The last three years have presented unprecedented challenges for people all over the globe. Even as we continue to adapt to lifestyle changes and health and safety regulations moving forward, there are still as many reasons as ever to take a gap year in 2023.
The desire for travel and independence remains strong, as do gap year opportunities. The benefits of a gap year, like the opportunity to gain knowledge, confidence, and new skills through experiential learning, are as relevant and needed as ever. A gap year in 2023 means spending the year investing time in your well-being and broadening your perspective through taking a break from your traditional job or academia.
International travel is an important aspect of many people’s gap years, but it is not required for a life-changing experience, and many of the same lessons learned through trotting across the globe can also be learned through domestic travel. Travel restrictions and guidelines remain dynamic. However, more countries have reopened their borders to travelers who follow specific testing and vaccine requirements. It is essential to stay up to date with the latest restrictions based on your circumstances, as well as the refund and deferment policies for any programs, flights, or experiences you book.
Choosing a gap year destination for 2023
The first step in planning a gap year is finding a destination that can provide a meaningful experience. Maximizing the benefits of your gap year will require work both before and during your time abroad. To find the perfect gap year destination for you, consider:
- Your proficiency with a second language or desire to learn one
- Your budget, including cost of living, transportation, and program fees
- The activities, including work, volunteering, internships, or adventure sports you would like to take part in
How did we pick these locations?
Lastly, we used our own industry knowledge to ensure we're recommending locations that are vetted both by you, the community members, and us, the experts, so that we feel confident the locations included are the best of the best!
Best for short-term employment: Australia
Average cost of living: $864.03 ($1,367.07 AUD) without rent
Average cost of rent: $1,179.63 ($1,869.24 AUD) 1 bedroom in city center
Length of Working Holilday Visa: 12-months
Australia is a highly desirable gap year destination for travelers worldwide. Additionally, Australia has the second most gap year programs of any destination and offers a working holiday visa, giving gappers from the US, UK, and many other countries the ability to legally work and travel for at least a year.
Many visitors on working holiday visas find employment in hostels, bars, or on working farms to fund their travels. There is a limit of six months that visa holders are legally allowed to stay with a single employer. Due to this, gappers commonly pursue short-term work to fund their off-time traveling throughout the country. Due to Australia's size and remote nature, long-term travel here can be expensive, so the opportunity to supplement travel with work makes a gap year in Australia possible for many more travelers.
Australia has a large landmass, with most of its population focused on the South and Eastern coasts. With its size comes a vast spectrum of climates, like the tropical beaches in the state of Queensland, to the temperate climate in Victoria and Tasmania. Australia also has over 500,000 square miles of desert.
Read more: What to Do on Your Gap Year in Australia
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Best for TEFL teachers: Thailand
Average cost of living: $475.94 (18,116.40฿) without rent
Average cost of rent: $355.48 (13,531.09 ฿) 1 bedroom in city center
Length of Teacher visa in Thailand: 90-day (3 month) window to obtain your work permit. Once you have obtained your work permit, your visa is extended one year from entry.
Thailand is a beautiful country full of culture, sights, and sounds. It’s one of the most popular countries to travel to in Southeast Asia, and it has something for everyone. From beaches, temples, cities, and jungles, Thailand has it all.
If you want to learn about Thai culture while also taking advantage of what Thailand offers, then this is the perfect destination for you! You will gain insight into local life by interacting with locals and learning their language.
You can also take part in volunteering projects, such as helping out at an orphanage or teaching English at a local school. As the country is experiencing a boom in tourism and education, teaching English in Thailand has grown in popularity.
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Best for work-exchange: New Zealand
Average cost of living: $833.32 ($1,462.43 NZ) without rent
Average cost of rent: $966.10 ($1,697.03 NZ) 1 bedroom in city center
Length of Working Holiday Visa: up to 12 months, or 23 months if you are from the UK or Canada
New Zealand, is one of the most popular gap year destination behind Australia. With no language barrier for English speakers, a large number of program options, and a working holiday visa scheme that allows young people (with specific passports) to work throughout the year while they travel, New Zealand is a picturesque destination to spend a year abroad.
New Zealand consists of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, which offer a wide range of landscapes and climates. Many people interested in an adventurous gap year find New Zealand to be a great option, with adrenaline-pumping activities being the norm in much of the country.
New Zealand is expensive to visit and travel through, making the working holiday visa a great option for young travelers on a budget. Employers are always looking to hire seasonal workers, and many offer work exchanges through organizations like WWOOF. A work exchange provides budget-conscious travelers with room and board in exchange for work, typically on farms or in hostels. With a thriving tourist economy and large agricultural demand, it is easy to find work in cities or on farms spread across the islands.
