You’re Under Arrest!

“Dear ISR, I’m about to embark on my first international teaching assignment and I’ve noticed lately on the news there’s a fair amount of overseas travelers who get arrested for one reason or another. My family is starting to obsess on the dangers of living outside the U.S. and the possibility of getting entangled with local authorities. Has anyone at ISR had any experience with this? I think my family, and myself for that matter, would feel a whole lot better hearing from teachers who spent some solid time overseas and can offer advice.

“From what I’ve read on ISR it looks like some schools cannot be depended on. Geez, in one situation the director actually departed for summer vacation and left this poor teacher to fend for herself against serious allegations. But really, what clout would the director of an “American” school have with local authorities anyway? I did read about another situation where an influential parent was able to get a teacher (who was arrested for driving with an expired international license) out of jail.

One reason I’m especially nervous about all this is because my new school is telling me  to come on a tourist visa and they’ll get me a work visa once I’m there. Is this normal? Can  I be arrested for working without a work visa? As you can see, I can use some advice!”

61 Responses to You’re Under Arrest!

  1. Be VERY, VERY careful when going to ANY Islamic & ESPECIALLY Asian countries! I have lived and worked in the Philippines & Shitty Thailand and had some minor run ins with the traffic police in the Philippines & a VERY major run in in Thailand which got me arrested and thrown in prison for six weeks! Wait until you hear what for!

    In the Philippines, I was pulled over by a traffic cop for “allegedly” making an illegal U-turn. Here’s the kicker – I was in the same lane (left lane) in line with about 3 other cars in front of me and another one behind me all making the same U-Turn, but when the cop saw me that I was a foreigner, he pulled me over. I showed him the sign that specifically said U-Turn allowed, but he said it didn’t matter! WOW! He wanted me to make a “contribution” to the “police fund” and when I did, he let me go! Another (minor) incident I had was when I was driving a car came very dangerously close to hitting me on the passenger side so I swerved out of the way to avoid a major accident. About a half mile up the road, I get pulled over for speeding! I explained to the cop what had happened and after arguing with them for 45 minutes and them not speaking English too well, they finally let me go!

    In shitty corrupt Thailand, it was MUCH worse! I had just arrived in Thailand and was in Bangkok when a cop pulls me over for no reason and tells me I should pee in a cup! (I had to have everything he was telling me interpreted from a local who spoke English). He held me there for OVER 8 hours for absolutely no reason. After I started to complain that he either arrest me or I will call the US embassy, he finally let me go.

    Now, here comes the unbelievable part! Some time later (about a year later) I was arrested for “allegedly” posting a naked picture of myself on the computer! On the way to the police station, the corrupt cops had this scumbag interpreter from Austria who informed me that they wanted $10,000 USD and they would let me go! To make a long story short, I was put into prison with murders, rapists, child abusers, robbers, etc for six weeks! Here’s the clincher…One day one of the prison guards comes to the unit I was in and tells one of the local people that I am free to go, -Yes, just like that!

    ALL charges were mysteriously dropped as if nothing ever happened!! WTF!! I told them I was innocent from the start but the corrupt cops didn’t listen and all they wanted was for me to pay them off! I had a friend of mine thrown in prison for writing a blog against the king! Yes, you read that right! If you are caught stepping on ANY money in shitty Thailand, EVEN if it was only an accident, you can and will be thrown in prison for up to 5 years!! STAY away from the Asian countries!! They are VERY corrupt!

    Lastly, if you think your so called embassy will help you, you better think again! If you are from Australia, the UK, & ESPECIALLY the US, your embassies will do absolutely nothing to help you! I told a very good friend of mine what had happened right before I left and she started to cry! She said that she was ashamed that her counter was so corrupt and that she knew I never did anything wrong. She apologized to me for the way the police treated me. I told her it was not her fault that all of that had happened to me. She was one of the nicest (and honest) people I met there. Anyway, another reason you have to be VERY careful in Asian countries if you are a man is because in many of the Asian countries, foreign men, ESPECIALLY American men are considered a highly sought after commodity and looked upon as having high status much like having a BMW or a Mercedes in the states. However, and unfortunately, many of the women are ONLY after one thing, you’re money! You also have NO legal recourse either! So, good luck with that!

    For me personally, I would NEVER want to teach or contribute in any way shape or form to a country that tortures and brutally murders dogs (and other animals) for their fur and for their meat! Korea, China, Thailand, and some parts of the Philippines (N. Luzon area) are the worst known countries for that! To this day, I still can’t believe all the horror and bull shit I went through and it will haunt me for the rest of my life! 😦


  2. Anonymous says:

    I worked in Venezuela and it took four years to get the proper work visas. Our school covered the cost of leaving and returning to the country. Otherwise, I would not work at a school which didn’t cover the costs for me to work there. This would already raise alerts for me as a second rate school.

    This was strictly due to their governmental issues. However, once I had the proper papers, local authorities told me I needed something else. Basically people are looking for a bribe or kick back. Hand them 20 bucks and they usually go about their business. If that doesn’t work, I typically speak in English if they don’t and they usually let me go in frustration because they have no idea what I’m saying. “No fumar Espanol” usually gets a laugh and a harsh scolding, but it does work.


  3. eslkevin says:

    Rules and countries.

    You will never know everything you need to know when you arrive, but ask around before and after. Also, know who to go to for assistance before you need to. For example, is it the company or school who needs to know or should they be the last to know.

    Also, as mentioned above you will not know all the rules and may get in trouble no-matter-what, but that could happen in the USA while walking-while-colored.

