Teaching Abroad – In The Know (No.15): Papers, Pleaze!

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Hello, Digital Travellers!

One of my favourite scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (a movie that almost single handedly inspired my pursuit of history and a deep love of travel), is when the SS Colonel asks the  two Jones’ for their papers, before being subsequently thrown from the zeppelin by Indiana.

This is, of course, an unlikely fiction for Digital Travellers these days set to embark upon a first foray into the ESL world. It’s unlikely precisely because you’ll probably not be going anywhere without the right papers, in this case visas and university transcripts. 

These two documents (unless you have additional degrees, of course), along with your police check that I discussed several weeks ago, form the three main forms that you’ll need to turn your initially accepted ESL job offer into a plane ticket, pre-paid or otherwise.

As mentioned in the previous blog, the police check is often the most laborious, time-consuming piece of paperwork to get hold of and for that reason should be whizzed off first. You’ll also need your police check in many cases to actually secure your visa and is thus a perquisite. 

Academic (University) Transcripts

Academic transcripts however, are a funny one, but a relatively easy thing to plan ahead for. Now, assuming you have your degree, you would have been awarded both the certificate and the transcript which is basically a break down of your marks, grades, and courses, acting, in essence, as a sort of guarantee that your certificate is genuine (a fake degree certificate can be acquired in many places around the very cheaply). For most countries that I've worked in, the degree certificate is all that is required as proof of one’s academic achievements both to secure and interview as well as a visa later on. In some cases, however, such as South Korea, unopened transcripts are required by the visa-granting system in-country. In this instance, you’ll need to call your respective universities and order/buy new transcripts and leave them sealed. This is a real pain in the backside as it can take weeks, but if you order them when you start the long process to get your police check, it’s not so painful waiting around for them to return. As a pro-tip, most universities will charge you less for secondary sets of transcripts once you’ve paid for the first, making it a wise investment to order multiple copies if you are intending to stay in the ESL world beyond your first job and don’t wish to go through the whole process again for those countries that might also demand unopened transcripts. For example, the last time I ordered new transcripts from the University of Bristol, the first set was £30, whereafter, additional sets were £10. Of course, I can’t speak of all British or foreign institutes, but I would assume a similar system. As a general rule, I tend to keep a couple of unopened copies filed away as I’d rather have them available and not need them than the other way around. And again, this is something you can apply for right now - there’s no need to wait until you actually get offered a job. This will be one less thing to worry about. Once you do have your transcripts and they have been either seen or approved of for the visa, make sure you take the original copies with you to the country you are flying to (and this goes for all important paperwork, including your police check) as you will likely need to submit copies to relevant authorities as well as your employer. Unsurprisingly, Mr Immigration Man won’t take your word for it.

Immigration/Work Visas

This is another pain in the neck, but if you’ve been patient enough to go through and wait for your police checks to clear, then the visa process should be a breeze, though still tiresome and boring.

So, the basics. If you’re not familiar, you’ll need a visa to work in a foreign country - a tourist visa won't do, at least not to work legally. The name of the visa may differ slightly from country to country (work visa; employment visa etc.), as might the paperwork involved (for example: South Korea needs an unopened transcript and a police check within 12 months; Saudi Arabia, by contrast, doesn’t need a police check from British nationals, but does demand a medical; for Spain, Brits don’t need a formal work visa to work in the EU presently, but will almost certainly require one if Brexit is completed).

Now, I’ll be speaking in generic terms here, drawing on experience for various countries, but rest assured if my overviews fails to answer all your questions your recruiter, employer, or a senior teacher at the institution you’ll be heading to will almost certainly be able to give you all the advice you’ll need (just ask). This might vary from ad hoc advice via email, to official links, or to pre-made documents walking your through the whole process. So, please don’t panic. As I say, the process is fairly tedious, but it’s not akin to a bootcamp in the US Marine Corps. 

With that in mind, the roadmap to getting your visa will look something like this: 

(1) Interview; (2) job offer and contract; (3) return of signed contract; (4) follow-up emails detailing what and how you get the necessary paperwork together; (5) send off for your police check (or equivalent), if relevant as this will almost certainly take the longest; (6) call your university to get new copies of your transcripts (leave them unopened); (7) make an appointment with the relevant embassy in your home country; (8) go to the embassy in person to submit documentation and have possible interview; (9) receive relevant visa stamp in your passport via the post; (10) carry on preparing for your flight/new job abroad etc.

