Everything You Need to Know About Australia's Work & Holiday Visa
As Americans, it's hard to find a(n English speaking) country in which we can live and work outside of our own. Australia and New Zealand are two countries that actually make it really easy for us to do just that. I don't know anything about New Zealand's work and holiday visa beyond the fact that it exists, but I'm currently on my second Australian work and holiday visa (subclass 462), so I know a thing or two about that one.
The Practical Stuff
Here's everything you need to know about applying for and obtaining an Australian Work and Holiday 462 visa:
Do you qualify? In order to apply for your first Work and Holiday Visa, you have to meet the following requirements
Between 18 and 30 years old
Don't have any dependents with you during your stay in Australia (no children or spouses)
Have a US passport (there are a number of other nationalities qualified to apply for this visa, but since I'm American, I'll only speak about my experience)
Cost & Processing Time
There's a cost estimator on the government site, but expect to pay around $450 AUD
The application is incredibly quick and easy to fill out, and it's all done online. I finished my application in about an hour
The Australian government states a processing time up to 41 days, but it took less than 24 hours for mine to be approved
I wish someone had told me that besides the confirmation email, there is no tangible evidence that you've received your visa. So don't panic, you're not missing anything. Australian customs didn't even ask me if I had a visa; in fact, I felt obliged to ask them to make sure the visa had gone through and was showing up in their system (it had).
So, you have your visa. What does this actually mean?
You must be outside of the country when you apply for your first work and holiday visa
There is a cap on the number of first work and holiday visas granted to each country. I've never heard of anyone's visa being denied, but just to be safe, apply early. The visa program year starts in July.
You are on a temporary visa. Just because you're living in Australia, paying rent and taxes, have a bank account, etc. you are not a resident (for work/taxation purposes)
You can only work with one employer for a maximum of 6 months
You may leave and reenter Australia as many times as you want
What's the deal with Americans and Second Year Visas?
The Work and Holiday (subclass 462) is a 1 year visa, but you have the option to apply for it again. You may have heard that Americans can't apply for a Second Year visa, but as of last year, that restriction was lifted. YAY!
There is a catch, however, and in my opinion, the catch with this visa is a brilliant ploy by the Australian government to get legal, cheap labor to do the jobs most Australians don't want to do. So what's the catch? You have to do 3 months of rural work in North Australia.
Most people refer to this as "farm work" and that's because the most popular form of rural work for backpackers to get is farm work. But don't be fooled, if you're American (or on a Subclass 462 Visa) you don't actually have to pick fruit in order for your three months of rural work to qualify. So what does qualify as rural work?
You must work in northern Australia (above the Tropic of Capricorn in Western Australia, Northern Territory, or Queensland)
You can work in tourism, hospitality, agriculture, forestry, or fishing. That's a lot of options! I worked at a restaurant in Outback Queensland.
Although I don't believe the three months have to be consecutive, I highly recommend just rolling up your sleeves, settling in, and getting the job done in one go.
You must complete the three months within the first year of your work and holiday visa, so decide early if this is something you want to commit to because you'll need to get yourself organized and working well before your visa is up.
Make sure the company or family you work for signs off on second year visas before you commit to working with them.
Make sure you're happy with the pay and living situation, as some employers gravely underpay and take advantage of the situation.
You can find all the information you need on the government website. Unlike a lot of .gov sites, the Australian Home Affairs site is really easy to use and understand. Praise be.
The Logistical Stuff
One of my biggest fears before moving to Australia was setting up every day essentials. Phone. Health Care. Apartment. Bank. Taxes. I had absolutely no idea how I'd go about setting these things up and I moved with blind faith that if other people had done it, so could I. And guess what, I was right. It's really easy to get these things sorted, but here's a few things to look out for:
Bank Account Establishing a bank account is really easy and should probably be the first thing you do upon arrival. Once your bank account is up and running, everything else is easy to set up through direct debit. We decided to go with WestPac because we were able to get a good deal (that I forgot about the second we walked out of the door, but was happy with at the time). Other popular choices include Commonwealth and ANZ.
Phone Cell service is a bit of a precious commodity in Australia and can't be found just anywhere. We went with Vodafone because they were able to offer us a great deal (lots of shared data for not a lot of money) and we were living in Melbourne at the time where we didn't really have to worry about service. Fast forward 4 months to Outback Queensland where the only working provider is Telstra and we were SOL. I would recommend going with Telstra because they cover much more of Australia than Vodafone. If you're on a budget, or are traveling and expecting to be out of range most of the time, buy a top up SIM card to save some money and manage your data accordingly. Most providers include free, unlimited international calls in their plans, which is great for calling home!
