Work in the USA

“Work and Travel USA” is a great opportunity to get to know the American way of life and gain interesting experiences. Find out how to participate in this program.

The “Summer Work and Travel” program (as its full name sounds) is one of the easiest, cheapest and safest ways to go to Of the United States. No wonder that around 100,000 people come to the US every year. people from all over the world, including over 3 thousand. from Poland. Read on to become one of them.

In the article below you will find among others:

  • what are the benefits of participating in the “Work and Travel” program,
  • who is eligible to participate in “Work and Travel”,
  • what is DS-2019 form and what you can do with it,
  • what you can count on from intermediary companies – and what you can or need to do on your own,
  • how much does it cost to participate in the “Work and Travel” program,
  • for how long can you go to the US under the “Work and Travel” program,
  • what kind of employment is offered under “Work and Travel” (and what kind of offers you will not find there).

The “Summer Work and Travel” program has been organized by the US Department of State in cooperation with numerous sponsoring institutions since the 1960s. Thanks to it, young people from all over the world have the opportunity to improve their language skills, gain professional experience and immerse themselves in the American culture and lifestyle, so far known mainly from books and films. Participants of the program take up employment as part of it, thanks to which they can earn to cover the costs of their trip to the USA while responding to the needs of the local labor market.

To participate in the program, prepare a resume, in which you indicate all your advantages of professional activity, this will help you find a better job. If there is no resume then get a professional resume on resumeget.

Work and Travel USA – who can take part in the program

Work experience is not required, but other conditions must be met to participate in “Work and Travel”. They are:

  • age – the program is intended for people aged 18-30;
  • knowledge of at least communicative English – the level of candidates is still checked in Poland (depending on the level of knowledge, you can work in various positions, e.g., requiring contact with clients or not);
  • having qualities such as resourcefulness, openness, independence – the participants are not only reliant on themselves and in many cases can count on the help of the organizers, but also “Work and Travel” is not a guided tour nor summer camps;
  • student status (full-time, evening, or extramural studies) or post-secondary school student (full-time, minimum two years) – correspondence/online students, free and postgraduate students, and students from vocational schools and adult high schools are not eligible.

What is more, you should have at least one year of study behind you, and in the semester preceding your departure you must not be on a dean’s or academic leave (on the contrary, you should rather show high attendance at classes). Final year students can take part in the “Work and Travel” program provided that the defense of the diploma thesis will take place after receiving a visa to the USA, and even better – only after returning from the States.

Visa required for departure under Work and Travel USA

And since we have already mentioned the visa … It is necessary to enter the United States at all. For “Work and Travel” the appropriate type of visa is J-1, which is a visa for people participating in international scientific and cultural exchange programs.

This document is issued by a foreign representative of the US State Department, i.e., an embassy or consulate of that country. At the American diplomatic mission, you should appear in person for an interview with the US consul, bringing to the meeting:

  • passport – valid for at least half a year from the planned date of return from the States,
  • a recent photo that meets the requirements for visa photography (see “Photo for US Visa”),
  • valid student ID and index (possibly a list of grades if you don’t have a paper index),
  • confirmation of online submission of visa application (Form DS-160),
  • confirmation of payment of the visa fee (see “How to pay for a US visa”),
  • confirmation of payment for registration in the SEVIS system (it is a monitoring system for students coming to the USA; more about it in the article “Visa to the US for students – step by step”),
  • form DS-2019.

DS-2019 form

This last, very important document is being prepared by a sponsoring institution in the USA. It contains information on the place, time, and terms of employment of the participant of the “Work and Travel” program. The DS-2019 form is needed not only to issue a J-1 visa, but also later:

  • to cross the US border,
  • to work there,
  • to get the Social Security number needed to get paid,
  • to apply for a tax refund after returning to Poland, at the beginning of the next calendar year (10% for federal tax and 5% for state tax are automatically deducted from the payout, and sometimes – especially in larger cities – also local).

After issuing the visa, the consul signs its signature on the DS-2019 form and places the document in the passport (sometimes additionally in a sealed envelope opened only by an immigration officer when entering the United States).

Note: without the form, the J-1 visa issued based on this form is invalid, therefore under no circumstances should it be lost or damaged.

Work and Travel USA - firmy pośredniczące

The role of intermediary companies in the “Work and Travel” program

We wrote about how you can get a visa in the article “Visa to the USA for students – step by step”. However, it is worth knowing that in the case of the “Work and Travel” program, it is a bit easier to go through the entire procedure, as a special intermediary company greatly helps in this.

In practice, you cannot do without it, because even if you find a sponsoring institution on your own (which has to issue the DS-2019 form), this institution will most likely redirect you to a local broker. The latter charges for his services, of course, but in return you can count on:

  • assessment of your competences and inclusion on the list of program participants – primarily based on an interview (by phone if it is impossible to visit the company’s office in person), and sometimes also based on online tests;
  • finding job offers of your choice, taking into account your preferences and fluency in the English language;
  • arranging all formalities to obtain the DS-2019 form – mainly the exchange of information and documents between the employer, sponsoring institution and the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS);
  • completing and paying for the visa application on your behalf, as well as registering in the SEVIS system;
  • delivering documents to the embassy or consulate and arranging an interview with the consul;
  • participation in consultations or information meetings (so-called Orientation Meetings) on participation in the “Work and Travel” program, looking for a job and accommodation, transport, etc. – sometimes they are held only in Poland, and sometimes also after arriving in the USA;
  • assistance in completing the formalities on the spot (mainly in obtaining the aforementioned “Social Security number”);
  • American SIM card – offered by some intermediaries;
  • insurance during the working period indicated on the DS-2019 form – offered by some intermediary companies;
  • purchase of airline tickets – it is worth paying attention to whether in the case of a given company it is an additional or obligatory option because the broker will rather not look for promotions and cheap flights, which may significantly increase the cost of the entire venture.

