In January 2014 I announced my resignation from Fox, and within three weeks I’d sold my car and moved out of my apartment in Los Angeles. While some people were thrilled and inspired by the leap I was about to make, others (my mom) had to first come to terms with the fact that I was now jobless, carless, and homeless… by choice.
On the plane out to Australia, I became overwhelmed with questions. How would I make friends? What if I couldn’t find a job? Where would I live? Was I right to quit my stable lifestyle? I discovered firsthand that moving to a new country with no job and no friends can be a very daunting experience.
The first few weeks were harder than expected. The combination of not knowing my way around, missing my friends and family, and the stress of job hunting in a place I had zero connections left me feeling generally lost and wondering if I’d made the worst decision of my life. But within a few weeks I figured out public transportation, made new friends, and found a job. After speaking with some of my other working holiday friends, I found out most of them had experienced exactly the same thing upon arrival. Yet each and every one of us went on to have the best year of our lives.
If you’re planning on doing working holiday in Australia, here are couple things to keep in mind:
The purpose of a working holiday visa, as defined by the Australian Department of Immigration, is to “encourage cultural exchange and closer ties between arrangement countries by allowing young people to have an extended holiday supplemented by short-term employment.” On this working holiday visa, you’re allowed to work for each employer for up to six months.
- You must be at least 18 but not yet 31
- You should have enough money to support yourself (about $5000 AUD)
- You should have a return ticket or prove that you have enough money to buy one
- You must apply outside of Australia
- For the 417 visa (can be extended an additional 12 months by 88 days of farm work), you must hold a passport from one of the following countries: Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom
- For the 462 visa (cannot be extended), you must hold a passport from one of the following countries: Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, USA, Uruguay
- Pay the visa fee ($420 AUD)
- Once you’re granted the visa, you must enter Australia within the next 12 months. Your visa will be valid for 12 months from your first entry.
To apply for your 417 working holiday visa click here.
To apply for your 462 working holiday visa click here.
You’ll need a local bank account during your year, so just head into a branch with your passport when you arrive and you can set up a bank account on the day. Some banks will even let you open an account pre-arrival. The most common banks are:
Tip: Before you move, check if any of the above have sister banks in your home country. Since Westpac is a sister bank to Bank of America, I was able to withdraw cash from Westpac ATMs with my Bank of America debit card for free.
There are also debit cards and credit cards with no international transaction fees. This will vary by country, so you’ll have to do a little research depending on where you’re from, but as an American, I personally love my Charles Schwab Investor Checking account (their debit card refunds all international ATM fees at the end of each month), and my Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card, which not only has no foreign transaction fees, but also gives me points to use towards future travel.
Tax File Number: If you’re planning on working, you’ll need to apply for a tax file number (TFN), but you cannot apply until you are physically in Australia. Although you are allowed to work without one, once you are employed you should provide your TFN to your employer within 28 days to avoid being taxed the highest percentage. Visit the ATO website for more information or to apply.
Bringing an unlocked phone is probably the easiest (and cheapest) option – just make sure you unlock it before you arrive in Australia. Once you land just stop by a local provider and they’ll set you up with a pre-pay sim for around $30/month. Some of the most popular providers are:
- Virgin Mobile
I loved Optus since it was free for me to call the US and included unlimited social network data on Facebook and Twitter. Another great way to communicate with friends and family back home is by downloading apps that use data or wifi. My two favorites are:
Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Malta, Slovenia, and Norway, meaning residents of these countries are eligible for medical treatments in Australia. Alternatively, check with your home healthcare provider to see if they’ll cover international treatments. If not, you’ll have to source your own health insurance. Two cheap options that many backpackers get are:
Book your first few nights in a hostel, because you don’t want to land after 24 hours of traveling and have to stress about finding somewhere to sleep. Some great booking options:
I generally prefer Booking.com since they often offer free cancellation up to 48 hours before your booking. Or there’s always Couchsurfing if you’re on a budget and want a free place to stay for a bit.
If you settle in a certain area and decide to switch to a flat or a house, check out:
I’d recommend staying in hostels and exploring a few areas until you figure out where you want to settle down. You may arrive in the city and find that you actually love the slow-paced lifestyle of a small beachside town, or you may get a fantastic job offer all the way in Perth and want to pack up and move there.
