Gap Year Visas

Sorting out your gap year visa is essential before heading off on your adventures abroad.

Although you may not want to think about it once you’ve decided on where you’re going and what you’re doing for your gap year, at some point you will have to consider the legal side of your trip and investigate the visas you need.

It’s a good idea to complete the paperwork for this as soon as possible, as this can take weeks and you may have to visit the country’s embassy in the UK.

So save yourself the stress and read on to obtain the correct visas and permits before you go.

What is a visa?

A visa is a document that allows you to enter a particular country.

It usually states the reason for your trip (e.g. travelling, working) and the length of time you can spend there.

The requirements for obtaining a visa vary depending on your nationality and the country you wish to visit.

Check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for details of world-wide visa requirements for UK citizens.

Non-UK nationalities should consult their government travel advice department online for visa advice, or use this FCO tool or the Delta tool to find out whether a visa is necessary.

Types of visa for your gap year

The type of visa you need to apply for depends on exactly what you will be doing during your gap year.

If you are learning a language in one country, then heading off to do paid work in another, visa requirements will be more complex than if you are just travelling around several different countries.

We’ve put together a brief guide on gap year visas to give you an idea of the visa(s) you may need, although ultimately we recommend you contact the embassy for each country to check their visa requirements.

If you have booked a placement through a gap year agency, they will certainly be able to help you with arranging your visas, and if you’re still uncertain you can ask agencies who specialise in visa applications to sort things out for you.

1. Tourist visa

If you are just travelling and not working, then you will only need to apply for a tourist visa for each country you are visiting.

This allows you a limited period of leisure travel, with most visas allowing you to stay for up to 90 days.

There are certain conditions you will have to meet, though generally this type of visa is less complicated to apply for than most others.

If you are a British citizen, you do not need a visa to travel to European Union destinations.

2. Working holiday visa

This visa allows you to work a country for a set amount of time for the purpose of supplementing your travel funds.

A working holiday visa is a great option if you want to combine part-time work with travelling, although they are not available to British citizens for all countries, e.g. you can not get a working holiday visa for Chile. 

It is generally offered for a period of 2 years, although some are only valid for up to 1 year.

Other restrictions include being 18-30 years old and having sufficient funds to live on whilst seeking employment, e.g. a minimum of £2,000 for an Australia working holiday visa.

Working holiday visas are necessary for British citizens who wish to work temporarily in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. British citizens also need a working visa, or work permit, to work in the USA.

The application procedure for this kind of visa can be quite complex due to the large number of working visas offered by some countries, determined by the sort of work you will be doing.

It is recommended that you contact a company to help you obtain a working holiday visa, so they can take you through all the intricacies and produce a successful application.

Alternatively, you can get in touch with a sponsoring agency who will help you find a job overseas, as well as sorting out your visa for you.

3. Student visa

This visa gives you permission to study in a particular country for a set period of time.

You have to be formally enrolled on a course at an academic institution, such as a college, university or language school, to be eligible.

Some student visas entitle you to work part time, although the number of hours you can work per week is usually limited, e.g. 20 hours a week during term-time, 40 hours a week during holidays.

The visa may be issued for the whole duration of your course, or for specific monthly or yearly intervals.

4. Au pair visa

If you enjoy being around children and wish to work abroad as an au pair, you will need to look into getting an au pair visa for your host country.

For most au pair visas it is required that you are not married, have no dependents, and can support and accommodate yourself without any help from public funds.

This type of visa is generally issued for a maximum of 2 years.

5. Voluntary work visa

A lot of countries require you to have a voluntary work visa if you are undertaking a volunteer project.

To obtain one of these, you must show that:

  • The work is completely voluntary
  • The activity is for an approved organisation or registered charity within the host country
  • You have arrangements to stay in the country without support from public funds, and 
  • That you intend to leave the country upon completion of your project.

It is likely you will also be asked to produce proof of your association to a particular volunteer programme or charity, as well as a recommendation or reference from a member of the host organisation.

Gap year visa checklist

Once you’ve found out which visa(s) you need to apply for, it’s important to  make sure they are valid for all your gap year plans.

Check the following when making your application(s):

  • How long the visa is valid for – check it sufficiently covers the amount of time you will be in the country, and that you won’t be re-entering the country after it’s expired.
  • Whether it allows multiple entries before it runs out, as this could effect your plans if you are travelling to several destinations.
  • Whether you can just purchase a visa on arrival or you have to apply in advance. Be wary of applying for your visa too early, as some begin from their date of issue. If not, apply as early as you can!
  • Waiting times – you may have to wait up to 6 weeks to obtain a working visa, so if you need this particular visa, make sure to apply in plenty of time. Do not leave it too late, or it may not arrive in time!
  • Some countries ask that you have a blank page in your passport for their visa stamp, so make sure you have at least a few spare spaces.

Further information

For more tips and advice on planning your gap year travels, please see: