How to Travel, Work & Make Money Abroad

I love exploring new places, but since I’m paying off student loans and credit card debt, I don’t really have a “travel” budget.

It’d be amazing to spend a few months or a year in another country, but to afford it, I’d have to be able to work while I was there.

So I’ve been wondering: How exactly does a U.S. citizen get the right to work abroad?

I did some research and here’s what I found out:

It’s important to plan ahead, duh. 

Depending on what kind of job you want, you may need a work permit or a visa, and you have to apply for them before you leave home.

Can I work abroad on a student visa?

If you’re still in school, and you’re studying abroad, you may be able to work in that country – but definitely do the research before you go, so you know what your options are. Every country has different restrictions about working while on a student visa. For example, Spain allows people with student visas to work up to 20 hours a week if the job is relevant to their field of study. Costa Rica doesn’t permit people with student visas to work at all.  Find out more here.

Can I work abroad if I’m no longer in school?

If you’re under 30 and/or have recently graduated, you may qualify for a working holiday visa. This is a residence permit that allows travelers to work abroad for a limited period of time. The United States has reciprocal working holiday relationships with five countries — Australia, Ireland, South Korea, New Zealand, and Singapore — but as with a student visa, eligibility requirements are very strict. In addition to paying the visa fee, you may have to prove you have health insurance, money to live on while you look for a job, and a plane ticket home at the end of your trip. Some countries limit the types of work you can do on a working holiday visa. For example, South Korea won’t allow you to work as a dancer, singer, or journalist, among other things.

What’s the deal with teaching English abroad?

The requirements for teaching English abroad vary by country, and so does the pay. You’ll probably need a bachelor’s degree, and you may also need a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). This involves taking a course, either in-person or online, in how to become an effective teacher. TEFL courses vary, and typically include at least 100 hours of coursework as well as teaching practice in your community. (Some programs may offer on-the-ground TEFL training in the country where you’ll be teaching.) For more info about teaching English in other countries, and to find job opportunities, visit and Dave’s ESL Cafe.

What if I don’t qualify for any of these things?

If you currently work for a large company in the United States, check if they have offices in other countries. (Many banks, PR, and tech companies do.) If they have international offices, check with the HR department about potential transfer opportunities. Edelman, a big PR company, has a global fellows program, where it sends promising employees overseas for up to 18 months at a time. If your company wants to send you abroad, they will help you secure a visa, which makes the process much easier.

If your current job can’t place you overseas, you may be able to find a job on your own if you are a “highly-skilled worker” who fits particular educational and professional requirements. If a foreign company makes you a job offer, they can request a work visa from the government on your behalf.  If you’re interested in working in Europe, for example, see if you qualify for an EU Blue Card.

What about freelancers?

This is a tricky subject, because work visas usually require an applicant to have a job arranged at a particular company.

However, many countries allow U.S. citizens to visit for a few months on a tourist visa, and that may be your best bet. Here’s a list of how long you’re allowed to stay in different places.

If you’re able to work remotely and your employers back home pay you via direct deposit or Paypal, consider traveling with your laptop — and keep working for the same clients while you’re away (this is what our EIC Lucy does! She not only our editorial director, but builds websites and graphics for small businesses so she can work anywhere!).

What if I just need a little cash while I travel?

If you’re a backpacker and you want a little money to help you make ends meet on the road, you may be able to find work “off the books” just like you would in the United States.  Look for short-term opportunities to help out on a farm or in a hostel. Are you an expert in something? Put an ad on the local version of Craigslist, and offer to give other people lessons. This works for everything from teaching guitar to building websites to helping people practice conversational English.

Ready to hit the road and make some cash?

Just remember: If you need a particular kind of visa, apply BEFORE you leave home. It’s much harder (if not impossible) to get the paperwork taken care of while you’re away.