It is Illegal to Work While on a Tourist Visa, Secure an Employment Visa First

Warning to all expats who plan to work abroad. Please make sure that you secure a valid employment visa or a work visa before reporting to work. It is illegal to start your work duty without a valid employment visa. You might face consequences depending, on your country, if you work while on a tourist or visit visa.

Here we share some tips in terms of understanding the benefits of why you need to stand firm in your rights as an employee. As a general thought, if you don’t have an employment you don’t have rights as an employee. Read on as we share some frequently asked questions and answers about this topic.

Related Post: Employer Keeping Your Passport is Illegal

working while on tourist visa is illegal

It is Illegal for Your Employer to Make You Work While on a Tourist Visa

The temptation of working for bigger pay in greener pastures force a lot of people to look for jobs abroad. Securing our family’s future is of great importance to our culture. Sometimes because of this consideration, we resort to underhanded tactics that may leave us to be exploited and defenseless.

It is not a secret that when some people get their passports stamped with tourist visas from whichever country they will visit, their main objective is not to do sightseeing tours but to look for jobs. They will start looking for jobs as soon as they set their bags down and earn their keep.

Once they see a job that would be a great opportunity for them to send remittances back home, they become exploited members of society – victims of their own noble justification of wanting a better future. They open themselves up for abuse and for exploitations of abusive and corrupt employers. Once they know you are holding a tourist visa and are working, they already know how to spring the trap. And you will be left defenseless against it. Your dream will most likely become a nightmare in a heartbeat.

You see, my fellow OFWs (and other expats), working on a tourist visa is illegal. And having your employers make you work on a tourist visa is an illicit act punishable by law. You both are messing up big time! And most are doing this willingly despite knowing the possible repercussions of their actions.


Reminders for Workers and Employers

There are certain territories which allow for holders of tourist visas to look for jobs. Most countries do not allow tourist visa holders to even consider looking for occupations. Consider yourself fortunate if you arrive at a country that allows the transition from tourist visas to employment or work visas in a period of time. You would be able to make things work.

What will I do if I want to work?

When you are holding a tourist visa but you are really looking gainful employment, make sure you will ask your employer to sponsor you to change your tourist visa to a work-employment visa. This will make your stay legal since your employer would shoulder the burden of proof. However, sign a legal and binding document to this effect so you will have something to hold on to. And make sure that among the stipulations in the document would state that you will not work while the employment visa is still being processed for both your sakes.

Why do I need to do this?

Why should you pursue this? For one, your security. With the documents on hand, you can show this to a government agency and have them process your papers legally. You will be given enough time to establish residence and other things needed for legal employment.

Are there any other reasons?

Processing the transfer of a tourist visa to an employment visa takes a long time. If you choose to work while it is still under process, you are exposing yourself to being UNPAID and will have NO BENEFITS. While this is amenable for some people, if your employer changes his mind about your visa sponsorship, you will be left hanging and holding NOTHING.

You will also not be giving yourself a chance with the attached agency handling these kind of affairs. How will you reply to their questions? You will only make it worse for you.

What else do I need to know about this?

You will also be protecting yourself from accruing fines and penalties. In Dubai, if you get caught working while on a tourist visa, you will be penalized AED 50,000 and will get blacklisted in the country – meaning you will never be granted a working visa ever. Other countries also impose stiff monetary fines and penalties to deter people from doing this. But still some persist because of the potential rewards.

My potential employer asked me to work while my work visa is still being processed. What shall I do?

The best recourse is to remind your potential employer of the risk of being exposed. Remind him that you would be blacklisted and that he will also be penalized if he insists on this. So politely decline this, as you tell him that you are protecting both of your interests.

Should he insist and try to exploit your position, you should report him to the authorities most especially if you have the written documents to prove it.

What penalties will an employer face for making me work on a tourist visa?

Your employer will face stiff penalties as well. Usually, the country will levy a huge fine for their punishment plus several other restrictions that will be placed on them for a certain period of time. If the case is severe in scope, he might even face jail time and if the law allows for it, physical punishments as well.

My potential sponsor withdrew his visa assistance. What remedies do I have?

Legally, if you are holding a binding document, you might be able to pursue a case against him for withdrawing on the agreement. He can be subjected to fines and other penalties as levied by their authorities. Probably as part of their settlement, you might be able to seek a faster transfer of your tourist visa to an employment visa.

Summary & Common Scenario of Employers Abusing Expats to Work Under Tourist Visa

To summarize all the information we posted, take this scenario of a common situation. Employers tell their newly hired employees to work already even if the working visa is still ‘under process’. If the employee does not understand the law, the employee will just agree and start working.

At times, it will take a month or more to ‘process the work visa’, depending on how fast the employer will process it. However, during that time, the employer might already assess the worth ethics/attitude of the employee. It will be good if the employer likes what he sees, but if he’s not happy, he MIGHT not continue the process of hiring the employee.

This leaves the employee with possibly no salary (if the employer really doesn’t like the employee) and less remaining number of days to stay in the country. BUT the employee cannot complain because he does not have a work visa. Even if he goes to the Labor office, he will not have any case at all because there’s no binding and legal contract between the two parties in the first place!

This is how things can really go wrong if you don’t understand the law and you don’t have any work contract. Having a work visa and a signed contract are the proof that the person is an employee and if they don’t have these, then they don’t have rights as a worker. We hope this simplifies the importance of exerting your rights and having knowledge of the law.


While we know that the temptation to work illicitly on a tourist visa is ever increasing, you should not give in. You must remember that your future is also on the line and your family’s welfare is as well. Exhaust all legal loopholes and remedies if you really want to transition from having a tourist visa to an employment visa. It will take time, but the wait would be worth it.

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