Malaysian Work & Travel USA Step-by-Step Guide 2020 Updated

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In the summer of 2018, I’ve spent a crazy and memory-packed summer in Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in California under Malaysian Work & Travel USA program. It’s an unforgettable 2.5 months working together with friends from different countries all around the world and local Americans.

I’m a humble guy myself (or at least I like to think of it this way). And I always want to share my experiences and hopefully, inspire others to break out of their so-called cliché comfort zone. This is one of the main reasons I  started this travel blog in the first place, to lend a hand and inspire.

Although Malaysians might not have privileges as Taiwanese youngsters do (they have working holiday programs to more than 10 countries around the world), one program that is totally worth considering for Malaysian students is the Malaysian Work & Travel USA Program.

Interested? Read on.

Not convinced? Read How It’s Like Working in Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Note (1st April 2020): The following information had been proofread by Speedwing, so rest assured that you’re getting the most updated information possible. 

Convinced? Let’s dive in and see how you can apply for the Work & Travel USA Program too!

malaysian work & travel usa program

What is The Malaysian Work & Travel USA Program?

Work & Travel USA Program provides the opportunity for foreign students to work and travel in the USA during their semester breaks. The program is administered by the US State Department to achieve the objectives of international cultural exchange.

The purpose of the Work & Travel USA Program is to allow foreign students to experience the American culture and way of living in America.

With Malaysian Work & Travel USA program, you will be able to work in the USA for a season (up to 3.5 months) during summer (25th May to 15th September) or winter (25th November to 15th March). After the work, you are legally allowed to travel around the country for one month before returning to your home country to continue your study or convocation.

There are more than 70 companies partnered with CIEE (Council of International Educational Exchange) alone. And there are more organizations than just CIEE that provide the Work & Travel USA Program.

malaysian work and travel usa program

Eligibility for Malaysian Work & Travel Program

  • At least the age of 18 and not more than 30.
  • A full-time tertiary student with official semester break or final year, final semester student graduating from a full-time course (which means you finished your studies and are waiting for your convocation).
  • Undergo an interview before being accepted into the program.

Choose Your Agency (Program Representative)

There are three agents in offering Malaysian Work & Travel USA Program – Speedwing, Infinity Abroad, and Out of the Box.

I applied mine through Speedwing and was very happy with the process and their customer support. My emails were usually answered within a day or two by Speedwing. I’m not sure about others but most of my friends applied through Speedwing and were happy with it. 

Note that I’m not a partner of the agency, just promoting what I like. 

Check out What I Learnt From New Zealand Working Holiday.

How much? What’s included in the price?

For summer 2019, the fee is $1285 which includes:

  • Program fee
  • Detailed information about the program
  • Pre-departure orientation
  • Obtaining legal documentation (Work Documents)
  • Visa application fee
  • Health and Medical Insurance Coverage provided by Cultural Exchange Visitor program sponsors
  • Job placement
  • A scheduled interview with the employer via Skype or with Speedwing agents

You can learn more about what’s included in the price here on Speedwing’s website.

What’s not included in the price?

You’ll have to dig your own wallet to pay for these:

  • Flight ticket (around RM2,800 round trip depending on which part of the country you go)
  • Accommodation (some accommodations will be arranged by the employers while you will need to find the accommodations yourself for some. However, you’ll have to pay the weekly rent yourself.)

Totaling the amount, you will roughly be spending RM8,000-10,000 or even slightly more before even boarding the plane. 

work & travel usa for malaysian

What You Need to Know

Pre-departure Preparation: What to Bring to USA?

In some parts of the country especially on the West Coast, it can be cold even in the summer.

The best example would be Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where the night can reach 10 degrees Celsius with a bone-chilling sea breeze all the time.

Cold like crazy…

Sometimes it left me wondering why I chose here in the first place… Seriously.

So be sure to check the temperature and climate before you go. Just Google it, it’s not a difficult task at all. You don’t wanna mess up your summer.

For colder part of the country, bring yourself a thick jacket or down jacket if it’s really cold. The thin jacket you wear to the school library is probably not going to do you any good.