Obviously, it’s points 7, 8, and 9 that concern us at this stage, much of which is self-explanatory, I think most will agree. So, upon receiving the critical documents that you’ll need (and again, embassies will tell you the precise nature of what you MUST bring with you for a visa to be issued which you’ll need to consult and pay strict attention to; documents, contracts, passport, passport sized-photographs etc.), you’ll then either phone ahead to make an appointment, or rock-up to the embassy and process it there and then. In my experience, phoning ahead and booking an appointment (if the embassy offers this facility), is much less stressful. Otherwise, spend a few minutes and pay CLOSE attention to opening times. Embassies may well be open from 8 or 9am to 4 for 5pm, but might ONLY be open for processing visas for a few hours. I almost made this mistake the first time I went to the Korean embassy in London. Now, to provide some background, my family is based in the West Country, which evidently requires some travelling. I took an early bus to get to London, giving myself plenty of time. I got to the embassy at 11:45am - a reasonable time in my view. When I got there, I quickly realised that the Korean embassy only processed visas between 10-12am; I casually assumed that they would have been open all day to process visas. This assumption would have cost me money and time. Therefore, I strongly urge checking embassy times for processing visa applications. Obviously, this is your responsibility.

Once you get to the embassy, pay your fee with your presented documents, and give over your passport (I hate giving my passport away like this, but it’s necessary in most instances for the staff to physically stamp the visa into your passport), that’s just about it. They will post your visa back to you via special delivery usually within a working week or two. One may, if its more convenient, pick up one’s passport in person.

There are caveats though. When it comes to visas, you’ll need to appreciate that visas are not equal. In my experience, the Korean visa took two weeks the first time, and frequently a week during subsequent applications. Saudi always took a month from getting to London to receiving my visa and passport back. Equally, China can take a long time, too. Your recruiter or employer should be able to give you a better speculative timeframe of how long it might take given their rich experience in dealing with such things. I would note that it's wise to have some understanding of holidays, vacations, and public holidays in the country you are intending to move to. For example, very little gets done for three weeks at the Saudi embassy during Ramadan, while the Korean embassy might run on a skeleton crew (if at all) during Chosak (which last year was some 10 days long). Equally, embassies be closed on weekends. Foreign embassies may also take British/local holidays off, too. This might all seem obvious and logical as you read this, but it is only so if you possess such knowledge. I strongly urge readers to check to see what holidays may be active during the times you intend to submit your applications for the visa process.

The slight variation to this process is if you go through a visa service. For instance, the paperwork necessary for Saudi Arabia, required me going to London’s West End, and not only to do all the visa-stuff as briefly outlined above, but a medical exam as well. This exam tested all the basics, as well as conducting a HIV and narcotics test. Failure on these latter two issues will result in a declined application and considerable medical and visa bills. The visa service will then take all your documents and medical results to the Saudi (in this case) embassy and send your documents back to you in the same fashion.

And that’s about it. Honestly, the whole process is long, tiresome, boring, and mundane (in my view), but there isn’t much to fret or worry about unless you have left some or all of this document-collection to the last minute; fail to bring the relevant (and requested) documents' or test positive for either HIV/AIDS or narcotics during a medical examination.

Despite all of this, I must confess I do like have visa stamps in my passport.

Once you do (eventually) get your visa back (adding to your library of papers), you’ll want to inform your boss or recruiter for the next stage, which will almost certainly be the arranging of a flight to get your lucky butt to your new job.

Then the fun starts.

Next time, I’ll be talking about mentally preparing for going abroad for a year.

Editorial: Thomas Dowling has worked in the ESL industry for over 7 years, having lived and worked in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Myanmar, Kuwait, and the UK. Currently, Thomas is a full-time Ph.D Student studying Environmental Security (mainly Myanmar and Southeast Asia) at the University of Leicester. He has previously studied degrees in Ancient History (BA; MA: Bristol), and International Security Studies (MA: Leicester). In 2014, he earned his CELTA qualification (ITI: Istanbul, Turkey). Thomas is also the Co-Founder of The Digital Traveller, focusing upon content and content management. Thomas presently lives in Daegu, South Korea, with his wife, Mandy, a rambuncious Jack Russell Terrier, and his newborn baby, Zeno.

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