What If Your Visa Prevents You From Working?

What If Your Visa Prevents You From Working?

You’d like to work in your host country but your visa doesn’t allow it: Don’t despair, maybe there’s a way round…

When I arrived in Singapore in 2014, my hopes were high. Having overcome all my doubts and reservations concerning what the move would entail, I was ready to kick start my career again.

I started going to networking meetings and workshops in order to launch my professional activity. I was enthusiastic about the ideas that had come up during these meetings, and I couldn’t wait to get started. But my eagerness was soon replaced by frustration and despair when my realised my visa would not allow me to be gainfully employed.

I felt like a caged bird: there were so many projects I wanted to start working on, and I knew I was capable. However, despite all my good will, it looked like I wouldn’t be able to realise my dreams.

After an initial period of frustration (during which I was already regretting my decision to move to Singapore), I recognised that it was useless to just sit and cry about it. I decided a solution had to be found, and started looking more deeply into the matter.

I’d like to share what I learnt from my research. If you find yourself in a similar situation, some of these tips may be of use to you.

Gather information from several sources; and above all, ask people who have already gone through the process

This may seem obvious, but first and foremost, don’t despair and don’t give up. True, some countries have very tight laws, and you may think there is no way round them, but it’s important to persist. Ensure that you have explored every avenue and checked thoroughly to ensure you know your rights.

Don’t stop at the first hurdle: envisage other possibilities that may not initially have sprung to mind. In my case, I had come to the conclusion that there was no hope. Just when I was ready to throw in the towel, I discovered that there was a way (and a legal way at that).

Almost a year had passed since my arrival in Singapore. Discovering that I would be able to start up my own business gave me hope again.

To ensure that you obtain all the necessary information, remember to ask several sources, and don’t simply accept the first negative responses you get. Many people told me that with the type of visa I had, I wouldn’t be able to work, nor would I be able to start up my own business. This was repeated to me again and again. The more I asked, the more I was given the same reply.

Then at a certain point I realised I had been asking people who were in a similar situation to mine. Obviously they were unable to help me, and could see no possible solution. I needed to look elsewhere: perhaps ask someone who had actually succeeded.

So I began to seek information from entrepreneurs who had succeeded in setting themselves up, asking them how they had managed to get their ventures going. And suddenly a whole new world opened up to me: there was a way! Of course it would be neither quick nor easy: I had to go through a series of formalities and fill our endless forms, but at last I could see a glint of light at the end of the tunnel.

Have a clear idea of what you want to do and what you don’t want to do

Caught up in my euphoria and enthusiasm, I dived straight in and launched ThreeSixtySkills Pte. Ltd., my training and life coaching business. I was so excited by the fact that I had at last found a solution, that I put the whole business planning aspect on the back burner. I firmly believed that getting a work visa was all I needed to get my venture going and start earning.

My haste to open the business meant that at the start I had no clear focus. I felt that I had to do a thousand things at once, in the hope that one would work. So I started giving face-to-face courses, coaching face-to-face and online, attending courses to improve my skills, forming partnerships with other ventures, organising meetings for women, distributing products for other life coaches, doing voluntary work, writing a motivational book, organising online mastermind groups, learning to speak in public, working with local universities, and so on.

I soon realised that I was doing all this with no idea where I was heading. Often I would wake tired and frustrated. I was like a mouse on a wheel, running round and round and getting nowhere.

Of course, at last I was earning, but I often wondered whether it was worth it. Yet I am anything but lazy, or lacking in commitment. You can’t imagine how many evenings and weekends I spent working! But I realised things were slipping away: I was trapped in something I had wished for with all my heart.

Time and experience have taught me that rather than doing a lot of things at once, it’s better to do a few well. If you are focussed, and know exactly what you want to achieve, you will know which products and services to offer. What’s more, you will be able to say NO to all those ‘opportunities’ which in reality have nothing to do with your core business and which are simply a waste of time and energy.

