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Why Not Try Working Abroad?


So you haven’t won the lottery yet? That doesn’t have to mean you can’t travel for an extended period of time. While the idea of traveling for more than the "normal" two weeks allotted to the majority of Americans sounds far-fetched, it can be done.

One of the best ways is to "work your way around the world." Working overseas for a short time can provide you needed income to continue your travels and give you cultural insight at the same time. You may even decide you want to stay and work longer …

Here are some basic steps and guidelines for finding and choosing short-term work overseas:

Decide where you want to go and for how long
This will determine how much planning you will need to do, and how deeply you will need to get involved with local bureaucracy to obtain permits or battle other red tape to work. If you decide that you are going to try to work in a youth hostel in Ecuador or a ski resort in Switzerland for a month or two, it is probably not worth the effort to try to "get legal." Find an employer who will pay you under the table or simply provide room and board during your stay and do what you have to do to "stay" legal (cross borders once a month, etc.). If you want to stay longer or do less seasonal work, you may want to begin the procedures to get the necessary permits.

Decide what kind of work you’re willing to do
According to Susan Griffith, the author of the short-term overseas work bible Work Your Way Around the World, the majority of temporary employment opportunities are in tourism, agriculture, child care (au pairing–almost always for young women), volunteer work and internships, and English teaching. Naturally, other opportunities can arise, but these are "the big five."

  • Tourism

    Jobs available in tourism are overwhelmingly seasonal. High tourist traffic areas need as many warm bodies as they can get for jobs in hotels, restaurants, ski areas, beaches, etc. These jobs are generally not glamorous but often offer room and board in addition to a small salary. Check out for some listings in tourist areas around the world.
  • Agriculture

    Obviously, agricultural jobs are seasonal as well. Standard agricultural labor is very difficult but can also be rewarding. One excellent organization that arranges placements on organic farms in exchange for room and board is Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF)

    WWOOF places an emphasis on cross-cultural learning, so your time won’t only be spent picking grapes in Tuscany. Farms are chosen to participate in the program based in part on their willingness to be gracious hosts and employers to foreign workers.

  • Childcare

    Being an au pair involves living with a foreign family to take care of the children and the house. If you don’t like children, clearly this is not the opportunity for you. If you decide you want to try to be an au pair, there are a number of agencies that can help. Nearly every country has an organization devoted to au pair placement. Intersejours (Tel: 01-4-76-30681) has au pair positions in France. Another established organization is Au Pair Network International Before agreeing to anything, be sure to ask for references, contract details, insurance benefits, and contingency plans in case of a bad situation in the home.
  • Volunteer or Internship

    Volunteer work and internships are sometimes the easiest thing to find if you’re looking mainly for the experience rather than the money. Most such placements will offer room and board in exchange for your work, so permits are generally not necessary or will be arranged for you. Work can range from desert reclamation in Spain to interning at BMW in Germany. For internship and volunteer programs, look through GoNOMAD’s listings or visit or
  • Teaching English

    Teaching English is a natural activity for native speakers overseas, but be forewarned that opportunities for less than nine months (an average school year) can be hard to find, unless you want to work privately. Also be aware that teaching English is not necessarily easy. Just because you speak the language doesn’t mean that you can teach it! Check out Jeff Hohammed's great guide, Teaching English Overseas - A Job Guide for Americans and Canadians.
Getting legal
This can be a significant hurdle, depending on where you want to go. For an average American, for example, very few employers in European Union countries will go through the hassle of obtaining permits for short-term workers. If they need English speakers, they can hire a British national with far fewer hassles. Employers in countries with fewer English speakers may be a better bet.

Organizations that can help
If you are a student or recent graduate, there are organizations that can arrange permits for you. Council Travel has summer and semester work programs to countries around the world for students and recent graduates. The cost can be a barrier, but some of that will be recouped by your wages upon arrival. BUNAC, a British organization, arrange a similar program for the United Kingdom.

If you are not a student or a recent graduate but still want to work in a country with high entry barriers for foreign workers, consider an international workcamp that will give you room and board in exchange for help on projects as varied as restoring castles in France and being a camp counselor in Wales. A good source of workcamp opportunities is Volunteers for Peace They maintain an online database of opportunities worldwide that is available for a nominal fee.

Working overseas may not be as relaxing as traveling around the world on lottery ticket winnings, but you will almost certainly learn more. Happy travels (and jobs!)!

Work Abroad

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