Malaysian Student Work & Travel in USA

A lot of people want to get up and go travel for an extended period of time, but unfortunately it's not so easy to do due to financial commitments.

in Waikoloa Village, Hawaii

You can do it by living frugally for the first 3 years and save around 30 thousand cash in your bank. Or do it like me, through a work and travel program!

Being doubtful and a procrastinator for the longest time, at last I decided to do it, alone. Guess sometimes it's really fun to start a new kind of adventure.

I spent probably RM12k upfront, some from my left over government loan (PTPTN), some from part time job from blogging and saving.

in Honolulu, Hawaii

Before you say "heck no", it's worth mentioning that don't worry! You will make the money back!
A lot of my friends wondered if the trip worth it. I must say other than it's an once in lifetime experience (to work overseas, independently), it's definitely a yes. Also, I made enough to allow both my bf and me travel around the States for a month! Well but it depends.
Students usually earn a minimum 3k USD but some can make 12k USD. (imagine if you don't travel and bring all the money back!)

Unlike New Zealand and Australia, Malaysians are no longer allowed to apply for working visa unless you get a sponsor, petition from the employer, or you are freaking artist/ entertainers, or else it's pretty much impossible to get it unless you have a spouse/kid in the States. (correct me if I am wrong)  So the easiest way is with an agent.

The visa I am obtaining is the J-1 visa, allows me to work and travel for a grant period of time. It's under the category of SEVIS, which is Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.

I've spent about RM12,670 on this program, including:
1) RM4,350 (Nov2015) - Program fees, SEVIS, Insurance and agent fees.
2) RM5,800- Multi city flight (Round trip from KL to KONA, KONA to San Francisco, New York to KL)
3) 600USD (RM2,520) - Pocket money.

This number will vary due to the currency rate, but it is around there. When I leave for winter program in December, the exchange rate for USD- RM was USD1 - RM4.38.

My boss of my second job.
My salary in the states is about 800USD every 2 weeks (after deduct food, stay and taxes) from my first job. Also I took a second job. All together I made around 6k USD 3 months in Hawaii after deducting everything (including shopping).
This is the money that helped support me and my bf travelling for 1 month around the States.


Before you choose to work and travel USA under this program, be aware that:
1) You have to be a student, at least 18 years old and no more than 30.
2) You have to be a full time college/university student
3) You have to get a student letter from your university/college that currently you are STILL a student.

As long as you can prove you are a student and you are still a student WHEN you enrolled and pay for this program, you are safe. However, different agency has different policy and structure. I paid Infinity Abroad and I have to say, they are very professional and helpful in a friendly way. The agencies in Malaysia that provide this program are:
1) SpeedWing
2) Out of the Box
3) Infinity Abroad

I guess the most familiar program agency to most of the Malaysian students is Out of the Box. 6 out of 10 that I surveyed chose OOTB. However, I called in and found them ridiculously rude over the phone.(I thought it's just me, but apparently my friend claimed so too). The end.
Never tried Speed Wing because I contacted Infinity Abroad and found them to my liking. Prices for each of the programs varies but not a whole lot differently I believe. (let me know in the comment box if you know!) There are people who claim that they choose OOTB or SpeedWing due to wider job vacancies and choices, but I am pretty much happy with my agency.

in San Francisco
1) Choose one agent to work on this.
We all have never been to US before.  I believe there is still a possible way you can sign up on your own, but the help of agent will make the whole process smoother. Consult them about available jobs and working partners.

2) Choose a season!
There are 2 working holiday seasons available. Winter, and summer. I seriously hate cold weather and  can I see myself working in cold weather? NO. However, if you don't have a choice on the working season, then choose a state that would have your preferred climate. Guess now you know why I choose Hawaii.

3)  Choose a state!
Some people have a state they want to explore more than others. This is seriously worth contemplating. A work and travel holiday USA usually takes time from minimum 2 months of work up to 4 months, it varies from different employer. Some might want the students to work for 3 months and a half. So, it is a good choice to pick an interesting state to explore more. This is because the visa that you've applied for only allows 1 month travelling period IN the United States after the work! So, if you want to spend more time on exploring a certain state, look for a job there!

4) Start making / saving the first payment for WAT (work and travel) agent/ program fees.
For me, I got it from PTPTN. Trust me, this is money worth spending and you'll have the experience to remember for a lifetime. However, you can also choose to pay by working part time.

5) Prepare your interview!
There is not many work categories you can choose from. Usually there are various positions for you to choose. Be it like theme park operators personnel, restaurant staff (from kitchen to server), housekeeping or other hospitality involved jobs in hotel/ inn, helper in various National Parks and so on. However, there are requirements for most of the jobs. Most require you to speak at least basic English, some need advanced English. Some need no visible tattoos or piercings.