    Another example of a legal issue I happened upon in Japan when pedaling my bike is this vignette. I mistakenly pulled out in front of a vehicle on a narrow road. The vehicle halted but hit my bike and me at a low-speed.

    Someone–neither I nor the driver–called an ambulance. I refused to go with the ambulance and eventually road home. Later, a few days later, I was called in to the school office to meet with police because in Japan you are not to call an ambulance and then walk away. A report needed to be made.

    Luckily, my high school bailed me out. However, a teacher is highly respected in Japan and should not be seen having to be called in by the police if he can avoid it. It has to do with his roll in society.


  4. sandy says:

    Actually, you know it would be really helpful, if you gave us the name of the country you are going to and and I am sure there would be plenty of teachers who could give you accurate, helpful advice not only on visas but on other things too.


  5. Been there.... says:

    “I did hear of one teacher who only found out when she was leaving, that she had no work permit.” I guess general intelligence isn’t a requirement to teach any more. Seriously, how could anyone not know?”

    Easy! If all the documents are in a language you can’t read and if you have a nice official work visa card and numerous stamps in your passport all arranged by the school, you think you are OK. At least I did the first year, when upon leaving at the end of the year, an immigration official spoke sufficient English to tell me the school had not renewed my visa properly. He initially was going to make a fuss, then guessing he liked my face, said he would just keep the ID card. Pity, it was a nice photograph done by a professional photographer at the school’s expense and I’d wanted to keep it as a souvenir.


  6. Hi Derek,

    We removed your comments because they are not consistent with the theme of the blog. We invite you to post to our blogs but please stay on topic.


    Michelle @ ISR



  7. Anonymous says:

    I agree with T. We worked at 4 different schools (2 in the ME) and always came on work visas. Maybe things are different, but I would not want to be breaking the laws of the country upon entering and would wonder about a school that wanted me to. Perhaps the school has a “deal” going with some authority to apply after you are there and begin work. Just sayin’.


  8. T says:

    If you are going to a school in the Middle East I would be very leary of going on a visitor’s visa. It will mean that you have to leave the country periodically to have it renewed – and that will probably be at your own expense. Until you have a work visa and your residency you will not be able to use many of the “benefits” that your school has promised you. You will have little or no legal standing and will be at the mercy of your school and I hate to say it, but they really have no scrupples. I taught in the Middle East for 13 years and never found a school that didn’t find a way to by-pass the labor laws to screw employees out of monies owed.

    As for being arrested in the Middle East – yeah, it can happen. Can the school help you? If the owners of the school like you and they have enough “wastah,” which they ususally do, they can – ah, but will they? If you are female you are less likely to be arrested (unless you have done something truely heinous) and more likely to be propositioned.


  9. DonW says:

    Probably you will have to leave the country as your tourist visa expires — perhaps go to the nearest next country — and come back in with a work visa prepared for you — or another tourist visa.

    Teaching with a tourist visa is iffy, very iffy in some countries.

    If the school cannot provide a work visa in a timely manner, you probably do not want to be there.

    But being without a work visa can be a problem — and I would not chance it. It took $8000 to get our daughter out of a Mid-East country in fines and accommodation fees — her tourist visa had expired and no work visa had been forthcoming. The school turned out to be of no help at all.

    Good luck. Twenty year overseas veteran teacher


  10. anon says:

    Do not do this is Saudi Arabia. You will not be able to get a phone, buy a car, or bring your family over. Everything depends upon you having an Iqama- otherwise you are illegal effectively and cannot do most things that you wll require.
    I agree with other posters. the chance of anything going wrong is no more than anywhere else IF you follow the rules. If in situation ( with parents in some ME school ) where you have upset influetial people – very rare- then just get out quickly ( exit visa needs processing) as long as school is a good one you will be fine. Enjoy it! Doing our stint abroad was one of the best experinces both financially and travel wise of our lives.


    • Been there.... says:

      Right you are anon. The company that brought me over to KSA issued mostly “work visit visas” (i.e. 3 month temp. visas) and we ran into all the problems you detailed. Of course they lied and told us we could open bank accounts, etc. I only went for it because getting an iqama was such an ordeal and I did not plan on staying long.


  11. Anonymous says:

    It amused me that people from the USA should be worried about being arrested when abroad. I am from the Uk and when I worked in USA (when I was a student on a J-2 visa) I found the police very oppressive and likely to arrest you for things that the British police would not.


  12. rachel says:

    Entering countries on a tourist visa is totally normally in some countries such as Angola. You should ask to speak to an existing member of staff at your new school.


  13. Alan Tin-Win says:

    Have taught for 40+ years in 5 countries on 4 continents. There is a difference between working on a tourist visa (not good) & entering on a tourist visa (fairly common). When entering the country, make sure you carry your signed contract with you just in case – I was once travelling to my next assignment on a one way ticket – on transfer at Amsterdam, KLM would not let me travel onwards without visa (did not need a visa with UK passport). Had to buy another return ticket for wife & self again at huge cost – later refunded, lost US$ 200 on deal. Luckily had cards to pay for tickets. Good luck, and enjoy the people and culture, sights and food. I have enjoyed teaching abroad and hope you will too. “Success is a journey, not a destination”.


  14. Howie says:

    I would echo what Scotsman in Arabia said – when it comes to immigration or customs – just be honest. In Macau, immigration doesn’t ask any questions about anyone, ever. It’s just based on the passport and when the last time you were in the country.


