That’s Not a Visa Run, That’s a Border Hop!

Legalisation of TEFL Certificates

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Visa run. Border hop. Spend about two seconds abroad and you’ll hear these phrases casually thrown around. One is important to you as a TEFL certified English teacher. The other is not.

Let’s start by getting border hop out of the way. A border hop simply means crossing the border and coming back in order to reset your tourist visa. It’s a genius way to extend your travels. Indonesia gives you 30 days, so you go to Sumatra first, play with Orangutans, swim in crystal clear volcanic lakes, THEN you fly to Kuala Lumpur, spend a day exploring the city, THEN you catch a cheap flight to Bali and the immigration officer says, “Welcome to Indonesia!” as though you weren’t there literally yesterday. Fan-tas-tic.

HOWEVER, should your prospective employer say, “Don’t worry about a work visa, you can just do border hops” turn around and walk away. That’s not a red flag, that’s a blinking neon arrow that says, “Bad Decisions.” You could be denied reentry, you could be deported, and list goes on and on. Never border hop for a job teaching English abroad. Leave that nonsense to the scuba instructors.  

Visa runs on the other hand are a requirement for most TEFL jobs. It goes something like this…

  • Arrive on a tourist visa
  • Sign all the stuff
  • Cross the border
  • Submit your visa application to the embassy or visa agent
  • Hangout for a couple of days
  • Reenter the country legally registered to work for the coming year

One-by-one

Arrive on a tourist visa: Most employers will ask you to arrive on a tourist visa rather than applying from your home country. They are hiring English teachers from the UK, the United States, Canada, Australia, etc. In country they can guide you through the process and work with liaisons they trust. It’s a streamlined process. They can’t be expected to have a global network across the English speaking world.

Sign all the stuff: You need an invitation from your employer in order to teach English in that country. The stack of paperwork is thick and all if it is written in a language you don’t know. They will (or should) walk you through it. But don’t stress about it. It’s not an application so much as a forty page formality.

Cross the border: Most employers will send you to the nearest border town. Technically you can apply anywhere that country has an embassy. But it is best to follow your employer’s protocol. Your employer will almost certainly cover the visa application costs. And there is about a zero percent chance that they will cover your travel expenses to and from.

Submit your visa application to the embassy or visa agent: You will not need to spend hours and hours sitting in an embassy. Generally, your employer will have a visa agent on site who will handle the visa processing. If not, every border town has visa agent services. For a small fee you can avoid the immigration office entirely.

Hangout for a couple of days: You’re in a new country and you’ve got a minimum of 48 hours to kill, make the most of it!

Reenter the country legally registered to work for the coming year: This is hugely important. It takes away so much stress. You’ve got a year of residency–guaranteed. It’s a multi-entry visa, so you can come and go as you please. And you won’t get hassled by border agents the way border hoppers almost always do.

You will hear a lot of complaining about visa runs. I have to go to… The schools not even paying for… That’s just silly. It’s not a have to work thing. It’s a get to travel thing. You can sit in a dark room moaning about your lot in life on the ESL forums. Or you can hand your paperwork off to a visa agent and go explore Hong Kong, Bangkok, Bratislava, Penang, Budapest or where ever you are. It’s up to you.

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