One of the most common questions I get about working and traveling is if a travel visa is required, and if so, which one?!
If you aren't familiar, a visa for temporary travel is much different than the credit card. The visa is the stamp of approval - literally and figuratively - that allows you to enter and exit a country.
It could simply be a stamp in your passport upon arrival/departure, or could also require a pasted sticker in your passport.
Getting a travel visa - and if you actually need one or not - really depends on what type of work + travel opportunity you're doing, and whether you're working for yourself or someone else.
Do I need a visa to work or travel abroad?
The short answer is yes, if you're traveling or working in a foreign country, you'll need some type of travel or work visa that allows you to enter and stay in the country.
Whether you are traveling a tourist visa, work visa, or student visa can vary.
This could be a super long and complicated post, so I'll just go over the basics:
- First, check the government website of your country of citizenship to see what the visa requirements are for where you're going to. Always always always check this.
- Wikipedia also has handy world map charts with visa requirements based on the country of citizenship, (Google "visa requirements for [your country] wikipedia") and you'll find it.
- Still, your country's government website will have the most accurate, up-to-date information so - I'll say it again - don't forget to double check it.
There are a few different types of visas. Keep in mind I am only referring to travel-type/non-immigration visas. I will not cover anything related to permanent resident or immigration type visas in this post.
The visas briefly covered in this post are:
- Tourist visa
- Work visa
- Working holiday visa
- Student visa
- A note on Europe's Schengen area
- Proof of onward travel
A tourist visa allows you to stay in the country for visitation purposes for a certain amount of time. The length of time depends on where you're from and where you're going.
Depending on the country, you may not need to apply for a tourist visa. Since I'm from the US, whenever I go to Europe I get a stamps in my passport on arrival and departure which serve as my "visa." I didn't need to apply for anything beforehand.
When I went to China, I needed to send off my passport to DC to get a tourist visa placed in the pages after my invitation letter for tourist was approved (the company I worked for took care of a lot of this). I got my passport back about a week before departure, and also got stamps upon arrival and departure at the airport.
Some countries have a tourist visa fee you need to pay or an application to send in beforehand. On arrival in Istanbul, we had to pay $20 USD at the airport for the tourist visa and got a sticker in our passport along with the arrival/departure stamps.
This will always depend on where you're from and where you're going.
A work visa allows you to work in a country for a certain time frame, which is often longer than a tourist visa would allow.
If you're moving to a foreign country to work for a company/organization, you'll need to communicate with the employer and do some research on whether you need a work visa.
These aren't always easy to get - for example, if you want to get a full-time job and move to Europe to live the expat life, you'd need the employer to provide you a visa. However, employers don't hand out work visas like candy and it can be difficult to get a job. It's kind of like a circle, haha.
Working for international companies
One idea to consider is to get a job with a company that has international offices around the world. Do some research to see what the international positions look like, and if there are same/similar ones to what you have now - you may be able to transfer locations later on.
If your desired location speaks a different language, it would be smart to start learning the language before you move. That would help your case when you ask if you can transfer locations!
Working Holiday Visa
Citizens from certain countries around the world may apply for a "working holiday visa," a visa designed for those who want to work during an extended, long-term (but not permanent) stay in a country.
If you're a US citizen, you can apply for working holiday visas in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Korea, and Singapore. Most of these working holiday visas allow you to stay 6-12 months, though they all have different requirements and limitations.
For example, there may be an age limit (such as 30 years old for US citizens to get the visa for Australia), or you must have graduated in the past 12 months for Ireland or Singapore.
This article from Go Overseas is super helpful in explaining the working holiday visa process for US citizens.
Now if you're studying abroad then you will need a student visa.
When I studied abroad in Italy for six weeks, I didn't need a student visa because I wasn't staying in the Europe past 90 days. (90 days is the maximum time frame allowed for US citizens).
Students studying during the full semesters/academic year needed to get student visas though.
A note on the European Schengen area
Map image source: Wikipedia
The Schengen area in Europe is a zone of 26 countries that don't require full customs checks when crossing borders. This is similar to crossing state borders in the US, where you don't need to go through customs when traveling across borders. However, it is always smart to have your passport on you just in case, but also because...
...when I was traveling in Central Europe in June/July 2016, our private coach bus was stopped at the Austrian-Czech border for passport checks.
The Czech police checked everyone's passport. This was not a customs check like where you talk to the agent and get your passport stamped; they just came on the bus and checked everyone's passport.
They cited refugees as their reason, which makes sense due to the current situation and refugee migration happening throughout Europe. All of Europe had heightened security this time of year.
This didn't happen again at the Czech-German border, or the German-Austrian border. I also didn't need to show my passport for our day trip to Slovakia.
So - when traveling across borders, have your passport on you!
Side note: when you stay in a hotel or hostel, they will often require your passport upon arrival, even if you're living in that country. When I was working/living in Italy, I took a short trip to Lake Como, Italy with a friend. The hostel scanned our passports when we paid on arrival.
And the next day, a taxi driver in Milan tried to scam us and called the police on us...the police made us show our passports and then let us go. Ugh.
Those were two situations where I don't know what we would have done, had we not had our passports.
"What type of visa did you get when you worked abroad?" - one of my most frequently asked questions
When I worked for short-term in Europe and Asia (2-3 weeks each) we went on standard tourist visas since we didn't exceed the number of days within the tourist visa timeframe (90 days).
If you're working for yourself (ex: digital nomad/working remotely/online) then a lot of people will stay up to the amount of time the tourist visa allows and then move on.
I've read a lot of blog posts about people who work online for themselves or for others that do this and have no issue working there as long as they stay within the tourist visa time frame.
I'm not 100% sure if that's allowed for everyone, so like I've been saying this entire post, always always always check.
Proof of onward travel
One more thing you'll want to consider if you're staying in a country during the tourist visa timeframe is if the country you plan to stay in for a few months requires proof of onward travel.
Sometimes they require you to have some type of transport ticket to show that you will, eventually, be leaving. Other times they'll simply ask you what your plans are. I've encountered both scenarios.
Of course if you'd want to stay somewhere longer you can look into taking classes through a university to get a student visa. That's a fun way to take a class or two (especially if it's a language or cultural class like cooking), meet some other students, and not have to worry about a visa if you want to stay within your student visa time frame.
If you do need a visa, allow plenty of time to get one. You'll need to first have your passport and then go through the visa process. Your employer or school should give you instructions on the process.
Also, make sure to do your research and triple check everything is ready to go. Make sure that if you need proof of sufficient funds, that you have enough in your bank account.
For extended/long-term travel in multiple destinations and need to apply for the visa in your home country, do it before you leave on your trip. If proof of onward travel is required, have your bus or train ticket or whatever it is on hand for customs. It's fun to be spontaneous, but also important to have a general idea of where you're going so you don't run into any issues.
Fellow Americans - our passport allows us to travel to so many places around the world. Don't take it for granted. There are many other countries with tight travel restrictions. Take advantage and TRAVEL. See the world! Please!