How to Work Full-Time in Your Gap Year (Without Damaging Your Career Prospects)

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Living and working abroad can be one of the best things a person can do, as it’ll require you to expand your horizons, learn new skills and to mature and become more independent as a person.

When taking a gap year (or any kind of year out from education/life), there are literally thousands of different things that you can do. Although it’s perhaps not as exciting or glamorous as traveling, working during your gap year can be a great thing to do, as it’ll demonstrate to future employers that you’re mature and independent, and because it can be a great opportunity for budding entrepreneurs looking to make their mark – not to mention the money you’ll earn while working.

Whether you decide to work at home or abroad and whether you work full-time, as a temp or as a freelancer there are countless options available to you.

Ultimately, there are lots of different ways that you can work during your gap year without damaging your career prospects, and on this page I’ll go into some of the ways that you can do so.

Remember that when you’re looking for work abroad, it’s important to be flexible, open-minded and enthusiastic. Your potential employers will be looking for people that can easily adapt to new ways of doing things and who can get on well with others.

Note that this guide is intended primarily for Europeans looking to work abroad, but many of the principles stated are universal.

Work Placements Abroad

In the USA work placements are known as internships, in the UK they’re called traineeships and in Europe they’re known as stages (making you a ‘staigaire’).

Working OverseasAs with domestic work placements, most foreign work placements will pay you a wage that should be enough to cover your living expenses and accommodation, with a little left over for traveling expenses (as because you’re in a foreign country they naturally assume you’ll want to explore a little).

To work overseas during your gap year (or at any time for that matter), you’ll need a work permit of a work visa (more on that later). Because of the popularity of working abroad, there’s now a whole industry created around helping people get the necessary permits/visas for working abroad and ‘sponsoring’ their work around the world.

For example, the British Universities North America Club (BUNAC) is one organization (among others) that offers Europeans various work placements in the USA. They agree to sort out your permit, make sure you’re eligible for work and handle all the paper work all for a small fee.

Working in the USA is a great way to spend 6-18 months, as future employers back home will naturally be impressed by your experiences there.

Note that with most internships you usually need to be studying a course of a similar nature to the internship you’re applying for.

You may also have to write a plan detailing exactly what you’re hoping to gain from your internship. This is a very important part of the application procedure, so make sure to put as much effort in as possible.

In addition to working in the United States, overseas work programs are also extremely popular in Australia, South America and Europe.

Most overseas traineeships in Europe require you to be fluent in the language of the country (if it isn’t English), but they’re definitely worth it if as they allow you to learn all about the culture and politics of another country and it’ll look really impressive on your CV.

Going Through Recruitment Agencies

As you probably well know, most jobs these days are managed via recruitment agencies who act as the middleman in the job market.

Most recruitment agencies specialize in a particular field – be it IT or engineering – and offer all kinds of jobs (both temporary and full-time) within that field.

Job recruitment agencies usually advertise themselves in local newspapers as well as online. If you’re arriving in a new area where you’ll be staying for a while, registering with several agencies (and letting them know what kind of work you’re after) is a good idea, although to do this you’ll need to have either a mobile phone or an email account that you check regularly.

Note that some recruitment/temp agencies may require you to come in, have an interview and complete an aptitude test (depending on the kinds of jobs you’re after). This is nothing to worry about, but be sure to act professional and to dress smartly as this will affect their opinion of you.

Freelance Work

Finding freelance jobs is another good way of working overseas, but beware that freelance jobs are HIGHLY competitive, so you’ll need to be sturdy and highly motivated to make it. Also be aware that in order to freelance (successfully, at least) you’ll need some kind of marketable skill to offer.

walking through a fieldThis could be writing, editing, web design, IT skills, photography, translating or anything that people will pay money for.

Becoming a journalist is the most popular path to freelancing, and a good story could earn you over $300 for 1000 words. If you’ve got a story/something interesting to write about buy no contacts to help you, don’t be afraid to call up the editor of a magazine/newspaper and pitch your story to them.

Note that editors get these kinds of calls all the time, so it’s nothing to be afraid of, and if they reject your first idea it doesn’t mean that they won’t like your next one.

Although journalism is the most popular way to freelance, it isn’t the only way. These days, freelance web designer and IT professionals can work from anywhere in the world (providing they have their laptop with them). If you have knowledge of web design or software engineering, check out, as thousands of jobs a day are posted on there for anyone to apply to.

You might also want to think about setting up your own website and have it list your skills and show examples of previous work while also showing your CV and contact details.

A few good website to check out are:

Getting Through the Red Tape

If you intend to find paid work abroad, you’re going to have to contend with wading through masses of red tape (far more than you would if you were simply visiting for a holiday). The reasons for this are that they need to make sure that you’re eligible to work there (i.e. you aren’t working illegally) and that you’ll pay taxes while you’re there.

Getting a Work Permit

If you intend on living and working overseas permanently or whether you just want to work abroad for a year during your gap year, you’ll need to get a work permit to do so.

If you’re part of the EU (European Union), working in other parts of the EEA (European Economic Area) is easy as getting a work permit is a mere formality. Saying that, most European countries require you to have some kind of medical insurance for you to work in their country, so make sure to look into that.

The USA, by contrast, is notoriously difficult to get into (if you’re looking to work). The best way of side-stepping the red tape is to sign up for an educational exchange program such as BUNAC.

Programs such as these will set up an internship for you and will allow you to work in America for anywhere between 6 and 18 months. The caveat is that to apply, you have to either be a university student or a graduate, or you have to have had at least two years work experience. In addition to this, a fee will be charged to process your application (usually around £65).

Getting a work permit in Japan, Australia and New Zealand is far easier, as they have special working holiday visas set up especially for tourists looking for jobs. This makes it easy find a short-term job as you’re passing through (so that you can fund your travels further).

Will You Have to Pay Taxes Abroad?

Every country in the world has their set of rules regarding income tax (i.e. the tax that you have to pay the state when you work in their country). If you work abroad, you will have to pay income tax, and you may need to register yourself to pay tax when you arrive in the country.

To find out about the specific tax laws of the country you’re planning on working in, type in ‘income tax’ followed by the name of the country you’re looking at working in to Google, and you should find all the information you need from that country’s official website.

Some countries have a ruling that states that you only have to pay tax if you’re earning over a certain amount. In the United Kingdom, for example, you can earn up to £7475 before you have to start paying tax on your income (that amount may change, but is true for the 2011-2012 tax year).

If you’re going to be working overseas for a year (or longer), it can be a good idea to declare yourself as a ‘non-resident’ of your country, as it’ll stop you from having to pay tax twice. This does not apply to every country, but is applicable for UK citizens.

Related posts:

  1. Finding Work Experience Placements During Your Gap Year
  2. When’s the Best Time to Take a Gap Year?
  3. Will a Gap Year Change Your Life?
  4. Gap Year Conservation Programs
  5. Fundraising for Your Gap Year

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  • Diane Siriani

    Great advice!