When I first pursued the idea of living abroad four years ago, I thought I could put my finger on the map, move to that country, and get a job. Not so, it turns out, and what a sharp learning curve I had ahead of me. A New Zealand working holiday visa, a failed sponsorship, a BUNAC visa, an Australian working holiday visa, several visas-on-entry in Southeast Asia, and a UK visitor visa later, and I’ve become an accidental expert on escaping to foreign places.
As my Scottish partner and I currently wrestle with a new level of immigration restrictions, I’ve ended up in a lot of conversations with friends and family at home that remind me the path to working abroad is not well known here. But there are options, some really great ones.
If you’re an American or a Canadian wondering how to explore the great wide world beyond a two-week paid vacation, here are four ways to get started:
1. Working Holiday Visas
Australia and New Zealand and, if you’re a recent college grad, Singapore, South Korea, Canada and Ireland. These six countries provide the most straightforward, least restrictive option for young Americans wanting to work abroad. The list for Canadians is similar. In most cases, costs for working holiday visas range from nothing, to a few hundred dollars. You’re given six to 18 months to live and work in the country and you wait until you land on foreign soil to find employment.
These visas are meant for people wanting to explore their new host country, with work supplementing their travel. You can find and apply to them directly through each country’s immigration website or, for a few of the above, with the help of organizations such as BUNAC or SWAP. Certain countries have specific rules once you arrive (like Australia, where you can’t work for any one employer longer than six months) and certain countries offer more flexibility about returning (like New Zealand, where Americans are eligible for both a regular working holiday visa and another visa sponsored by BUNAC). The greatest thing about a working holiday is the flexibility it allows. People use them to further their professional careers in foreign cities or they buy a van and travel around as fruit pickers for a season—and everything in between.
2. Teach Abroad
If you want to travel by way of teaching, the opportunities are nearly endless. Thailand, India, Taiwan, Chile, Japan, Colombia, Vietnam; with teaching abroad your biggest restriction is your imagination. For those who haven’t earned a teaching degree, your ticket is a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. There are so many organizations out there offering qualification and placement to travellers, and you have the option of completing the program before leaving home or as part of your experiential travel. A great place to start is Verge’s Teach Abroad Database.
While not exactly working for a paycheque, work for accommodation networks like WWOOF and HelpX do offer travellers who want to spend an extended period overseas the opportunity to stave off the biggest budget offenders: food to eat and a bed to sleep. Those savings might be enough to turn your two month trip into six months away. Plus, as far as experiential travel goes, there is not much that beats living amongst a group of locals and learning some new skills.
Hosts can vary from an inner-city woman who needs a hand in her garden to a coastal B&B looking for live-in housekeepers to an elderly couple who own a vineyard and are seeking young labourers (these experiences, plus more, are my own.) WWOOFing is a growing trend worldwide, and I’m a huge advocate of the grassroots, tailor-made style of contacting hosts, agreeing on the conditions that work for both parties (how many hours, tasks at hand, length of stay, if meals will be included) and walking in to your temporary set-up with an open mind.
Memberships to the sites above have a small fee. I joined both and felt I got far more than my money’s worth. You can also try your country of choice’s online job board for work for accommodation listings (Gumtree.com.au in Australia and Trademe.co.nz in New Zealand, for example.)
In some countries, travellers on a visitor visa technically aren’t allowed to work for accommodation, as this is still considered “work,” so check the rules before you go (and perhaps don’t divulge that part of your travel plans to the immigration officer).
4. Working Remotely
More and more, we’re seeing the rigidness of the traditional workplace traded for flexible job roles and remote offices. While I don’t really like the overused "digital nomad" label, it’s true that more and more Americans are making a living by becoming cyber expats in a sense. They live in a foreign country (or travel between several) and work for an employer in the States or Canada. This is great, in part, because it means more North Americans are getting to travel abroad.
Again, immigration doesn’t always look too kindly on foreigners setting up shop temporarily with the intention of working—even if it is for a foreign employer. Generally, if applying for a visitor visa, it’d be best to keep those plans private. Where do you find remote jobs? It depends what field you want to work in, but a great resource I recently discovered is Flexjobs.com.
The world of work abroad is ever-changing, and, even in the short time I’ve been travelling, it seems that living outside of the U.S. and Canada is becoming a more widely accepted trend.
So keep an eye on new opportunities that are opening up, sign up for immigration newsletters from the country you’re itching to get to, talk to friends who have travelled abroad long-term and ask how they made it work. Get a little creative. If it’s your goal to work abroad or travel long term, the avenues are there for you to make that life a reality.Add this article to your reading list