If you’re stingy like me, who hates spending on unnecessary stuff, bring yourself a brand new toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, moisturizer, and any toiletries you might need.

Some of my friends even packed Maggi in their luggage. 

I went there with a 43L backpack and a smaller backpack I bring to classes. So I didn’t have much space for anything extra.

Most of the participants prefer preparing their own meals during their stay there to save money. Eating out in restaurants can easily cost you more than $20 per meal. 

You will also be advised to bring a certain amount of US Dollars there. It was $800 when I participated, but I’m not sure whether they’ll change. You’re not likely to be checked when you pass the gate in the USA, but just in case. I have a friend who brought $500 cash only. 

Optional Stuff to Bring

Bringing your own sleeping bag is optional but if you love camping, it will definitely come in handy. Note that camping in the US during the summer can be difficult because the camping spots were booked out really quick. You’ll need to act fast.

Laptops and cameras are optional as well but I brought it because I got a travel blog to take care of (even though I didn’t touch it after my second week there, don’t be like me). If you have two full-time jobs, you probably don’t have much time to spend on the laptop anyway.

I certainly don’t recommend bringing too many things there because you’ll definitely buy something there. Amazon, eBay or premium outlets (which are abundant in the USA) will make sure you return with one more bag. Having too much luggage makes your travel harder too. 

usa working holiday for malaysian

Work & Travel USA Program Application Procedures

I applied for the Malaysian Work & Travel USA Program with Speedwing so I’ll refer everything to what I did with them.

Unlike New Zealand Working Holiday Visa, which I gave a lot of detailed and complete information because I did it myself, Speedwing settled most of my application procedures for the Malaysian Work & Travel USA Program.

So here we go.

Step 1: Choose Your Employer and Workplace

Refer to the list of employers in the Speedwing registration website and you’ll find a lot of employers with different amounts of wages, accommodations, and some brief information.

For some popular employers like Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Yellowstone National Park, you’ll need to grab it as soon as possible because they got filled up real quick. Don’t hesitate for too long. Things are going to be fine and if it’s not, it’s an adventure you’ll remember for life.

Step 2: Register and Pay Deposit

After you make up your mind, there is a register button at the bottom of the page where you get to register for the program.

You will then receive an email from the agent. Follow the instructions and pay the deposit ($100 for me in 2018). Then you’ll be able to choose your First and Second choice of employers from the list.

Feel free to just email the agent in case you have any doubts or questions.

Step 3: Hand in Your Resume

A resume form will be given to you by the agent, all you have to do is fill them up.

That’s an easy task I don’t think it needed further explanation.

Step 4: Skype Interview With Your Employer or Agent

After the resume, you’ll be arranged for an interview with the employer or with a Malaysian agent. In my case, I did my interview with a Speedwing agent.

Most of the time, you’ll pass the interview as long as you speak fluently or at least understand English. The agent told me later that the purpose of the interview is just to test your English communication skills.

So don’t worry too much about that. Just keep smiling. Yeah.

Step 5: Paying for the Program Fee & The Paperwork

Now that you have a job confirmation, you’ll be required to pay all the remaining program fee, which is around $1180 (total amount is around $1280).

If you’re wondering whether you’ll be able to pay off the program fee with the salary you earn in the USA, scroll down to the FAQ part.

After paying the full amount of program fee, you’ll have more paperwork coming up, in order to apply for the J-1 (Exchange Visitor) Visa.

The forms include:

  • Medical declaration form
  • Program condition agreement
  • Insurance policy
  • Job offer letter from US Employer
  • Proof of student status letter (from your faculty office)
  • Proof of English ability

Step 6: Meeting with Speedwing Agent

After paying for your program fee and finishing all those paperwork, you’ll be arranged a meeting with the agent. For West Malaysians, the meeting takes place in Kuala Lumpur.

Here you’ll receive a briefing and orientation to get you ready for your departure to the USA. Prepare all your questions before the meeting and solve them during the meeting.

And remember to take the phone number of the agent, in case you have more questions.

work and travel usa program for malaysian

Step 7: Interview for J1 Visa in US Embassy

After all the paperwork, which will take you some time, you’ll be arranged an interview in US Embassy by your agent. Scroll down to the FAQ part for more information.

