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The Two Main Types of Visa to Work Abroad

With so many visa programs available across different countries, navigating through them can get a little daunting. Practically speaking however, there are actually only two main types of visa: one that requires employer sponsorship and another that doesn’t.


Note: This article uses the term “visa” and “permit” interchangeably, as different countries around the world use either term exclusively, although sometimes interchangeably.

1. Employer-Sponsored Work Visa (Closed Work Permit)

A closed work permit is a type of work visa that requires a job offer or a pre-arranged employment. This type of work visa is typically offered by most countries around the world. However, it can be quite difficult to obtain an employer-sponsored work visa, unless you have a certain skill set or experience that is in-demand and hard to come by locally.

From a company perspective, there are several reasons as to why it can be quite difficult to employ workers using this type of work permit:

  • The company would need to support your visa application process, including possibly paying for it, and they would also have to perform some extent of legal and reporting requirements to the government

  • Even if the company agrees to sponsor you for a work visa, the government may not approve it if certain requirements are not met or it is deemed that the occupation you are being sponsored for is not something that is in-demand and/or can be filled locally

  • The company would have to determine that the risk of you being let go (if it comes to it) outweighs the risk of moving you over from another country. Think of it this way: Sometimes a company would be hesitant to employ someone from a different city, province, or state even if they are located in the same country. This is because if the employment requires a prospective employee to move to a different location, and if the employment does not work out somehow, the company risks being painted in a somewhat unfavourable light and the employee would be left outmaneuvered after moving their life over for a job that eventually did not work out.

All of the above reasons would not applicable if an employer were to hire someone locally, which is why unless you have a skill set or experience that is somewhat uncommon, in-demand, and hard to find in a local talent pool, or unless you are already employed in a multinational company that offers its employees overseas employment opportunities, it can be difficult to obtain this type of work visa.

Regardless, it’s useful to keep in mind that skills that defined as “in-demand” varies from one country to another. Whatever your occupation is, be it an electrician, a software engineer, a chef, a construction worker—it may be in demand in one country but not in another, so if you really want to experience working abroad, sometimes you may have more options that you realize. Schools in Asia often sponsor work visas for English-teaching positions for citizens from certain countries provided that they hold a Bachelor’s Degree in any field.

2. Open Work Permit

An open work permit is a type of work permit that does not require a job offer or pre-arranged employment. This means that as long as you have such a work permit, you can enter the country before having to find any kind of employment. Having an open work permit makes it easier for employers to hire you, as they do not need to complete any additional formalities or reporting to the government regarding your employment. Additionally, as an employee with an open work permit, you have the power to change between employers if you are in a job that you are unhappy about without having to risk leaving the country.

Admittedly, not many countries around the world offer such a permit, and those that do, usually impose conditions that must first be met. Here are two of the most common open work permit programs that are only offered by a handful of countries around the world:

Working Holiday Visa

The easiest way way to obtain an open work permit is through a working holiday visa. This is a type of work visa that entitles its holder to work in a certain country up to one or two years. To apply for this visa, applicants will typically need to be between the ages of 18–30 (or in some cases, 18–25 or 18–35). Applicants may also have to go through some form of medical and background check, as well as demonstrate financial liquidity of several thousand US dollars (or its equivalent in Canadian Dollars, Euro, Yen, Won, etc.) in their bank account.

Most working holiday visas do impose certain conditions, such as the total number of hours that can be worked in a given period and occupations and that cannot be done under the visa. As an open work permit, one main benefit of this visa is that you typically do not need to have any pre-arranged employment with any company.

Note that not all countries in the world offer a working holiday visa, and those that do limit the program to certain nationalities only. Simply put, not all citizens in countries around the world have the privilege for a working holiday visa.

Post-Graduation Work Permit

In some countries that accept international students, post-graduation work permits are available for recent international graduates provided they meet certain criteria. This permit typically allows graduates to work for any employer they want. It is usually valid for a certain number of years and it is typically not renewable.

If you were to think about it, a post-graduation work permit is actually pretty expensive to obtain, both in terms of time and money. First of all, you would have to spend a number of months or years usually, to complete a study program. These are years where you are not being financially productive and on top of that, you would have to pay for tuition and living expenses as well.

Permanent Residency and Citizenship

Permanent residencies and citizenships are not work visas, however, possessing them will allow you to work in an unrestricted manner in the country that you are thinking of moving into.

If you are considering to move abroad on a more permanent basis, you may want to do some research on whether it is possible to obtain permanent residency in your target country based on your current occupation, salary, net worth, or family size. It is also possible to obtain some citizenships by investment or by proving your descent.

Over and Out

Every country has its own visa programs, but generally, most of them would fall under either one of the two work visa classifications outlined above. Also, depending on your residency or nationality, you may already have the right to live and work in another country. The most common example is that citizens in the European Union / European Economic Area / Switzerland have the right to live and work in another country within this region. Australian citizens and permanent residents can live and work in New Zealand without needing a visa, and New Zealand citizens can also live and work in Australia without a visa.


Hi, I'm Ryan.

Over the past 10 years, I've lived & worked in 5 cities across 3 countries.

I like helping others to move abroad, and helping them to decide whether they should.

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