  15. Anonymous says:

    Arriving on a tourist visa is usually fine, just make sure that you leave or renew BEFORE any visa (work or tourist) expires. Never be negative about your host country, do not make debt that you are unable to pay and respect the country in general and do not become involved in local politics. You are a guest and the same laws that are valid at home may not be valid here. In many countries a white face helps, but also remember that your home country may not be as liked as you think and locals may actually resent comments coming from you. Use your common sense and you’ll be fine.


  16. Scotsman in Arabia says:

    I seem to be the opposite of everyone here. Ive taught in five countries (inclusing latin america where a work visa WAS processed before departure) and only once was I asked to come on a tourist visa and that was because it was late september when I was hired.
    Some of the advice on here is really stupid in my opinion – There is no dount under the law of almost all countries that going there and working, even a day, on a tourist visa is totally illegal. I have a policy of deciding if immigration ask when I arrive to tell the truth about why Im there and take the letter of offer in hand luggage and hand it over if asked. I did this in a middle eastern country and the officer said what the school did was not the correct way, but because I had been honest, he believed I was going to process the work visa and let me in – There were no problems at all. To those saying just say youre on a long term visit, this is the kind of stupid thing that does get you jailed and in some cases, in locked up abroad style.


  17. Anonymous says:

    hi guys countries are as varried as you have stated ask for specific reviews from specific countries in tanzania just make sure you are going to a reputable school they will sort out your visa once you are in the country, it some times takes over a year depending on where you are coming from and which school you are going to work for, just make sure you keep change in your pocket at all times may be a $ 5 would do


  18. Joe C says:

    Reiterating some of what others said, it is not always a big deal. My first school many years ago (long before 9/11) processed the work visa when I arrived. I didn’t even need a visa to enter the country and only a passport because I was staying long term. The rules changed and are always changing. All the schools were honest with me and told me ahead of time whether I needed the work visa before entering the country or not. My current school tells it straight up in the new teacher packet that we enter on a tourist visa (paid by the school rep meeting us at the airport) and the work permit process can take several months. (It actually took 3 months for me, longer for others.) As you are reading on here, it does seem to be the norm nowadays for the school to have you enter on a tourist visa. As for police problems, I would say that the majority of people who teach overseas have no run-ins with the police at all. I got stopped by the police many years ago for going the wrong way on a one way street, which was my fault. I paid a $10 bribe and learned to read the road signs better. I am sure you will be fine with the new post and congratulations on starting this new and exciting experience.


  19. May says:

    If you decide to take a post in a foreign country, you can not expect this country to work the same as Europe or America. Yes Africa, Asia, South America… have its risks in terms of legal security but I would say they are minimal. In England, usa or Australia, you have other risks too. Yes, bad arrests do happen, but very occasionally, you can be unlucky, like you can be in your own country. There is not point in traveling if you expect everything to work the same as in your country. The nice and interesting people/ experiences you will go through while you work abroad are bigger than the risks, if you have a positive mind and enjoy traveling and discovering new cultures. Yes, the police is corrupted, the hospitals decrepit, people are poor, roads are unpaved, those are the things you will find in most countries in Africa, Asia or South america, but then again, don’t bother going if you expect to find England or America in those countries.


  20. Anonymous says:

    I have worked in two different countries (Spain and Russia)and have teaching friends all over the world. Basically, and I think this is borne out by the posts, each situation is different. For example, if you are going to Western Europe and don’t have your visa yet, it is usually no problem depending on where you are from. It is quite typical for you to apply for the work visa and not get it prior to leaving because they take so long and the hiring fairs can be quite late. The school often sends you back to collect it when it is done. In some countries, it is more problematic. I would look at where you are going, the relationship between the two countries (can you enter normally with no visa in your passport for 3 months or so?) and use that as your indicator. So I entered Spain and worked for 4 months n a tourist visa but my Russian visa had to be processed prior to entering.
    As for getting arrested, I would say that the premise is “don´t be stupid”. In many countries, you will need to have some cash in your car in case you are pulled over. Stay away from demonstrations, carry your paperwork, and obey the law. then you most likely won’t have problems.


  21. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know were you are going but you won’t get arrested in most places unless you break the law.
    Arriving with a tourist visa and applying for a work permit is perfectly legal in some counties and we have done it twice. You need to check on the law in the place you are going to if you are worried.


  22. At it for awhile says:

    I’ve learned through experience that entering on a tourist visa is the more the rule than the exception, and it’s typically not an issue of bad business practices, just local politics. Is this legal? Ethical? That’s not relevant. As Rob said, things are different when you go to another country. I believe that if schools had the choice, they’d bring in all their new teachers on a legit work visa, but that’s simply not an option everywhere.

    Given that this is the case, I think schools owe it to their new hires to manage expectations early on, before the contract is signed, especially those teachers who like the original poster are green to the international game. Otherwise, a school has the problem of a bunch of new teachers freaking out, thinking they’ll go to jail the first time they try to fly out of the country. Or they say the wrong thing at customs and gum up the works further. Or they get paranoid about “what else is the school hiding from us?” and start spreading a lot of unnecessary, untrue gossip.

    All this can be avoided if the school just puts it all on the table before the teacher starts packing: “You’ll enter on a tourist visa. This is normal. You’ll receive your work visa in ‘x’ months. If you don’t feel comfortable about this, here are some teachers at our school you can contact, they’ll set you straight. If you’re still not okay with it, maybe consider another country.”


  23. happy traveller says:

    Work Visa-
    Ask to talk to other teachers already at the school. Once you can talk to other teachers you can find out if there are significant problems with entering on a tourist visa. In some countries everyone first enters on a tourist visa while in other countries everyone enters with their work visa. If you are being asked to enter on a tourist visa be sure to ask the school this question: If I am required to exit the country to be issued a work visa will the school pay for the exit trip (Japan comes to mind on this question but there may be other countries similar.)

