May 13, 2010 — -- After her January 2009 layoff, Rebecca Cors, an environmental researcher from Milwaukee, gave job hunting in the United States her best shot. But competition for the university jobs she wanted was incredibly stiff, and the fact that she didn't have a Ph.D. was something of a liability.
Cors, 42, banged her head against the ivy-covered walls for a few months, then had a better idea: fulfill her lifelong dream of living and working in Liechtenstein, where her grandfather was born.
"A bit of Web surfing and chatting showed me that there were good opportunities to get experience with teaching and environmental education and research in Europe, so I went for it," said Cors, a dual citizen of the United States and Liechtenstein.
The gamble paid off.
"I am getting tons more interesting opportunities over here. I didn't have nearly the same response in the U.S.," said Cors, who is currently editing academic texts and pursuing her Ph.D. at a university in Switzerland, all of which she lined up after her July move abroad.
Cors isn't the only American looking to other nations as a way out of unemployed Dodge.
The Peace Corps saw an 18 percent increase in applications between September 2008 and September 2009. Lesser-known work-abroad outfits like the Council on International Educational Exchange, which offers overseas teaching programs in half a dozen countries, and Masa Israel Journey, which places recent college grads in internships in Israel, report similar surges in program demand since the recession began.
Gregory Hubbs, editor-in-chief of Transitions Abroad, a clearinghouse for international job advice and opportunities, has seen a significant spike in inquiries from Americans interested in expat employment since the economy began to tank in 2007.
"For many Americans, this moment in history represents an opportunity to pursue alternatives to traditional lines of work in the U.S. while gaining life-enriching experience," Hubbs said via e-mail.
"It's an opportunity to not have to live as close to the bone with your bill payments," said Margo Schlossberg, 40, from Vienna, Va., who was laid off from her U.S. marketing job two years ago and has been scraping by with part-time jobs and her own import business.
The Rockstar Factor
Although Schlossberg is reluctant to leave the States, she's been eyeing employment opportunities in developing Asia, where she worked as a marketing professional between 2003 and 2006. Thanks to her MBA and the fact that she's fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, she's a bit of a hot commodity there.
"The level of the job and the responsibility you can get is so much higher than in the U.S.," she said. "You're in a developing country that wants to move itself up, so they're really interested in your opinion."
Not so as a business professional in the States, she said.
"Here, you're just a dime a dozen."
Susan Adda, 45, who's lived in Paris with her French husband for the past decade, agrees that in the global business world, savvy Americans can attain almost rockstar status.
"That good old American know-how is worth a lot to people in other countries," said the self-employed event planner. "As an American, I am not only perceived as someone who has more international clout, but I am also able to capitalize on my knowledge of American trends."
Josh Simpkins, 34, an Ohio native who teaches English to business professionals in Bochum, Germany, agrees.
"By virtue of being native English speakers," he said, "Americans already have one huge advantage here because English is the language of business in Europe."
Come for the Paycheck, Stay for the Perks
Many American expats cite financial incentives and a relaxed lifestyle as big reasons to stay right where they are.
Although she misses her extended family in Los Angeles dearly, Adda, who was treated for colon cancer eight years ago and has a genetic condition that increases her risk for other cancers, doesn't think she can afford to leave France. There, her medical fees are fully covered by the French Social Security system.
"I know full well that I would not only be plunged into excessive debt if I went back to LA for treatments and tests, but that I would have trouble even finding accessible health coverage with a pre-existing condition [like this]," she said.
Simpkins, who wanted to start a family with his German wife, had similar qualms about the U.S. health care system. The couple returned to Simpkins' hometown of Marion, Ohio, in 2007 with the hope of staying put, but they didn't last long. Between Simpkins' miserable job prospects as an English teacher and their concerns about securing affordable health insurance, the couple found themselves packing up for Germany again in late 2008.
"Knowing that we were guaranteed health coverage here contributed to our decision to leave," said Simpkins, who's since become a father.
Chantal Panozzo, 32, a staff magazine writer who moved to Baden, Switzerland, with her husband in 2006, has slightly different reasons for staying away from her native Chicago.
"Pay is generally better in Switzerland than the United States and so are things like vacation time. My husband has about seven weeks of vacation this year and his Swiss office is closed for an entire week at Christmas," said Panozzo, who put off her 2009 return to America when the job market here looked particularly bleak.
More important, she said, "The European lifestyle has taught us how to actually relax."
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer and former cubicle dweller. Her books include "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire," and, "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube." Follow her at @anti9to5guide.