Work Your Way Around the World

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Young or old, professional or freelance, brainy or brawny-no matter who you are, there's a legal, rewarding job out there in the wide world for you

The news is good: Given enough time, anyone can work abroad. All you need is information and a few good leads-and you'll soon have both. The real trick isn't landing a job. It's landing a good job. Let's say you dream of being a ski bum in the French Alps. With some effort, you land a spot washing dishes. You're thrilled to have work, but you soon discover minimum wage doesn't get you far in a pricey resort and the 48-hour weeks (fairly standard) don't allow time to put on your skis. And, as the lone washer, you're too busy to meet anyone. Eventually, you wonder what the point is. For me (I actually had this job), it took two weeks. I left the suds and found work guiding snowmobile trips into the mountains. The pay was double, the trips were such fun I would have done them for free, and, best of all, I was able to log nearly 100 ski days.

The type of job for you

  • Factoring in living costs, does the job pay enough to cover future travel?
  • Is it interesting, or does it provide a valued skill?
  • Does the workload allow you to partake in local activities you enjoy?
  • Now get a fundamental grasp of the overseas employment situation. In other words, what's legal, what's illegal, and does it matter?

    Here's the scoop: To be completely safe, get a work visa. If you possess a skill the locals don't (or don't have enough of), an employer can usually justify to the government that you need to be imported. And, as with most imports, you must be properly processed and stamped at the border when you arrive. Which means securing permission before leaving home. Fortunately, you can find just about everything you need online at the immigration or work-visa section of the country's Web site. For a list of foreign embassies, try embassyworld.com.

    And don't forget this insider loophole: your heritage. If your parents or grandparents were born in another country, you may be eligible for a special permit, such as the four-year extendable work visa in the U.K. for some descendants. And if you use family ties to get a passport for one E.U. country, you're allowed to work across Europe.

    Illegal under-the-table work (serving, picking fruit, dishwashing) isn't much different, in principle. Employers generally prefer locals, but sometimes need foreigners for various skills, such as English-speaking waitresses at international resorts. In the manual-labor market, positions are usually underpaid, otherwise locals would be lining up for them. Thousands of travelers thrive on this type of high-turnover, undocumented work.

    But before accepting an under-the-table position, learn the law of the land. The consequences may be more severe than simply losing your job. If you're seen as stealing a good job from a local, you could be slapped with a fine, clapped behind bars, or chucked out of the country for good (and guess who pays for the ticket home?).

    Professional work

    International guiding

    Teaching English

    Winter-resort work

    Work programs

    Harvest-season work

    Schoolteachers

    Diving instructor

    You can also travel on a Divemaster certification or higher. At padi.com, get contacts for nearly every diving resort on the planet. Many instructors make personal contact and get paid under the table. Or they return with a legal visa from home. Among the major diving centers are Airlie Beach and Cairns in Australia, Belize, Cozumel, and Ras Mohammed on the Red Sea. Tip: You may have more luck at the lesser-known sites you stumble across on your travels.

    Massage

    Bartending

    Entrepreneur

    One of the most popular DIY jobs is tutoring, whether it's private lessons in English, dance, or music. Gardening, baby-sitting, and cleaning are also popular. Typically, a few well-placed notes on area bulletin boards will start you off, and word of mouth takes it from there. Creative types set their own schedules making jewelry or art, or sell themselves in the classic entrepreneurial travel gig: performance. A busy corner doesn't always bring good fortune, but as an American you know that showmanship makes up for short talent. Be careful: Some towns demand permits and enforce the law vigorously, and no amount of song-and-dance will save you from penalty.

    Editor's note

    Every country has laws limiting employment to foreigners, with some defined exceptions. Our writer discusses those exceptions ("legal employment") and also deals with cases in which a country deliberately declines to enforce its own labor laws (creating safe "illegal employment"). Budget Travel warns that normally "illegal employment" is not without risks and should be discussed with a local adviser.

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