    Problems with police-
    In many countries where I have lived the police were best avoided completely. The police are not always to be counted on.

    As a woman I avoided driving in India and in Islamic countries because to drive would make it more likely to encounter police. My male colleague regularly encountered Indian police while driving (at least once per month) whose purpose of pulling him over was to supplement their income.

    In general if you appear to live like your local neighbors usually there aren’t any problems. Find out how conservative the culture is and at least superficially emulate it.

    If you use recreational drugs you are more likely to have police involvement even in cultures where you may have heard some drug use is tolerated. Sometimes what a local can get away with doing is different from an expat. In serious legal cases you will have few rights and little help from embassy.

    Know your country well. In some countries becoming friends with someone means that they will ask you favors which increase in size as the friendship time length increases. This may become awkward. Some countries have a tribal culture which means if you inadvertently do something to one person anyone who is related or in their tribe becomes offended.

    Do your research on the internet to find possible country related pitfalls. A colleague in Korea went into a bar to have a drink and was delighted to instantly attract the attention of a hot Korean woman who sat and drank with him for 2 hours. Some of you may know how this story ends. When he went to leave he was billed for the drinks and the woman’s time. He had to pay several hundred dollars and the local policeman came and said if he did not pay his bill he would go to jail. I think men are more vulnerable targets for this sort of thing. He was shocked he had to pay because he did not know she was a working girl and he actually did not have even a kiss with her. He just thought he had attracted a possible girlfriend. He called me up and I went with some money (since he did not have enough on him) and pretended to be his wife and yelled and cried at him at which point the bar keeper reduced the bill a little. Korean women can get away with great drama. Any local would have known instantly what kind of a place that “bar” was. So men when in doubt ask another expat teacher or your local colleagues about “good” places to go for a beer.

    Above all I follow this rule as a woman- Would a local woman do it? If not, neither will I. At least sometimes not in a way my neighbors will know about it. For example my “brother” who occasionally came from overseas to “visit” me in India. It was a social lie that preserved the peace in my all local apartment building and saved face. Of course they all figured he was not my brother but by framing it in an acceptable way it turned out ok. [sigh- long distance relationships now there is a topic for posting…] Now if he had been there every night that could have been a big problem but a few times per year was no issue. If I had been living with all expats it would have been fine and different. So see if you are in an expat enclave or living among locals.

    I also carefully evaluate the culture to determine to what extent I will engage with locals. It may take you up to a year to learn enough about the culture to make this decision. Some cultures are quite transparent whilst others are not.

    Be sure to ask about everything before it happens and to assume nothing. For example in the USA if you go to a hospital you can usually make arrangements to be billed. In some countries you can’t exit the hospital without paying the full bill in cash. This could cause you an issue if you do not know about it and don’t have the cash on hand.

    I have lived and worked in many cultures and have had no problems with police or locals. It has been a great adventure. Hopefully it will stay this way.


  24. Anonymous says:

    It certainly seems normal from my experience. For China, I went on a business visa (Z). For all other jobs, I went on a tourist visa. I wouldn’t worry. Just make sure that they do actually get one for you when you arrive. I did hear of one teacher who only found out when she was leaving, that she had no work permit.


  25. Howie says:

    It depends on the country that you are talking about. In Macau, everyone arriving at the border gets a tourist visa (stamp on the passport) automatically. Our school applies for the work visa through the immigration for professionals department. We receive initial approval from this department and the education department before the teacher arrives but the actual physical work visa can not be approved until the person is in the country. Once in the country they need an interview, fingerprints, and health check.

    After the initial approval, it is legal to work without the physical work visa. It is frustrating and creates stress for teachers. Unfortunately you have to work within the system in the host country.

    In of the one situation where we did not get initial approval, the candidate was from China. In her case, she stayed in China for 2 extra months but we paid her salary during this time.

    Talk to other people at the school about their experiences.

    Also, always register with your local embassy or consulate. They can assist with any law enforcement issues and natural or political disasters.



  26. Derek C. says:

    In Central America it is normal to arrive on a tourist visa. That’s just the way its done here. For one thing it is very easy to get a 90 day Visa here. For another getting a work visa takes several months. So there isn’t much reason to start the process until you get there. In terms of legal issues…. there isn’t a lot of law here anyway…. not really sure how or why they would care about some gringo with the wrong visa..

    In Latin America… at least Central America… the police are the least of your worries typically……….. For the most part they just drive around in their trucks ignoring the vast flood of crime around them.

    Now that’s just Central America. I have no idea about the rest of the world. Or are you being hired in the ME? If you are then I’d be a bit nervous about it all. I don’t think I’d go to some of those countries, or to a place like China without the proper paperwork.


  27. rob says:

    When you get a tourist visa sponsored by the school everybody knows what is going on. There are (generally) no underhanded schemes here. Typically what happens is that new teachers enter the country on a tourist visa over several days. The school will get them settled into quarters, arrange for any in-country medical tests, fingerprinting etc that are required, and then fill out papers with the new staff during orientation. The papers are submitted to the appropriate ministry/ies and you go about your business. Some places require you to leave the country and re-enter in order to come back in under your new work visa. So long as this is covered by the school it’s just another vacation and more air miles.

    If you decide to work overseas you will likely be faced with a number of things that don’t line up with your traditional thoughts, and most of them are not bad – just different.

