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The Eternal Gap Year Dilemma: Shall I Find Work Abroad or Just Travel?

Written by Milly Whitehead on 05 / 08 / 2014

Gap Year Advice

So you’ve come to terms with the fact you’re taking a gap year. YAY! But now you find yourself deliberating every gapper's dilemma... should you try to find paid work abroad (it'll pay the bills and keeps Mum and Dad happy) or just be a free wheelin' traveller, meeting up with friends, hanging out and seeing all the great sights?

If that sounds familiar, ask yourself this: why does it have to be one or the other? How about being über organised and doing both? If you ask me, it's the secret to a gap year master plan.

In making the decision to find paid work abroad whilst you travel, you'll immediately gift yourself with two things: the opportunity to satisfy your wanderlust and the chance to cut down travel costs.

So what do you need to turn this gap year master plan into a reality?

Picking Your Destination

This is your moment. Where have you always wanted to go? What have you always wanted to see? Which culture sets your pants on fire? (not literally of course). Is it the dusty plains of Africa or the humid tropics of Asia that you hanker for? It’s your choice – your dream.

If you have your mind set on a destination, you firstly need to research the visa process. Most countries require some sort of visa to enter, whether it’s given to you on arrival, or whether you apply before leaving home. And more often than not, this visa process becomes instantly more complicated if you are intending to find paid work rather than just travel.

If you are applying for the job before you depart, sometimes the employer will help you with the visa process, but not always, so research this area thoroughly before committing to anything. Read are post on how to find jobs overseas for more information.

Working Holiday Visas

If you don’t have an exact destination in mind, but you just know you want to experience the joys of working abroad, then you should probably consider finding a more popular destination, with an easier visa process. Some countries offer something called a working holiday visa, which is typically available to 18-30 year olds.

The visa can last from six months to two years, and as the name suggests - you're allowed to find paid work and travel with it.

The beauty of the visa is that it keeps you flexible. Some people choose to arrive at their destination, look for a job straight away, then travel for the last couple of months of their visa. Others travel first, burn through their budget, and then look for a job. There's even a third option of working for the duration of your visa, and travelling on weekends or during annual leave. The choice is yours.

As with any visa process, the application form is likely to look very daunting and like you are possibly about to sign your life away. Just remember: it will all be worth it when you’ve finished work for the day and you’re surfing on the sunny Australian Gold Coast, or skiing down the slopes in Canada. Did I mention that Australia and Canada have very popular working holiday visa programmes?

Where Can You Go With a Working Holiday Visa?

Many countries offer a working holiday visa or equivalent, but the criteria you need to match can be quite specific. The following countries are among the most popular.

Australia: If you’re between 18 and 30, you can apply for a 12-month working holiday visa. Once you're in Australia, you have the chance to extend it to 24 months by working for three months as a ‘specified worker’. This is work such as farming, mining or construction work. More info on Australian working holiday visa options is here.

New Zealand: If you’re between 18 and 30, you have the option of applying for a 12-month or 23-month visa as part of a working holiday in New Zealand.

Canada: Depending on where you're from, the rules for working in Canada vary. If you are from the UK, you don’t need to obtain a temporary visa, but depending on the job you’d like to do you may need a work permit. More information about visas can be found here and work permits here.

Overseas Internships

If a working holiday isn’t floating your boat, how does a short-term internship sound? It’s still a job overseas, but without the daunting commitment.

If you can find a paid internship, it will give you that extra bit of cash to help support your travels once you’ve finished work. Keep in mind though; it’s likely you will have to foot the cost of accommodation and food whilst you’re working.

For that reason, you should also consider volunteering internships. Yes, you’ll find that you usually pay to volunteer, but more often than not your accommodation and food is in included. This can work out to be the same as what you would spend organising your own food and accommodation anyway.

Then there's the added bonus of having someone to help you organise things, and a support team around you should anything go wrong.

Whether your internship is paid or unpaid, it’s a smaller commitment and gives you the chance to gain experience. This experience, depending on your future plans, could then benefit you hugely if you were eventually planning on finding a more permanent, long-term job overseas.

As it’s short-term, it will also give you the chance to settle in to life abroad before you set off for your travels. It will be a nice introduction to living away from your usual life at home and will prepare you for a longer period overseas. If you’re limited on time, a short-term internship will also allow you more time to travel. For more tips on backpacking travel, 'Backpacking Essentials: The No B.S. Guide to Plan the Perfect Trip' is well worth a read.

What Will You Do?

Hopefully that's got you thinking more clearly about what's involved with working abroad, and helped you to recognise that a hybrid approach to travel and work can be the best of both worlds.

Can you imagine anything worse than coming home from 12 months working in Australia, being asked 'what’s the Great Barrier Reef like?' and having to respond with 'I don’t know'? I think you get the point here. Make the most of your time abroad - work AND travel. I promise, you’ll regret it if you don’t.

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