Work and Travel Australia: The Ultimate Guide to getting a Working Holiday Visa
Updated on February 15th, 2020
Have you ever considered moving to Australia for a couple of years? The work and travel Australia program is a fantastic opportunity to spend a year or two abroad. What makes this program so great is you are allowed to work while in Australia, lessening the burden of needing a large savings fund before heading off.
I’ve been on a similar work and travel USA program and hoping to do another to Canada. I know that these opportunities shouldn’t be passed up on. I truly believe everyone should spend time living overseas at least once in their lives. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in another culture and makes friends of a lifetime.
I’ve asked Lucy from Of Wandering Far to give you the complete rundown on how to travel and work in Australia. She’s also sharing the best tips and tricks to living your best life and make the most of every moment while there. If you’re confused about farm work, getting a second-year visa or fun things like taxes and bank accounts, that here too. Over to Lucy…
From October 2018 to October 2019 I travelled, lived and worked in Australia. I’d wanted to travel far away from home – alone – for such a long time. After a lot of consideration, I knew an Australian working holiday visa would be an amazing opportunity for me. I’ve been home in the UK now for a few months and am continuing to share my experience on my blog, Of Wandering Far. I hope to give even a tiny bit of inspiration to others thinking of pursuing a similar passion.
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Hi, I’m Lucy, from England. Before I finally decided to leave home for a year and take a working holiday in Australia, I had only holidayed in America with family and travelled around parts of Europe. I’d always dreamed to travel. I thought about it every day and felt like I was just waiting for the right time to go.
Eventually, after sticking out a job I disliked for far too long, I couldn’t see what I was waiting for anymore. I knew that I could do bigger and better things. I decided it was time to stop the constant daydreaming and do something about it. So, I did! From start to end, my year in Australia was packed with amazing memories. So many beautiful places, many Tim Tam’s and heaps of experiences and skills that I’ll keep forever.
About the Working Holiday Visa
An Australian Working Holiday Visa enables eligible passport holder’s entry to Australia for up to 12 months. There are two sub-classes of the Visa; the 417 and the 462.
Each sub-class has a different list of eligible passport holders so first, you need to check your eligibility to apply, as well as meeting other requirements in order to be successfully granted a visa.
Requirements for obtaining a Working Holiday Visa Australia
- Be between the ages of 18 and 30
- Unaccompanied by dependent children.
- Application fee money – The current cost of the visa is AUD$485, that’s roughly GBP£250. Once payment is made, you will complete the application process online.
- Passport photos
- Have $5000 AUD in the bank (some travellers will be asked to show proof of this at the airport). If you do not have enough have a signed letter from a guarantor and copies of credit card amounts.
Applying for the visa
Applying for a Working Holiday Visa is actually a lot simpler than it seems at first appearances. It takes around 15 minutes to complete. Once submitted you should receive an email notifying you that your visa has been either granted or declined. The Australian Government Department of Home Affairs website states that processing times could be anywhere between 13 and 49 days. I – and many other travellers I met received the grant email the same day as applying. Not even 30 minutes after submitting my application!
How to prepare for moving to Australia
From here on, you’re all good to go and start planning your Australian adventure! Of course, the next big step is booking your flight. There are other smaller things that are worth organising to ensure your year gets off to a smooth start.
For example, there are important paperwork copies that are always a great idea to carry with you. Including passport photo page, bank statement and a doctors’ letter – if taking prescribed medication, travel insurance etc.
Next, unlock your phone before you leave home so that it will accept any SIM cards once you’re abroad! You can also look into setting up your Australian bank account unless you want to wait until you arrive.
Planning your year
Most people have a rough idea before arriving in Australia how they see their year panning out. Typically, travellers who have just graduated, are on a gap year or have not had as much opportunity to save money arrive in Australia and immediately look for work. Some even dive straight into farm work with hopes of securing their Second Year Visa!
Others might come out to Australia with enough savings to spend the first part of the year travelling. They’ll find work at a later stage when they feel their funds could do with being topped up!
