Can I work abroad without a work visa?

  • man traveling with suitcase
Published on 2024-02-27 at 14:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Having a work visa is often the key to working in another country. However, the ease of obtaining a work visa varies by country. For many expatriates, securing a work visa is crucial for joining the labor market. Nevertheless, there are circumstances where you can work without a work visa. Let's find out how.

European nationals working in the EU

In general, citizens of European Union (EU) member states aren't required to have a work permit to work in another EU country. European citizenship, established in 1992 by the Maastricht Treaty, was further complemented by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997. European citizenship is automatically granted to individuals from EU member states. It doesn't replace nationality but adds to it. While there's no concept of "European nationality" (nationality remains within the jurisdiction of individual states), it constitutes a form of citizenship that grants specific rights, such as the freedom to move and work throughout European territory without a work permit.

There are two primary categories of jobs in the EU: regulated and non-regulated professions. Most occupations fall under the general category, allowing European nationals to work freely in another European country. However, regulated professions follow a distinct procedure. Foreigners looking to work in a regulated profession must undergo a strict application process, which may involve demonstrating their professional qualifications by submitting an application for a European Professional Card (EPC). You can submit this application online if you're a pharmacist, physiotherapist, nurse (general care), estate agent, or mountain guide. However, if you're engaged in a high-risk profession or a specific field like law, your host country might conduct checks. It's your responsibility to verify the list of regulated professions and the necessary steps, such as applying for an EPC, if applicable.

Denmark's initiative

Since November 17, 2023, a new regulation from the Danish Ministry of Immigration allows non-European expatriates meeting specific criteria to work in Denmark without a work visa. To be eligible, individuals must already be employed by a company based abroad but affiliated with a Danish-established company with a minimum of 50 employees. The recent measure imposes a time limit on non-European foreign workers without a work visa. They are allowed to work for the Danish company for a maximum of two 15-day periods within a total period of 180 days. After each 15-day work period, foreign workers must exit Denmark and stay outside the country for at least 14 days.

The recent measure targets various sectors, including construction, agriculture, forestry, horticulture, hotel and catering, cleaning, and goods transport. It concerns managers, senior executives, middle managers, and positions requiring specific technical skills. Denmark specifies that certain professionals are exempt from the visa requirement, such as European nationals, board members (limited to 40 days per year), and workers on specific missions (limited to 90 days per year). Artists can work in Denmark without a visa if they are participating in a "major" artistic event. Guest lecturers at Danish schools can also teach without a work visa, provided they teach for a maximum of 5 days within a 180-day period at a school under the Ministry of Higher Education or the Ministry of Culture.

Working without a work permit in Canada

Section 186 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) outlines the categories of foreign nationals authorized to work in Canada without a work permit. The law applies first and foremost to business visitors, referring to people engaged in activities such as trading on behalf of a foreign company in Canada, providing or receiving training for the Canadian branch of their foreign employer, or representing a foreign company for sales purposes in Canada. If these individuals are officially recognized as business visitors, foreign workers can do it without a work permit. A similar exemption applies to foreign representatives accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and this exemption also extends to their families.

Foreign diplomats, government employees, and artists performing in Canada benefit from this measure, excluding film, radio, or TV productions. Additionally, professionals such as lecturers, official sports referees, members of the management organizing a convention, investigators, and others are covered by the work permit exemption.

Another short-term work permit exemption is available, lasting for 15, 30, or 120 days, as part of the Global Skills Strategy. Immigration authorities emphasize that these exemptions apply only to workers entering Canada specifically for work-related purposes, and eligibility checks will be conducted. It's essential to note that being exempt from work permit requirements doesn't imply exemption from visa requirements for entry into Canada.

Work visa and work permit: Understanding the difference

Although there tends to be confusion between the two, the general rule is the same. 

A work visa allows you to enter and stay legally in a country for a specified period and purpose. Nations with visa waiver agreements enable their citizens to enter and stay legally in the countries for the duration outlined in the agreement, typically around 90 days. Note that a "work visa" is an entry authorization, not a work permit. However, the distinction is often blurred, particularly in countries like the United States and South Africa, where work may be authorized with a work visa.

A work permit allows foreign nationals to work legally in a country for a specific duration, in a particular role, and with a specific employer. Most work permits are associated with a particular employer. Others, however, are not tied to an employer, providing foreign workers with greater freedom. On the other hand, a residence permit allows foreign nationals to stay in the country legally for the permit's duration. It allows entry to and exit from the country without requiring a visa. Still, it's important to note that time spent outside the host country must not exceed a specific duration, as exceeding this limit could lead to the cancellation of the permit.