Quite simply a visa is a document stating that a person is authorized to enter the country or territory for which it was issued.
If you intend to go abroad to teach depending on where you go and your nationality you may or may not need a visa to enter the country and stay there.
For example, British citizens can enter Italy, part of the European Union, without a visa however, American citizens will need a visa to enter the same country.
In most cases a visa is simply a stamp or document pasted into a passport but occasionally it is a separate document. It will state your name & particulars along with the dates for which it is valid (i.e. for which you can remain in the country). Bear in mind, however, that a visa is not a guarantee of entrance into the country and the border officials can turn you away or revoke the visa if you transgress the law, etc.
Each country has its own procedure, but usually there are short-term visitor visas for 30-90 days which are for tourists and suchlike. Teachers, on the other hand, who will be employed for a year or more, will need to get a working visa which lasts for 12 months or several years.
After a school has offered you a job in the country it is time to get the visa (if necessary). The requirements for visas vary from country to country but in general it will mean going to the nearest embassy for the country you wish to teach in and presenting documents such as your degree, your TEFL Certificate and, if requested, your criminal records check. There is usually a small fee associated with this.
Note that in the majority of cases you can get a tourist visa at the border when you enter, but for a work visa you will have to obtain this outside the country – usually in your own country. However, rules vary so you should always check with the embassy of the country where you are going to get the latest accurate information.
Sometimes – not often though – you may come across visa scams. These are easy to spot and easy to avoid.
In 99% of cases to get a visa legitimately it is like this:
- complete the correct form – this is either done online or by visiting the local embassy or consulate for the country you are travelling to
- when you submit the form you have to send in your passport as well; this is either done in person or by courier (for security reasons don’t use the normal post); you may also have to send accompanying documents like a contract, etc
- pay the embassy or consulate a fee – this varies a lot depending where you’re going
- a short while later (this varies depending where you are going) you’ll get back your passport with the visa inserted into it or the visa as a separate document
In some cases you might want to employ the services of an agent who can help with the visa. However, in 99% of cases this shouldn’t be necessary.
It is this last point where scams occur. Sometimes the agent is perfectly legitimate but sometimes the agent is as bent as a five bob note. They will ask a lot of money and then end up organizing the wrong visa. This often happens when the agent is recommended by a recruiter. Particularly in China!
So, to avoid being scammed here:
- sort the visa out yourself – this is fine for 99% of countries including China; it’s relatively easy to do and worth the trouble
- make sure you apply for the right visa – problems arise when recruiters and agents ask for a tourist visa, etc, instead of a work visa; to work in China you need a Z visa and nothing else will be accepted!
- don’t use a visa agent “recommended” by a recruiter – they are probably one and the same and charging over the odds
If you are heading to China, then check out this page which details a typical visa scam.
Passports & TEFL Teachers – check your passport is up to date and ready to use.
Criminal Records Check in TEFL – often you’ll need one of these to get a visa.
Citizenship & Nationality when Teaching Overseas – check this if you are wondering whether you should take up another nationality to teach abroad.