The procedure was easy, and the whole process usually won’t take longer than an hour. In fact, the interview at the counter itself takes less than 5 minutes for most participants.

Bring the documents required (Your agent will tell you which documents), and present in formal attire.

Now what’s left is buying the flight ticket. Scroll down to the FAQ part to see my recommended way of finding the cheapest flight deals. My return flight tickets were RM2,700.

If you’re interested, check out my exclusive Detailed Guide for Malaysians’ New Zealand Working Holiday Visa.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I be able to pay off the Malaysian Work & Travel USA program fee with the money earned in the USA?

Most likely, yes, under certain circumstances. In my case, I had $11 per hour working as Rides Operator in Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Since the accommodation here is complimentary, and with 40 hours per week, I paid off the program fee within 1.5 months.

And I got myself a second job in my second month. If everything goes well and you found yourself a second job, you’ll be able to bring a handful of cash back to Malaysia, even after traveling in the USA after your job ended.

That being said, some people just love shopping and eating out in restaurants, it can’t be helped. So be sure to know what are your priorities, and keep in mind your expenses before overspending!

After talking so several past participants, here are some conclusions I made. If you’re departing to the USA at the end of June, you might not be able to pay off the program fee. There are not many weeks for you to work and earn money because all the jobs must end on 15th September. 

If you have to pay for your own accommodation, it makes it harder to pay off the program fee. Do the maths before you decide further. Be noted that some participants in 2019 were not able to pay off their program fees.

You might want to compare the fee between different agents too. From what I know, Speedwing has the best price, but every agent has different employers, so you’ll have to make the call. 

If money is not an issue for you, and you just want to experience the so-called American culture, then I definitely recommend joining the program. 

Do I Need to Pay Taxes?

You might have heard that Work & Travel participants do not have to pay taxes if they make less than $4,050. Well, that might be true for participants before 2018, before the new regulation under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2017 which removes this allowance amount. 

Work & Travel Program participants now have to pay the federal tax, which is around 10% of our total earning

This percentage might change but the fact that we have to pay tax remains. 

There are two main taxes that you’ll notice in your paycheck – federal tax and state tax. As W&T participants, we do not have to pay the state tax. But the state tax will be automatically deducted from your paycheck. Which is why you’ll have to file for a tax refund after you got back to Malaysia. 

Every state has a different form for the state tax refunds, so you’ll have to look them up by yourself. 

Other than those, you’ll also have to pay local/city taxes depending on which state and city you’re working in. You don’t have to worry about this if you’re working in California. 

You might also notice the Social Security Tax and Medicare Tax being deducted from your paycheck. You do not have to pay these taxes and are eligible for tax refunds. Refer to Publication 519, and go to page 44, and read under the heading ‘Refund of Taxes Withheld in Error‘. You’ll find what documents you need to file the tax refund there. 

In some cases, you might owe IRS federal tax and have to pay them more in the end. That was my case because the federal tax wasn’t deducted from my second job paycheck. 

Either you owe have to pay the remaining, or that you overpaid the tax and eligible for tax refund (which is not likely), you have to file the Form 1040NR-EZ (not Form 1040NR, which is a different form). Your agent will probably send this form to your email after your job ends. 

Just use the Contact Us form above if you have any other questions on this topic, I’ll try my best to help. 

Bringing $800 To Enter US?

Some of my friends did not bring the full amount and got past the security. None of my friends, including me, were checked whether we have $800 cash in pocket.

But I still highly recommend you bring it, $800 isn’t a lot compared to other countries. (It’s still hella crazy amount, more than RM3000! Well, at least for me, it is.)

Summer and Winter Work & Travel USA in the same year?

I’ve asked Speedwing the same question but unfortunately, it’s not possible to do the Work & Travel USA Program in the same year for both summer and winter season.

However, it’s possible to participate in the programs several times as long as they are not in the same year.

Going Before Convocation

I went for the program when I finished my second year in the public university. There was a 3-months long semester break so I went for the program and return for my third year in September. All you need is a student letter to prove you’re an active full-time tertiary student.

