Visas and work permits can be one of the biggest headaches of an overseas teaching experience. You will need these official documents to find legal employment while you are overseas (see the note on “Working Without a Visa or Work Permit” below). Obtaining these documents can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience, so planning ahead and getting all of the facts will make your life much easier.
The exact process and requirements for obtaining working papers vary depending on your citizenship and the country in which you will be employed. In general, you need to have an employer in the country that is willing to sponsor your visa and work permit application. In some countries (usually those with higher demand for teachers), it is common for employers to begin arranging your application for you as soon as you have signed the contract. In more competitive TEFL / TESOL job markets, on the other hand, you may need to work for an employer for a while before they will consider sponsoring you.
The time and effort needed for the application also varies by country. Bureaucratic processes are seldom fast, however, and you should plan on waiting weeks or even months before you have received all of the proper documentation. In most cases, you must be in your home country to finalize the application process. You might be able to do this before you leave, or you may need to plan a brief trip home to get everything in order.
In a number of countries, working without a visa or work permit (i.e. working illegally) is an option chosen by many teachers. However, you will generally not receive the same job security, benefits, or pay as your legal colleagues. You should also investigate the legal penalties you could incur if you choose to work without papers. Some countries have stiff legal penalties for illegal workers, while others rarely enforce work permit requirements.