Working holiday. Extended vacation. Gap year. Sabbatical.
Whatever you call it, a year abroad is completely within your reach – regardless of your age.
The hardest first step is deciding that yes, you can – and yes! You will pursue a year abroad. Good for you. You can do this!
Once you past the first mental hurdle, it’s time to plan.
If you already know what you want to do, then you can start by looking for those opportunities. The destinations you narrow down to will depend on what you’re looking for.
Another way to do it, is to choose what you will do by what’s offered at your dream destination(s). This allows you to spend your precious time where you really want to be.
This post will delve into the best destinations for a gap year in your 30s.
Time off in your 30’s will be different.
And that’s OK.
A year abroad in your 30s will be different from a year abroad in your 20s.
And that’s completely OK.
Secondly, many countries have restrictions on age limits for working holiday visas. Considering this, it’s important to keep an open mind. The best option for you might be one you don’t automatically consider!
I’ve compiled a list of the most favorable countries to teachers in their 30s, 40s or 50s. Whether you’re taking a few months, a year or more abroad, this list is a great place to start.
Working Holiday Visas in Ireland for U.S. Citizens
The island of Ireland and the United States have always had a unique and close relationship. The Irish built a large part of early America’s infrastructure. Many colonial settlements had colonists of Irish descent. Several U.S. presidents boasted Irish heritage, and many Americans today have Irish ancestry. The link goes way back, and it has forged deep bonds between our nations.
Because of this, the Republic of Ireland and the United States formed an understanding in 2008. This agreement allows citizens of both countries to enjoy free exploration in each other’s countries.
It’s also important to note that there are other visa options for an extended stay in Ireland. Intern visas and Summer Work Travel visas are also very popular.
Working Holiday Visa Requirements
- U.S. Citizenship
- 18 years of age or older (no upper age limit, though! Very unique for these types of visas!)
Qualifying so far? Great! The following must also be true. You must either:
- Currently be enrolled full-time, in-person, in a program working toward an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctorate program
- You can be registered for a full-time, in-person, working toward a diploma or certificate leading to an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctorate program
- Have graduated from/completed one of the above mentioned programs within the last 12 months.
The program itself can be done either in the United States or outside of it.
The U.S. Embassies of Ireland seem fairly strict on the educational program only being in-person and full-time. This means that part-time and/or online programs won’t be accepted. However, I’ve talked with teachers who have earned the visa, and they’ve said they pursued their programs online. So, it’s worth applying if it’s something you’re interested in!
Working Holidays in Costa Rica for U.S. Citizens
Costa Rica is a unique and beautiful country. Residents enjoy relatively quick access to both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, and some of the best surfing in the world. It’s location near the equator keeps temperatures warm and pleasant throughout the year, and la pura vida culture will have you feeling like you’re always on vacation.
As different as Costa Rica is from the States, the ex-pat culture there is strong, so it’s easy to make friends quickly. Due to their relaxed residency requirements, many Americans retire here, while others spend a year or two teaching on a working holiday.
With that said, Costa Rica doesn’t technically have a working holiday visa. Their temporary residency is what you’ll want to look into, and there are so many options to qualify for it.
The easiest option to explore is Temporary Residency for Students/Teachers/Researchers/Interns. Let’s dive into that a bit more.
Documents needed for Temporary Residency
- Request letter explaining why you’re applying for temporary residency
- Two recent, passport-sized photographs, front view
- Payment of $1.25, plus $2.50 per page presented with the residency request (the name of the applicant should be indicated as the depositor)
- Completed and signed application form
- Proof of fingerprint registration
- Proof of consular registration
- Birth certificate issued in country of origin. This document must be notarized, or otherwise authenticated to embassy standards.
- Criminal Background Certificate from country of origin (showing three years of residential history)
- Photocopy of all passport pages
- If you apply for temporary residency from Costa Rica as a tourist, note that you’ll need to pay $200 USD
This may seem like a lot at first glance, but when you compare these requirements to those of other countries, these are very mild. The documents are fairly easy to obtain if you don’t have them readily available.
In addition to the above mentioned documents, you’ll need a few more depending on what you’ll be doing while you’re in Costa Rica.
Additional Considerations for Costa Rica
If you’re a teacher, or researcher, you’ll need a notarized copy of your job offer in Costa Rica.
If you’re planning to study, you’ll need to submit an acceptance letter from the educational institution that you’ll be attending. You’ll also need to show proof of economic independence from an accountant, to prove that you’ll be financially stable throughout the duration of your stay in Costa Rica.
