The first step in living abroad is making sure you get the proper visa to legally find work in the country you are going to. This can be incredibly simple, or very complicated, depending on what country you want to work in, how long you want to work, your nationality, etc. If you have never done any overseas travel or dealt with immigration at all this can be one of the most overwhelming steps in the process, but it doesn’t need to be. Obviously this will not be a comprehensive immigration guide, but I will fill you in on what I know!
*Note that this guide is based on an American perspective, situations will vary depending on where you are from*
Let’s start simple.
Where are you going? Some of the easiest countries to travel and find casual work in at the moment are Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK. These are all countries in the Commonwealth, (i.e. they all celebrate the Queen’s birthday). You can show up with your work visa to these countries and find casual work (bars, restaurants, ski fields, shops, etc.) with relative ease. People from New Zealand and Australia can travel back and forth to each other’s country without a work visa. Anyone from a Commonwealth country can travel to New Zealand and Australia on a one year Working Holiday visa and be eligible to apply for a second year by doing three months of agricultural work (fruit picking and work in wineries are the most common choices for backpackers). Americans have the second year option in New Zealand, but only get the one year in Australia.
Australia’s economy has done a fantastic job surviving the recession, and while the cost of living may be high, the pay rates are really impressive. The same cannot be said for New Zealand and the UK, where the cost of living is high and casual wages make it hard, but not impossible, to get by.
If you want to work in America, it is very difficult. You have to go into a lottery to apply for a visa, and it is a very selective, complicated process. Common options for the casual traveler looking to make some cash to fund their stay are:
- Camp USA , where you can be a camp counselor for three months
- Work as a ski or snowboard instructor. Get your level two certificate, or higher so you qualify as a skilled worker. Easier than becoming a neurosurgeon!
- Theme parks like Cedar Point has programs where they host foreigners for work experience during their peak summer seasons.
Many Westerners do snow seasons in Japan, the only problem is you have to find work before you go there. You cannot just apply for a long-term work visa and show up and look for work. I have not worked in Japan, but judging by the amount of people I have met who have done snow seasons there I do not think it is an overly difficult process to get a visa.
If you want to go to Asia, the best way to do it is to teach English. In most cases you can only get a three month work visa for casual work (if you don’t want to teach), if you can get one at all. Some countries do not even require that you have a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certificate (these are various types of courses you can take to learn how to teach English as a foreign language.) South Korea and China are two of the highest paying countries, and in many instances they will reimburse you for your flights there and pay for your accommodation. Most other Asian countries will want you to have some sort of TEFL training, but generally courses are no longer than a month and many offer online options. It is worth it if these are places you really want to go. Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia are popular places for Westerners to go to teach because the cost of living is so low, but because of this there is often competition for jobs.
How do you apply for the visa? Because I was so overwhelmed by everything when I first moved to New Zealand, I went through a company called BUNAC (www.bunac.org) to help me sort my visa and give me some advice when I first arrived in the country. I did not know a single person in New Zealand, nor did I know anyone personally who had ever just picked up and moved on their own to a country they had never been to before without a job or anything. BUNAC was a great help for me as they handled my visa paperwork, got me a great travel insurance plan, sorted my first two nights of accommodation when I arrived as well as my transportation from the airport, let me store my baggage at their office (I packed WAY too much, see how to…pack), and provided an initial info session as well as the offer of constant support throughout my trip. I believe I payed around $560 or something to do that, and considering Visas on their own cost a few hundred dollars it was well worth it for me. I used BUNAC as training wheels for my first attempt, and since then have sorted the visa process on my own.
For New Zealand and Australia you simply go to their immigration website (www.immigration.govt.nz or http://www.immi.gov.au), search working holiday, choose your country of origin, and apply online. Both countries are now offering evisas. They do not place an actual visa in your passport, but it will come up when they scan your passport in customs and immediately activate. This is important to note if you apply for a working visa but do not want to use it straight away. You cannot enter the country on a visitor visa if you have applied for a work visa, so if you want to pass through on your way somewhere else or do a bit of travel before you start working, you either have to cancel and reapply for a work visa or your visa will activate upon entry and you will just lose out on the time between then and when you start working.
What types of visas are there? The easiest and most common visas are the Working Holiday visas offered by Commonwealth countries. Then you can also get skilled workers visas. Every country will have a list of skills in demand on their immigration website. If you have a specific qualification that is in demand in a particular country, then companies can sponsor you to work for them. With these visas you can only work for the sponsoring company and cannot legally accept any casual work.
While many people have seen movies like The proposal, marriage is not the only option (outside of America) to stay in a country if you have a partner there. You can apply for ‘de facto’ visas. If your partner has residency in a country, you can apply for a de facto visa whereby you prove that you are in a relationship but you don’t have to be married. These visas are often a few thousand dollars, but obviously worth it if it means you can stay with the person you love.
In Australia, there is a special visa many people do not know about that is for people dating Kiwis who are living in Australia. So even if you are Swedish dating a guy from New Zealand and you both want to work in Australia, you can get essentially the same thing as a de facto visa except it’s under $200. Don’t ask me why…
That’s the simple DIY visa process. In most cases, if your visa situation is going to be more complicated than that, it’s going to have something to do with a company or a program and you will have help along the way. I went through a very complicated visa process for my second year in New Zealand (I hadn’t done agricultural work I got sponsored) and I am currently in the process of getting my visa for Ecuador which is so much more complicated than I ever would have anticipated. In both cases though, I have resources and people to guide me through it and should you find yourself with similar opportunities then you will too. Don’t let visas stop you from working abroad.
*Most of this information is from personal experience, please feel free to send me a message if you believe something to be incorrect or if you have any information you think would be helpful for me to include*