Fitness Pro Vacations - Trainers Beware

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Fitness Pro Vacations - Trainers must be careful when signing up for any vacation program offering resort stays in exchange for teaching. Here's why.

Around this time of year in the northeast US, many of us long to be in warmer climates. And as fitness professionals, we all know that our skills are valuable and portable.

I was first introduced to the Fitness Pro Vacation business model when a company called VacaPro showed up on several Fitness Pro groups on LinkedIn. They offered free or very low cost vacations in exchange for teaching. I thought it sounded great, but having worked out of my home country, I also knowTravel island how picky smaller islands are about work permits. After all, they are a major source of government revenue.

For example, when I first went to Turks and Caicos for 10 days to teach some Pilates teacher training workshops, I was required to have a temporary work permit in order to enter the islands and work. That permit was $500 at that time and required police clearance and copies of my passport.

Most countries consider barter arrangements to still be work, since you are providing a service for compensation, even if the compensation is other than cash. If you look at tourist immigration stamps, most say "you will not take on employment, paid or unpaid, during your visit".

If you are caught working without a work permit, you will be removed from the country and sent home on the first available flight. In addition, you will be blocked from entering that country ever again, and your passport record will contain this information, making it very difficult (if not impossible) to work outside of your home country ever again. Seriously!

When I contacted VacaPro about this issue I received this response from founder Rob Nunnery:

Our guest instructors travel as tourists for vacation/pleasure. Since these are teaching vacations that the instructor is paying for a work visa is not required. These are all short term vacations (typically one to three weeks) and not employment.

I replied, expressing my concerns about employment rules in other countries using my own experience as an example. After all, the resort price is so cheap because part of it is barter. This was his response:

Thanks. Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Well, that was useful!

So I went to the FAQ page to see what it says about immigration, and again the same answer:

Extremely Important

WHEN TRAVELING PROFESSIONALS MUST DESIGNATE VACATION OR PLEASURE ON ALL CUSTOMS DECLARATION FORMS. DESIGNATING BUSINESS OR VACATION/BUSINESS MAY RESULT IN IMMEDIATE DEPORTATION.

EXCUSE ME?

This so obviously skirts the issue of labor regulations.

Companies like this have been around since the '90s (Fit Bodies, for one), and many charge a fee to the trainers who register, acting as travel agencies as well as placement agencies (FitProBiz).

My thoughts:

Most of the time this model will work. But there are extremely serious consequences for the trainer should there be any issue with labor and immigration, and in smaller countries they can change the rules quickly.

Any fitness pro caught working overseas without proper permits will be subject to deportation and future travel restrictions as well as restrictions on future overseas employment.

The agency won't be liable. And the resort may have to pay a fine, or hire more locals, but they certainly will not be as adversely affected as the fitness pro.

The Takeaway:

My fellow fitness professionals, be very careful with this! There are many perfectly legitimate ways to work outside of the US (or your home country). Make sure your papers are in order and that you are not being asked to skirt the truth on your immigration forms.

Remember that this is your future employment and travel that will be compromised, so tread very lightly and carefully here.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

I welcome comments from everyone, but especially from the companies who handle fitness pro vacations as well as from any fitness pros who have used such services.