    The important thing for you to do is not worry about the specific little things, but do some honest research on the school. If you are going to a well-respected, established school that has a history of treating employees well then you need to trust that they know what they are doing. If you are the more adventurous type and want to gamble with the smaller, less-known, not as well reviewed schools then you have to be ready to roll the dice – and sometimes that is the most fun. Either way – be sure you know what you are getting into before you go: salary, housing, insurance, shipping, airfare, etc.

    Working overseas is a blast, but there are definitely places and situations to avoid. I would not worry about the visa at all, but I would absolutely check the school reviews and contact some people who have worked there for more than 2 years to get a handle on your specific situation.


  28. Chris C says:

    I have started work in a new international school on the back of a tourist visa many times, including in China… To me it seems quite standard practice for schools to ask you to enter on a tourist visa and then they process your work visa, which CAN take a few months – I don’t think I’ve ever finished my first term still on a tourist visa…
    As for getting into strife with the police – often you can pay a “spot-fine”. Money talks to many police and usually it’s not an impoverishing amount. Though, working in Kenya in 2007/8 I got stopped for smoking in my car with a friend on board and fined about 20,000 Kshs… which was about GB£160…! Kenya’s smoking laws change on a regular basis and I happened to be there when they were simply draconian and fascist… You weren’t even supposed to smoke at home if someone else was in your home at the same time. I’m sure the anti-smoking league would be happy with this but live and let live, I say!
    Even after this bizarre law was abolished, another policeman tried to book me for smoking in my car (alone this time – not even illegal when the laws WERE ridiculous) and I just asked him to quote me the paragraph and section of the law that he said I was breaking…
    In Sudan, if you have a car (my school provided one), don’t get out of your vehicle and be prepared to pay about SDG 30 – $10 – fine.
    With regard to other offences – wise up on the local laws, especially alcohol laws in muslim countries and be culturally sensitive… don’t be a berk and get up to party tricks that land you in court!


  29. Be careful says:

    I would do a lot of research about the school if I were you. Just look at what happened to the staff at Shanghai Rego International School – it is well documented online. If this ‘school’ is asking you to enter on a tourist visa I would run for the hills.


  30. Cat says:

    Yes I agree with Weedonald. It is risky indeed, it isn’t always the greatest move professionally, there are repurcussions when you get back home which are a bit of a shock. Which is probably why I am going away again! Anonymous is also right, it sounds like your school is a bit of a bottom feeder in the system if they are asking you to do this first up.


  31. weedonald says:

    Teaching overseas is always a bit of a risk, not just legally speaking but health-wise, professional reputation-wise, job satisfaction and personal security as well. That said, i have been overseas in 3 countries and aside from parking or speeding tickets, have never had problems with the law. I worked in Mexico City for nearly 4 years and never had issues with crime or police abuse. If you don’t get in their faces, they usually won’t get in yours as most countries want foreign professionals to come and teach them Western skills and other internationally desirable tools.
    Don’t take the news or the media too seriously, do your homework, speak to current staff (not just administrators as they often have vested interests in fudging the truth), check with the embassy (yours and theirs) to find out which visas are usually required and also check with experts in the legal and immigration field online.
    Always ask for a firm written contract or letter of understanding BEFORE you go there and have that agreement/contract vetted by an international lawyer…it is worth the $ just in the problems and hassles you can avoid but know that you cannot avoid every challenge moving overseas provides, just as you cannot avoid them at home…simply be prepared to be adaptable and ready to integrate into the culture you are visiting. Being arrogant, judgmental and chauvinistic can often land you in hot water, even in Western countries.


  32. mabel garcia says:

    Most of the time I entered to countries holding visitor’s visa without any problem at all. Once there I got the working visa. Ask the Embassy


  33. Anonymous says:

    Entering to work on a tourist visa is not uncommon informal process for a school on the lower end of the quality scale. In most countries entering on a tourist visa with the INTENT to work is illegal and may create problems with receiving your teaching salary (although if you mentioned this to a customs official in the U.S. or Japan you would immediately be deported.) The question is, do you want to work for a school where the first thing they ask you to do is break the law?


  34. Marc Koster says:

    Employing you on a tourist visa? THAT should ring alarm bells right from the start. Don’t take the job and tell them that any international school you work for should treat its staff with greater professional courtesy! They’ll expect YOU to be 101% professional in everything you do. I have worked in Thailand and now Jakarta, had a couple of roadside ‘chats’ with police for minor infringements. Keep cool, speak to them with deference and respect and providing you haven’t done anything stupid, you’ll be fine.


  35. Been there.... says:

    I agree with everything said here. It really all depends on the country. In some cases (China) there is absolutely NO reason to enter on a tourist visa and it will cost you a great deal to straighten it out once there. In other countries (Turkey) it is indeed very illegal to work on a tourist visa, and you will get in trouble, although probably of the kind where you just get escorted to the nearest border. Personally, I feel that if a school really wants you and is making a commitment to you, then they should go to the trouble of getting you proper papers.

    As to getting arrested for other things, I agree. Most of the people who do get in trouble, put themselves in harm’s way by plain stupid behaviour-pubic drunkenness, etc. In one case, a young teacher left the safety of Kurdish Iraq to take a trip (why?) to Mosul, hot bed of Al-Queda activity, loaded down with various electronic gadgets and numerous cell phones (well known to be the easiest way to detonate an IED). He was promptly arrested, detained as a spy, then deported and was heartbroken at having to leave! At the same school, another young female teacher hopped in the front seat of a taxi, leaving her friend to sit alone in the back, then complained when the driver made moves on her. I think beside sheer stupidity and ignorance, it takes a certain kind of arrogance so blatantly flout local customs.


