I have been on a site called WorkAway.info, which helps people who need some help to find travelers willing to do it for room and board.

Looking at China, for example, I see hundreds of requests, with most involving childcare and/or teaching, but many involving farming, and a few with other things. I am aware that not so long ago, China kicked out thousands of people who were using tourist visas to teach. I don't want that to happen to me, but more importantly, I don't want a Chinese citizen who has to stay there to face THEIR justice system for helping me break the law.

Any insights or references on how to avoid this?

There may be other countries where something like this is an issue. Places where "working is working, no matter what form the pay is in."

Similar sites: wwoof & helpx, but the IOS app wouldn't let me tag workaway or helpx.

  • 2
    Is there a question somewhere in your text? Jun 18, 2017 at 22:42
  • 1
    Yes there is, try the paragraph that ends in a question mark...? Jun 18, 2017 at 23:22

2 Answers 2


You haven't specified one specific country, but in general, the way to avoid problems is to carefully research the relevant immigration and labor laws in whichever country you want to go, then you acknowledge that many such offers may be illegal.

Many such arrangements are flatly illegal, and depend on lying about your intentions to immigration and simply not getting caught. While it's often possible to do legitimate volunteering on a tourist visa (e.g. in the USA), you run into problems quickly when the work is for compensation. Most countries with reasonable labor laws will not consider hours a day of farmwork on a commercial farm to be "volunteering," even if there's a vague promise to teach you about organic farming. Some countries may have a "working holiday" scheme or "cultural exchange" visa that allows for this type of work, but a reputable such opportunity will comply with minimum wage and other labor laws. That's not to say that many people don't skirt the law, get away with it, and have a great time and memories to last a lifetime, but you should at least know what you're getting into.

As an example, here's what WWOOF-USA has to say about visas:

Most WWOOFers enter the USA using a tourist visa; however, it is your responsibility to determine the correct visa for your visit. Please keep in mind that WWOOF is NOT paid work or volunteering. WWOOFing is an educational experience, and WWOOF members are guests of their hosts. The United States has extremely strict labor and immigration laws that prohibit foreign nationals from “working” or “volunteering” in the country without a work visa. Most international WWOOFers communicate their intentions to visit the USA to immigration officials and enter without any problems. However, if you say that you are coming to “volunteer or work on a farm” and you don’t have a work visa, immigration probably WILL NOT LET YOU ENTER THE USA. Additionally, please note that when entering the USA, you cannot enter as a “WWOOFer,” as the meaning of this may be misunderstood by immigration officials. If you say you are “WWOOFing” when you enter the USA (especially from the Canadian border), you will most likely be turned away and not allowed to enter the country. Please take this into consideration and plan your visit to the USA accordingly. If you are traveling from another country, please be aware of this important distinction: as a WWOOFer, you are a TOURIST, NOT a WORKER or VOLUNTEER. Please understand the laws and clearly communicate your intentions when you enter the country. WWOOF-USA is not responsible for any problems you may experience with immigration.

This should raise a large number of red flags. In contrast, here's what the US Embassy in Germany says:

Planning to work for room and board on a farm or as an Au Pair/Nanny? Do Woofing? An internship? Even if you stay less than 90 days, these activities are considered work and require the appropriate visa.... Informal arrangements to work in exchange for lodging or meals are also considered unauthorized employment and are not permitted for tourists.

In short, do not rely on an organization like WWOOF to provide legal advice.

There is also the danger that, if you are working illegally, you are working for someone who has demonstrated that they are not inclined to follow labor laws. While many of the employers in these situations are surely fine caring people who can support your travels and teach you about the local culture, someone who is recruiting illegal workers may well not have the highest of scruples about accurately representing the conditions of employment or lodging. You could also run into significant problems if you get hurt, depending on local laws, as your travel insurance may exclude coverage for workplace injuries, and your host's insurance, if there is any, may exclude coverage for people working illegally.

  • I did indeed specify China, but as I hinted and you demonstrated, it is certainly an issue for other countries. I don't think the people (with some exceptions of course) on WorkAway are unscrupulous, merely uninformed. I'm not even completely sure the creators of the site know the implications. Sounds like WWOOF, however is aware.
    – WGroleau
    Jun 19, 2017 at 0:02
  • "Most countries with reasonable labor laws will not consider hours a day of farmwork on a commercial farm to be 'volunteering,'" — Certainly makes sense, but just what is "commercial"? I've worked twenty to forty hours a week in Spain in a non-profit albergue but I had a contract calling it volunteering.
    – WGroleau
    Jun 19, 2017 at 0:12
  • The definition will depend on national laws. In the United States, the State Department is looking for "an organized project conducted by a recognized religious or nonprofit charitable organization to assist the poor or the needy or to further a religious or charitable cause." Performing farm labor on a for-profit commercial farm would not appear to come anywhere close. And for labor law purposes (which varies by state), you need a religious or charitable non-profit Jun 19, 2017 at 6:35
  • Got a statement from WorkAway that is far more professional than WWOOF's advice (which in my opinion, can be summarized as "lie to them"). WorkAway says that in the terms and conditions we gave you when you subscribed, we said that it is your responsibility to get the proper visas. But for China, I now have question #3: If I ask someone for the proper invitation, will that trigger the authorities to investigate them and prosecute them for previous visits? Or since there are hundreds of requests, perhaps China already knows it is happening and is ignoring it.
    – WGroleau
    Jun 19, 2017 at 13:09

While I appreciate Zach's detailed answer, I'm going to add a little more that I've recently learned:

What Zach quoted shows me that WWOOF-USA knows that they are helping people to break the law and explicitly advises them to lie about it. From looking around the web, I find complaints suggesting that they have abuses in other countries. One report ("he said/she said") alleges that WWOOF deliberately removed the reviews that would warn others about a particularly egregious violation of law (but by the host; the volunteer was the alleged victim).

WorkAway.info is more honest—or at least smarter. They warn in their T&C that you need to make sure you get the appropriate visas before going.

Finally, on the China question, another TSE post mentions a need to register each place you stay there. That suggests that either the authorities tolerate the "work away" arrangements, or if not, the registration would quickly result in the very things I want to avoid.

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