If you’re planning to intern or volunteer, you’ll need to provide a signed letter from the organization you’ll be serving with. This document will need to outline where you’ll be staying, as well as how you’ll be financing your trip.
I think the most fascinating aspect of temporary residency in Costa Rica, is the fact that there’s no upper age limit mentioned – nor is a time limit even stated! My research showed that many ex-pats actually enter the country legally on a temporary residency visa, and that after three years, they applied for permanent residency, all completely legally. So if you’re looking to move abroad for an extended period of time, this seems like an easy country to move to. It’s also a great home-base to explore central and South America.
Short-term Opportunity for Costa Rica
Interested in visiting Costa Rica, but not so into staying for an extended period of time? Check out Alyssa’s trips to Costa Rica, through Teacher on a Trip. She is so knowledgeable about the country, and passionate about sharing it with other people. If you’re a science teacher, you’ll especially love that she shows teachers how to bring their travel experiences into the classroom.
Extended Holidays in Mexico for U.S. Citizens
I know I just got through telling you how easy it is for Americans to go to Costa Rica – and it is! But Mexico is even easier than that for an extended holiday.
While you can’t stay in Mexico for as long as you can in Costa Rica, it’s a solid option, since Americans don’t have to do much of anything to stay for a while.
On a normal tourist or business visitor visa, U.S. Citizens can stay for up to six months, with very little paperwork required at the point of entry.
Note that this is not for anyone who will be employed by a Mexican company; this is just to stay in the country.
While it’s definitely possible to become employed and sponsored while you’re in Mexico, it might be easier to save before you go if you don’t want to deal with getting a sponsor.
Documents Needed for an Extended Stay in Mexico
- Completed application form
- Valid passport, and photocopies of your personal information pages
- US Visa pages for multiple entries, and one photocopy
- I-94 and/or I-20 or J-1 or I-797A Form in original and one photocopy
- One passport-size photo (no glasses, in color)
- Proof of address in the USA
- Original financial records dating back six months, demonstrating ongoing employment and fiscal stability
- Payment of consular fees
As you can see, very little is required to stay in Mexico for up to six months.
If you want to work while you’re there, you’ll just need to provide a sponsor invitation letter from the company or organization hiring you. You’ll also have to apply for authorization from the National Immigration Institute in Mexico, where you’ll receive an authorization number. As soon as the number is issued to you, you’ll need to contact the consulate.
Once you make the appointment, you’ll only have 10 days to interview for the visa – so be cognizant of the timeline throughout the process!
Extended Holidays, Gap Years or Sabbaticals in Europe for Americans
If you want to experience several different cultures in a short amount of time, Europe is the way to go for your gap year, sabbatical, working holiday or extended holiday.
Right now, Americans can spend up to six months in the United Kingdom and three months in the European Union, visa-free by traveling as a tourist.
Combine that with the several countries in Europe that are not part of the Schengen area, and you have a loophole that allows you to travel Europe virtually forever!
Example of the European visa loophole
Example itinerary for an extended holiday in Europe
- Spend up to 90 days in the Schengen area
The Schengen area consists of the following 26 countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
You’ll want to start by flying into one of these countries. Keep in mind that your entry and exit days count toward your total days there.
You’ll also want to make sure that you can provide proof at the point of entry that you’ll be leaving eventually. A round trip ticket or a detailed itinerary showing that you’ll be heading back to the United States eventually is usually enough for immigration officers.
- Spend up to six months in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is made up by Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. You could spend a bit of time in each of these countries, or you could spend the entire six months in whichever country suits you best.
- Visit a non-schengen country in Europe – like the Republic of Ireland, for example.
U.S. Citizens can stay in certain non-schengen countries for up to 90 days each – and many of those countries allow you to extend your stay further with a temporary residence permit, should you decide to do that.
If you choose to keep it simple and limited to the automatic tourist visa, spend time time in any of the following European countries outside of the Schengen area: Albania, Andora, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Ireland, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vatican City (yes – it’s a country in a country!).
- Head back into the Schengen area
Once you’ve spent more than six months away from the Schengen area, your clock has “reset” so to speak, allowing you to spend another 90 days there.
In theory, you could do this forever – if immigration allows you to!
ETIAS Visas for Americans in Europe
Do keep in mind that, starting in 2021, American visitors will need to ensure they have authorization to travel throughout the Schengen zone via the ETIAS system. The process doesn’t seem very complicated, but it’s something to think about before departing to avoid any stress or complications.
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