    • ChinaGuy says:

      Sorry, “In some cases (China) there is absolutely NO reason to enter on a tourist visa” is definitely not a true statement. I work for SAS and this is common procedure every year. You arrive for your first year on a Tourist Visa and HR takes it from there. Two months later you have your work visa.


  36. Cat says:

    I worked in the EU and had work visas and in India also on a work visa all done quickly and with respect to the law. If you are going to a country where that isn’t the case and working on a tourist visa and nervous enough to be voicing those fears about arrests etc etc I think you have to ask yourself if this is the right country for you as your first international teaching experience. Having said that you are surrounded by a culture that is rather panicky. You are doing the right thing checking all this out though and probably nothing at all will happen if you keep your head cool and your wits about you. It is a grand adventure and your life will open up in great and unexpected ways. Check everything out that you can,ask questions and get things in writing but don’t be too paranoid or reactive and enjoy yourself.


  37. Guest says:

    Anon, I don’t think you can speak for all countries in terms of what is or isn’t cost-cutting on their part. The way things are usually done doesn’t make it legal either. Considering how long it took to get both of my work visas, I’d say time is a definite issue no one likes and some will want to work around that.

    All of these experiences are important to hear about so there is no need to sound so defensive and righteous. But different experiences and points of view are certainly welcome and helpful. I just did these journeys in the last couple of years. Another’s experience processing from 5 or 10 years ago may very well be outdated or in some way changed.

    Obviously you’ll want to do research and ask for references… but that doesn’t mean your references will fully understand what the school is doing about your visa either and laws and requirements do change… Bolivian visas change all the time and requirements varied depending if you used the NYC, Washington, or LA Consulate. References aren’t a legal source and the school may not clearly inform you of anything, especially if you don’t speak the language and don’t ask many questions. I would go with the Embassy/Consulate for what is and isn’t legal as a final word.

    And there is nothing wrong with wanting to find some comfort in following the law even if the school does something different and no one cares.

    Although I’ve only set up my own visas in 2 countries.. I’ve worked in 4 through the govt. and lived long term in 6. I think I’m entitled to an opinion on the matter. As for getting arrested or in any trouble… research, references, and staff handbooks were all readily available to me at all my jobs and I arrived fully prepared on the do’s and don’t’s. Anyone I ever saw find trouble while I was living abroad included minor stuff related to driving and car accidents, being out late at night in clubs and bars and drinking too much and being stupid and leaving with strangers… roaming the streets alone late at night, and hitchhiking. A female colleague of mine was punched in the face and had her ipod stolen after she was nearly hit by a car while jogging in the street and she bad mouthed the driver. I can only conclude that trouble finds you when you put yourself in stupid and reckless situations. The Peace Corps will not even allow its volunteers to drive at all during service due to all the deaths and trouble driving in country causes.


  38. Anonymous says:


    its fine to come in on a tourist visa if your work permit is in process. Usually the time it takes to process a visa is too long, or in some countries you have to actually do it in the country. I’ve worked for 7 schools and I’ve never entered the country on a work permit. Some of these schools are very long standing and have excellent reputations. The one I am currently at has a good relationship with the local authorities, despite it being a difficult country. As long as they are processing you when you actually start work you are fine. The best advice already given above is to check with your school what the visa process is, how long it takes etc. And I would always ask for a contact with someone already working at the school. All the best schools do that automatically anyway! But don’t discredit the school for bringing you in on a tourist visa, its not cost cutting, it just may be the usual way of doing things.
    As for getting into trouble with local authorities, any decent school will have a statement in their contract about expected conduct and following the laws of the country etc. People can be stupid, in one school a teacher was arrested for stealing a flag of the country. He was lucky to be let out of jail, but he lost his job. It pays to be informed and it pays to be sensible. Anyone who moves overseas without researching the country they are moving to, is ignorant and shouldn’t be working in education. We shouldn’t be relying on our employers to spoon feed us. Provide us with answers to our questions or point us in the direction of those answers yes, but take complete responsibility for our behaviour choices, no!


  39. Guest says:

    I have worked in Russia and Bolivia and in both cases I processed for a business visa, NOT a tourist visa. It took over 2 months for the Russian visa mostly because I waited for an invitation letter and that took a long time. The processing at the Consulate was only a couple of weeks, however. Then once I was in country we reapplied after a few months so I could stay the year. And they paid for everything so I don’t know what it cost on their end and communication about the details on their end was so-so.

    The Bolivian visa was similar. I waited forever for an invitation letter and then started out with a 30 day non-tourist visa and then had to apply for residency when I arrived (this included a health exam) because I was staying longer than 90 days. It was expensive and I paid for it myself as was our agreement. Both of my schools were reputable and I believe the visa process was completely legal. I was also required to take a health exam shortly after arriving in Russia and it was never made completely clear to me how much of it was visa related and how much of it was because I was working with kids. But my director stated in was required by law.

    It sounds to me like anyone asking you to do the tourist visa route when you fully intend to work is just taking short cuts, cutting costs, and breaking the law. It may be a common practice in some countries, I don’t know. It hasn’t been my experience and I don’t think I would accept a position that asked me to come in on a tourist visa on my own dime.

    In both of my cases I found all these directions clearly stated on the Consulate website for that country. The difference between a work and tourist visa and what you need to have and do was clearly stated there.

    For those of you curious about the health exam, it was very general in Bolivia with a blood test for HIV. Nothing scary or weird or invasive. But in Russia I had a chest x-ray, 2 vaccinations (in my back of all places), and the female teachers got a pap smear (of sorts) and the males got an alcohol drenched q-tip probe in their urethra… which none of the Americans ever figured out what that was checking for. An HIV test was required just to get the Russian visa. So I guess I’m saying you might expect some kind of health exam… even if you’ve had a full check up in your native country.


