I am considering leaving my day job to concentrate on setting up my own business. As my business is online based, I can work from anywhere and do not need a physical office.

As such, I'm considering going travelling around South America for 6 months while I get everything set up.

Can this be done on a normal tourist visa, or would I need a work visa for each country I visit? The business will be an online service, and will initially only be available to UK based businesses.


4 Answers 4


The precise answer is local law specific, but in general, you cannot work while on a tourist/business visa or visa waiver. There are outlying exceptions, but they wouldn't cover running a business. Enforcement varies by country (and some may be happy to have you there spending money, even if its not entirley within the rules), but you are running the risk of getting in a lot of trouble if you attempt to hide the activities you intend to undertake during your stay. There are tax implications to working like this as well, which are a whole other kettle of fish.

However, you mention that you will initally be providing services to UK companies. If you are a UK citizen (or other EU citizen), then under EU freedom of movement laws, you have the right to:

  • look for a job in another EU country
  • work there without needing a work permit
  • reside there for that purpose
  • stay there even after employment has finished
  • enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages

So you can travel while setting up your business without any special permisions, provided you do it within the EU.

That's not South America you say? Well actually, thanks to imperialism (especially French and Iberian) the EU stretches a lot further than you might think: enter image description here (Image is By Alexrk2 - Natural Earth 1:50m http://www.naturalearthdata.com), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15025858)

Only the blue stars are full EU (other areas may operate under different rules) but you have places as distant as French Guiana, La Réunion, Canary Islands and the Azores.

Several countires also offer "Working holiday visas", which depending on the specifics may or may not cover your requirements.

  • 1
    Still not a south-america answer. Only French Guiana is in South America. Azores is in the middle of the atlantic, closer to Europe. Canary Islands is next to Sahara desert, africa. La Reunion is on the Indic Ocean. Feb 16, 2016 at 18:41
  • 2
    @mindwin and OP: The onus is on you to tell us which country you are interested in. If you list more then one, though, this can easily be VtC as too broad. Pick a country, ask. Pick a different country, and ask a new question. That's how this works and the OP has enough rep to know better.
    – CGCampbell
    Feb 16, 2016 at 20:03
  • 4
    The OP is considering South America, but this answer opens up several other possibilities that, in my opinion, are extremely valuable to someone who is considering a place and is unsure whether he can do so legally. Besides, South America isn't a country.
    – magma
    Feb 17, 2016 at 3:41
  • 1
    Indeed - South America is just a possibility, if someone was to make an alternative suggestion that would be easier (as CMaster has done), then that will certainly be considered. No need to split hairs. Feb 17, 2016 at 11:14

I would imagine the answer here would be country-specific, but it seems that in most countries the immigration rules are not friendly to remote workers, and you do indeed need a work visa if you want to follow the letter of the law. For example, I know this could be a problem in the USA, Japan and Thailand. In Thailand, I even heard of a co-working space being raided by immigration officials to find people illegally working online while on tourist status.

However, as I understand it, such enforcement is very rare. The spirit of the law, after all, is to prevent you from taking jobs from a local, and if you work online you're no more likely to do that inside a country than outside of it. And you're actively contributing to the country's economy by earning outside it but spending inside. As long as you don't stand out from the general tourist population (unusual items in luggage, participation in work-like events, excessive visa renewals / visa runs), you should realistically be fine in a lot of countries. I suggest you read the various sites and blogs about the topic of "digital nomads" - there are entire communities of people devoted to finding great places to work remotely, and these communities are probably better suited to ask detailed questions about the legal aspects in each specific country.