Health Care As an American, my expectations of health care are a little, shall we say, skewed. In fact, I kind of ignored health insurance for the first 6 months we were in Australia. I figured, "I'm young and healthy and broke, so I'll take my chances." It wasn't until Will had an encounter with a snake and required some emergency medical attention that I realized "Holy shit. That could have been me. HOLY SHIT I DONT HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE AND THIS WOULD HAVE COST ME THOUSANDS!!!" I got online and bought health insurance that day. Luckily, it's super easy and very cheap to get covered for basic things like accidents and ambulance rides. Through Bupa, I pay $11.55 a week; a small price for peace of mind.
Apartments I'm not going to lie, finding an apartment can be tricky. It's a game of patience, availability, and match making. It can be frustrating, but there are a few tools out there that make it a little easier. Everyone, not just backpackers, uses sites like Flatmates.com.au and FlatmateFinder.
TFN In order to work in Australia, you have to have a Tax File Number, or a TFN. This sounds intimidating and official, but it's very easy to obtain online. Get this sorted right away because employers will want to see it before hiring and paying you.
Superannuation Australia's social security scheme is called Superannuation and it's required of employers to pay into this separate, savings fund on top of your hourly rate or salary. You must set up your Superannuation (most established employers require it) and can go with virtually any company out there. Upon leaving Australia, Work and Holiday Visa holders can apply for payment from this account, however the government will tax 65% of it's contents. In other words, you'll end up with 35% of whatever is paid into your superannuation and the government gets the rest. Given that info, I pay very little attention to my superannuation, but definitely intend on applying for whatever money I can get through DASP.
ABN Australian Business Number. You'll need one if you plan on being a contractor, which a lot of backpackers do. Those direct sales jobs I told you about? They're all technically contractor roles. Luckily, applying for an ABN is free and easy to do online. As a registered business and contractor, you won't be taxed on your earnings and will be expected to pay taxes in July.
The Personal Stuff
When applying for the Work and Holiday Visa, you might picture yourself lounging on the beach, chilling with kangaroos or koalas, and maybe picking up some work pouring beer or making coffees as you travel the country at your leisure. This expectation is attractive, but delusional. I mean, most koalas have chlamydia, so you can throw that day dream right out the window. In all seriousness, applying for the Work and Holiday visa and moving to Australia was the most formative decision I've ever made. It's been an amazing, life changing experience that I wouldn't trade for anything, but it hasn't always been easy. What I expected and what I got are two very different things. I was prepared for the practical stuff (kind of), but I wish I had been more prepared for the personal stuff. Hopefully by sharing these tips, I can help someone else prepare themselves better for this massive adventure they're about to embark on.
Everyone's experience is different. One of my biggest mistakes was comparing my experience to a friend who'd made the move 6 months before me. To me, her life looked amazing! She had a great job, an apartment, friends... I moved to Melbourne expecting to live her life, but that wasn't my path, and I wasted a lot of time pursuing something that wasn't right for me. The best way to ensure that you have a great experience is to throw all expectations out the window.
Getting a job is hard. You know how I said you can't work for an employer for more than 6 months? Yeah, employers don't like that. Twice I settled in cities and twice I had a horrible time finding a job. I applied for everything from office manager to waitress and hardly ever heard back from anyone (this is something you should get used to: Australians are pretty lazy with communication and really stick to the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" rule. It's frustrating). That being said, it's obviously not impossible to get a job; you just have to, once again, adjust your expectations.
GumTree, Facebook Groups, Backpacker Job Boards There are a ton of platforms available to help you land a job. USE THEM! GumTree is especially useful. It's the less creepy, Australian version of Craigslist and it works wonders. I found my current job by posting an ad on GumTree, flaunting our experience and ability to work hard. I heard back from a few different employers and all of a sudden we were the ones with options.
Don't tell people you're on a Work and Holiday Visa. I think this was one of my biggest mistakes. Starting your cover letter with "Hi I'm McKinley and I'm on a work and holiday visa" loosely translates to "Hi I'm McKinley and I'll be quitting by the time you finish training me." It doesn't really matter how qualified you are for a job, seeing a WHV on your application automatically eliminates you from most opportunities. If you can get yourself an interview and then break the news, you have a much better chance of getting through the process and landing the job.
