When Traveling Musicians Need Work Permits

Lonely musician using smart phone
••• miodrag ignjatovic / Getty Images

Whether your band is getting ready to head out on its first world tour, or you've been eyeing a Canadian music festival where you'd love to play, it is important to remember that like anyone visiting a foreign country for work, you may need a permit or visa. Whether or not you need a work permit or work visa for your tour obviously depends on where your tour is and what citizenship you hold.

Keep in mind a work visa is different from a passport; any international travel outside the U.S. requires at least a passport card (to Mexico and Canada) or a full passport (to anywhere else). Make sure your passport is up to date as well, obviously. 

When You Need a Work Permit

Besides geography, there are other factors that will determine whether you need a work permit. How many shows are you playing? How much money do you expect to earn? How long will your tour last? In some cases, the group putting together your tour may require you to have a permit to play.

For instance, if you're a non-American performer traveling to the U.S. to perform in the Coachella or South by Southwest (SXSW) festivals, you'd need a work visa. Likewise, American artists who want to play at international festivals or locations will almost always be required to have a permit.

How to Find Out What You Need to Apply for a Work Visa

Your first point of contact in determining whether you need a work permit should be the embassy website for the country you plan to visit. The website should have information that applies directly to citizens of your country. Keep in mind that entertainment and music-related work permits or work visas are almost always handled in a different way than other work permits, so be sure to check out the information about these specific kinds of visas.

If you're only playing at a one-time event, like a festival, you should be able to contact the festival organizers directly to find out what work visas may or may not be required. You'll also want to get familiar with any fees that are involved. 

How Long It Takes For Paperwork to Be Processed

Another thing you should remember about work permits: Some countries have application fees as well as fees for issuing the permit, so they can represent an extra expense. And as anyone who has ever applied for a passport or work visa knows, it can take an excruciatingly long time for all the paperwork to be processed. Make sure you know what kind of identification you'll need before you begin the application process, whether a driver's license, passport, or birth certificate. 

Many countries can take a very long time to approve these applications or may charge a priority processing fee to applicants who need their visas sooner rather than later. The U.S is a prime example of a country that has extremely high priority processing fees.

If you know you will be touring overseas, figuring out your work permit situation should be at the top of your list of things to do. Absolutely do not wait until the last minute. Otherwise, you may find yourself forced to cancel shows when your paperwork doesn't come in on time.