    • Anonymous says:

      “…the males got an alcohol drenched q-tip probe in their urethra… which none of the Americans ever figured out what that was checking for. ”

      That is the standard test for gonorrhea.


  40. I’ve worked in four different countries and always entered with a tourist visa, paid for by the school, and as soon as I arrived all schools immediately processed the work visa for myself and dependents. It usually took about a month or more, but after that renewals were no problem. I wouldn’t worry too much about this, but make sure that the school which hired you is reputable and trustworthy!


  41. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure if it’s “normal” to arrive without a work visa, but in my experience that’s the way it tends to work. I’ve taught at four international schools on four continents, and only once did I have my work visa before I left. (China… no surprise.) At two of my schools the visas were in hand about 6 and 9 months after I arrived. At one school in South America I got my visa/cedula about a year and half after starting there. (Heck, it took a year for the school’s director to get his.) Whenever I’d leave that country I’d just pay the small fine for overstaying my tourist visa, and the school would reimburse me that cost when I returned.

    Yeah, it’s illegal to teach/work without a work visa in, I assume, all countries. But the red tape in most places makes getting a work visa prior to arriving nearly impossible. In the unlikely event you have to deal with local police just be smart and don’t say you’re working, instead say you’re visiting long term. That being said, there are a lot of hassles to living in certain countries without that work visa. Some places you need one to open bank accounts, or get certain services; in others costs for things like flights and hotels are much higher for “tourists.”

    I personally wouldn’t let not having a work visa prior to arrival be a deal breaker. BUT you should be proactive and assertive with the administration about exactly when you can expect the visa. Try to contact teachers already working at the school if you can. Find out how long it took them to get theirs. If they’re working without one after a year or so, then you might have reason to be concerned.

    Regarding the “a fair amount of overseas travelers who get arrested for one reason or another.” Well, if you don’t do anything that’s against the laws of that country (not counting the whole working without a work visa thing) then odds are good you won’t get arrested. My experience, and this is only mine, is that for the most part foreigners in the countries I lived in were able to get away with far more that the locals just because of their white faces. The VERY few times I dealt with police when I wasn’t breaking a law, it was so they could get a bit of bribery money. In those few instances I never coughed up a dime/pound/rupee and after a bit of time they gave up. The one time I was popped for truly breaking a rule, in this case driving the wrong way down a one-way street I happily paid off the officer and was sent on my way.


    • ajr says:

      Agree with everything here – same experience. But my sense is that the reasons have everything to do with limiting the school’s risk. They basically want to make sure you are who you say you are, and that you can actually teach – then they are willing to go the bureaucratic route to getting you the work visa. They’re making up for the days (not long ago) when the majority of “teachers” were 20-somethings with zero work ethic looking for a free vacation. Things have changed remarkably in the past few years. Masters degrees are are the new minimum for really good jobs – state teaching certs for many others. And in reality, the market is flooded with PhDs laid off from Western universities. Schools are looking for every opportunity to limit financial exposure, and place more responsibility on the teacher. Fewer schools are paying as much, or paying for airfare, benefits, etc. Those that do often reimburse only at contract completion. What WAS an employee’s market is now an employERS market – competition is much, MUCH stiffer. Benefits and salaries are FAR lower than they were – in some cases, only a THIRD! I was in business for 30 years in the U.S. before I became a teacher, and I’ve never seen a marketplace change so radically so quickly as that for ESL teaching. There are still excellent schools out there – but for every one, there are a hundred “McSchools” looking to exploit people in a fear-and-loathing, meat grinder operation. “Buyer” beware.


  42. Allen McInnis says:

    Your business manager should (hopefully) be there at the airport when you arrive…. or at least a rep from the school.

    There should be a procedure in place that will move the process along for you, don’t be afraid to ask questions of your business office.


  43. Cairo Teacher says:

    I would say it depends on the country. This is pretty much standard where I taught in Egypt, because lots of foreign teachers don’t last long enough to make the work permit cost worth it to the employers. Working on a tourist visa is illegal, but it also opens you up to being exploited and taken advantage of by the school. I worked at 3 schools, two of which routinely stole my salary and one tried to force me to undergo medical procedures at the principal’s sister’s clinic, under the guise of, “It’s for your work permit”. In reality, the only procedure or test required by the government is an HIV test. They of course wanted to deduct the cost of the many procedures from my salary. I refused them all, including x-rays and the so-called “doctor” (principal’s sister) attempting to withdraw blood from my arm without wearing gloves. After the school secretary advised me to show up in a fasted state… how does one give a blood sample hungry and dehydrated?

    Anyway, I would be wary, but most of all, I would research the particular country you are going to and see what other teachers have experienced. Once you’re there, you can feel beholden to their requests, especially if they are providing your housing. If you’re going for other reasons and teaching will be your job while there, it may be worth a chance, as you can always find another job. But if this is what is taking you there, do more research than you think you need, and arrange a Skype interview to get a feel for them – but make sure they turn the camera on!!!


    • Jess says:

      It’s very normal to have blood drawn in the morning after not eating after 8 the night before and to only drink water. The other stuff, of course, sounds ridiculous.


    • Been there.... says:

      Yes. It’s called “fasting blood work” actually and is a very common test in the US.


    • Anonymous says:

      Um, yes, that is the way they do blood tests in 3 countries I have lived in. Always. how does anyone get to be an adult teacher without knowing that?