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Best for language immersion: Spain
Average cost of living: $631.15 (€640.27) without rent
Average cost of rent: $728.15 ( €740.02) 1 bedroom in city center
Length of Schengen Visa: 90 days (3 months)
Spain is known as an affordable gap year option for those looking to travel in Europe. Many gap year programs in Spain focus on art, music, and language, and there is a strong demand for volunteers to help with conservation efforts around Spain's beautiful beaches. Spain is one of the most popular gap year destinations in all of Europe, with Barcelona consistently being ranked among the top cities on earth.
Language immersion is extremely popular for English speakers looking to learn or improve their Spanish-speaking skills. Additionally, Spain is home to many important cultural sites, a vibrant nightlife, and a world-renowned culinary scene. Many programs focus on immersing gappers into the Spanish language through experiential learning, making a gap year here the perfect place to grow as a Spanish speaker, no matter your skill level.
Spain is also conveniently located in Southern Europe, making it a great, budget-friendly destination to live while venturing to nearby countries like Portugal and Italy.
Spain offers a tourist visa to visa-exempt countries, including the US and Canada, allowing visitors to stay for up to 90 days. Spain also has several work visas relevant to gappers, including seasonal work and Au Pair visas. Find what visa you need and apply on the Spain Visa website.
Read more: Where to Go on a Gap Year in Spain
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Best for domestic gappers (US citizens): United States of America
Average cost of living: $987.95 without rent
Average cost of rent: $1,670.15 for a 1 bedroom in the city center
Length of B-1/B-2 Visa: 6-months up to 1-year
The United States of America offers a huge range of opportunities for gappers, both domestic and international. Known as a “melting pot,” the United States has diverse cultures and landscapes spread across its large geographic area. The USA is a great place to gain insight into potential career choices and see an array of different lifestyles without crossing country borders, which can be expensive and time-consuming with current testing and quarantine requirements for international travel.
With everything from iconic cities like New York City and San Francisco to nearly untouched wilderness in national parks and public lands, the USA truly has something for everybody. That said, with its scale comes challenges for travel, including expensive flights or long road trips, so it's best to research and focus on visiting a few states or geographic areas instead of trying to see everything.
Traveling throughout the US by road can be an inexpensive and socially distant way to travel and see a vast country with so much to offer. Many US gap year programs will focus on outdoor adventure, leadership, and service, meaning you can still grow immensely from the experience without leaving your home country.
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Best for a gap year on a budget: Canada
Average cost of living: $877.96 ($1,200.23CAD) without rent
Average cost of rent: $1,145.70 ($1,575.27 CAD) for a 1 bedroom in the city center
Length of International Experience Canada (IEC) Visa: Up to 2-years
Ranging from the Pacific to the Atlantic and reaching far up into the Arctic, Canada is a gorgeous country filled with vast, photogenic wilderness and world-class skiing. Many travelers looking to teach ski or snowboard lessons choose Canada, but the options for a gap year supplemented with work go far beyond that through the International Experience Canada work permit.
Canada is the second-largest country on earth, behind Russia, with forests making up nearly half of its landmass. Additionally, Canada is home to over half of the lakes on the planet, including Moraine -- dubbed the ‘most photographed lake in the world.’ Canada is also a great option for gappers looking for a culturally rich experience, as Canada is among the most multicultural nations on earth.
Certain program providers offer gappers the opportunity to both get certified and work as a ski or snowboard instructor in Canada, expanding the opportunity to work on the slopes for those with less experience. The ability to find seasonal work is a great way to offset some of the expenses of a gap year.
Citizens from the US do not need a visa to visit Canada, while citizens from the UK and most other countries do. That said, most visitors can stay in Canada for up to 6 months, with an additional 30-day extension being possible. Visit VisaHQ to learn more about the Canadian visa process.
Read more: How to Get a Job in Canada
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Best for professional experience: England
Average cost of living: $780.51 (£685.30) without rent
Average cost of rent: $1,012.01 (£893.57) for a 1 bedroom in the city center
Length of long-term Standard Visitor visa: 6-months
A gap year in England will allow you to see more of what makes this UK country appear postcard-perfect. Many gap year programs focus on professional development, including in business, hospitality, medicine, and fashion. London, home of the London Stock Exchange, is one of the worlds leading financial centers. Additionally, England has some of the top global universities like the University of Cambridge and Oxford. With no language barrier for English speakers, England provides the opportunity to combine workplace experience with the benefits of living abroad and immersing yourself in another culture.
