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Getting Work Permits & Visas

As a volunteer abroad, a visa or work permit is just part of the process. The last thing you want to do as a volunteer abroad is find yourself in a foreign country illegally! While most U.S., U.K., Canadian and Australian citizens are free to stay and volunteer as tourists in most countries, staying for longer than 90 days will require a bit more effort.

Most consulates have a process for obtaining a work or temporary residence visa for stays of 6-12 months or more, and some even have forms specifically for people looking to work as volunteers.

How to Get Work Permits and Visas to Volunteer

As a general rule, to enter any country, regardless of the type of visa you are planning to obtain, you will have to:

  • Have a passport valid for 6-18 months after you enter the host country. If your passport is set to expire before then, you must make plans to have it renewed at your embassy.
  • Show proof of a return ticket to your home country and/or proof of financial solvency (this can mean any amount of money from $400 to $5000, depending on length of stay and cost of living in your host country).
  • Pay a fee. Many South American countries have "reciprocity fees" which are paid by anyone entering the country once, and which lasts for the life of your passport. In addition, visa processing fees can reach as much as $300 U.S. Most African countries charge fees in the airport to buy tourist visas.

Visa Information by Country

Below are a list of general requirements for the countries highlighted in this article, but before embarking on any volunteer adventure you should consult the local consulate within your home country to determine if you will need a special visa, the length of time the process typically takes, and if you need any documentation from your home country (such as a criminal background check) if you plan on obtaining the visa from within the host country.

Did you Know? It's a good idea to add pages to you passport if you are going to do a lot of traveling - some countries won't issue a visa without the correct number of blank pages!

Most of the time, host organization will advise you on the steps to take with obtain a visa. Long term (more than one year) volunteers will likely need work or temporary residence visas. These visas typically require a signed contract with your host organization and/or a letter describing the work you will be performing and/or proof of residency within the host country. Use the links provided for up-to-date information about visa and work permits costs.

Latin America Work Permits and Visas

  • Mexico Work Visas: Visitors can stay in the country for up to 90 days with no visa. Volunteers for longer stays must visit the consulate to obtain a "non-profitable activities" visa for stays of up to 1 year.
  • Costa Rica Visas: Visitors can stay for up to 90 days with no visa. Volunteers for longer stays can either leave the country and return to extend their visa for an additional 90 days, or file and extension with the Immigration Department.
  • Belize Visas: Visitors can stay for up to 30 days without obtaining a visa. This period can be extended to 6 months (in 30 day increments) by visiting the Immigration Office. For longer stays you can leave Belize and re-enter to begin a new process for an additional 6 months. There are work permits available as well, but they have strict regulations.
  • Panama Tourist Cards: Visitors obtain a tourist card valid for 90 days upon entering the country, which can be extended for an additional 90 days by the Immigration Office. Contact your local consulate for more information, as Panama has complicated long-term visa requirements due to the high expatriate presence along the canal.
  • Peru: Visitors can stay for up to 90 days without a visa. All visitors pay to enter the country. Thirty-day extensions cost can be requested 3 times.
  • Chile Tourist Cards: Visitors can stay for up to 90 days with a tourist card issued at the time of entrance. This can be extended once by visiting the International Police, or by exiting and re-entering the country. All visitors pay a reciprocity fee, valid until their passport expires. Temporary residence visas can be obtained by visiting the Immigration Office, take about 60 days to process. You will have to show proof of residence, income (or money in the bank to cover plane far home), and some sort of voluntary or work activity.
  • Argentina Work Visas: Visitors can stay for up to 90 days with a tourist visa issued at the time of entrance. This can be renewed for an additional 90 days by exiting and re-entering the country. There are two types of work visas (one for foreign host organizations and one for domestic host organizations) which are obtained from the National Directorate of Migration.
  • Brazil Visas: All visitors to Brazil must obtain a 90-day tourist visa in advance and pay a tax. Two year Temporary-V visas are available for long-term stays. It is recommended that you contact your local Brazilian consulate for the most up-to-date information about the Brazilian visa process.

Africa Visas and Permits

  • South Africa Visas: Most visitors can enter the country for 90 days without a visa. Fees vary depending on circumstances and length of stay. Longer stays require a temporary residence visa, which must be obtained with the support of your embassy within South Africa.
  • Kenya Visas: A visa must be obtained in advance in order to travel to Kenya. Please contact your nearest Kenyan embassy for more information. It is advised that you contact the embassy no less than 3 months before your planned departure. Visas typically last for 90 days and costs $50 U.S.
  • Namibia: Most visitors can enter the country for 90 days without a visa, and can extend their stay for an additional 90 days by contacting the Ministry of Home Affairs within Namibia. Longer stays require consular assistance. Please contact the Namibian consulate before you leave your home country if you plan to stay longer than 180 days.
  • Tanzania Work Permits: While it is possible to enter the country without obtaining a visa in advance, it is highly recommended that you visit your Tanzanian consulate to obtain a visa before travel. Visas are valid for 90 days. Extensions for an additional 90 days are sometimes made, but it is best to determine your length of stay before travel and process your visa accordingly, as temporary residence and work permits are complicated and expensive to obtain.
  • Uganda Visas: Tourist visas must be purchased in advance for stays between 90 - 180 days. You can purchase a visa at the Ugandan consulate or in the airport when you arrive. Visas require proof of yellow fever immunization. Business visas are more expensive, require a letter describing the type of work to be done, and last up to 1 year.
  • Zambia Visas: Visitors working for NGOs in Zambia pay an entrance fee upon arrival and receive a multiple entry visa valid for three years. You must have proof of work from your host organization to obtain your visa.

Asia Visas and Work Permits

  • India Work Visas: Tourist visas (valid for up to 6 months) must be obtained in advance from Indian embassies or consulates in your home country. Visas vary by number of entries (if you are planning on traveling out of country during your stay, you must request a multiple entry visa). Visas can be extended by mail with the Ministry of Home Affairs once in India. Fees vary based on number of entries and home country. Consulates can help you obtain a work visa for stays longer than six months.
  • Nepal Visas: Visitors can enter Nepal with a tourist visa (purchased at the airport or other port of entry) valid for 90 days, which can be extended for no more than 150 days. However, the guidelines in Nepal for tourists are strict, and although they are not paid, Nepalese officials may consider them "workers" for visa purposes. It is best to contact the Nepalese consulate in your home country to assist you in obtaining the appropriate visa.

With your work visa or travel permit taken care of, you can take the next step in preparing for your volunteer abroad adventure by visiting some useful online resources for overseas volunteers in the next sections.

Quick Summary:

  • Tourist visas can range in price from $0 to $300.
  • Many countries have "special relationships" with neighboring nations or politically allies that make it easier for citizens to travel between them.
  • Most visas and work permits should be taken care of in advance; some visas will be less expensive once you are in-country, but you run the risk of not being approved.