In the vast majority of cases, ESL teachers will need to obtain some form of visa to enter their destination country. What specific visa you need is wholly dependent on the rules and regulations of your host country, so you should contact the relevant embassy or take a look at their website to make sure you have all the correct information. Below we outline the most common forms of visa you are likely to come across.
What is a tourist visa and how do I get one?
Tourist visas are typically issued to people who only plan on a short visit and do not intend to work or study. This type of visa comes in many different forms depending on the host country and your own country of origin. The 'upon entry' tourist visa is the most common and this is issued upon arrival at the airport immigration desk. For example, US citizens arriving in Spain, Italy or France will receive a free 90 day tourist visa stamp in their passport. Although some countries do charge a small fee for a tourist visa (typically $20-$30). Some destinations such as China, Russia and Vietnam, require you to apply for your tourist visa in advance from within your home country. This process usually requires an application form, passport photos and an application fee. For more in-depth information including specific fees and processing times we recommend you visit the relevant embassy website.
Can I teach English abroad with a tourist visa?
In many countries it is still common for teachers to work with nothing more than a standard tourist visa, although it is technically illegal in most cases. This is particularly common in many Latin American countries where complicated bureaucracy makes it extremely difficult for teachers to obtain an official work permit. Many schools are happy to overlook this as long as you prove to be reliable and good at your job. As tourist visas are only valid for a short time you will need to get it renewed every few months by crossing over into a neighboring country. This scenario is also true for many US citizens who want to teach in European countries such as Italy and Spain, where it is still common practice. However, it is not something that would be recommended in other destinations in the region such as France and Greece, so it is vital that you do some research before making any firm plans.
How do I get a work visa for teaching English abroad?
In order to have full legal status to live and work in a foreign country, some form of work visa is generally necessary. The process for obtaining one is often specific to each particular country, however, in most cases an initial job offer is required to get things started. In countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, it is necessary to get a job offer first and then apply for a work visa from within your home country. In contrast, many employers in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, the Czech Republic and Germany prefer to hire teachers after a face-to-face interview. In this scenario you would enter the country on a tourist visa and then apply for a work visa once you have secured a teaching position.
Can I teach English abroad with a student visa?
In some countries where work visas are hard to come by, a student visa is a good option as they often allow you to work within certain limits. For example, in France, Italy and Spain, you can join a local language course at a university or language center that then qualifies you for a student visa. Each country has its own rules, but typically you can legally work up to 20 hours per week on this type of visa.
Can I get a working holiday visa for teaching English abroad?
Depending on your nationality, you might be eligible for a working holiday visa which allows you to teach in a specific country. For example, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have individual agreements with several top European destinations such as Italy, France and Germany. There is usually an age restriction on this type of visa (generally 18 to 30/35 years) and all applications have to be made from within your own country. Proof of financial resources and a homeward plane ticket are often required when applying. For US citizens the options are limited in this category of visa as the only current agreement in place is with Australia.
Can I teach English abroad with a spouse/dependent visa?
In many countries it is possible for people to get a visa based on their partner gaining legal work status. What this visa allows you to do varies considerably from one country to the next, but it might allow you to work and gain access to health care, schooling for any children you have and other social services.