Yes, most countries require foreign visitors to possess some form of visa in order to enter for tourism, business, education, or employment purposes. The requirements vary greatly from one country to the next, so we recommend that you contact the relevant embassy or visit their website to ensure you have the most up-to-date information. Here we break down the most common forms of visa that you are likely to come across.
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These are generally issued to short term visitors who do not plan to work or study during their stay. There are several categories of tourist visa depending on the destination and your own country of origin. The most common is the 'upon entry' tourist visa that is issued in the form of a passport stamp on arrival at the immigration desk. For example, US citizens heading to destinations such as Spain, Italy or France will receive a free stamp on entry that is valid for 90 days. In some cases you may also be charged a fee (typically $20-$30) on arrival, such as in Turkey or Cambodia. In certain circumstances you may have to apply in advance for a tourist visa. This is still common practice for many current or former communist countries such as China, Russia and Vietnam. Applications require you to fill out various forms and to supply passport photos and an application fee. For details including fees and processing times we recommend visiting the relevant embassy website.
Although it is not strictly legal, in many countries it is common practice for foreign teachers to enter and work on a tourist visa. Due to complicated bureaucracy in many Latin American countries, it is normal for schools to overlook the time consuming process of applying for work permits in favor of employing teachers with a 90-day tourist visa. A hop across the border to gain a fresh visa in a neighboring country every few months is often seen as the best policy by teachers and employers. Similarly, many US citizens find work on a tourist visa in European countries such as Italy and Spain. This is also generally seen as common practice, although it is not so in other popular destinations such as Greece and France, so it is important that you do some research in advance.
To gain full legal status to work as an ESL teacher in a foreign country, you will typically require some form of work visa. The procedure varies but in most cases a job offer is required to kick start the process. In many of the biggest markets such as China, South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, you must secure a teaching position first and then apply for a work visa from within your home country. In contrast, when teaching in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, the Czech Republic and Germany, it is common to be employed locally following a face-to-face interview. In these countries you must first enter on a tourist visa and then apply for a work visa from within the host country. This will usually require proof of employment and a valid passport, as well as other documents including TEFL certification, university transcripts, medical forms and criminal background checks.
In countries where it is difficult to obtain a work visa, enrollment on a study program at a local university or other institute can sometimes allow you to work on the side. For example, in countries such as France, Italy and Spain, you can sign-up for a local language course that qualifies you for a student visa. During the course you will also be allowed to work up to a certain number of hours per week.
As a result of individual agreements between nations, certain passport holders may be eligible for a working holiday visa which allows them to travel and work in a specific foreign country. Australia, New Zealand and Canada have many such arrangements with other countries including European favorites such as Italy, France and Germany. Applications must be completed from within your home country and are restricted by age (usually 18 to 30/35 years). You may also require proof of financial resources and a homeward plane ticket. Unfortunately, options in this category are limited for US citizens as the only current agreement in place is with Australia.
In many countries there are visas available to the partners and children of those who have found employment and have secured a work visa in a foreign country. The details of these vary considerably but may allow the partner to work and gain access to health care, schooling and other social services.