So you wanna follow those thousands of actors before you, pack your life into a suitcase, jump on a bus/boat/plane and go international to really take your acting career to the next level? Love this energy from you! But before you buy your ticket and tell your mother you love her, let’s take a hot minute to explore the ins and outs of a truly life-changing decision. Straight up: there is risk, and you need to mitigate those risks to ensure you don’t spend the next six years pouring pints in a far-away pub reciting sonnets at the regulars. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Seeking work internationally is an exciting option for every actor with the means to do so. However, it comes with considerable risk, and requires planning and logistics. Ideally, a production company would manage it all for you if you book a big gig. Alternatively, in order to ensure you have the best chance of making it happen on your own, you need to ensure you have a body of work behind you, a solid base of training and contacts on the ground. Most importantly, do some sound research about life and industry in your new home.
Get Credits or Die Trying
One of the biggest fallacies in all of acting and entertainment is ‘getting discovered’. Young, often inexperienced actors, regularly tell me that they are planning on moving to LA and ‘getting discovered.’ When I ask about training, credits or craft, they are less interested—they maintain that all they need to do is turn up in a city of 10 million people (a million of whom are already actors) with no skills, experience or connections and some big-time producer will look at them and say: “This is it! The person I have always been looking for! My streaming show has its lead!”
More often than not, this tactic leads to working in hospitality jobs for extensive periods (which is fine, but not our semi-fictional actor’s goal), not getting auditions, living on the outskirts of town and having to beg family members for the cash to come home for Christmas. It’s tough, you guys. You really want to make sure you put yourself in the very best position to be successful before you leave.
One of the key ways to do this is to get good credits in your domestic market before you move internationally. This is either on stage, on-screen or both! If you turn up in LA with roles in multiple award-winning shorts, a couple of guest roles in TV and maybe a feature or two under your belt, you’re declaring: “I am an experienced professional from my own country and I am ready to work!” (This is to say nothing of having an agent with international connections on your team.) If you are turning up with nothing expecting something, you are destined for disappointment.
Make Sure you Like the Place
This is so important. This place that you want to move to, to really jump start your career … have you been there before? Do you actually like it as a city? As a place to live and build a life in? I am assuming that most people reading this article are contemplating moving to a bigger city with more acting opportunities. Internationally, this will tend to be LA, New York, Atlanta, Toronto, Vancouver, London, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne. All of these cities are massive—with unique flavours and personalities—good points and bad. You have got to ensure you like these cities as a place, first: as a place you can work in and build a long-term career.
I didn’t always live in Sydney. I grew up in Perth in Western Australia (Google it, it’s the most isolated state capital in the world.) I came to Sydney on a school trip when I was 15, and I knew immediately that I wanted to live here. The city is beautiful, with stunning beaches and inlets on the harbour, cool neighbourhoods and cafes, heaps more acting opportunities than my home town, and I have a lot of friends that have moved here as well. It wasn’t just that I wanted to change my career, it was a chance to change my life and get out of a city that was boring me to tears (sorry Perth!)
The first time I went to LA, though, that was a different experience. America is a wild place, my friend. Honestly? I found LA pretty uninviting. I was staying in a crap area (who knew Hollywood actually sucks?!) and the sheer amount of people and the intensity of the place was pretty overwhelming. I did find pockets that I enjoyed, though: Silver Lake was really cool and there were parts of Santa Monica that I liked as well. But I wasn’t taken with it the same way I was with Sydney. At the end of my time there, I had made a few friends and got a better understanding of how the town works. But I was in no hurry to pack up my life and move across the oceans to live there.
Think About Training There
A great way to increase your chances of getting a good agent/manager, sort out your visa situation and make some friends for life is to train or study at your new location! I can promise you that if you get into the three year, full-time program at AADA or Stella Adler you are going to come out of that program with friends, networking opportunities, a killer showreel and a bunch of industry folks having seen your work via the showcase or demo reel.
Additionally, you can get a student visa, which is a lot easier to get than the performer visas—particularly for the States. Even if you have done a bunch of training in your country of origin, enrolling in a short course is a great way to get some industry knowledge and make a few connections. We have lists of acting classes in LA as well as acting classes around the world not to mention the best drama schools around the world.