  44. BOG says:

    I started working in Taiwan and Egypt on tourist visas. Never had a problem at the airport. In some countries it’s just the way it’s done, mostly because of the inefficiencies of the government. The school may be on the ball, but knows it can’t process work permits in the given time. In Egypt I arrived in August and got my work permit in December.


  45. Been there a few times says:

    I’ve been stopped a few times for traffic violations and usually able to settle up with the police right there on the street. A friend of mine was stopped one night and he only had a few bucks in his pocket. The cop got into my friend’s car and together they went to the ATM so he could get out enough money to make the cop happy with his demand of a bribe, or jail. Once in Indonesia I was taken to the station for committing a minor traffic violation. I was told I would spend the weekend in Jail and would see the judge the following week. I asked if they knew what the fine would be and if I could leave the money with them and resume my vacation. Cost me $40. I was happy and the police were, too.

    I do know that your embassy will supply an advocate should you be jailed but they have no pull, no power. They will contact your family and transfer money from your family to you if you need it to buy food in the jail. If you’re worried, it may be good to line up an in-country lawyer that you can call should you need help some where down the line. Personally, I’ve been overseas for over 15 years and aside from the traffic problems have not had any trouble.


    • sandy says:

      I always used to leave a reasonable amount of money with my driving licence and would hand that over when asked for it…which happened. Money gone, so that is very good advice. On another occasion I had a run in with the management at my school and I contacted the Embassy, and they said, move house tonight. Which I did. I left the country the following day, citing my brother who was in a car accident and dying at home, as the reason for moving out of my apartment and settling the account. I left my stuff at my friends house and had it packed and sent on afterwards.
      I think the best advice is always have a plan if something goes wrong. I know its hard when you have children of your own but if you have the attitude that your well being is your responsibility, then you will be ok. Think it through. Yes, by all means arrive on a tourist visa, but get on to it straight away. In Thailand even though we had work visas they had to be renewed regularly and we were told in staff meetings, what the current “cost” would be…dont be surprised or get huffy over these sorts of things. If you want life to be happy, then take it all in your stride and you will enjoy the experience. Have fun! 99.9% of the time, we love it.


  46. Carolina says:

    Read the online newspapers (to see what people get arrested for) study the local law, ask questions and fly under the radar. I’m in a Muslim country, in a conservative community (not the big cosmopotlitan cities) so I stopped highlighting my hair blonde, I wear the long sleeve, loose tops and long skirts…sometimes an abaya….and I am careful about when I go shopping or go out of the house, in general. I also arrived with a tourist visa and received my work visa within a month..and then we started work. The biggest mistake I see…that could lead to getting arrested and deported…is teachers getting a bit of an attitude about the repressive laws regarding women here and then flaunting their western independent style and attitude in public. Dress code, adultery and dating, drinking…or being seen drunk in public….are mentioned in the local press all the time. If you know these are hot potato issues, then just be careful and respectful of their laws and you’ll be fine.


  47. Ben D. Morris says:

    It may depend on the country you are going to, but I am teaching English as a Second Language in Moscow. It was necessary for me to enter the country twice on a tourist visa (both times due to unforeseen circumstances that are not necessary to elaborate on here). I was able to go to work straight away both times with no legal problems whatsoever. I’m happy to say that next time I go over there, it will be on a work visa, but my main point is that entering a country on a tourist visa and working before your work visa comes through is not altogether uncommon.


    • Cynical B*sterd says:

      Come on you were lucky a tourist Visa is what it says it is: for tourism not for work. Best advice is to go to the embassy where you live and ask them if this poses a problem.


    • ajr says:

      It all depends on the country. I’ve worked in 8 of them. If you’re in Latin America, it is UNCOMMON to have anything BUT a tourist visa for working. The costs associated with obtaining the work visa are prohibitive for many schools. I’ve worked for YEARS in Peru, Argentina, and other Latin American countries. The risk is almost ENTIRELY with the school. In Thailand, by contrast, the rules are exceptionally strict. You actually CAN be arrested for working without proper visa documents. Same would be true in Saudi Arabia, where I’ve also worked. But you are NOT looking at a “Locked Up Abroad” situation, where you will rot in a fetid prison with drug dealers. It’s not something you want to do, but it’s not something you should FEAR beyond reason.


    • Joann says:

      Before leaving Australia for a job in China, the Chinese Embassy made it so difficult to get a working visa (for no known reason) I did wish I went on a Tourist Visa. When I arrived I found that all the new staff had arrived on a Visitors Visa!!!
      My opinion is that it depends on which country you are going to. Ask staff who have been there for at least a year to hear their suggestions.


    • kathryn hartley says:

      I went to Shanghai on a tourist visa in 2009, yes, i did try a working visa here and found it impossible for the same reason. They like to do the medical first, then get the working visa, residency, etc. You pay for it and the school then reimburse you – it was all done speedily within a fortnight i had everything! Whereas in the Emirates, they hung onto our passports, degrees (originals) and didn’t give any of us visas, working permits, residencies, for 4 months – this was awful, i do hope now they have updated their procedures, Kathryn


    • Jennifer says:

      I agree with Ben, for my school when I first entered the country we entered under a tourist visa. The school then collected all our passport and we were required to pass an HIV blood test before our work visa would be issued. We have to have a new visa every six months. I don’t think you will have an issue entering under a tourist visa. It takes my school about six weeks to get all the paperwork done and then our passports are returned with the visa. Our school has about 100 teachers and admin that have to be processed each six months so it takes some time.
      No embassy is going to issue a work visa without paperwork from the school/business applying on your behalf.


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