What are your visa options for taking a gap year abroad?

  • young woman traveling alone
Published on 2024-02-05 at 15:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Embarking on a gap year abroad has become an increasingly enticing prospect for individuals seeking respite from the daily grind or contemplating a career shift in a foreign country. Planning a sabbatical year involves various considerations, with one crucial aspect being the selection of an appropriate visa. Whether you are interested in a Working Holiday Visa (WHV), au pair, tourism visa, or other options, finding the ideal choice is essential for a fulfilling gap year overseas.

What are the benefits of taking a gap year abroad?

While some individuals remain hesitant, studies consistently highlight the benefits of a gap year. This extended break allows for self-reflection and the exploration of new directions and serves as a remedy for overwork and burnout. Sabbaticals can range from a few weeks to several months or even a year, providing ample time for personal development, skill assessment, and the pursuit of new professional or non-professional activities. It also opens the door to overseas opportunities, both professional and personal.

The experience of the Sikkim government in India

In 2023, the Sikkim government in India introduced a gap program for regular government employees, offering nearly three years of leave while retaining 50% of their basic salary. The initiative aims to provide employees with new prospects, ensuring job security upon their return. Eligibility criteria include a minimum of five years of continuous service, and certain conditions, such as potential recall by the government and exclusion of specific profiles with loans, apply.

While various countries offer sabbatical programs, these initiatives, like the one in Sikkim, do not resolve the visa issue. If an employer grants sabbatical leave to employees, individuals should explore their own visa options for international travel lasting from a few months to a year.

The Working Holiday Visa (WHV)

The Working Holiday Visa (WHV) is a unique visa allowing individuals to travel and work abroad for a specified period, typically one year. The visa's availability depends on the applicant's nationality and bilateral agreements between countries. While working is an option, it is not mandatory, offering flexibility for sabbatical travelers. The age limit for a WHV typically ranges from 18 to 30, with some countries extending the age limit to 35. This visa is a favorable solution for those on a sabbatical abroad.

The au pair visa

The au pair visa is slightly more restrictive, requiring applicants to be between 18 and 30 and hold a long-stay visa. It necessitates a hosting agreement and a language proficiency certificate. Primarily designed for cultural and linguistic experiences, the au pair visa allows individuals to enhance language skills and participate in a host family's daily life while limiting weekly tasks to a maximum of 25 hours.

B2 tourist visa for a gap year in the USA

The B2 tourist visa permits travel to the United States for more than 90 days, explicitly prohibiting any form of paid activity. It is suitable for sabbatical travelers interested in cultural or recreational activities, visiting relatives, or volunteering.

International Solidarity Volunteers 

International solidarity volunteering programs also welcome applicants with no age or nationality restrictions as long as the volunteer works outside their home country. These programs focus on developing human, technical, and interpersonal skills, providing a structured framework for operations and collaboration with approved associations.

Can I take a gap year overseas on a digital nomad visa?

While the digital nomad visa is gaining popularity around the world, especially among self-employed individuals, it presents challenges for those considering a gap year abroad. The digital nomad visa requires collaboration with an employer or clients, maintaining an employment or client relationship, and adhering to certain constraints. Sabbatical leave, however, is intended for personal development and detachment from the professional sphere, making it seemingly incompatible with the digital nomad lifestyle.

Useful links:

European Union: Volunteering 

US: B-2 visa

France: Au pair visa