Work and Travel USA – cost of participation in the program

Work and Travel is not a scholarship program, so you will not travel to the US for free. The money earned while working in the States should be enough to cover most of the expenses, but to participate in the program at all, you must have a certain amount of money at the beginning. You must take into account the costs such as:

  • fee for an intermediary company – approx. $1,800 (the fee is refundable if the candidate does not qualify for the program or does not join it due to lack of vacancies);
  • visa fee – for J-1 visa this is currently $160 (and is non-refundable even if ultimately not granted);
  • SEVIS fee – for participants in the “Work and Travel” program it is currently $35 (and is also non-refundable);
  • cost of airline tickets – from several hundred to several thousand zlotys, depending on connections and changing promotions;
  • US housing, food, and transportation costs.

Some employers offer meals in employee canteens or vouchers for dining establishments, others also provide accommodation close to the workplace. However, this is not a rule and you may find that you need to rent an apartment (preferably with more people, which reduces costs) or a motel room. Then you have to take into account the necessity to pay a returnable deposit in the amount of one or two months’ rent at the beginning.

Not only work

All this together seems to be quite a large amount, but many participants of the “Work and Travel” program can earn not only for the above expenses but also for traveling around the USA after the end of the working period indicated in the DS-2019 form.

For 30 days from the closing date of that period, the J-1 visa holder has the right to continue to stay in the United States (and also to make a trip to Canada or Mexico). This time, the so-called Grace Period is used for sightseeing as you are not allowed to work anymore. After its completion, you should return to Poland – the J-1 visa cannot be extended in this case.

Note: any insurance covers you only during the “work” period set by the dates on your DS-2019 form. You should purchase an additional policy for the time of your “travel” tour. This is another expense, but it is worth making it, taking into account that medical costs in the US are among the highest in the world.

Work and Travel USA – program duration

Also, remember that you must return from the States before the official start date of the next year of your schooling. The period of employment in the USA under the “Work and Travel” program may be a Maximum of 4 months, starting no earlier than May 25 and ending no later than September 25. However, if you choose to work all this time and the academic year begins on October 1, you will only have a few days to visit.

On the other hand, “Grace Period” is not compulsory, so you can also take shorter trips, e.g., after work or on weekends. Employers or sponsoring institutions usually indicate to program participants noteworthy attractions and events taking place in the immediate vicinity. Theoretically, there is quite a lot of time left for this, because the working week in the case of contracts in the “Work and Travel” program is usually 32 hours (and not 40 as for a full-time job in Poland).

Many people, in turn, decide to work not for 4, but e.g., 3 months and in the last 30 days of their stay in the USA, only to have a well-deserved vacation. To earn them, they either take overtime in their free time – if possible with the employer – or look for additional work. However, it cannot affect the effectiveness of fulfilling obligations towards the “original” employer, thanks to whom it was possible to obtain the DS-2019 form.

Work and Travel USA – job offers

You can also find this “original” employer yourself, for example via the Internet or friends. Intermediary companies that allow such a possibility then charge a lower (even by several hundred dollars!) Fee.


When looking for a job on your own, however, remember that to obtain a permit under the “Work and Travel” program, the job:

  • must be seasonal or temporary,
  • must regularly provide opportunities for communication and interaction with US citizens, allowing the program participant to experience American culture and local lifestyles,
  • must not be based on a commission system or assume the employee purchases products to be resold at a profit,
  • cannot take place for private persons (it is about positions such as gardener, housekeeper or babysitter; in the latter case, you should rather try to participate in the “Au Pair” program),
  • cannot be a job for which a different type of J-1 visa is adequate (e.g., a specialist internship or the position of a tutor at a camp for children and youth),
  • may not require any license, including a driving license (e.g., driver, forklift operator),
  • cannot assume direct physical contact with other people (e.g., tattoo artist, masseur, beautician),
  • must not be associated with pesticides and other hazardous chemicals,
  • cannot be processed or caught in Alaska,
  • may not take place in factories, wholesalers, or internet distribution centers,
  • may not be offered in “adult-only” industries (e.g., strip club, pornographic movie rental or casino),
  • cannot take place mainly at night, i.e., between 10 PM and 6 AM,
  • must not be itinerant (a permanent workplace is required),
  • cannot be offered by a private employment agency (with a few exceptions).

What positions can you work in under the “Work and Travel” program

The above requirements apply not only to jobs you are looking for on your own but also to offers proposed by intermediaries. These offers most often apply to positions that do not require more qualifications or experience, such as:

  • an amusement park employee – i.e. a ticket collector, hostess/host in disguise, a person who lets people into a roller coaster and checks that they fasten their seat belts correctly;
  • catering worker – waiter, bartender, barista, cook, assistant cook, dishwasher, cleaner, cashier in fast food, food packer;
  • hotel worker – boy, maid, receptionist, concierge, cleaner, laundry worker;
  • store employee – cashier, salesman, customer service employee, hostess/host, cleaner, warehouse assistant;
  • national park employee – guide, lifeguard, ticket service;
  • gas station employee etc.

Sponsor acceptance

Each self-found job offer must be submitted by an intermediary to the sponsoring institution for approval. It is the sponsor, not the employer, who issues the DS-2019 form. And it is the sponsor’s responsibility to the Department of State to ensure that work undertaken under the Work and Travel program is fair, safe, and at an appropriate level and that it does not take employment away from local workers.

Not every job offer for one of the above positions will receive the said approval. For this reason, you should be particularly careful about the risks associated with moving to the USA without a chosen workplace. It is possible, although it is allowed by very few intermediary companies – in such a situation confirmation of employment is sent to the sponsor after finding a job on site.