Note that if you’re having a gap year, you will not be accepted into the program.

It’s okay to participate in the program after your last semester as long as you applied during the application date.

Can I go during my gap year?


I’m having a 3-months semester break from my university, can I join the program?

Yes, absolutely. That’s what I did. Malaysian public university often offers a 3-months semester break in the summer (June to August).

But do understand that you’ll probably not be able to travel for a long time after your job ends, as you’ll have to rush back to start your new semester. (I skipped class for 2 weeks so I think you can consider it too, it’s not likely that you’ll have to chance to get back to the USA anyway. Might as well be the bad guy.)

How do I check for the cheapest flight?

I always use Skyscanner to check for the cheapest flight. Most of the time, United Airlines offers the cheapest return flight around RM2,800 depending on where you intend to go.

Booking super early isn’t necessarily cheaper because most of the time, the flight will not be booked out after all. Book your flight after everything is confirmed.

Having a transit in China is not recommended by the agent (from what I heard from my friend who went there in 2019). I’m not so sure what could go wrong, but it’s best if you ask your agent before booking your flight tickets. 

I’m from East Malaysia, how will I conduct the visa interview?

The interviews are only carried out in Kuala Lumpur. So you’ll have to expect yourself flying all the way from East Malaysia to Kuala Lumpur just for the short interview in the US Embassy.

Can I participate in the program for more than one time?

Yes, as long as it’s not within the same year, and you’re still a student.

Do I need to pay a deposit prior to registration?

Yes, $100 to show your sincere interest in the program. The deposit is non-refundable even if you changed your mind afterward.

It’s only refundable if somehow your application failed. But there’s T&C for this, so you’ll have to email Speedwing about that.

Which SIM Card should I buy in the US?

Different telecom companies have different connectivity in different parts of the country. Check here to see which company is ideal for your workplace location.

Some phones are not able to receive the frequency in the USA well. You can check whether your phone is compatible in the USA or not here.

Which kind of job is the best? What are your recommendations?

I personally love working in theme parks. There is much more fun there and you will definitely have a lot of friends from different nations around the world. Great for cultural exchange.

I hate housekeeping, dishwashing, janitor or similar jobs. They are boring and extremely physically demanding. You will probably have fewer friends than participants working in theme parks. But in the end, it’s still yours to decide.

If you’re up for making lots of cash in the USA, be sure to check the offered wages before applying. And also, ask the past participants (if you could find them) on whether it’s possible to work OT for the 1.5x pay. Most employers do not allow OT though. 

I had two jobs – primary job in Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and a second job in a fast-food restaurant, Jack in the Box. I worked 80 hours a week (surprisingly a lot of Work & Travel USA participants are hardcore workers), and I’m happy with both of the jobs.

So good luck in finding your ideal jobs, or second jobs.

How many nationalities will be participating in the program?

A lot. If you really want to know how many countries, visit this CIEE site.

Can I request to be in the same room with other Malaysians or my friends?

Some employers allow special requests on accommodations so you can request whatever you need there. Most Malaysians request to be in the same room with Malaysians because the culture is similar.

At least you won’t have European roommates blasting EDMs in your room, which most of them do.

Should I go with my friends?

Yea, why not? Some employers in the Malaysian Work & Travel Program allow participants to come in pairs, friends or couples. Remember to check beforehand!

Can I Join The W&T Winter Program?

Yes, as long as you’re in your final year. The application date for the Winter program starts around June or July. During that time, you’re still a student so you should have no problem asking for the proof of student status from your faculty. 

The program requires you to be a student during your application. If you graduate and have convocation in November, but the program starts in December, it’s no problem. 

The reason why you must be in your final year is that you have classes from December to March so it’s not possible to participate. I’m talking from the perspective of a public university student, your university might work differently. 

Ready For Malaysian Work & Travel USA Program?

The USA has been a dream for a lot of tertiary students in Malaysia. Most Malaysians never set foot in this country their entire lifetime. It’s a great privilege to be able to participate in this program and it did bring positive impacts to my life and perspectives.

I had a lot more stories to tell and I had a lot of self-improvements. That’s why I want to help more people to make this a reality instead of a dream we tell our bestie on Facebook. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment below!

