July 22, 2024

Backpackers & Student Travelers Working Abroad

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European countries aren’t keen on handing out jobs to foreigners with unemployment rates what they are in some areas.

Officially, an EU citizen is allowed to work in any other EU country, but the paperwork isn’t always straightforward for long-term employment.

Other country/nationality combinations require special work permits that can be almost impossible to arrange, especially for temporary work. That doesn’t prevent enterprising travelers from topping up their funds occasionally by working in the hotel or restaurant trades at beach or ski resorts or teaching a little English, and they don’t always have to do this illegally either.

You must definitely put yourself “at the right place, at the right time,” by asking locals, expats, other travelers, and learning from those who have gone before you.

The UK, for example, issues special ‘working holiday’ visas to Commonwealth citizens aged between 17 and 27 valid for two years. Your national student exchange organization may be able to arrange temporary work permits to several countries through special programs.

If you have a parent or grandparent who was born in an EU country, you may have certain rights you never knew about. Get in touch with that country’s embassy and ask about dual citizenship and work permits – if you go for citizenship, also ask about any obligations, such as military service and residency. Ireland is particularly easy-going about granting citizenship to people with an Irish parent or grandparent, and with an Irish passport, the EU is your oyster. Be aware that your home country may not recognze dual citizenship.


If you do find a temporary job, the pay may be less than that offered to local people. The one big exception is teaching English, but these jobs are hard to come by – at least officially. Sometimes you can just walk right into a conversational English teaching school and tell them that you’re available to teach immediately. Maybe give them a quick run down of why they should hire you, where you’ve studied/grew up, and what you can bring to the table.

Other typical tourist jobs (picking grapes in France, washing dishes in Alpine resorts, working at a bar in Greece) often come with board and lodging, and the pay is little more than pocket money, but you’ll have a good time partying with other travelers. Afterall, it’s all about the experience and not about the money.

“Work Your Way Around the World” by Susan Griffith gives good, practical advice on a wide range of issues. Its publisher, Vacation Work, has many other useful titles, including Summer Jobs Abroad, edited by David Woodworth. Working Holidays, published by the Central Bureau for Educational Visits & Exchanges in London, is another good source.

If you play an instrument or have other artistic talents, you could try working the streets. Someone once told me that all you have to do is learn to sign and play 8 songs on the guitar and you can make some money playing on the road.

As every Peruvian pipe player (and his fifth cousin) knows, busking is fairly common in major European cities like Amsterdam, Madrid, and Paris, but is illegal in some parts of Switzerland and Austria; in Belgium and Germany, where it has been more or less tolerated in the past, crackdowns are not unknown. Most other countries require municipal permits that can be hard to obtain. Talk to other buskers first.

Selling goods on the street is generally frowned upon and can be tantamount to vagrancy, apart from at flea markets. It’s also a hard way to make money if you’re not selling something special. Most countries require permits for this sort of thing. It’s fairly common, though officially illegal, in the UK, Germany and Spain.


If your interests are more cerebral, you can enroll in courses in Europe on anything from language to alternative medicine. Language courses are available to foreigners through universities or private schools, and are justifiably popular since the best way to learn a language is to study in the country where it’s spoken. But you can also take courses in art, literature, architecture, drama, music, cooking, alternative energy, photography and organic farming, among other subjects. The best sources of information are the cultural institutes maintained by many European countries around the world; failing that, try their national tourist offices or embassies. Student exchange organizations, student travel agencies such as STA and Council Travel, and organizations like the YMCA/YWCA and Hostelling International (HI) can also put you on the right track. Ask about special holiday packages that include a course.

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