A friend of mine asked this: Hey Eric, just finished reading your book and wrote an honest review on Amazon. I thought it was a great read, better than a lot of what is available from other travel writers. One question I have for you that I think is missing from the book: How do you go about staying in some of these countries for many months/years at a time? Many of these SE Asian countries seem to have 30/60 day visa restrictions from what I can tell. From what I read you can extend a business visa in Cambodia under the table indefinitely, is that true? Do you have any experience or suggestions on keeping a visa without employer sponsorship in any of these other countries (Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Philippines) for more than a couple months? Also, your chapter on getting a job as an english teacher, do those jobs come with visa sponsorship as well? Or is the visa issue addressed through other means?
Ok let explain the best I can.
Before we talk about getting a work visa, let me say something very important. No one cares if you are working on a tourist visa. Sure it’s illegal, but millions of foreigners are doing it all over south East Asia. I worked illegally in: Thailand, Burma, and China. I only worked legally in Cambodia and Laos. I am not the only one. I have a friend who has now worked for 8 years on a tourist visa in Thailand, and another who has worked 6 years in China. Sure you are breaking the law, but you are breaking a law no one really cares to enforce, because if they did, poof, there goes thousands of highly educated workers.
Now let’s talk about getting a work visa. Some jobs will sponsor a visa for you, they all would, but many of the working regulations in South East Asia are designed to protect the locals and only allow foreigners to take jobs the locals could not. In some cases this makes sense. You can’t immigrate to Thailand and become a bricklayer, but at the same time, you also can’t go to Thailand and work as a tour guide. A friend of mine, an underwater welder, had to work on a tourist visa in Vietnam because “Lots of Vietnamese can weld.” The company didn’t really have a choice, after all there were no locals in the entire country who could do the job so they just hired him on a tourist visa. These rules and regulations get pretty bad, but they can get worse. If you have a PhD in English, you speak and write it better than me, but you were born outside one of the few “Native” English countries, than you’re not likely to get a Work Visa in any of Chinas bigger cities, at least not without a good bribe.
Working legal in Cambodia and Laos is easier the working illegally. You can apply for a work visa on entry, you don’t need any documents. Just choose your visa, pay the fee, and go on your way. The fees for one year work visa were around $200.
In every other country in South East Asia you either need sponsorship or just work or live on a tourist visa. I suggest working on a tourist Visa. Almost every country will give you never ending tourist visa, just extend them each time and do border runs. The Philippines will let you stay in the country 2-3 years. China doesn’t mind giving out 1 yearlong tourist visas. Really who would travel for one year nonstop in China?
So my friend, over all, don’t worry, just travel and work as you please regardless of your visa status.