Work and Travel in USA – Everything you should know
The wish to visit so many places is strong but the money needed for it is sometimes stronger. Especially if you want to go on other continents. What about during your studies? Sometimes, during that time, I found myself without enough money to go to the town nearby. And yet, you are seeing so many people on your Instagram and Facebook traveling the world. You know they are just regular students who you saw working in local McDonalds. Perhaps McDonald’s started to pay serious money for working students? Probably (100%) not.
Have you ever heard about Work and Travel?
Work and Travel
Work and Travel USA is a student program sponsored by the American Government. The goal is to give students all around the world an opportunity to spend summer working in the USA for 3 months and one month of grace period for traveling all around the States (been there, done that). Of course, if you don’t want to travel, you can spend your additional month however you want. You can continue to work or go home earlier. It’s up to you. Some people are only going there because they want to earn money and just go back home with some extra cash. That was not me. All earned money in the USA stayed right there. But no judging, you can do whatever you want with your money. However, there are a few things you should be aware of before you apply for this program.
Work and Travel program is not free
Work and Travel, unfortunately for all of us, is not free. If you want to go to the USA like this, you will need an agency who is a sponsor for J1 a visa in your country. And these kinds of agencies are taking their share for this. Depending on the option you choose, it can cost you up to 1000 USD to cover the agency’s expenses. You can choose between independent (you search for a job on your own) that is usually the cheapest way, or you can choose that agency find you an employer (a little bit more expensive). You also apply for insurance in the USA that adds around 300-400 USD additional to your expenses. In total, your expenses are around 1000 USD at this point and you still don’t even have your J1 visa.
You will need a visa for Work and Travel
You are asking yourself probably by now: what is a J1 visa? Well, this visa is a special visa for students that have the intention to go for the Work and Travel program. It’s valid for 3 months only with an additional month of a grace period. Like every other visa for the USA, you will need to apply for this one and go to the American embassy in your home country for a short conversation with the consul. This is also not for free, it costs 160 USD and this money is not refundable (even if you don’t get a visa).
Don’t be afraid of this visa interview: it’s quite easy and quick. Lady who was interviewing me was nice and helpful and she gave me few pieces of advice. I was also nervous but the important thing for them is that you have something that connects you to your college at home. In that way, they know that you are a student and that you plan to come back. My “thing” was my master thesis. Although people told me it’s hard to get a visa if you don’t also have some exams left, I need to tell you that’s not the case. I only had a master thesis and my last exam was almost 10 months before my interview. And I still got it. More about the J1 visa you can find here.
Let me know if you want to know more about this whole visa process so I will write a special post about it! But the conclusion is that this process is simpler than it looks so you don’t have to be afraid that you will not get it.
When can you go to the USA
Americans were so nice that they gave us an additional month before our first working day to spend in their beautiful country. That means if your first day of work is 10.06. you can enter the USA at 10.05. That’s a cool option for someone who wants (and have money) to travel even before he starts to work. Since we went there to earn money to travel after, we couldn’t do the whole month before traveling but we did come 10 days earlier and spent those days in New York. That means that we had more time in September to travel around the rest of the USA. It’s also pretty good because it allows you to buy a cheaper ticket because your date is a little bit more flexible.
USA tax system is complicated
USA tax system is, at best said, weird. Coming from Europe, you will probably know how much your net salary is at the beginning of your employment. Well, in the USA it is different. Although your employer will inform you about how much you earn per hour, you need to consider that this amount is taxes included. And these taxes will be deducted each time that you receive a salary (on one week or two-week basis in our case). So, for example, if your rate per hour is 8,6 USD, it is not. Depending on in which state you are working, taxes will be deducted differently from your salary.
And here comes the weirdest part: there is not a fixed percentage of how much they deduct. So, it’s not they will deduct you each time 6,6 percent or similar. How my manager explained to me, it works like this: they deduct some average amount from your salary that is based on how much you earn.
The more you earn, the more taxes they take from you. I started with a lower hourly rate, and when I got a raise, they were automatically taking more money. In the beginning, I had fewer hours and I was earning less, so they were taking a smaller amount of money. After some time when my salary got higher, the amount of taxes got higher also. So, the deduction is made on some average base of your earnings. Then, at the end of the year, they calculate how much they took from you and was it enough or they need to return you some money.