For me, it doesn't really matter, just choose a spot you really want to hang for 4 months, and try to look for a job around it. There must be one job that suits you in the State. However, plan ahead because famous spots run out fast like hot cakes, eg: California. Usually, there will be a few jobs available in one state, just apply and wait for your Skype interview!

P/s: A good resume will do you good too!

6) Do some research.
Do some research on the employer that is going to hire you, it helps with the interview. Most of the interviews are pretty easy, however, be prepared! You'll never know, it can be a plus point to have an idea of what the employer is looking for.

7) Book your flight ticket ahead!
After you pass your interview, first thing you need to do is to buy the flight ticket. USUALLY, it's cheaper when you buy your ticket earlier. Especially on flights to USA, it doesn't seem to have a lot of discount going on unlike Air Asia. You might need some googling on that. Choosing to buy one way ticket can be a smart choice if you plan to go alone and make friends in the States. You can always buy ticket after you plan your routes in the States. Usually the domestic flights in the State wouldn't cost you as much, however, it's still cheaper if you plan ahead. Thirty USD cheaper is 120RM cheaper. I choose multi-city flight because I already have a route that I want to travel.

-Choosing China Airlines usually cheaper.
-Korea and Japan airlines can be really really comfortable and wonderful experience (looking all the pretty faces)
-Worst airlines experience goes to US airlines, bad service and I remember flying 8 hours without entertainment (because the flight don't have a screen. FML)

8) Prepare your passport (if you don't have one) and getting ready for VISA interview.
Usually your agent will guide you through from here. Hence, choosing a good agency is very important. They will tell you the Dos and Don'ts.

in Honolulu, Hawaii

9) Wait for your Visa and VOILA!
Usually the Visa process takes about 3 days to 1 week. They will send it to your house once they're done.

So, that's about it.
It's really a fruitful experience and I guess the chinese are right - Nothing is worth more than seeing with your own eyes.

Signing off,
See the world before you're too old!

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  1. interesting, thanks for share.

  2. Wow! You earned quite a lot in the US.
    And the trip was worth every penny, I would say!
    Thanks for sharing the tips

  3. Earning USD and earning RM really huge different leh.... Good to work travel there!

  4. welcome back! Getting more and more pretty :)

  5. OMG too bad now I only see this post, or else I want to be student work travel at overseas too! Gonna gain a lot of unexpected experience!

  6. This is a very interesting entry babe. I should have try this long ago.

  7. If I could turn back the clock and had the opportunity I would so do this... so thanks for highlighting it... those who can do it should sooo totally do it...

  8. Wow! I wish that I can go back and do this. You are awesome and I am glad you did it when you are young. Thumbs up

  9. True enough, travel and see the world before you gets too old! I'm sure it's one of the most unforgettable experience you ever had in your life.

  10. Wow, such a great tips, thanks for the sharing :)

  11. Hi guys, thanks for everyone kind comment! Yes. If only I could turn back in time, I will go every single semester!

  12. @jessying life is indeed short!

  13. @rane thanks rane for your kind words! Just when I need it.LOL

  14. Wow, how you get a job in Hawaii, all I saw in that 3 agents the place they offer is quite rural. I haven't checked out Think Abroad, do you think is it possible to get a job in California? Or even in New York. Thanks, btw congratulations on your wonderful experiences in the USA!

  15. Hello @ngiam Tee Ee, yes it's possible to get a job in any where you want. First thing first is definitely getting an agent and secure your job. The earlier you book an agent and request for a job, the higher of the chances you get the job and state you looking for. For me, i am using infinity abroad, not sure about think abroad tho. let me know what do you think or you can always email me at

  16. Hi thanks for sharing this! Hope to read more about your WAT

  17. Hello, can I know what job you took up and how many hours did you work for each job ? I'm planning to sign up for this programme and need some references to do some planning in order to cover all my expenses upfront. Btw, very helpful post, thanks !

  18. Hi Carina! THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing your experience and breaking down the details into a step by step way. I'm sure for those who are actually considering in joining this program would really appreciate it! This is something I wish I learned about earlier, I only found out about this program late last year and it was already too late for me. I hope you'd have another opportunity to do this again!

    1. Hi Jessie, it's never too late. I heard they have au pair programmes and also summer camp leader programme! :) do check that out

  19. Hey can I know what kind of jobs you do there? because no matter how I calculate it does not seem to be enough to cover expenses and have enough for traveling! like 10 dollars an hour for 40 hours and 3-4 months is barely 4k usd!

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