By the way, I have heard some indication that having an incorporated entity in a place where you are allowed to work can help. You are then not a sole proprietor working for yourself in a far-away country, but you are merely an employee of XYZ Inc. in your own country, on a long vacation in a faraway country, occasionally performing the odd task for your remote corporate employer but technically not working locally. Obviously this happens all the time with employees of actual large corporations who travel, I don't think it's reasonable to assume that they never answer any work-related emails while overseas. Please take this advice with a huge grain of salt, I am not a lawyer, much less a lawyer in any South American countries : )

  • 1
    Rules are unfortunately anachronistic with regard to remote workers using the internet, and difficult if not impossible to enforce. The nature of online entrepreneurship makes things even harder: one might want to go on holiday somewhere, while periodically checking their business anyway.
    – magma
    Feb 17, 2016 at 3:50

You will need working visas for most South American countries. For the major South american countries:

  1. Brazil: Bring to the Brazilian embassy your passport valid for at least six more months, negative criminal records (at most 3 months old), two copies of a 5cmx7cm photo (passport), some filled forms available at the embassy. All documents must be in Portuguese (new Ortographic Treaty), if any must be translated, it must be done by a professional translator. A temporary work visa is valid for 2 years. Official Info

  2. Argentina: As noted in the comments by CMaster, contact the embassy. The website may be outdated.

  3. Chile: You need to request a special working permit: http://www.extranjeria.gob.cl/ingles/permiso_visa_tra.html

  4. Colombia: You need to get a TP15 temporary visa:

TP 13: For the foreigner who wishes to enter Colombian territory to provide technical assistance in his/her area of expertise, with or without, work contract to public and private entities.

It is also worth of note that you won't be "working" in the traditional sense (being employed by a national company or a local subsidiary AND being paid while in the country), so some regulations may not apply.

Also since OP is self-employed, he won't be working for any nationals and probably won't be receiving any money during his travel (even though his company may), maybe it does not fall into a work visa. Contacting the embassy of the destination may clarify if he indeed needs a work visa or not.

  • Your Argentina statement is incorrect. See clond.mrecic.gov.ar/en/node/2424 (unfortunatley, it seems you need to contact the embassy for more details)
    – CMaster
    Feb 16, 2016 at 20:56
  • @CMaster contacting the embassy is always better than to trust some internet forum. But the page you linked was the one I accessed to get to migraciones.gov.ar, so it may be the case the Argentina official website is not up-to-date in some sections. Feb 17, 2016 at 11:28
  • Page I linked, last paragraph says "If the purpose of the trip is related to an activity for which you are going to receive any kind of payment, either in Argentina, in the UK, or in a third country, please contact the Consulate General via email to [email protected] to check the visa requirements." - cleary relevant to the OPs situation. The page you link merely says no visas are needed for tourism or diplomatic "Service" visits - nothing about work.
    – CMaster
    Feb 17, 2016 at 11:46
  • @CMaster i agreed with you on the previous comment. The page I linked was where the search engine landed me, before I followed the first link to that list, that has a column for Otro Pasaporte: Diplomatico/Servicio, that I assumed to be work (my spanish is close to zero). But you raise a interesting point. If OP is self-employed, and is not receiving any payment during his visit (his company instead), does it counts as work? IANAL... Feb 17, 2016 at 14:33
  • My point was that "contact the consulate" wasn't a general recommendation, but the specific instruction from the consulate itself. I think starting your own business would count as "receive any kind of payment" - but the answer that comes back from the consulat may well be "no worries, just do this trivial application" for all we known.
    – CMaster
    Feb 17, 2016 at 14:47

The other answers may be legally correct, but

A lot of people will answer some work emails while on holiday and may even VPN into the office machine.

If you are in each county for a short time and there is no way from your company website etc to see that you are working from the given county, I don’t expect any real life issues. However I am assuming that you are spending most of your time “travelling” and only a few hours each day on “work tasks”, and there you will not be hiring an office etc while travelling.

I am also assuming the costs of your travels is not being funded by your new company and the no money will be leaving your new company to go into your personal bank account until after you have finished your travels.

Sometimes it is better to ask for forgiveness then it is to ask for permission.

However I question if it is the best way to make your new company successful….

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