This is just something that you need to take into consideration when you chose your job because the hourly rate on the paper is not the one you will get. There is of course tax return each year where you will get some money back, but that is after you come back home.
Overtime and tips are important
I can’t even point out enough how much is this part important. Paid overtime and tips are things that you should be looking for when you look for your job. My employer was paying me 50 percent more for every hour overtime. So, if your hourly wage is 10 USD, your overtime is 15 USD! So, imagine working 70 hours per week (that was a normal thing in my case). That’s a lot of money extra opposite to the people who worked the same number of hours but without overtime. In the end, I worked less but I was earning more. It’s important to pay attention to this part when you chose your job.
Tips are also nice and good to have. I was living from my tips and didn’t even touch my salary. And when I say living, I mean I was shopping a lot. Take into consideration these things because they make all the difference.
You can find the second job
But don’t worry if you don’t have enough overtime. You can always find a second job. Places that are looking for students from Europe are usually very popular and touristic places where you can easily find the second job. This job can be even better paid in most of the cases and you can work on this job maybe only 20 hours per week, but it will make the difference.
Accommodation during Work and Travel
There are no exact rules about this but in a lot of cases, the employer will ask you to pay for your accommodation. A lot of employers can accommodate you but they will charge you weekly or monthly fee for it. In my case that was deducted from my salary. I worked in Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey. This is a very popular place for people from Upstate to come for summer. Therefore, the rents there are huge. We each paid 125 USD per week which is a lot and it was deducted from our salary every week. You need to take this also into consideration when you are choosing your ideal job.
There was a job in Yellowstone that charged only 45 USD per week for accommodation. Some places don’t charge you at all. But I wanted to be near the ocean and most important near New York. I guess everything has its price. Also, some employers are not even offering this possibility, so you need to find your accommodation.
The price of your flight ticket is something that adds a lot to your expenses. But it can also vary a lot. I would probably say that this is the most variable item in your Work and Travel itinerary. I will write a special article about the best ways of how not to spend a lot when buying a flight ticket. Subscribe to be the first one to read this!
Packing for Work and Travel
One thing I’m 100 percent sure: You will do a lot of shopping in the USA. Don’t even try to convince me you will not: trust me, you will. There are so many outlets and cheap clothing stores like Marshalls or TJMaxx. They are selling clothing that is 5 times more expensive in Europe. I can’t even express how much I spent on shopping there – it’s not my fault, it was a good price :). So please be aware of this when you will be packing. You will spend 90 percent of your time in your work uniform, so you really, but really don’t need a lot. This is coming from me and I’m always packing too much. In this case, save the space for a lot of new stuff. But also, don’t worry, you can always buy a new suitcase (or 3 like me).
When you finish your traveling (especially if you will go home straight after work), you will have a lot of cash on your American bank account. If you don’t plan to come back, you need to close this bank account. This is super easy. I had a bank account in Bank of America, and it was one quick visit to one of their branches and the account was closed. My boyfriend did the same, but they reopened his account because there was some transaction pending. He was already in Europe, so he contacted them via Facebook and they closed it for him. They also covered the remaining balance since he had only a few dollars in minus.
Also, I strongly recommend TransferWise for all Work and Travel students. It’s a super easy and quick way to transfer thousands of dollars to your home account in Europe (or elsewhere) and it will cost you significantly less than any other way. If you are using TransferWise for the first time, it will cost you even less. You can register on this link.
Work and Travel is an excellent opportunity and it will always be one of the best times in my life. You will work a lot (and I mean a lot) and at some point, you will hate the USA. But, at the end of this, you will not regret that you went there. Meeting so many people, visited so many places (check out our video) makes me only ask myself: Why I didn’t go before? 🙂
I spent only one summer as a participant in the Work and Travel program in the USA. I have met people who were working fourth or fifth summer in a row. I’m aware that there is a lot of things that are maybe missing in this post. But these are things that I wish I knew before I went for this program.
I wrote this post to help anyone who is thinking about going on this program. But it’s also for you who never heard about this before but you always wanted to travel.
This is it from me this time. I hope I motivated you to explore Work and Travel. Don’t be afraid, so many of us did it and we enjoyed it.
Is there anything else you would like to know about this? Please leave me a comment with your question or send me a message. I will be more than happy to help you!
Until next time,
Traveler To Be