Published 21st December 2017

Doing a TEFL course and applying for jobs are the first steps to becoming a working TEFL teacher. You might think that is the hard part, but you may find a few other hiccups along the way to teaching your first class. If you’ve decided where you want to go and have applied for jobs, at some point you will need to apply for a visa.

If you’ve travelled before you will know that you usually need some kind of a visa when you go travelling. Of course, it depends what passport you carry and where you are travelling to but most times you apply for a tourist visa before you go on holiday. This can be done online, through an embassy and sometimes on arrival.

If you want to teach in a foreign country, you won’t need a tourist visa but rather a working visa. Or will you? This is where it becomes murky.

So what gives?

Here are a few of the most common questions and answers about getting a visa to teach English as a Foreign Language.

How can I find out for sure what visa I need?

The best way to find out the true visa requirements for a country is to contact the embassy. Find the local branch of the embassy of the country you are going to and ask them what the specific requirements are for working as a teacher there. They will be able to tell you exactly what documents you need and how to go about applying for a visa.

There are more and more agencies that can take you through the application process. Though they will charge some sort of fee, it’s not a bad idea if you are anxious about your visa situation.

The schools says I have to have a Bachelor’s degree. Can I get a visa without one?

Some countries require a Bachelor’s degree in order to apply for a working visa. More often than not, this is not a rule of the school, but a government law. There is nothing you can do to change the law, so there is no point trying to fight this one.

Can I work on a tourist visa?

This is controversial. Some schools may ask you to arrive in the country on a tourist visa with the promise of applying for a work visa when you get there. This is not recommended, but in some countries it is standard practice. In some countries in South and Latin America, for example, many teachers work on tourist visas and nobody pays them any attention. Working on a tourist visa is illegal, no matter what your school says, so if you choose to go this route bear in mind there might be consequences.

What are visa runs?

For those teachers working on tourist visas, they are required to do visa runs every 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on the visa. Tourist visas are usually only valid for 30, 60 or 90 days and when they expire, the tourist is required to leave the country. When they return to the original country they will receive another tourist visa.

For some countries this can mean a quick bus ride across a border, but for other places you may need to travel long distances. Usually the tourist/teacher will return to the country immediately because they are not leaving the country for a holiday but for the sole purpose of renewing their visa. This is a visa run, and it is big business in some countries, in Asia in particular. While it’s not usually too much of a hassle, it’s also not the greatest way to spend a Saturday, especially if you have to do it once a month!

Is there an age limit on working visas?

Unfortunately, for some countries yes. Some countries allow teachers to apply for working visas until age 55, some until 70, and some have no age restriction at all. Again, it depends on the country you are going to.

The bottom line when it comes to visas? Speak to the embassy, find out the legal situation and go from there.