The Work & Travel program is the best route for students who want to spend their summer in the USA. Under the program, they will secure a visa, work (and earn) for 2 to 4 months and travel for the final month. Moreover, the entire Work and Travel USA program operates under the auspices of the USA Department of State.
Basic Information About Work and Travel USA
Securing a job in the USA is not as straightforward as it might appear. The simplest path is for students, for whom the USA has established a Work and Travel USA program. This program is officially designed to expose students from all over the world to American culture and increase cultural diversity across America. The program is exclusively for students, who typically apply through private agencies operating in this field.
These agencies assist participants in finding jobs, handling formalities and issues such as flights, or helping them secure accommodations if their employer does not offer it. Work in the USA is paid, with wages typically ranging from $10 to $16 per hour, depending on the location and the position.
Traveling to the USA as a group with a partner or friends is possible. Work and Travel USA is a summer program, usually commencing in May or June. You work for 2 to 4 months, after which you can travel for up to 30 days, which I highly recommend.
Types of Work Available in the Work and Travel Program
You must have work arranged before you depart for the USA. It is not viable to fly to America thinking that “you will find something to do when you arrive”. You can either secure a job yourself (usually the cheaper option) or have an agency organize it for you (for which you pay extra).
The variety of jobs is broad, with the most common being work in national parks, theme parks, swimming pools, hotels, restaurants or shops. Thus, you can work as a lifeguard, clerk, bartender, cleaner, waiter, or operate a shooting range at an amusement park. It always depends primarily on the candidate’s skills and preferences.
Applicants generally are not required to meet specific job requirements such as being able to operate a roller coaster or making beds in the English style. Knowledge of English at a communicative level is a prerequisite; other work experience is beneficial.
If you’re seeking a job yourself, consider looking at one of these job boards, for example:
Work & Travel USA
To participate in the Work and Travel program, all of the following conditions must be met:
You must be between 18 and 30 years of age, although some agencies have lowered the upper age limit to 27.
You must be a full-time student at a university or college, having successfully completed at least one semester of study.
🗣️ Knowledge of English
You should be able to conduct an interview in English with a native speaker without much difficulty – this implies a communicative level of English proficiency.
📅 Duration of Stay
Your stay should consist of 2-4 months of work + 30 days set aside for travel, with the entire stay starting no earlier than May 1 and ending no later than October 31.
To participate in the program, you must secure a J-1 visa and pay all applicable fees.
Cost of Work and Travel USA and When to Apply
If you decide to participate in the Work & Travel program, you should expect to pay between $2,250–$3,000 for a summer job in the USA. The range is actually even wider, depending on whether you find a job on your own or use an agency, the cost of airfare, and the amount of pocket money and travel expenses. Of course, you can recoup a significant part, if not all, of the money through work.
Work and Travel expenses in the USA roughly include the following:
- Fees to the Arranging Agency: $600–$1,000 (depending on whether the agency helps you secure the job or you arrange it yourself)
- Visa: $60
- Flight Ticket: $550–$850
- Pocket Money: $700–$1,100
Applications for the Work and Travel program are accepted each year, usually by April. I recommend applying early, as this not only brings peace of mind but can also result in savings. Many organizing agencies offer discounts for submitting your application by the end of November or December.
Work and Travel Experience in the USA
“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.”
That sentiment was my driving force when I signed a contract with the Campleaders agency in the fall of 2012, committing to spend the following summer in the USA. Despite my initial apprehension and fear of the unknown, the concept became increasingly enticing. I had ten weeks of work at a children’s camp in Pennsylvania and an additional 30 days reserved for traveling.
I journeyed wherever I had always wanted to go, or simply where fortune and my feet guided me. While working at the camp wasn’t exactly a holiday, it was far from draining. Being a part of a remarkable European-American team, relishing the sun, the summer, the authentic American ambiance, and gaining unforgettable experiences until the end of August were exceptional.
Midway through the experience, once I had formed lasting friendships at camp, my travel plans began to solidify. Our objective was to explore the beauty of western USA. After swiftly purchasing plane tickets, we embarked on the exciting journey of planning, organizing, booking hotels, creating profiles on Airbnb and Couchsurfing, contacting car rental companies, and buying maps.
The final day of work was marked with heartfelt goodbyes. Would I ever see these remarkable individuals again, those with whom I had spent a fantastic ten weeks? Today, I know the answer is yes, as I plan to return to the camp, but at that moment we all stood at the start line of a metaphorical race, waiting for the signal.
And then we scattered to different parts of the USA. The feeling was extraordinary: pure freedom, over a thousand dollars in our pockets, and all of America at our feet. Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Los Angeles and its numerous cities, San Francisco, and finally, New York. Narrating all the experiences would easily fill a small book.
One thing is certain – my experience was utterly unique. For three months, I immersed myself in a new environment, interacting with different people and speaking a different language, all of which proved to be a refreshing experience. I made friends from all over the world, from Australia to Hungary, and came to value the camp director’s opening week statement, “Forget about your high school friends, your best friends are in this room.”
“I participated in the Work and Travel program twice, once as a lifeguard and the second time as a bellman. With lifeguarding, I knew what to expect, there were no surprises. However, the bellman position was an unknown; the agency only informed me that I would be a bell desk agent.
Ultimately, the job surpassed my expectations, and after the experience, I likely wouldn’t opt for lifeguarding again. One advantage of working in a resort or hotel is that you are part of a team composed solely of Americans. In contrast, as a lifeguard, your colleagues are predominantly students who participate in the Work and Travel program, hailing from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and other nations.
Another benefit of working at a resort compared to lifeguarding is the ever-changing crowd, resulting in exposure to diverse types of English (each country has its distinct version of English). On the other hand, as a lifeguard, you interact with roughly the same 40 residents at the pool throughout the holiday season, which can become monotonous. Another significant advantage of resort work is that it is less likely to induce boredom compared to an eight-hour shift of supervising swimmers at a pool.
I don’t wish to paint lifeguarding as a dreadful job. It made for a splendid summer. However, in retrospect, the summer spent at the resort surpassed it in every aspect. Your English definitely improves after those few weeks; after a month, you shouldn’t hesitate to speak, even if you make mistakes. I was pleasantly surprised by how tolerant and helpful Americans are.
For those considering work at a hotel, it’s essential to ascertain whether the role includes parking cars. If it does, you would need an international driver’s license. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to park cars, which would be unfortunate, as it can earn you substantial extra money.
If you’re undecided about traveling alone or with a companion, it truly doesn’t matter as you’ll quickly make many friends. Perhaps it might be better to travel alone; this way, you’re plunged directly into the experience and are forced to use English without depending on another person. Americans are incredibly friendly and naturally drawn towards foreigners. Currently, I cannot recall any additional tasks I had to undertake that an agency wouldn’t have managed for me or instructed me to do.
Having read various articles about the “Want to Come to America” program, I’ve noticed that fear of immigration is a prevalent concern. Frankly, I was intimidated initially, but eventually, I realized it was the least of my worries. The official barely looks up, only asking questions like “how long will you be here” and “what will you be doing,” and within a minute, you’re cleared.
One aspect of the USA that disappointed me was its public transportation. Outside the large cities, public transit is rather lacking. As a lifeguard, I lived about an hour and a half walk from the pool, which necessitated acquiring a bike—though that wasn’t a significant issue.
Apart from that, the USA is an entirely different world, and I would definitely recommend everyone to give it a shot for at least one summer. It’s a priceless, and most importantly, fun-filled experience.”
If you have a question about the Work and Travel USA program, or if you’ve participated yourself and wish to share your experience, feel free to post in the comments below. Thanks! :)