Can working on tourist visas be a problem?

From what I see, many countries don’t easily issue work visas unless you have a sponsor in the country, so I wonder how legal being a “working nomad” is.

I feel that working for overseas on visa-waiver programs is sort of in a gray area but I doubt that the people at the customs would easily let you in if they knew you were technically going to work in their country.

How do you handle this? Do you get a work visa for every country you visit?
What if at the port of entry they ask you “what were you doing for three months in Country X without a visa?” “Uhm… vacation… and I’m going to be on vacation for three more months here.”

I’m thinking of spending the next three months in the US and this possible questioning is worrisome.

If the country offers you a 3 month tourist visa then it’s totally normal to stay for the duration. Vacation is completely acceptable for an answer. They might grill you if you’ve been to Israel or similar in your passport.

Additionally, those laws were made to protect the country’s citizens, ensuring you don’t under-bid locals for local jobs. You aren’t taking a local job by running your business from the road, so you aren’t violating the spirit of the law and many countries won’t care. You are absolutely allowed to do some business activities in other countries - attend conferences, research guidebooks, check work email. Even people on two-week vacations are likely doing things like checking email or taking calls from their bosses.

I’d say don’t advertise it for those immigration officials who don’t understand the purpose of these laws, but don’t worry about being overly questioned either. Plenty of people take gap years, go to another country to do research or art, or burn out and need to take three months off on a tropical island.

That depends on the country, though. The USA for example don’t specify whether you can work for local businesses or not: you just can’t do any retributed work.

I think that the gap year could work, but after a while your passport will describe exactly where you’ve been for the past months or years. The longer you’re a nomad, the harder it is to justify… unless you’re really wealthy and can prove it.

I think I’ll take it as “if they reject me, I can just move onto the next country” and be more relaxed :slight_smile:

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I’m on vacation. Always on vacation. Don’t ever hint at anything else, even just checking work emails. My last passport only had 2 spots left to stamp and I still didn’t really get questioned.


When you’re asked “From your passport, I see you’ve been travelling continuously for 2 years, how do you get the funds for it without working?”, what would you answer to convince them?

I’ve yet to have someone ask me that and I’ve been traveling full time since 2008. Were I asked, I would respond that I live off of investments and passive income and that occasionally I settle down for a while and work on a project to save money so I can travel again.


I’m spending money in their country and I am not taking a citizen’s job, if anything I help to create jobs. Never had a problem. The only country that gives me grief is the UK - they ask how long i’m staying, why I’m here etc and then ask for a future air ticket. Even then it is just the standard process (they’re just doing their job). In SEA I feel like the whole visa thing is just a money making racquet and they couldn’t care less if I earn money online.

I’m Australian, and I hear Australia is tough, but I wouldn’t know. Entered the USA twice and they didn’t grill me. Been to continental Europe too many time to count and they don’t even question me.

Yes, it can but whether it will be in a particular case is a complicated question. For a definite answer, you need to check government web sites for the country you want to work in, talk to officials and/or talk to a lawyer there with experience in this sort of issue.

Here’s my crack at non-definitive answers:

For almost any country, if you are there on a tourist visa, then doing anything a local employer pays you for is illegal; to take a job, you need a working visa, immigrant’s visa or some such. People I knew in China were caught teaching English on a tourist visa, hit with a stiff fine, deported and forbidden to come back; I do not know if the ban was permanent.

There may also be other classes of visa for things like travelling actors or musicians, or business things like providing consulting services to local companies or training their staff. Some countries (Japan, Australia, Canada, not sure who else) also have a “working holiday” visa that allows young (under 35?) people to work for 6 months or a year.

Here’s an article on the Chinese rules, which I suspect are about as complex as it gets:

Whether earning money over the net, e,g, running an online business or long-distance telecommuting, is a problem likely varies by country. Start with the gov;t web site, then figure out if you need more.

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Pashley summed it up pretty well imho. Key is “local employer”. This is what laws are about: Doing “work” that should be done by people legally residing in that country.

I would like to know if anybody tried being honest though. “I work remotely so I decided to work while travelling. Now I’m taking this three months to learn about your country and spend my salary here. :D” Technically this would not be illegal in most places, but yes, it is kind of a gray area, and some laws may be interpreted differently.

And if there IS a law , well, you should know about it beforehand (You need to know the laws of the places you visit, to me this is kinda obvious) and if you decided to go anyway you should have a lawyer ready to help you if/when questioned (Or even talk to one before going to check how to proceed in case they question you, what would be acceptable etc.).

@Frnco They totally can deport you without the need of giving any reason so don’t ever try to ask agains them like that, just be nice and answer, don’t question back, give them all the info you have, and try to convince them that you come to travel only and to spend your money to contribute to their country’s economy. Don’t conceal anything about your remote work, it would only give you troubles. My 2 cents.

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Eddited per @fedeit comment, just keep in mind to know the laws.

Not just for this issue, but because you can actually get into a lot of trouble if you don’t, and getting arrested because you “supposed” laws would be similar to your home country is one of the most stupid and easy ways to get screwed when travelling.


That depends on the country, though. The USA for example don’t specify whether you can work for local businesses or not: you just can’t do any retributed work.

This is not wholly accurate. A B1 visa or a Visa Waiver with a Business Classification does in some limited circumstances allow you to telecommute with a foreign business. So you shouldn’t be getting paid from a US business and neither paid in the US.


Telecommuters: Individuals temporarily residing in the United States who will be working from home as computer programmers for foreign based companies may be eligible for B-1 visas provided they satisfy the following conditions:

The individual is employed by a company outside of the United States
No remuneration will be received from a U.S. source, other than expenses incidental to the stay
The work is in an occupation requiring a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty and the individual has that level of education

However, I personally think it’s best to avoid any discussion of this kind at the port of entry and just present the simplest possible case (tourist for a couple of months) to the immigration officer. No point complicating matters at any border post, ever.

@flyonthewall What you quoted is about the B-1 Visa (which is not a tourist visa) and has no reference to the Visa Waiver program. You got me excited there for a moment. But I agree with your last paragraph

@Frnco I would suggest to never say something like “Hey man, does it really matter?” to someone whose job is to make it matter. They’re literally there to check on that. Maybe you’ll find some officers or countries that are more lax, but do that in the US and you’ll likely be shown the door. In any case, you’re likely lowering your chances rather than improving them.

@fedeit Most visa nationals are issued dual purpose B1/B2 (B1 - Business, B2 - Tourism) visas. So what I quoted covers that case. VWP regulations are very similar to B1/B2 but if you use VWP you should find what applies to you. Or you could get a B1/B2 :wink:

@fedeit, thanks for the feedback, I’ll be removing that bit from my earlier post.You’re right, it’s better not to take any risks. I also wasn’t able to convey the precise empathic tone and you obviously need to get a feel for who you’re talking to too, so it could backfire too easily even under circumstances where I know it can be a good move. :smiley:

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