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Short-Term Paid Work Programs for Students and Recent Graduates

The bad news about working abroad is that you can’t just take a plane to a foreign country and start looking for a paid job. This would be illegal without a work permit, which cannot be acquired without a job offer, and--classic Catch-22--very few employers will offer you a job without your already having a work permit.

The good news is that there are a number of organizations which can help you cut the red tape and acquire a legal work permit or place you in a job. Despite weak economies in many countries, job prospects remain good for those participating in short-term work programs-- from a few months up to six months or a bit more.

Alternatives include teaching English abroad or volunteering with organizations such as the Peace Corps. If you want an internship for academic credit, consider a study abroad program with an internship or volunteer component (see "Key Resources for Working Abroad"). If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to experience total cultural immersion, or to simply earn your way through an adventure abroad, here’s a good place to start.

The two main program types are

1) BUNAC Work Abroad exchange, which enable students to get a work permit in advance, then look for a job on site with assistance from overseas offices

2) Overseas job placement programs offered by a number of U.S.-based work exchange organizations.

The emphasis in both cases is on exchange, since your participation in most of these programs enables someone from abroad to have the equivalent experience in the U.S.

Work Permit Programs for Students

Thousands of U.S. students and recent graduates work abroad each year in programs administered by BUNAC, the most popular option for working abroad and one of the few which does not require applying far in advance. You can get a work permit without a job offer, you can work at any job you find, and the application process is non-competitive.

BUNAC for Australia and New Zealand can get you a work permit—otherwise virtually impossible for Americans to obtain—any time of the year for Australia and New Zealand. BUNAC can also get you work permits for Ireland. Volunteer projects with BUNAC are available in Cambodia, Ecuador, Nepal, South Africa, Tanzania. Without a work permit, you could only work illegally, seriously limiting your options.

To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen (or permanent resident), an undergraduate or graduate student of any age studying in the U.S. and taking at least eight credit hours. (Student status as defined by the program continues for one semester after you leave school: spring and summer graduates have until the following December 31 to enter the country in which they will work, and December graduates have until June 30.) Participants in the France, Germany, and Costa Rica programs must have had two years’ study of the appropriate language.

This is a do-it-yourself program--you find your own job and apartment using listings provided by the overseas program office. The average time for finding jobs is around one week, depending upon the country. The initial investment includes the program fee, roundtrip airfare, and enough money to tide you over until you get the first pay check. Most students report that they can cover their expenses and save money, although this is not likely in Australia and New Zealand (high airfares).

The typical BUNAC job is in restaurant, hotel, clerical, or sales work—but even these ordinary jobs provide a total immersion experience in the daily life of another culture, resulting in cross-cultural insights, friendships, and personal growth. Some participants arrange interviews in advance, but a firm job offer in advance is rare.

Come prepared. Bring your resume and references from previous employers or professors and a suit for interviews.

Accommodations. Take advantage of optional room reservation services offered by most of these programs. Otherwise, reserve a youth hostel in advance. Visit the Hostelling International website to find make reservations. It’s advisable to find your apartment after you get your job to minimize commuting time. Some jobs include housing.

Insurance. Most programs require you to have your own health insurance. The International Student Identification Card (ISIC) cards provides travel discounts. We recommend that everyone have one. More comprehensive coverage is available from special agencies, essential if you have no other health insurance.

Study and work. If you are going on a study abroad program, you may be able to combine it with a BUNAC permit, allowing work before, during, or sometimes after studying. However, don’t expect to finance your studies this way. In Britain you can only work before or during the first six months of study abroad, never after.

Getting a work permit overseas. This is nearly impossible unless you already have a job offer. Get the work permit before you leave, or use a job placement program such as BUNAC and InterExchange which also arrange for work permits in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

William Nolting is an Assistant Director at the International Center of the University of Michigan and former Work Abroad and International Educational Editor for Transitions Abroad.

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