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Study Abroad

Can I Work While Studying Abroad? Everything You Need To Know About Students Working Overseas

Liam Berry

Can I Work While Studying Abroad?

Getting a job while you study abroad is sometimes possible. But it depends on a whole mess of legal issues that depend entirely on the country you’re in and the country you came from. Here at the WayUp Guide, we’ve put together the ultimate explainer to make sure that you can navigate the murky waters of getting a job while studying abroad. We’ll answer all your big questions so that you can get the most out of your time as an expat. You’ll have plenty to consider when it comes to deciding whether you want work while studying abroad.

Is it legal to work while studying abroad?

It can be, yes. A few of the biggest hot spots for North Americans studying abroad do actually allow foreign students to work while they’re there. But many of them have restrictions that make it impossible to do so legally—especially if you’re only there for one semester. And nearly all of them limit the hours you can work to 20 (part-time status).

For example, Australia and New Zealand allow you to work 20-hour weeks while you’re on their student visas. (That said, New Zealand has for more conditions for that work, so please check their local laws here before you go.) 

However, countries like Ireland and the United Kingdom—the latter of which, of course, includes Top 5 Study Abroad location London—limit working under student visas to students spending at least one academic year in the country. That means most one-semester-abroad students are out of luck.

Other countries still have more complicated rules. Take China, which technically allows students on visas to work, given that they fill out a mountain of paperwork and get permission from their university. Some countries require you to take a job that’s in your chosen field of study.

As you can probably tell from this brief list, the laws for working abroad are complicated and region-specific. Check out this neat resource from Go Overseas, which features a table with some laws from the most popular regions. As always, though, be sure to check with the embassy’s site for the final word on current regulations and restrictions.

All of this is for legal working. But many do freelance work like teaching English (or another language), translation, or part-time restaurant/bar work under the table (taking money off the books without official permissions or paying taxes). However, working illegally in a foreign country can constitute tax evasion and violation of other laws. That can carry harsh penalties like huge fines, expulsion from your school, and even jail time. (In case it needs to be said: You obviously shouldn’t work illegally.) Which brings us to…

Can I volunteer while I’m studying abroad?

The short and long answer for this one is YES! Because there’s no exchange of paychecks or taxes involved, volunteer work is largely available to folks with student visas. You might have better luck finding certain types of charities and missions in certain countries or regions. But, generally, whatever country you visit will have charitable organizations ready and willing to accept your help.

If you study abroad in places outside of Western Europe—especially in Africa or South America—where international non-government organizations (NGOs) like the Red Cross and OxFam have an active presence, then it’s going to be easier to find volunteer work and to get involved on a larger scale. However, if you’re jetting off to cities like London, Shanghai, or Prague, your options are going to be more closely aligned with things like soup kitchens and shelters, as they would be in most U.S. cities.

Of course, certain rules and regulations apply in some countries, especially in Asia, so be sure to check with the embassy’s site and your school counselor to make sure any and all programs are safe and legal.

Should you work while studying abroad? Here are the pros and cons.

Working while studying abroad can be an excellent way to meet people outside your normal bubble of “foreign student vacation life.” It can also help you immerse yourself—genuinely—in the culture of wherever you’re staying. Plus, foreign travel is rife with unforeseen costs and expensive vacation plans, so who couldn’t use some extra cash? This kind of entrepreneurial spirit is valued by future employers and gives you a type of life experience most people will never have. That, in turn, can shape you as a person.

However, adding another weight to your scales when you’re already trying to balance making new friends, staying in contact with people at home, going to school, and making sure you get everything you can out of the experience can be tough and take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. Who wants to miss out on that awesome weekend trip to Italy, that amazing party in the warehouse club, or that unforgettable museum exhibit because you have deadlines and shifts to pull at work?

Working can be an awesome way to add depth and authenticity to your experience. But truly relying on a part-time job for money while abroad can severely detract from your ability to enjoy your time there. It can also interfere as you try to forge strong connections with your peers. You don’t want to be scrubbing tables while your roommates are making friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something interesting or talk to someone you never would have because of a unique work experience, either.

It’s best to plan (and work as much as you can) ahead of time, so that you can have all the money you need BEFORE you arrive. That way, working is just another optional, enriching part of the experience, and not a cruel necessity robbing you of your precious time abroad and stressing you out.

For more study abroad tips, FAQs, and questions, be sure to check out the WayUp Guide!

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