Especially at the start, it’s easier to focus on doing a few things well. Take, for example, Amazon, which started off selling books. Or Google, which initially was a simple search engine. Apple produced computers. Only later did they start offering other goods and services. But focusing on one product at the start allowed them to stand out from the rest, and to become top in their field.

If I weren’t paid, would I still do it?

Let’s assume that after all your research, there simply seems to be no solution to the problem. You cannot work in your host country. What then?

In this case, as I said earlier, don’t despair. Rather than wasting energy in getting depressed, ask yourself what you would like to do even if you weren’t paid. What activity have you neglected in the past, which you have time to devote to now? Which of your passions could be steered towards helping others?

Maybe you like cooking, or reading stories, or listening to people. Maybe you enjoy sport. Or perhaps you’re passionate about Eastern philosophy, or art. What about gastronomy? I am sure there are several things you like to do each day. So ask yourself: how can these passions help others?

For example, you could find out whether local voluntary associations need people with your skills. Or you might like to organise a group of like-minded people who meet around their passion. I know people who have successfully set up cooking circles. Others have formed book clubs (like our Claudia, for example!) Others have created an organisation to save dwarf rabbits. There are endless examples.

A site which may be useful to you is meetup: check if there are already groups in your host country organised around your areas of interest. And if there aren’t, why not start one? I did just that, co-creating The Women’s Lab, a group of women passionate about personal growth.

You might like to keep your skills up to date by offering your services to a particular company. For example, before starting my business, I worked with local trainers and helped them manage their participants: I ran certain parts of the courses, and facilitated group activities…all for free. Don’t think that the lack of a visa blocks you from doing what you enjoy doing: more often than you can possibly imagine, people will be delighted with your help and will be grateful for the time you can dedicate to them.

So, don’t just sit there with folded arms (unless that’s what you really want to do). Even if you are not paid for your work, you will gain experience (and what’s more, in an international setting!) and you will keep your skills honed. All this will play in your favour if ever you move to another country or return home, where there won’t be a visa problem. You will be able to use the new skills you have acquired, and your C.V. won’t have gaps in it.

Think about creating an exclusively online activity

Finally, one possibility you might like to consider is setting up an online activity. This is much easier than you might think: all you need is a computer and an Internet connection.

You don’t even need complicated IT skills. Several services allow you to build a website with just a few clicks. Have a look at Wix.com, Strikingly.com or Weebly.com. They offer a free basic service, and if you wish, you can pay to upgrade, so as to more functions.

If you feel braver, try WordPress.That’s what is used to create this site: it’s simple to use, and above all, very flexible! You can opt for an all-inclusive package: I would recommend Siteground, which offers web space, your personal domain, and of course WordPress! Apart from anything, their customer service is superb!

So imagine offering your products or services online. What should you offer? Who would be your target clients? I could go on about this topic for hours…there’s also branding, marketing, and so on to consider. I’ll cover these and other areas in future articles.

In any case, if this is an area that interests you, find out whether local legislation allows you to have an online activity. In my case, had I not been able to start up my business here in Singapore, I would have been able to open a one-person business in my country of origin, Switzerland. With very little initial investment, this would have allowed me to work online in any country in the world. Based on my research, and the information given my by the business consultants I had contacted, I could have even worked in Singapore, even if my clients weren’t resident there.

I advise you to check the current legislation in your country, to avoid getting tangled up in any possible future problems.


So here we are at the end of this article. Have you had problems finding work because of your visa? Have you started up your own venture? What are your suggestions for others in this position?

Do share your experience in our Expatwomen at Work Facebook group, where you will find other women, who like you, work, or are seeking to work abroad.

See you there! 🙂

This article has been first published on www.anh.coach. It has been translated from Italian to English by Paola Fornari. Thank you Paola for your help!

About Claudia Landini

Claudia is a certified intercultural trainer and life and mobile career coach with 28 years of experience abroad, in Africa, Latin America, Middle East and Asia.