While a semester spent studying abroad in college is a well-known and coveted rite of passage for many college students, a truly driven high school student can also secure opportunities to travel and live in another country before graduation.
Opportunities to practice a foreign language in its native land, learn the skills of independent living and gain eye-opening cultural experiences can have a huge impact on your path to adulthood, and even on your future career.
There is a way to have it all: by securing summer employment abroad.
High school summer jobs abroad FAQs
Why not just get a summer job in the U.S.?
A meaningful travel experience at a young age can ignite unknown passions for new subjects, career paths, or simply a desire to travel even more.
Enjoying this kind of life-changing event before you finish high school can help you secure future travel opportunities, perhaps encouraging you to plan a gap year between high school and college.
You may decide to pursue a semester (or more) of collegiate study abroad, participate in an exchange program or even explore online high school options, where you can stay on track to complete your high school diploma with an accredited online school.
For some American high school students, completing their education through an online school has made the balance between academic success and a life filled with travel possible. K12 International Academy is one online high school available to students seeking this type of flexibility in education. At the very least, living and working abroad while still in high school should give you some great material for your college application essays!
What qualifications do I need to work abroad in high school?
Passports: Most travel outside of the United States will require a passport. For anyone under the age of 16, applying for a passport requires a few extra forms and signatures from your parents or legal guardian(s). This type of passport is only valid for five years and costs about $105. Applicants age 16 and 17 usually need to apply in person at a passport acceptance facility. However, the passport issued will still be valid for 10 years like adults over the age of 18.
The processing time it takes from application to receipt of a passport can vary. The standard turnaround time ranges from four to six weeks and costs $135. Expedited processing — door to door in two to three weeks — costs an additional $60.
The U.S. State Department’s passport information is pretty easy to navigate on their website and can help you anticipate costs, locate the appropriate forms, and follow recommended preparations using a travel checklist.
Work Visa: Eligibility for paid work in a foreign country generally requires both a passport and a work visa. There are several types of visas, like limited visas for charitable work, but most often, a paid position will require sponsorship from an employer. That means you’ll have to plan ahead and do some legwork to land a job before you land on foreign soil.
TEFL Certification: If you want to teach English abroad — paid or unpaid — you may want to check out a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification program. While certificates are offered by many universities and online institutions, the training itself is often tailored to where you intend to teach, making the origin of your certificate important to potential summer employers.
GoAbroad is one place to start looking into TEFL programs if you want this certification.
What are the differences in unpaid vs. paid summer jobs abroad for high school students?
Unpaid Summer Jobs: Unpaid job opportunities for high school students will be easier to come by and may not always require a work visa and sponsorship. Unpaid internships are still quite competitive because of the official sponsorship, but roles like teaching English as a foreign language are always increasing in demand.
If you’re big into history, consider something a bit off the beaten path, like an archaeological dig. You’ll spend your summer on an excavation site sifting through a ton of dirt, but learning loads about history and honing your excavation techniques.
Most volunteering mission trips require little to no experience or qualifications and can be easily organized by a type of agency. Though you will need to pay for travel expenses and will not earn any money, it is probably one of the easiest and most inexpensive opportunities for teen summer travel.
Paid Summer Jobs: Since paid opportunities almost always require a work visa and employer sponsorship, the competition for summer jobs abroad can be fierce! However, with advance preparation, you stand a better chance of securing employer sponsorship abroad for the summer. Some fee-based support agencies can help you find your footing with sponsorship and housing, and even special job application services (but not actual job placement).
Other paid job opportunities that are less competitive, but still require advanced planning and coordination with placement agencies, non-profits, or employment agencies, include:
- Au pair—Be forewarned, the demand for male au pairs is nearly nonexistent.
- Manual labor—Agricultural work lets you experience foreign culture in a way most people never do, even the locals.
- Theme parks—If you already speak the native language, theme parks can be great summertime employers and are open to hiring international students for the summer.
- Summer camps—Many countries have summer camps similar to the U.S. and will hire international students, especially at camps centered around learning and practicing English.
Any other pieces of advice?
- Get your required documents in order. Getting your fundamentals in order first will make the rest of planning easier. Follow this travel checklist from the U.S. State Department to make sure you have the basics covered so that your other efforts aren’t in vain.
- Organize your shelter/home/accommodations abroad. Whatever your plans are, you’ll likely need to play a role in securing a spot to sleep at night. Thinking through this part of the logistics first will help make your summer job planning much smoother. If you have family or friends who are permanent residents in another country, that’s a great starting point to begin your quest for a summer job. Couch-surfing for a summer can significantly reduce the cost of being away from home, and it also gives you a specific geographic region to focus your job search efforts. Alternately, there are agencies that in facilitating work experiences abroad. These services can include housing, although stopping short of job placement. Finding the right partner to help you sift through the bureaucratic morass of international relocation can be instrumental in making your summer job abroad dreams a reality.
- Rock your job applications. You’ll never get a summer job abroad if you don’t apply! Start by figuring out what shelter options are available to you, how long you want to be abroad, and what you can afford to pay for room and board (if anything). This will help you narrow the field of your job search and improve your odds of landing the dream summer job abroad.
Next steps on how to get a summer job abroad
Don't pack your GoPro juuuust yet. There are a few items on your teen travel abroad to do list you should check off first.
What type of work? Do you want to get paid in riches or in experience (or both?). Do you want to use your hands and play outside or master a language inside with new work friends. Figuring out the style of job you're after is paramount to a successful job hunt!
Choose from the best high school abroad programs. Pay attention to past participants’ reviews, program/university reputation, location, and your ease of getting credits. Some schools or providers may even provide contact info for student ambassadors or past international students if you want the REAL dirt. Here’s our guide to choosing between teen travel abroad programs.
Plan your finances. Sort out funding before you go to afford daily essentials and splurge in travel (in addition to program costs and airfare). Do your research to have an idea of how much your abroad program will cost. Be sure to check out high school travel scholarships too!
Talk to your guidance counselor. Getting all your ducks in a row is largely dependent on what your school requires, if anything. Talk to a travel abroad advisor or the equivalent at your school to see if there are more choices available to you.
You're ready for teen jobs abroad
From the veteran traveler to the junior globetrotter, travel often leaves one wanting more. Unfortunately the scheduling demands and workload of high school are a common hindrance to international travel for American students, but if you really need to break the mold, you can!
A fully accredited online high school can provide the flexibility and mobility required for teens to complete their high school education from anywhere in the world (with a good internet connection!). Schools like K12 International Academy offer challenging curriculum that will prepare you for the competitive college application process. You can bring high school along with you as you travel. Enjoy the trip!
This article is sponsored by K12 International Academy, a fully accredited, U.S. diploma-granting, private online school for grades K–12. All around the world, we help students learn in the ways that are right for them, nurturing a joy for learning and a passion to pursue their interests. Learn more at www.icademy.com.