Australia has many methods of transportation, making it easy to get around without your own vehicle. The two best hop on/hop off busses are:
If you prefer to travel by train, check out:
I’d recommend the hop on/hop off busses as they are cheaper and more fun since they’re geared towards backpackers.
Alternatively, you can search Gumtree for rides – people are always posting looking for driving buddies to share petrol costs. I actually found a ride from Sydney to Byron Bay for only $20!
If you’d rather hire your own ride, check out one of these popular rental companies:
There are also some good budget airlines that are oftentimes cheaper than driving:
Note: Checked luggage is usually not included if you purchase the starter fare. If you buy a Jetstar flight at starter fare price, you will only be able to take 7kg of carry-on luggage. If you know you’ll have checked luggage, add it online when you purchase the flight, otherwise you may pay up to double the price at the airport.
FINDING A JOB
Not long after you arrive, you’ll probably realize you’ll need a job to fund all the beers you’ve been drinking. Some of the best websites are:
- Gumtree – all jobs
- Seek – all jobs but great for professional full-time jobs
- MyCareer – all jobs
- CareerOne – all jobs
- People for People – aupair jobs
- Octopus – hospitality jobs*
- Travellers at Work – specifically for backpackers
- HelpX – work in exchange for accommodation/food
- WWOOF – farm work in exchange for accommodation/food
*Note: If you’re looking for hospitality jobs, try Octopus and Gumtree, but the best option is just to walk around to bars and restaurants with your resume and ask to speak with the manager.
If you’re seeking more professional jobs, I’d recommend starting with Seek, as that seemed to have the most jobs posted when I was looking. Another great option is to apply directly to recruitment agencies, and the recruitment consultants will help you find work. Once you have a few different recruiters all hunting for you, the job opportunities will start to flood in. Some agencies to check out:
- Alliance Recruitment
- Robert Walters
- Robert Half
- Stopgap (specifically for marketing)
- Michael Page
There are many, many more, but those are a few good ones to get you started.
Tip: Regarding your resume, make sure it’s very detailed and don’t worry about how many pages it is. Focus on your accomplishments instead of just your duties, and if you have a lot of great experience, keep it there. It’s not like the US where you’re told to chop it down to one page.
Tip 2: Don’t be too picky when you first start job hunting. Once you get some Australian work experience on your resume, it gets a lot easier! I was having trouble finding a job in marketing, but as soon as I added some Australia admin positions on my resume, the marketing opportunities came flooding in.
You’ll make friends pretty easily if you stay in hostels when you arrive. But soon, you may start to notice that they’re all short-term friends since travellers repeatedly filter in and out, and you might grow tired of all the goodbyes. To make longer term friends, check out groups or clubs for some of your favorite activities. Meetup is a great way to find groups of people with similar interests. Another option is when you see an activity you enjoy, say hello! About a month after moving to Manly Beach I saw a group of beach volleyballers that looked to be around my level, and when I inquired they directed me to their league’s website and told me to sign up. A few days later I was in the league playing regularly every week, and a year later those same beach volleyballers are some of my best friends. You never know where a simple “hello” can get you :)
Other than the above basics, you’ll figure the rest out along the way. If you’re anxious about how your working holiday will play out, one of the biggest tips I can give you is don’t worry about the future. When I stopped to think about all the questions and concerns running through my head, I realized I was stressing about things that hadn’t even happened yet. I was worrying about finding a job, apartment, and friends before I’d even given myself a chance to try! If you find yourself stressing, try to focus on the big picture in the present instead of the minor details of the future. Instead of questioning everything, think about the fact that you are on your way to an amazing country about to have the adventure of a lifetime. Those other little details will all fall into place regardless of whether you worry or not.
Have fun, and if you have any questions about the working holiday visa or traveling to Australia in general, feel free to ask! Australia is such an amazing country, and the fact that you can work while traveling is an incredible opportunity to take advantage of while you can. Don’t let nerves scare you out of the adventure of a lifetime.
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