I personally saved as much money as I could for a good two years before getting to Australia. Thankfully, this meant I was able to travel non-stop for the first 5 months. This was amazing and also enabled me to see a lot of the country. I was able to think about somewhere I’d like to temporarily settle and search for work later.
How much money do you need
At the time I applied for my visa, it was recommended that you enter Australia with roughly AUD$5000. Essentially enough to cover you for your initial stay, while also being able to purchase a flight out of the country when your visa expires. Obviously, a lot can happen in a year travelling and cause your money to fluctuate!
It’s a good idea to go out with this figure in mind as a starting point. I saved everything I could before I left home. I wanted to give myself the best and easiest experience possible and not fall into any sticky situations where I was left with little funds and struggling to find a job soon enough.
My experience working and travelling in Australia
I flew into Melbourne with Singapore Airlines and gave myself just over a week to adjust in an adorable Airbnb in St Kilda before heading into the weird and wonderful world of hostels! At the beginning of my travels, I DREADED the thought of staying in hostels. By the end, I felt like a pro!
I think it’s something that’s quite intimidating for new travellers who’ve never experienced them before. So, if you’re slightly nervous about the prospect, you can always check out my guide on hostel living. You’ll discover everything I learnt after a whole year living in them! They’re not so bad, I promise.
Working in Australia
My plan heading out to Australia was always to travel first – work later. After the months I’d spent travelling, I decided I wanted to find a base and find some routine again. I could build up my funds until the end of my year so I could enjoy more travelling before returning home.
I imagined I’d find a job working in a café or a shop, maybe a hostel. Although I was super lucky and managed to get a position working for a hop-on, hop-off tour bus company. I worked in the office and went from planning my own itinerary to planning hundreds of other travellers’ itineraries up and down Australia’s East Coast!
Wondering about when is best to head out and begin your working holiday in Australia? I’m not sure there is a perfect time. I flew out early November just as the height of Summer was kicking in. Everywhere I travelled in those first few months was beautiful.
Looking back, perhaps I should’ve timed things a little differently. I could’ve started my year there in May or June and had summer to look forward to. Then heading home to England for UK Summertime would have made the whole ‘coming home’ process a little more bearable!
Things to consider
I experienced two small issues when I eventually stopped travelling to work. One was that I decided to live in a hostel the entire time. Meaning that forming stable friendships was often difficult. The other was that after deciding to base myself in the coastal town of Byron Bay.
I found that during the ‘winter’ months when the weather wasn’t so great, I felt I was running out of things to do in and around town. I questioned whether I’d made a mistake looking for work in a small beach town as opposed to a big city like Melbourne or Sydney. Surely I’d never run out of things to do there.
In hindsight, I wish I could’ve overcome those doubts because aside from them, I still loved everything about Byron Bay. It was beautiful and more of a unique (and very Australian) location to stop and stay for a while. Plus I’d always wanted to live by the sea! I’m quite certain I will never live anywhere like it again.
How to find a job
When you work and travel Australia on the WHV you are allowed to work for up to 6 months with any one employer. So there’s plenty of opportunity to fit in equal amounts of work and travel throughout your year.
I was lucky to have found out about my job through someone I knew. Throughout my year I met a lot of people who also gained jobs through friends they had perhaps met in hostels. They would be recommended for the job opportunities at the local cafes where they worked. When some travellers leave a job, they will recommend a friend to their boss and the new employee slots in. As easy as that!
Obviously, you have to be pretty fortunate to come across a situation like that. It’s best to sign up to job sites like Gumtree and also join heaps of Facebook groups for backpackers and working holidaymakers. There are often people offering jobs from sales to bar work to hostel cleaning and quite often, au pairing. Be open-minded and network with as many people as you can, and you never know what you’ll find!
Planning your Australia travels
In terms of how best to spend your time travelling in Australia, a great starting point for a lot of backpackers is the East Coast. This spans the whole way from Melbourne, Victoria up to Cairns in tropical Queensland.
It’s extremely popular with backpackers and working holidaymakers alike. So you can be sure to meet lots of people and find plenty of support for your travels.
