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An Introduction to Student and Work Visas

Posted on November 07, 2019

If you plan on living in a country for more than 30 days, or approximately one month (this figure is different depending on the destination), or you plan on working abroad, you will need to apply for a visa. If you only plan to be in a country for one month or less, you will most likely not need a visa. For some countries, you may also be required to obtain a permit to work in the country. The State Department website provides an extensive list of countries with their respective visa and entry/exit requirements. The site also gives you a good understanding of current issues in the country of interest and how to better prepare for your stay.

When making your decision about where to live or work, be mindful of the political situation of the country you will be living in. The State Department maintains a list of countries that could potentially have security concerns. If you know that the country you are going to has the potential to be on this list, check the State Department’s website to see how you might better prepare for your stay there.

Types of Visas

Below is a list of the various types of visas you may be required to obtain when you are looking to work or intern abroad. This is general information to give you an idea about the visa process. Make sure you research visa requirements for the country you plan to live/work in:

Volunteer and Internship Visas

These visas are easier to obtain than work permits, since they do not involve paid employment. Although most short-term volunteers and interns (up to three months) usually perform their work with a tourist visa or permit, many countries require an official visa for volunteer work or internships. This is a good idea, especially if the period of your stay will exceed that of an ordinary tourist permit. Keep in mind that visas other than tourist visas or permits often have higher application fees and take longer to process.

Work Abroad Programs and Au Pair Visas

A number of countries offer Working Holiday visas. Australia and New Zealand have a special short-term work program for young Americans, which is a flexible work permit for several months. Canada and the U.K. offer work programs for U.S. college students and recent graduates allowing them to work up to six months in the country. Many countries in Europe have made it easy to work as an au pair without applying for an official work permit, but you may be required to enroll in language classes or university courses.

Long-Term Work Visas

Work visas are hard to get no matter where you intend to work. You need a job offer from overseas and your potential employer needs to provide verification to local authorities that they have advertised locally and that you are the best candidate for the job. Once the local authorities approve your, you can then proceed to apply for a work permit at the respective consulate in your home country. If you change jobs, you will need to reapply for a new visa.

The websites of the embassies of most countries provide detailed visa information. See the Embassies and Consulates listings for more information.

How to get a visa for U.S. citizens going abroad

Every country has its own requirements for granting visas to foreigners, but there are a few general guidelines you will need to follow in getting yourself prepared to apply for one.


  • Have all of your passport information ready.

  • Get a letter of support from the organization/company you will be working with. This is especially imperative for countries in the European Union, Australia and Japan because most of these countries will not grant you a visa if you cannot provide verification that you will be working.

  • Have a letter of proof of academic affiliation if you will be applying for a student visa. You can request one from the institution where you will be studying or from the office through which you have gone to study (like CIEE).

  • Be ready to provide general financial information to verify that you are economically independent; some countries require you to demonstrate that you are able to afford living in the country.

Getting More Information

  • Visit or call the nearest embassy for the country of your interest. They may be able to give you a better understanding about how to navigate the process.

  • Know what the exact requirements are for the countries) you are interested in.

  • Fees vary from country to country but can be found on each country’s consular or embassy website. These fees can usually be paid online.

The European Union

Though students and young professionals are beginning to travel to what were once considered non-traditional countries like Ghana, Thailand and Nicaragua, many people continue to travel to the countries that make up the European Union. Below is a general description for visa and travel requirements you will need to meet as you make your way across the Atlantic.

“24 European countries are party to the Schengen agreement. This agreement eliminates all internal border controls between them. To enter one Schengen country is to gain up to 90 days of continuous travel between the member states. American citizens traveling for business or tourism are not required to have a visa for this initial entry into the Schengen area, but must have a passport valid three months beyond the proposed stay. (For a two week business trip, the passport must be valid for four months, for a two month holiday the passport must be valid for five months, for example.)

Please note, that while business and tourism visits of less than 90 days to the Schengen countries are visa-free, if you are traveling to Europe for any other reason—employment, study, internship, etc., your host country may require a visa for that purpose, to be obtained before you leave the U.S.” Please check with the Embassy or Consulate of the country(ies) you are going for their specific requirements.

SRC: U.S. Department of State Travel Site for American Citizens- Schengen Fact Sheet

Quick Tips

  • Know the requirements for the country where you will be working/living/studying.

  • Make sure your documentation including passports, are current up to date.

  • Be prepared and start the process early!

  • Register with the local embassy when you arrive. This will make replacing any lost documents much easier.

Must Ask

  • How much longer will it take to get the visa?

  • What documentation do I need to apply?

  • Are there security issues with the country to which you will be traveling?

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