I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to Australia for a few years now. One day at work I was just so fed up with the routine of slaving away at my 9-5 that I bought a visa to the other side of the world. I saw a friend’s adventures, read her blog posts and was hooked on the idea of it. But it took me almost a full year until I made the decision to actually go.
I’ve just finished traveling around New Zealand, and originally, I had a return ticket booked home. But then I thought, I’m only 3 hours away from Australia. What do I have to lose? I believe in saying yes to experiences and putting myself out there. I didn’t have many things planned before arrival, but I did know quite a bit of how the visa process works. And luckily, bloggers write about stuff like this all the time 🙂
If you’re interested in learning more about how I just picked up and jetted across the globe, read on to learn about my Working Holiday Visa (WHV), what it is, how to get one, and any tips that should be helpful for you on arrival if you’re ever ready to make the trek down yourself!
FIRST THINGS FIRST, WHAT’S A WHV?
Working Holiday Visas are extended tourist visas that allow travelers from certain countries to spend up to 1 year in Australia. Most countries even allow you to extend this visa for a 2nd year, so long as you spend about 3 months working on a farm while you’re waiting to renew your visa.
New Zealand has WHV as well, and so do some other countries (depending on where you are from). For Americans, you can obtain a WHV for South Korea and Singapore quite easily as well.
To apply, you pay roughly $400 and fill out the forms online. As long as you can prove you have at least $2,000 stowed away in your bank account, and you haven’t committed a crime, you should be approved for your visa within 2 days.
SO HOW DOES IT WORK?
If you are between the ages of 18-30 and from any number of these countries, you are eligible to work any job in Australia for up to 6 months, so long as the employer will consider someone on this visa. For some industries, it may be harder to get steady work than for others. In the advertising industry, I’ve been working with recruiters to have long distance Skype interviews before arrival and am hoping to be hired as a freelancer.
(Pro Tip: If you’re over 30 you may still be eligible on a case by case basis. In 2017, some countries have extended the visa to an age limit of 35.)
In any case, there are an abundance of “backpacker” jobs available, from administrative work to waitressing, and they all pay a pretty penny. The minimum wage in Australia is quite high, so even if you find yourself scooping ice cream for a few weeks/months, you’ll probably wind up going home with more money than you began your journey with. And way better stories. The absolute minimum wage you can earn here is ~$18 AUD an hour. Not bad right?
From the day you get approved for your visa, you have exactly one year to enter Australia. Then, from the day you do choose to enter, you have one year to stay in the country. Most visitors are allowed to extend their visa one extra year if they do some farming work in the middle of Australia. It takes 88 days of farming and has to be done before your first year is up.
If you’re really lucky, your employer may be willing to sponsor your visa and let you stay. This is a hard thing for me to gauge early on into the experience, but working for them as a freelancer/contractor for 6 months certainly allows them enough time to decide if you’re worth keeping on staff for longer.
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE I ARRIVE?
Unlock your cell phone
This is very easy to do if you have T-Mobile (just call them and ask for an unlock..say you’re moving abroad). This way, when you’re on the ground in Oz, all you have to do is buy a new SIM card for your phone and swap it in. It does take about 3-5 days for them to activate the unlock request, though, so just something to keep in mind. Unlock it a few days early. And also – you have to be IN the U.S for it to actually work -_- (speaking from experience, plan this more than I did!)
Find a temporary place to stay
Most people recommend staying in a hostel in the beginning to get your bearings on a new city and meet lots of new people. There are plenty of people also on Working Holiday Visas staying in places like Wake Up! in Sydney and Base in Melbourne.
If you have any Aussie friends, crashing on their couch is always an option. Or you can try out CouchSurfing. Obviously, none of these things make sense in the long term.
Go to the doctor
Head to your docs before coming to Oz. It’ll make life easier for things like your contact prescription and birth control. Re: the latter, maybe this is TMI but I switched to an IUD before coming here so I don’t have to think about it.
The U.S. isn’t on the list of countries that has a healthcare agreement with Australia – so that means you’ll have to pay out of pocket if you want/need to visit a doctor here. You can also sign up for a traveler’s health insurance. A lot of people swear by World Nomads.
WHAT DO I DO WHEN I GET THERE?
Get a TFN
First things first, you have to get your Tax File Number (TFN). It’s a unique identification number that is sort of like our Social Security Numbers. It’s not mandatory to get, but without one, you’ll leave lots of money on the table for the Australian government to keep after you go home. I mean a lot. Employers have a right to take 49% of your earnings! You can sign up online here. It takes about a month for them to send you your number. You’re allowed to use the address of a hostel, and you can just call them up and ask for the number if you wind up being gone before the TFN arrives.
Find A Place to Call Home
Try out different cities for a while if you can. Some people travel at the beginning before settling down to find a job, other people dive right in. Whatever you’d prefer. But in any case, it takes a special kind of person to want to live in a hostel for a year. I love ’em, but not that much. A few great resources for finding apartments and roomshare in Australia are GumTree and Flatmates.
(Pro Tip: Rooms/apartment prices are listed and paid out by week here. So don’t get too excited when you see a place listed at $250.)
Open A Bank Account
I went with ANZ, because I’ve seen their ATMs everywhere and they’re also popular in New Zealand. It was incredibly easy to open a bank account. All you need is a passport. You can even set one up before you get your TFN, just have to remember to add it to your account once they do send you your #.
You don’t have to deposit any money to open one, either. It’s easy to do online banking and you can get your debit card mailed to the bank (in case you’re hopping around from hostel to hostel). They do charge a monthly maintenance fee of $5 for any account that doesn’t have at least $2,000 AUD in it.
(Pro Tip: You can just ask them to waive the maintenance fee and most tellers will be kind enough to. Mine was waived for the first 3 months. Or, you can avoid this all together by sending over currency from your home country. I haven’t yet because there’s a fee associated with wiring money. And in the interim, I’m paying for 99% of everything with my Chase Sapphire card.
Honestly, I’m still learning as I’ve only just arrived myself. More to come on this one I’m sure!