Requalifying and Working Overseas

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Many law firms overseas are happy to offer employment to Australian qualified lawyers without requiring you to requalify. We have assisted many Australian lawyers with the process of securing employment overseas and in a wide variety of locations. Each jurisdiction will have differing qualification requirements. The following should be used as a starting point for your investigations and you will need to make your own enquiries with us and the relevant bodies before the interview process becomes too far advanced. Generally speaking, it is hard to obtain roles in-house from Australia (as OS employers usually have a volume of local lawyers to choose from for these roles) so we have based the following advice upon working in law firms. If you haven’t spoken to us already feel free to call us to discuss any issues regarding relocating overseas, as the information below is only a brief guide.

England

 

England, and in particular London, remains the most popular destination for Australian and New Zealand lawyers. Australians have been travelling to London and regional England to live and work as lawyers for decades. While Australian lawyers require a work permit for England, the process of obtaining it is often largely taken care of by the employer, who must apply for the work permit on their behalf. Dependant spouses and children under 18 must obtain entry clearance from the UK consular section prior to departing Australia. While relatively recent changes to the age-based “working holiday visa” have allowed Australians more freedom to work as professionals, law firms appear to prefer to continue to provide sponsorship and to employ lawyers seeking a more long-term role.

Australian lawyers wishing to practice in England must register with the Law Society of England and Wales, as a Registered Foreign Lawyer. They may also seek to be admitted as a solicitor and barrister in England and Wales. Lawyers from Australia are entitled to requalify as solicitors in England by sitting the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test. The Law Society will determine which parts of the test a lawyer needs to pass, depending on their professional qualifications and experience.

The market in London remains receptive to capable Australian lawyers and the market in the larger regional centres of the UK improves each year. The cost of living in London is generally considered to be relatively high by Australian standards (particularly housing), however, higher salaries can more than compensate. The cost of accommodation is much lower in regional centres, as are salaries. A spouse has the right to live and work in the UK with their partner, however, de facto partners do not have this right.

Hong Kong

 

Australian lawyers must apply for a work visa to work in Hong Kong. As in England, the employer will often take care of this for the lawyer by sponsoring them. Every adult intending to reside in Hong Kong for more than 6 months must apply in person to the Immigration Department for a free Hong Kong Government Identity Card.

Most law firms in Hong Kong will encourage overseas lawyers to be admitted in Hong Kong. However, exams are only held once a year, so it is normal practice to be first registered as a foreign lawyer, provided you have a current practicing certificate from your current jurisdiction, without needing to sit exams.

Unless you are admitted as a solicitor in Hong Kong, you will need to take the overseas qualification examination if you have more than two years post admission experience in the jurisdiction in which you were originally admitted, but less than 5 years. If you have more than five years in the practice of law, you will be able to apply for exemptions. It is very difficult for lawyers with less than 2 years of Australian experience to obtain work in Hong Kong.

The cost of living in Hong Kong is generally considered to be quite high relative to Australian prices, but extremely low tax rates and high salaries make Hong Kong a very attractive destination. While spouses of sponsored lawyers have the right to live and work in Hong Kong, de facto partners do not. The cost of schooling and family accommodation is relatively high.

Singapore

 

Australian citizens require an Employment Pass to work in Singapore as a lawyer. To apply for this you will need a local sponsor, which will almost always be the employer. An Employment Pass holder may apply for Dependant Passes for a spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age.

Most Australians will seek work in “offshore” firms rather than local practices. Unlike Hong Kong, most offshore firms in Singapore do not require overseas qualified lawyers to be admitted to the Singapore Bar in order to practice. Offshore firms in Singapore are not allowed to advise on Singapore law (unless they are in a joint venture with a Singaporean law firm). In any case, most foreign lawyers would be working on deals involving US or UK law.

Personal tax rates in Singapore are among the lowest in the world. Spouses of holders of professional visas have the right to work in Singapore. De facto partners do not have this right. Accommodation is more reasonable than Hong Kong, but salaries are also proportionately lower.

New Zealand

 

New Zealand represents a growth area for Australian lawyers looking to work overseas and experience gained in a large New Zealand firm can be highly regarded. There are very few barriers for lawyers wishing to work in New Zealand. Australian lawyers do not require visas or work permits to work in New Zealand and the Mutual Recognition Act enables Australian Solicitors or Barristers to apply for automatic admission in New Zealand.

Accommodation is reasonable in New Zealand and salaries for lawyers and the cost of living mean that lawyers from Australia who travel there will maintain a standard of living on par with Australia.

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