Can I Work While Earning my Degree Abroad?

by Mary Ellen Dingley

You’ve been accepted into your dream school abroad! Congratulations! But, getting your degree abroad costs you a lot of cash – so you, might be thinking, do I buy a lottery ticket and hope for the best? Search for buried pirate treasure? Or, you know, more realistically, get a job? Working while studying is the norm in many places, so a part-time job could be just what you need. The question is, can you actually work while you’re an international student?

man filling out paperwork
Make sure to check the legality of working abroad as an international student, and try to keep up with any extra paperwork. 

Short answer:  it depends. Long answer: there are a lot of questions to consider, like...

1. Is it legal?

The laws about working while studying abroad vary and few countries let international students work more than part time. In some of the most common destinations for earning a degree abroad, work for international students is usually restricted to about 20 hours a week, but sometimes hours are counted by the year rather than the week. The restriction on hours is also often lifted during the holidays. Read the fine print on all of this very carefully! Do you need a sponsored work visa? Can you work with a specific type of student visa? These are all very important questions to have answered. Make sure you discuss it with your university and your potential employer to hammer out all the details and legalities.

Solution: Do some thorough research on this one! Double check that you have the correct type of visa with your consulate. If you’re unsure which consulate is closest to you, you can check with the GoAbroad Embassy Directory. Do NOT risk breaking the law and potentially violating your visa.

2. How hard is it to get a work visa?

If international students can work legally in your host country, how do you go about obtaining that coveted work visa? In some countries the right to work comes along with your student visa and is built in, but in others you need extra documentation or a separate visa entirely. The visa process is a long and tedious one, and a true curse to the less-than-detail-oriented and paperwork averse. Long stay visas, especially, can take months to get, so take that into consideration. You wouldn’t want to put in all of that effort only for your paperwork to come through when you’re walking across the stage to receive your diploma.

passport and customs form on a table
What’s the visa situation? Can you work on a student visa, or will you need a sponsored work visa? Be sure to check with your consulate.

Solution: The rule of thumb with visas is “the sooner, the better,” as previously stated, double check requirements and direct any questions to your host university and your embassy.

3. Can you manage your time well enough?

Studying for a degree is hard already – then add in the fact that you are abroad, dealing with culture shock and different academic expectations, and then trying to work a part-time job? That’s rough. If you pile on too much you’ll find yourself falling asleep in class, or blurting out your thesis when reading a customer’s order! Look at your class schedule and syllabi to do some self-examining and see if you are up for balancing all of that. And be serious with it – no you cannot cram in writing a full essay between shifts. Make sure you also have time for important things like exercise and sleep! It’s even easier to burn the candle at both ends while you’re immersing yourself in a new culture. Remember to take care of you!

Solution: Invest in a planner or become one with the Google calendar on your phone. Make a mock schedule for yourself to see if a job could fit in with everything else.

a busy moving walkway in an airport terminal
If you have plans to travel on the weekends/during holidays, how will working factor in?

4. Will you get to travel?

Getting a degree abroad isn’t just about the degree, it’s about the being abroad part as well. If you’re working a job you would have more cash, but would you be able to get time off to explore your new home? If you don’t, is that something you will regret later? If you need a job, then sacrifices have to be made. But, perhaps you could make it work with some remote work (like freelance writing) so you could still travel. It wouldn’t be much fun to come home from a year abroad having only seen the inside of your university library and your workplace.

Solution: Remember that planner we just talked about? Schedule in the weekend trips you want to take and see if it works– be honest about what you can and can’t handle.

5. What jobs are available?

Depending on where you study, available work might not be super plentiful. Do they have on-campus jobs available? Do they have flexible hours? Or, better yet, jobs you can do while studying (ahem, ever heard of a little thing called work-study)? Get on that library reference desk job! It’s a hot commodity. Sometimes we all have to work terrible jobs just to have enough money to get through, but if possible, find a job that doesn’t stress you out – earning your degree (anywhere) is already stressful enough!

Solution: See what sort of jobs previous students have worked to get a sense of what is available. Expat forums and social media groups are also great places to dig around for hot leads on job openings abroad.

young man sitting working furiously at a desk
Can you balance your time between work, play, AND school?

6. Will the pay be worth it?

If you’re taking hours out of your study schedule and just making pennies, working while earning your degree may not be worth it. You don’t want to earn a B when you could have gotten an A if you didn’t have to do night shifts at the cafe! But, if the cafe is what is keeping you out of debt or keeping food on the table, then maybe the B is worth it. This takes a lot of weighing the situation carefully – how much do you need the money? Will the pay make a dent in those needs?

Solution: Ask around about normal pay for part-time student work. You should also research cost of living indexes before you go abroad to start a nice budget projection and get to saving or fundraising!

7. Will this job give you more than money?

Sometimes we just need a job– any job –to make ends meet. But, if you aren’t too desperate for funds, or have a lot of options available, try to find the job that will give you more than cash— a job that can give you connections, useful experience, or a further immersion in your new home. A paid internship in your field would be ideal! Those tend to be “white whale” dream scenarios, so even just a job in a local shop where you interact with lots of people could sharpen your language skills. Or, maybe a job in a kitchen would help build your dream side hustle of catering one day!

stack of euros
Yes, you gotta make that paper, but you also gotta earn that paper (we’re talking about a degree here, folks).

In the end, working while earning your degree abroad entirely depends on your situation, what you need, and of course, the laws of the country where you’re studying. Don’t forget those! Weigh your options carefully and make sure to leave yourself a little breathing room. Burnout is no man (or woman’s) friend. We all want extra pocket money, but school will always come first. Remember this and plan accordingly.

If you’re ready to start your adventure RIGHT NOW, log in to myGoAbroad and start saving and comparing programs today!