You never stop learning, you never truly master this craft. All we can do is just keep trying to get better, day by day, project by project and class by class. Working with experienced teachers in different locations always helps to do this, and it is also really useful when you are looking to move internationally for your career.
Unions, Visas and the Nitty-Gritty
Let’s assume, for a moment, that you have done all of the above: you’ve got some credits under your belt, you’re confident in your ability to work professionally—maybe you’ve even gone over to somewhere like LA for pilot season or visited for an extended period of time. You are set in your heart that you like the city, and you have some friends or family there that you can lean on if times get tough. Perhaps you’ve even found a course to do at a great school! The next step is to deal with a few items of truly nitty-gritty stuff before you buy that plane ticket and bust a move. To do this, I am going to use my own experience as a case study:
In 2019, I very nearly moved to Canada. My career in Sydney had been stagnating, I had a feature film under my belt as well as a few TV credits, but I was really struggling to get auditions. So I decided I was going to move to Vancouver. A whole bunch of film and TV gets made there, especially television. What’s more, Canadians are lovely humans (no shade to my American readers.) I had a few friends who’d moved there who were really enjoying it and crucially: it was super easy to get a visa.
A visa is an official document that allows the bearer to legally enter a foreign country. The visa is usually stamped or glued into the bearer’s passport. There are several different types of visas, each of which afford the bearer different rights in the host country. If you are going to stay in a foreign country for an extended period, you need a visa to legally work there. For Australians, if you are under 35, you can get a visa to live and work in Canada for three years; it’s easy to apply for and relatively cheap, too! I applied and was all set to go, but there were two main factors that stopped me from moving.
The first was the union situation. In Canada, the vast majority of professional jobs are union jobs, meaning you cannot apply for them or get them unless you are a union member. You can only join the Canadian union if you are a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident, which takes two years of living in the country to apply for, and costs a lot of money to get. I could get non-union roles (and there were some attractive options there) but I also knew that it was going to limit my ability to attract high-quality agents—and get on those next level bigger sets—until I was a union member. My question was: would I be better off staying in Australia and self-taping for projects, so that if I was successful the production company would sort everything out on my behalf? The answer seemed pretty clear-cut to me.
The other challenge was healthcare. Frankly, healthcare in Australia is free and bloody brilliant. I wasn’t planning on moving countries and getting injured immediately, but it was playing on my mind that if something went wrong I would be hugely out of pocket. Within six months of my deciding to stay in Sydney, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and I couldn’t be more thankful that I stayed home.
There are a lot of factors to consider when you are contemplating moving internationally to pursue an acting career. Acting is just one element of your larger life, no matter where you end up, and if you don’t consider each part of that larger life you can find yourself in a lot of difficult situations.
So, in my opinion, the very best way to move internationally and pursue acting is this: self-tape from home, kill it, nail the call-backs, chat with the director and producers, book the job. Then it’s up to the production company to sort your visa, housing, flights, etc. If you decide to DIY after all, power to you! Just make sure you keep the acting and non-acting factors in mind before you go.
Preparation is Everything
The long and short of all of this is that preparation is key. Weigh up your options of places to move to, pick somewhere that you have been and like, ensure you have support on the ground and opportunities ahead of you. Once you’re there, look to embed yourself completely in the local scene: go to classes, go to opening nights at theatres big, small and independent. Join the relevant casting websites! Get yourself into a few shorts and independent projects, make sure you find the social media accounts of all the major and independent production and theatre companies. Be across it all on an industry front.
On a personal level, make sure you have as much savings in your bank account as physically possible; have your CV and references ready to go so you can find a job to support yourself while you are getting settled. The basics of housing, internet connection, transport, visa, healthcare are all vitally important. The beauty of the internet is that you can check out all of these things online before you move.
I also can’t emphasise enough how important it is to develop a network of friends around you wherever you go. Being alone is no fun, you guys—even if you are living in the most fun city in the world! It’s all about being surrounded by great people; so do some classes, shorts and shows and make some friends!
Working Overseas as Actor: Conclusion
There you have it: the definitive guide on how to be an actor internationally. Do your research, plan carefully, keep studying and preparing. But if it’s something you’re really keen to pursue: don’t stop until you get there. Go for it! Get it done! And good luck.