Please share it with those who are interested. As usual, happy traveling and have a nice day ahead.

Written by

Yen is a university student from Malaysia and a huge fan of Blues music and photography. His passion for travel can be traced back to 2016 when he spent 6 months traveling New Zealand. By blending into the locals and traveling long-term, he shares all the comprehensive and detailed travel ideas and guides for the countries with his footprints.

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28 thoughts on “Malaysian Work & Travel USA Step-by-Step Guide 2020 Updated”

  1. Him I would like to ask that, if i graduated in march 2019, but my convocation is one november. Probably mid of november. Then i would like to register for the program on july, am i still eligible for the program?

    1. Hey Sam, as long as you haven’t attended the convocation, you’re still a student. So yea, you’re still eligible for the program. But unfortunately, the application closed a month or two ago, it’s too late to apply for the program now. The application opens around December every year and closes around February depending on the slots.

    1. Probably due to peer pressure haha, majority of my friends there (not only Malaysians) are working two jobs, and some of them are making double my wages. The waiter job in fast food restaurant pay $0.50 more per hour, but it’s not that common to receive tips in fast food restaurants. It’s much easier to get tips when you’re working in cafes or some dining restaurants.

    1. Do you mean something like gap year? As far as I know, gap year does not make you eligible for the program. But I suggest you email Speedwing or other agents to ask for more information about that. Hope this helps. 🙂

  2. Hi, if my convocation in aug 2020, and I would like to register the summer season WAT 2020, which means that I have to sacrifice to attend my convo?

    1. Every employer has a different start date and end date. But most of the jobs do end in August to early September. If you’re taking your travel into account, say, maybe 10 days of traveling around the country after your job ends, you might not be able to make it for your convo. If your convo is in early August, you might have to sacrifice that. But still, I think it’s better if you wait until the application opens, and see which employer suits your time best. Hope this helps. 🙂

    2. Hi Yen, ur information was very helpful..U even made me became more determined to enroll with WAT program. btw, I’m curious abt the working hours. Did u asked ur employer abt OT during interview? one more question, may I know how much was ur weekly spending for food and housing? Cause wonder if I can guarantee to get back the whole program fee.

      1. Hey Catherine, thanks for reading! For my job in Santa Cruz last year, I never interviewed with the employer, but instead with the Malaysian agent. I didn’t ask her about OT back then. For the working hours, most of the employers don’t allow more than 40 hours per week (Overtime). But I heard there are very little employers who don’t mind. Most of the time, you’ll get to work 30-40 hours per week.
        I spend very little on food since I rarely ate in restaurants. I cooked most of my meals or brought back from my second job place (fast food restaurant). And for accommodation, I did not have to pay because there is free accommodation for Santa Cruz. Most of the employers do charge for accommodation while for some, you have to find your own place to stay. So, for my case, the rough weekly spendings on food and accommodation are less than $20.
        For other employers, housing fee varies a lot, but usually, it won’t exceed $100 per week.
        From what I calculated last time, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll get back the whole program fee and flight ticket as long as you don’t spend too much on travel or shopping.
        If you need more help just use the Contact Us form above, and I’ll help you as much as I can. 🙂

  3. Hi thanks for this post i really get informed from this, I want to ask a few more things I read this ‘Participants who are required to return to school can only remain in the USA on the program until the last day of their school vacation and must return in time to start the new semester.’ but you have skipped the class 2 weeks how is that possible can you give me some tips and also for the filght tickets i should buy it before i got my visa or after i got my visa. thanks

    1. Hi, asking about step 6 the proof of english ability, how can i prove it? And for the proof of student status, is it having university verification letter will do or need to give your results too?

      1. Hey Melissa, there will be a part in the form where you have to find someone to prove your English ability. I asked for help from my English lecturer for that. For proof of student status, university verification letter will do, you don’t have to submit your results. Just make sure it’s not outdated.

    2. Hi, I would like to ask whether I am available to join WAT summer 2021 if my exam week ends in last week of June? When is the application date?