You can check out my 3 Month East Coast Itinerary for my exact route, all my tips and lessons learned during my first three months in Oz.
After completing the beautiful East Coast, I also ventured into the Outback on a group tour for 10 days. Then explored Adelaide, Melbourne (for the second time – it’s awesome) and Tasmania before settling in Byron Bay, New South Wales. I was super happy that I managed to hit 5/6 states and 1/2 territories – although I still regret not making it over to Western Australia!
What’s the deal with farm work
Farm work is hugely popular with working holidaymakers as it gives access to apply for a second working holiday visa. You are required to complete 88 days to be signed off by the employer. There are lots of rural areas around Australia offering farm work to backpackers – some are reputable employers, some are not.
As you travel around, you’re likely to hear many a horror story about farm work and how backpackers can be treated very unfairly. Left to work in extreme temperatures with little to no breaks and may even be underpaid. However, you’ll also meet travellers whose most favourite part of their year was completing their farm work.
I decided against farm work because I didn’t feel like I wanted another whole year in Australia. Even though I loved it and sometimes wonder whether I should have. I know that farm work can be intense, but you can find yourself a great placement on a large farm recruiting many backpackers.
Think of all the friends you will make and the unique experiences of living and working on a farm. It’s not something everyone can say they’ve done!
Banking, taxes and money
Australia is definitely an expensive country, from eating out to drinking to buying clothes or cosmetics. I tried to keep on top of how much I spent on each hostel, tour, transportation and even on everyday things I bought. I had an Australian account with the Commonwealth Bank. It was easy to keep track of spending by using the app on my phone. I also kept a large bulk of my money in my English account – to help prevent from touching it too often!
If you are planning on working in Australia – and even if you aren’t, it’s best to set yourself up with an Australian bank account. It will make everything that little bit easier, and you can get paid! I went with Commonwealth, simply because an Aussie friend at home had recommended them to me. The process couldn’t have been easier! I applied online before I left the UK and picked up my card at my first stop in Melbourne.
Another important thing to set up is a Tax File Number. You’ll need it for when you start searching for jobs so you may as well get it sorted as soon as you can.
Superannuation is confusing. As far as I can explain – it’s a small portion of your wages taken out each month and stored in a fund. As I understand it, for Australians Superannuation is something they are unable to touch until retirement age. For working holidaymakers, it is accessible at the end of their visa when they have left Australia. You can apply to claim your Superannuation on the Australian Taxation Office website.
Yep, totally right Lucy. Australian employers are legally required to put money into a fund for their workers. This can only be accessed by us once we reach our retirement age.
Other things to know about the working holiday Australia
There’s no right or wrong way to live out your travel and work in Australia. For thousands of backpackers around the world, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Cherish each day and each location you explore. Remember that a year is a long time to be away from home, family and friends. You’re bound to feel homesickness at least a couple of times.
Even lonely if you feel you haven’t connected with people in a while. In those times, cut yourself some slack and be proud of how far you’ve come (which for many travellers is literally the other side of the world!) Reach out to friends and family at home and try not to isolate yourself when among other travellers.
Do I recommend the WHV Australia?
I would 100% recommend a working holiday in Australia. It’s the 6th largest country in the world, meaning there’s a ton of it to explore in a year! You’ll meet so many people and develop so many new skills and characteristic traits. Some that you’ll probably surprise yourself with!
It sounds cheesy, but it is actually a life-changing experience. I’ve only been home for a few months and I can already feel the difference in my life. Even just the way I think about things or how I’m more open-minded to certain things too. If I could, I’d live out the whole experience again.
Lucy is a British solo traveller. She had her first taste of solo travel in 2016 with a six-week tour around Europe. It took almost another two years for her to ditch the daily grind and head off on a one-year working holiday to Australia to pursue a lifelong dream. Lucy’s blog, Of Wandering Far, was created as she embarked on her year-long journey. She shares insightful stories on all things solo travel, long-term travel and of course working holidays in Australia. Now Lucy is home in the UK, she’s saving again and planning more exciting adventures across Europe for 2020.