Get out of the city. There are a lot of jobs out there for backpackers, but most of them are in rural areas. If you're willing to relocate to the country for a while, you'll have a much better time landing a job and a much more authentic Australian experience to be honest. Just readjust your expectations and be prepared to get your hands dirty, because you'll probably be doing manual labor.
Australia is expensive. Alcohol, rent, gas, groceries, hostels... It's pretty expensive to live and/or travel here. I have 2 pieces of advice to combat this:
Come with money. Do yourself a favor and save up before moving to Australia. You'll buy yourself time to figure things out while you land on your feet and you won't feel rushed to start working right away. You might even be able to afford to travel before settling, giving you the luxury of finding the perfect place for you start your work life.
Get out of the city. Remember how I said it's easier to find jobs outside of the cities? Well, because of that, it's also easier to save money outside of cities. I highly recommend taking a paying job for an extended amount of time in a remote location where you won't be tempted to spend your earnings. Yes, you'll hate life for a little while, and yes, you'll question why you even bothered coming to Australia just to work in the middle of nowhere. But you can actually save a lot of money pretty quickly making $20/hour and not paying for rent or food. Before you know it, you don't have to worry about money for the rest of your time in Australia.
Social Life I'm not very good at making new friends and haven't really had to do it since college. How do you meet people as an adult?! How do you infiltrate friend groups?! I honestly still don't know the answer to these questions, but I do know a few tricks for meeting people while on the WHV.
Live in a hostel. I actually never did this, but was always secretly envious of people living in hostels. It's a great way to meet people, it's usually cheaper than rent, and in places like Australia where work and holiday visas are so popular, it's not uncommon for people to actually take up residency in a hostel.
Take the shitty direct sales job. I lived in both Melbourne and Sydney for periods of time and spent weeks trying to find the perfect job in both cities. I applied for everything I could find on LinkedIn (and Indeed and Seek and so on), I exploited every connection I thought I had, I passed my resume out to cafes, bars, and restaurants, and I still had a hard time landing a job. As in, I couldn't get a job anywhere. Both times, exhaustion and frustration lead me to interview for commission only, direct sales roles. In Melbourne, I wound up working for Hello Fresh, selling subscriptions door to door. I lasted a week and a half. It was the absolute worst job I've ever had and I hated every second I spent wandering around suburban neighborhoods, apologetically knocking on doors and disturbing people in their homes. I think I made around $350. HOWEVER I finally made friends. I met some awesome, fun, smart people who were in the exact same situation I was in and could finally have some glimmer of a social life. The same thing happened in Sydney, only I took a job selling electricity with an iPad at malls. It was commission only so it was stressful, but again, I met so many amazing people (and actually made decent money, so go for Events Sales over Residential Sales if you're given the option). I often think of these jobs as the best worst jobs I'll ever have, and even though I hope to never work in commission only, direct sales roles again, I couldn't recommend these jobs enough as a way to meet people.
Everything is temporary. Your friends. Your job. Your home. It all has an expiration date. And on one hand it's good, because you're always experiencing new things, you're building up your resiliency, and you're figuring out how to be your own constant in an ever changing world. But on the other hand, it can be really fucking hard. Excuse the language, but sometimes you just need to drop an F Bomb for emphasis.
Give yourself a grace period. Moving can be hard. Making friends can be hard. Doing it in a new country can be really hard. It can feel lonely and isolating and exciting and wonderful all at the same time. I'm not too big to admit that I've had a few, okay, a lot of break downs since moving to Australia. In the beginning, when things felt hard and scary and I was homesick for normalcy and my mom, the breakdowns were mostly frustrations about the move, about things not going smoothly. Will, who's no stranger to living in new countries, had to sit my down and remind me that moving abroad is hard and the adjustment will take time. It won't always be easy and fun. I've had to remind myself, and a few friends, about this more than once since then. You need to give yourself a grace period. You need to allow time for things to fall apart, and then fall into place.
Just Do It. If the WHV is something you're even remotely considering, just do it. If you've never stepped foot on a farm, but need to get your 88 days in, just do it. If you've ever been curious about living in Australia, working abroad, or just trying something different on for size, JUST DO IT. You'll learn more about yourself in one year than most people learn in five. You'll develop skills you didn't even know you had. You'll discover passions you'll want to pursue forever. We're only young once and life is too short to wonder "what if?" So just do it. Do it all.
I hope these tips and tid bits were helpful to someone! I'd be happy to answer any questions via email or in the comments below.