How to Get an International Work Permit or Visa

Exterior of modern illuminated building, Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Gianluca Lastoria / Getty Images

Need to work during your student travel? Lots of students plan to pay for travel with a job abroad -- it's a great way to immerse yourself in a culture and stash some bucks for your next trip leg.

If you will work for food in foreign climes, know that you'll need a work visa issued by the country in which you're working. If you're working abroad through one of many professional student work exchange programs, your work permit will be arranged for you. If you need to get a work visa on your own, you'll need to take the following steps.

What You Need

In many cases, you need a job offer in another country before that government will issue you a work visa. To get to that country and find a job, you'll need to do some travel planning and get a passport. You will also need a letter from your future employer eventually -- best if you get that letter before you leave home. It can help if you have a physical address in your destination country, too.

Finding Student Jobs Abroad

You can work abroad as a nanny or au pair, a waiter, a baker or a candlestick maker. Choose the place you want to be and check out what's available.

Canada is a wonderful place to try working internationally for the first time -- get your traveling feet wet while staying in an English-speaking country. The Canadian government helps you get a six-month work visa through the Canadian SWAP (students working abroad program).

Get an International Work Visa on Your Own

If you have a skill, direct employer contacts are often the easiest way to find a job abroad. If you're interested in, say, working in a bike shop as a bike mechanic while you're visiting Germany, then you'll have to do some legwork. Find a potential employer (an Internet search turned up many German bike shops with web presences) -- contact a few bike shops before you leave the States and if one owner agrees to hire you, he or she will send a letter to you and the correct documentation to the German government, and you'll be issued a work visa. Generally, permits issued this way are valid for a set amount of time and you must be on your way home when yours expires.

I chose bike shops as an example because I owned a bike shop in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a prime destination for student travelers from other countries -- and I received requests like this all the time. I hired student travelers, too -- I preferred hiring workers who had a plan for a place to live as I knew they wouldn't be forced to leave for lack of housing... it's in cases like this that you'll be glad of a physical address in your destination country.

Some countries are reluctant to issue a work permit if the country believes its own citizens can fill the job(s) with skilled natives (like mechanics) -- if you're a kangaroo trainer, for instance, consider applying with a zoo in Rome rather than Sydney. Speaking of Sydney, Australia has a great work visa for which you can apply if you're between 18 and 30 which allows you to work and play in Australia for up to a year.

Working Abroad as a Volunteer

Most credible volunteer programs have permission to use volunteer workers in the countries in which work is being done. As long as you're being paid by the volunteer outfit (payment includes any money the company gives you, like a Peace Corps housing stipend) and not by a resident of the country, you needn't worry about having a work permit. If you're not being paid at all (and with most volunteer programs, you are actually paying the company for the privilege of volunteering), a work visa is not an issue.

Work Without a Visa

In some countries, like the UK, you may be refused entry if you land at the airport with a work plan and no visa. In others, you may be sent straight home, if not fined or even jailed (albeit briefly). You'll certainly have no government recourse if your foreign employer refuses to pay you or mistreats you in some work-related way. Don't work without a visa -- it's asking for trouble you don't need.

Good luck and enjoy!

This article was edited by Lauren Juliff.

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