Working Abroad (Illegally)

You scrounged and saved every last penny and decided to take an extra long trip. Unfortunately for you, the exchange rates weren’t that great but you decided to go anyway and now, you are running low on funds. What’s a person to do? You could always apply for a working holiday visa but that costs money too. The solution? Work illegally. Yes it’s against your current visa conditions but a person has to do what they gotta do to survive. In this post, I’ll cover the basics, how to find a job that pays cash in hand (under the table for my American readers), avoiding being detected by immigrations and of course where to store your cash.

If you are gushing cash, my next article will cover how to save money (some ways are obvious, some not so much).

Cash in Hand Jobs – Least Risky
Surprisingly, the best place to find a job is to start at the hostel you are staying at (if you aren’t already at a hostel, see my next article). Most hostels will have a job board or people at reception that know where you can find a quick day job that pays immediately, cash in hand, but be prepared to work your ass off. Try the local Craigslist equivalent, Gum Tree which covers most Commonwealth nations, unfortunately if you are outside the Commonwealth Realm, you will have to use Google to find one. GumTree will usually have a list of people looking for day labourers, au pairs (nanny/housekeeper) and other odd ended jobs. The job will possibly suck and you might be working for less than the countries minimum wage but at least it’s money. Other places to look include restaurants, bars and other businesses the primarily are paid by cash (they are more inclined to pay you cash in hand as a result).

Keep in mind that when you are going around handing out your CV (curriculum vitae, a more detailed version of a resume) to actual businesses, you may need to add a few jobs that you never have held before depending on what you are applying for. In today’s competitive world, it can be difficult to secure a job unless you already have experience in that field. So if you are applying to be a waiter, put down that you have been a waiter before, use an existing restaurant from your home country in case they Google it. It is highly unlikely they will try and contact them as it’s just a waste of time. Padding your CV with jobs that you have never held may seem unethical but keep in mind, you’re already breaking the law by trying to work in the first place, plus it’s not that hard to wait tables or be a bartender. NEVER apply for jobs that require a tax number or do not pay cash in hand, that will send up red flags immediately.

A Real Job – More Risky
You don’t want to make minimum or below minimum wage huh? Ok that’s understandable but things get riskier if you plan on getting a real job. Most real jobs will require a bank account and a tax number. The bank account isn’t a problem as most countries (the US being one of few exceptions) do not require a tax number to open up a bank account. However, in order to get a tax number, you usually need to have a valid work permit of some sorts. Do NOT apply for a tax number if you do not have this permit, all countries immigration and taxation departments work closely together and instead of a tax number in the mail, you’ll get an immigration officer in person instead. Not good.

All hope is not lost, instead if you are applying for a real job, just don’t supply a tax number. Most companies don’t bother checking to see if you have a work permit anyway (Australia being an exception but even then, you can slip through the cracks. Be forewarned, this is one of few countries I would not try to work in a real job without a work permit as they can check online very easily). Without a tax number though, you will be taxed at that countries highest tax rate with no way to recover that money so say good bye to 50-60% of your pay. The other solution is to use a fellow travellers tax number but you can only use it until they leave. This too is risky as if they detect it (low chance) you both get the boot or if your friend denies it and says you stole it, you could be facing criminal charges. This is why, it is just best to find a cash in hand job.

Don’t Be Taken Advantage of
A lot of people will use your inability to work legally to their advantage and will try and exploit you. Don’t let this happen. Always ask what the pay is before you start working, even before a trial shift. If the pay is more than $3 below the countries minimum wage then it’s best to keep looking. Ask how frequently you will be paid, in Commonwealth countries, it is standard to be paid weekly, as a day labourer, daily. If you are just working for the day, be sure you get paid that day, do not let them tell you they will send you a cheque in the mail as it won’t show.

If a company ever tries to tell you they aren’t paying you for work you have already done, threaten to report them. In most cases, they will pay you immediately. If they still don’t, actually report them. Many countries take exploitation of migrants seriously and employers know this. You may think you will be getting in trouble but if you throw them completely under the bus (say something like, “They told me they had a special permit from immigration allowing them to employ tourists for short periods.”) you can usually escape trouble pinning it all on them (A friend of mine used this in Brisbane once and it actually worked). Don’t feel bad for the company, they were trying to screw you anyway.

Also ask fellow backpackers, chances are some of them are working illegally too. They can give you advice on who to contact regarding work and who to avoid.

Storing Your Money
Obviously if you are being paid cash in hand, eventually you are going to have a lot of cash on hand which is good but not safe. The best place to store all this money is at an actual bank. As I mentioned before, you can open up a bank account in a lot of countries without a tax number. If they ask any questions, just tell them you are on a working holiday but haven’t received your tax number yet. Do not try that though in countries that do not have working holidays as they will be on you quick. Again, most of the time you will be fine, all you need is a passport and proof of address (ask your hostel to print something out saying you are staying there or bring in a letter you received at their address).

If you don’t want to go the bank route, place the money on a prepaid credit card. You can pick one of these up at a grocery store or post office, usually there is a one time cost but it is minimal. When selecting a prepaid card, find one that suits your needs with the lowest fees. Prepaid cards are great if you are super paranoid, anyone can buy them and you don’t need to register them (although I strongly advise you do register it because if you lose it, you lost all the money on it as well) nor do they require contact information. Most countries don’t bother keeping a central list of who has one anyway, it’s just not worth the time and effort.

Never keep a lot of cash on you or any of your stuff that is stored at the hostel. There is always a snake among us and they will steal from you the second you turn your back. That is why it is critical to keeping your money in a more secure place, a bank or prepaid credit card.

The consequences of working illegally are pretty simple, you’ll be given deportation orders and/or deported but only if you are caught. If you are smart about it, you can work illegally and immigration won’t be the wiser.

I hope this post has given you a few pointers and if you have any questions, please post them in the comment section. If there is anything super critical I missed, I will append it to the article and make it obvious as always.

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