offer letter to the software and send it to the chosen candidate. Once they return the signed letter to you, begin your onboarding process.
Pros & Cons of Hiring International Employees
|Enter an international market||Possible extra costs for hiring internationally|
|Larger candidate pool||May have challenges supervising work from a great distance|
|May be able to hire employees for less than you’d pay in the US||Could be subject to international taxation|
|Ability to have local employees service local customers||International employee may have vastly different working hours|
Legal & Operational Considerations
Besides the actual process of interviewing and hiring an international employee, there are operational considerations, some of which were briefly alluded to above. Here we discuss in more detail.
As we touched on above, ensuring there is a clear line between employees and independent contractors is crucial to keeping your small business compliant. In almost every country, employees and independent contractors serve different functions for companies. While there are differences between what countries consider employees versus independent contractors, there are many more similarities. Here is a breakdown.
You direct their daily duties
You can only give them projects
You can discipline them for poor work performance
You cannot give performance reviews but can terminate their contract
Additional overhead costs including benefits
No additional overhead besides agreed upon rate (unless the independent contractor lives in a country that mandates benefits)
If you misclassify an independent contractor, however, and they are really an employee, you could face stiff fines and penalties. In this case, your small business could be responsible for back taxes, missed overtime, benefits contributions, and other fines. Some countries even hold company owners or executives personally, and sometimes criminally, liable for misclassification.
Some workers, especially international workers, prefer independent contractor status, as it gives them more freedom. Just make sure they fit the criteria before you enter into an independent contractor agreement with them.
No one likes this part, but taxes are a crucial aspect of running a small business—and hiring an international employee doesn’t make your business or employee immune. Failure to properly withhold taxes could lead to costly fines and penalties.
If your remote international employee is not a US citizen and they’ll perform all of their work outside the US, they will need to complete and send you IRS Form W-8BEN. Your business uses this form to withhold appropriate taxes from an international employee’s pay. When the source of the payment comes from within the US, the foreign employee is subject to a withholding tax of up to 30%. There are exceptions which this form will alert you or your payroll department to before making any payments. If your remote employee living abroad is a US citizen, you may be able to simply add them to your regular payroll.
If you decide to engage an international independent contractor, you will need to use a slightly different form if they have their own corporation: IRS Form W-8BEN-E. This is a complex form the international independent contractor will need to complete and provide you before you can make any payments to them.
Each situation could also be affected by tax treaties the US may have with other countries. If you need help paying your international contractors for their work, consider using a payroll provider, like Remote. It has expertise in international payroll and will process these W-8 forms on your behalf.
The role you’re hiring an international employee to do could be strategic. Maybe you have customers in their country, and you need someone working their regular business hours to help with any issues. This makes it easy for the employee to engage with customers but not with their colleagues, especially if their time zone is different by more than a few hours.
On the other hand, if you’re hiring an international employee because they have a certain set of skills, you could have them work US hours, or at least have them work a few hours that overlap with your core business hours. This will greatly reduce the headaches you’ll encounter with scheduling full team meetings and events, and allow the international employee the chance to get to know their colleagues better.
Need help scheduling your international employee’s work hours? Check out our guide and free scheduling template.
This may not apply to every situation, but it’s worth mentioning so you can be prepared. If you’re considering opening an office in an international location or you plan on hiring more than a few employees from one country, you may benefit from setting up a foreign entity in another country.
There are registration requirements, associated fees, and corporate taxes you may need to pay. It’s a good idea to hire a lawyer to help you. Setting up a foreign entity makes it easier to hire people in another country, giving you more flexibility and autonomy over your company. For just a few employees, however, this is probably more of a headache than it’s worth.
Make sure you budget your time accordingly. Hiring international employees takes longer. Not only is there often a substantial time difference delaying responses, but there’s also simply more time involved in the process, including doing your due diligence to ensure you’re making the right hire.
Especially if you ever plan to have the worker come to the US, you’ll need to deal with visa requirements. Dealing with the federal government can create substantial delays. There’s nothing you can do to speed up any of the delays you’ll face; you just need to be prepared and set your expectations accordingly.
How to Hire International Employees Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Absolutely—provided that you adhere to the employment laws of the country where your new employee lives. You may need to cover some benefits for the worker or pay taxes in their country. If you plan to bring the worker to the US, even for a brief period of time, you may need to withhold additional taxes during their stay. You’ll also need to secure a visa for them before they come to the US.
There are many reasons US companies hire international employees, and many of those reasons are unique to your business. You may need to have a customer service worker who can support clients and customers in their country or time zone. You may also need to hire someone with a specific skill set, something that may be hard to find in US workers. The reason for hiring a foreign worker isn’t legally important unless you need to apply for a visa to have the employee work physically in the US, even for a brief period.
Common reasons US companies hire international employees include:
- Unique skills
- Language and knowledge of foreign markets
- Expand global workforce
- Increase creativity and innovation by adding different perspectives
Paying foreign employees can present challenges. Some countries require you to have a local bank account and pay in local currency. Other countries aren’t as strict but still may require you to register, even if you have no physical presence in the country.
Yes, unless you plan to have the worker come to the US. While you can hire an international employee without a visa, it’s recommended that you start the process as soon as you think it’s possible you’ll need the worker to come to the US. Getting a relevant visa can be a massive headache, as there are often annual limits to how many workers can get a visa. Plus, for some visas, it can take nearly a year to get an approval after you’ve submitted all the necessary paperwork.
Today’s distributed workforce makes hiring international employees more common, but there are still hurdles to overcome. Traditional laws and regulations need to be adhered to, both domestically and abroad. If you’re looking to hire international employees, it can greatly expand your candidate pool and could be just the step you need to help your business get to the next level.