The last two years have presented unprecedented challenges for people all over the globe. Even as we continue to adapt to the lifestyle changes and health and safety regulations moving forward, there are still as many reasons as ever to take a gap year in 2022.
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 2022 means spending the year investing time in your wellbeing and broadening your perspective through taking a break from your traditional job or academia.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we travel, volunteer, and work, the decision of where to take your gap year in 2022 is paramount.
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 2022
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
What our community wishlist data tells us
Not every country on the top of the wish list charts for 2021 made this list. In addition to this data, other factors, including cost of living and providing a diversity of geographic options also contribute to these rankings. For example, Italy has great gap year programs (the third most of any country) that might make it the best fit for you. However, as one of the most expensive Southern European countries to visit, gappers in Italy likely need a larger budget than those who choose Spain instead.
Note: The wishlist is a feature here at Go Overseas that allows users to save their dream programs in order to quickly find them again in the future.
Additionally, 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.
How did we pick these locations?
To determine the locations for this article, we looked at various factors, such as the location’s history, cost of living/average salaries, and things to do. We also considered the number of programs offered in that specific country or city.
Lastly, we determined the list based on our own industry knowledge. We want to make sure 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
Australia is a highly desirable gap year destination for travelers worldwide and had the most wishlisted gap year programs here at Go Overseas during 2021. 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 the working holiday visa 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.
Travel to Australia is currently restricted. However, many gap year programs expect international travel to resume as early as summer 2022. Stay updated on travel restrictions and requirements on the Australian Government Department of Health website.
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Best for TEFL teachers: China
As the most popular country in terms of gap year programs and the fifth most wishlisted country among Go Overseas users, China is one of the top gap year destinations in 2022. A gap year in China provides the opportunity for an enriching, culturally immersive experience. Through experiencing the art and culinary culture in China, you will develop a better understanding and appreciation for the more than 3,000 years of history that's led to modern China.
Whether you're interested in seeing ancient temples and architectural wonders like the Great Wall or visiting different regions to experience their unique cuisine, you will benefit from the modern infrastructure and transportation options. While some cities are much more expensive than others, China is also a destination where gappers on a budget can still have a quality standard of living during their time abroad.
While China doesn't offer the traditional working holiday visa that many gappers utilize to live and work for a year abroad, they do have a 10-year tourist visa (L-class visa) for citizens of the US, Canada, and the UK. Tourists are limited to 60 days per trip on this visa, however, visa-holders can leave and re-enter without reapplying. Another popular visa option for those looking to teach English (TEFL) during their gap year is the Z-class visa, which permits living and teaching in China. To qualify for a Z visa, you must first find employment as an English teacher in China. Learn more about visa requirements for entering China on VisaHQ.
There are political rifts between the US and China. The state department warns against travel to China due to the current health crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the PRC governments arbitrarily enforce local laws. If you take a gap year in China, ensure you understand the current risk factors and take the suggested safety precautions recommended by your local government.
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Best for work-exchange: New Zealand
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.
Travel to New Zealand remains restricted. However, the country is moving toward reopening to vaccinated travelers during 2022. To find the latest information on travel restrictions, review New Zealand’s border policies before booking any flights or programs.
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Best for language immersion: Spain
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.
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Best for domestic gappers (US citizens): United States of America
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.
A USA gap year in 2022 is an excellent option for US citizens who are hesitant to travel internationally during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are still understandably hesitant to take long, international flights and deal with the uncertainty of travel restrictions abroad. 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
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.
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Best for professional experience: England
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.
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Best for volunteering: South Africa
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
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
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
2022 is a year that will provide unique and changing challenges for those looking to take a gap year, but you can find the rewarding experience you are looking for if you stay open-minded, flexible with your plans, and informed on the policies that countries implement to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Additionally, taking a gap year doesn’t have to include international travel. Programs are adapting to the difficulties and restrictions on international travel by creating domestic gap years and virtual gap years that provide many of the same experiences travelers find abroad. Having a life-changing gap year experience isn’t about where you go but what you do to challenge yourself to grow, learn, and expand your perspective.