Along with the potential career benefits of taking a gap year in England, travelers will have the opportunity to see historic and prehistoric architecture and monuments like Stonehenge and over 1,000 other ancient stone circles. Additionally, gappers in England can quickly take a train or car up to Scotland or a quick and inexpensive flight over to Northern Ireland without having to deal with additional visas.
US gappers can enter the UK and stay for up to six months without applying for a visa, however, getting a visa to legally work in England or stay for more than six months at a time is much more challenging. Program providers offering professional experience will help assist you through the proper visa process for your circumstances. Learn more about visa requirements in England on VisaHQ.
Read more: Best Working Holidays for UK Citizens
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Best for volunteering: South Africa
Average cost of living: $509.75 (9,161.46 ZAR) without rent
Average cost of rent: $430.31 (7,794.36 ZAR) for a 1 bedroom in the city center
Length of stay for US-passport holders/South African Visitor visa: 90-days (3-months)
From world-renowned vineyards to predators roaming freely in national parks, South Africa is a fantastic gap year destination for adventure seekers, animal conservation volunteers, and foodies alike. The low cost of living and diverse landscape makes South Africa a destination with something for everyone.
Many gap year programs in South Africa allow travelers to experience world-renowned vineyards, a sprawling eco-tourism industry, and adventure travel. There are also many volunteering opportunities in South Africa that allow travelers to give back during their time abroad.
US, UK, and EU travelers can enter South Africa for 90 days without applying for a visa. Learn more and see if your country is visa-exempt on the E-Visa requirements page.
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Best for a culturally immersive experience: India
Average cost of living: $308.90 (25,352.88₹) without rent
Average cost of rent: $178.71 (14,718.56 ₹) for a 1 bedroom in the city center
Length of stay for tourist visa: 3 months, 6 months to 1 year
Whether you want to teach English, volunteer with local NGOs, work on the front lines of climate issues, study spirituality and religion, or just travel, India will provide a culturally immersive experience. The low cost of living allows gappers to maximize their time abroad while traveling throughout the country and visiting its many iconic temples and landscapes.
In addition to the culture, architecture, and spiritual history, India has a diverse climate and environment. India is one of 5 countries sharing The Himalayas, the mountain range where Mt. Everest and the world's other highest peaks live. India is also home to many animal species ranging from elephants and rhinos to lions, tigers, and even snow leopards.
Many gap year programs in India offer opportunities for personal growth by providing real-world impact through service while experiencing beautiful cities, historic architecture, and stunning landscapes.
Visitors to India from various countries, including the US, can apply for a 10-year tourist visa with the stipulation that no trip can exceed 180 days. You can learn more about the visa requirements in India on their Details of Visas Granted by India guide.
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Best for adventure travel: Costa Rica
Average cost of living: $657.03 (401,012.26₡) without rent
Average cost of rent: $497.60 (305,241.63 ₡) for a 1 bedroom in the city center
Length of stay for US-passport holders: 90-days (3-months)
This small Central American nation is famous for being one of the most biodiverse places globally. Its forests, mountains, and coastal areas are home to a vast array of animals, birds, and fish, many of which are endemic to the country. The beautiful beaches are also an ideal place to surf, and there are countless other outdoor adventures to enjoy, including white-water rafting, horse trekking, and ziplining.
Costa Rica is a highly wishlisted country and the Central American country with the most gap year programs. Naturally, many gap year opportunities in Costa Rica revolve around wildlife, conservation, and the environment. There are conservation centers and programs all over the country, but it’s a good idea to ensure that those you visit are appropriately credentialed and not just using ‘eco-friendly’ as a fashionable buzzword.
Citizens from many countries won't need a visa to enter Costa Rica and can stay for up to 90 days. However, any stay longer than 90 days will require a residence permit. Learn more about visa requirements on the Costa Rica Embassy Entry Requirements page.
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The next step towards your gap year abroad
Ultimately, gap year is about becoming a better version of yourself. No matter where you go, you're likely to find new experiences that could make you a more open-minded and well-rounded person. As you grow and learn, your horizons will broaden, and the world will become one step larger. And that’s something really worth having.
The perfect gap year destination for you might not have made this list. Everybody has personal goals and expectations when taking a year to focus on personal development. Just because the destination of your dreams isn't as popular of an option doesn't mean it's any worse of one. You can search programs and alum reviews for gap year programs across the globe right here at Go Overseas to help find the perfect fit for the gap year of your dreams.
Hopefully, these ten destinations will help you get started. They're not ranked, just listed as some places you may want to consider for your future gap year.