      1. Yes, you can join, but maybe you’ll start a bit later because most of the applicants start around early or mid-June. The downside is that you’ll have a harder time getting a second job, but it’s still possible to get one. Also, you might not be able to cover back the initial cost (registration fee, program fee, flight ticket, etc).
        The application starts around early November every year. 🙂

  4. Hi yen ,
    I would like to know like myself just this year 2019 September graduate and have already convocation this year September 2019 is it still possible for apply work and travel in USA
    And one more question is my friend have graduate 2018 is it also still available for apply?

    1. Unfortunately, you got to have student status during the application. Since you’ve graduated and no longer a student, it’s not possible to apply for W&T USA program. There are other programs you can check out, like New Zealand Working Holiday, which I covered in another article. Hope this helps. 🙂

  5. Thanks for the useful information. Are you still traveling around the world? LEt’s say, I am successfully applied for this program and work there. Can I buy a new camera over there and bring it back to Malaysia? Am I able to pass the kastam(gate at USA to Malaysia)?

    1. Hey, thanks for reading! I’m not traveling right now, gotta be saving up first haha! Sure you can buy a new camera there and bring back without any problems. I got myself a GoPro and an electric guitar there too. Most of the people who went for W&T program will do a ton of shopping, there are so many outlets there to buy things. Online shopping is also super easy there, it’s kinda hard to resist, to be honest. 😀

  6. Wow, You reply within 5 minutes! I had read this for a several times hahaha! to be familiar with the program I gonna apply! You mentioned the second job, meaning that we have to find our second job by ourselves? Also we can travel for one month, but did you use that month to work instead? hahaha. This is my final year in university, and I probably going for the summer season. But, I also secretly wish that I can bring some cash back Malaysia.

    1. Hey, I was on the laptop anyway haha. Yup, you’ll have to find the second job all by yourself, mostly through friends or cold walk-in interviews. Not so easy if you’re not lucky.
      For the one month, it’s not possible to work because the work visa is only valid until the day you end the job. The work visa doesn’t work for the one month, so you have to either travel there for one whole month or get home any time within that one month. I traveled for 2 weeks, and I think that was enough since the expenses are quite high there. Kinda impossible to do budget backpack travel.
      If you’re final year student, I’m afraid it might be too late to apply now. The summer season application opens in November 2019, and it’s long closed now. You can still apply for the winter season though, the job starts around November 2020 until March 2021. The application starts around May or June this year when you’re still a student.

  7. Hi! I have messaged Speedwing. I mean I gonna apply for 2021 summer! Btw, What you wear at Santa Clauz Broadwalk since the temperature is quite cold there.
    Packing: What should I bring there?
    One month for travel: How do you travel from one place to another?
    Money Earn: How to save those money since we don’t have a bank account oversea?
    Break: The break is only 10-15minutes? :O That’s very little. Do you mean lunch break?

    1. Oh nice, good for you. It’s Santa Cruz by the way.
      They will provide a uniform and long trouser along with a thick jacket for all employees. I would suggest bringing an extra jacket there though. As for what else to pack, I pack quite minimal but I’ve seen people bringing food from Malaysia, Maggi etc.
      I traveled for 2 weeks and we rented a car, it’s quite cheap to be honest.
      You’ll have to open a bank account there in order to receive your wages from the employer, most of us opened Wells Fargo or Bank of America.
      Lunch break would be 30 minutes, the 15 minutes break were short breaks before and after your lunch break, each.
      Hope these help. 🙂

  8. I know it’s way too early to ask you this but I’m planning ahead for this WAT program probably in Summer 2022 where I’ll be finishing my degree, so better I plan out early so that I can be financially prepared for it.

    You have stated that you can pay off the remaining fee with the salary earned there. My question is: Is it compulsory for us to pay full beforehand or is there a minimum amount that can be paid first and you can pay the remaining amount when you’re in the States? Since I’m planning to save up and use my own money, I don’t want to rely on my old folks hahah. I know my question sounds complicated but I do hope you can assist me. Thank you in advance, Ken.

    1. You will have to pay them a $100 deposit first, then, after you finished interviewing with them, you’ll have to pay in full amount before you get to fly to USA. 🙂

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