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The American's Guide to Working Holiday Visas

The Working Holiday Scheme is an incredible opportunity to legally work and travel abroad. Here is a comprehensive guide to applying for Working Holiday Visas as a US citizen.

TL;DR👀

  • The Working Holiday Visa Scheme provides young Americans with the opportunity to travel, work, and study in specific countries
  • Countries currently permitting Working Holiday Visas to Americans are Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Ireland, and Singapore. Each country has specific requirements to qualify
  • Common requirements for all countries are to be a young adult (18-30) or currently enrolled in university, not have a criminal record, be financially capable of funding your stay, and have a valid US passport
The American's Guide to Working Holiday Visas

Whether you aspire to take a gap year, spend time volunteering abroad, or advance your career by working overseas, a Working Holiday Visa is one of the easiest ways for US citizens to spend extended time in another country. A Working Holiday Visa is a visa type offered by select countries that permits young adults to live and work there for a set period (generally 12 months). This differs from traditional tourist visas which typically forbid you from working while in the country.

A clear benefit of traveling on a Working Holiday Visa is that you can find short-term or seasonal employment and save money to travel full-time after your contract ends. This ability makes taking a gap year achievable for far more people, as you don't have to fund a long-term trip by draining your savings account or racking up credit card debt.

This is one travel opportunity you must take advantage of while you're young!

Another benefit of Working Holiday Schemes is that these visas are relatively easy to have approved, although they are generally only open to 18-30 years old.

This is one travel opportunity you must take advantage of while you're young! On top of solving the money issue among young travelers, Working Holiday Visas give people the chance to immerse themselves in a culture different from their own, get to know the locals, gain unique work experience, and create a home in another country.

Are you a US citizen dreaming of moving abroad with a Working Holiday Visa? This guide will teach you how.

Where can US citizens get a Working Holiday Visa?

Only a few countries offer Working Holiday Visas, and Americans do not always qualify for them (like in the UK, for example). Here is the current list of countries with a Working Holiday Visa Scheme for US citizens:

Not all Working Holiday Visas are the same, though. Each country has specific requirements and limitations, but they all allow eligible US citizens to enter and work in the country without prior sponsorship (which you usually need to qualify for a work visa). To find the right Working Holiday Scheme for you, let's break down each country's requirements and application process.

How to qualify and apply for a Working Holiday Visa

The American's Guide to Working Holiday Visas: Details

Before applying for a Working Holiday Visa, you will need to hold health insurance and a passport that's valid for the entire duration of your prospective stay. Additionally, specific health issues or prior convictions can disqualify you from receiving a visa. Be prepared to potentially take a chest x-ray and get a health physical, as well as submit to a background check if you want to proceed with your application.

If you have a health condition or any prior convictions, you may be asked to fill out more paperwork and supply further documents or even visit the embassy for an interview. You must be at least a high school graduate and have no dependents (i.e., children) accompanying you to the country.

Here is a detailed breakdown of each countries requirements and application process:

Australia's Working Holiday Visa (Subclass 417)

Eligibility requirements for US citizens:

  • Must be aged 18-30
  • Must have valid US passport
  • Must not have entered Australia on a subclass 417 or 462 visa previously
  • Must have sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay ($3,600 USD)
  • Must have sufficient funds to leave Australia
  • Must meet the health requirement
  • Must meet the character requirement
  • Must not have outstanding debts to the Australian Government
  • Must not have cancelled or been perviously rejected for an Australian visa
  • Must confirm via signature that you will obey Australian laws

The Australian Working Holiday Visa application is completed online through the Department of Home Affairs web portal. First, you will need to fill out documentation, including proof of identity and financial stability, results from the required health exams, and character documents. Once you have submitted your application, processing and approval typically take between 4-6 months.

Note: Do not book flights until after your visa application has been approved.

If approved, the Australian Working Holiday Visa permits you to work in Australia for up to 12 months, with a maximum contract length of six months per employer. Additionally, you can study for up to four months and enter or leave Australia with no restrictions. There are second and third-year Working Holiday Visas as well, with additional requirements related to the work you provided during your first year. Before starting work, you will need to apply for a tax file number (TFN).

  • Cost to apply: $355
  • Apply now: Subclass 417 Visa
  • Find jobs: In Australia, you'll find that work in hospitality, tourism, and agriculture is most abundant. While it is possible to find work in other sectors, remember that you can only work for a maximum of six months per employer. Due to this, many employers in these countries are hesitant to hire Working Holiday Visa holders due to the high turnover. Use the Go Overseas Job Board and Gumtree to search for jobs online in Australia. If you're interested in working in agriculture, search for available jobs on Harvest Trail.

New Zealand's Working Holiday Visa

Eligibility requirements for US citizens:

  • Must be aged 18-30
  • Must have valid US passport
  • Must be a citizen and permanent residence of the country named on your visa
  • Must have proof of sufficient funds to live on during your stay ($2,900 USD)
  • Must have a flight to leave New Zealand before visa expiry
  • Must provide evidence of good health
  • Must meet the character requirement
  • Must have medical insurance for the entirety of your stay
  • Must not have a prior New Zealand Working Holiday Visa (used or not)

The application process is entirely online through the New Zealand Immigration web portal, where you can review and submit all required documents and pay the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy. If approved, US citizens can enter, work, and travel in New Zealand for 12 months and study for up to 6 months. Working Holiday Visa holders may not accept a permanent job, however. The application processing time takes no longer than 85 days.

New Zealand offers an extension of the working holiday visa to US citizens that spend at least three months working in the country's agricultural or horticultural sectors, meaning you can stay in the country for up to 15 months altogether. Before you begin working, you will need an IRD number.

  • Cost to apply: $24
  • Apply now: USA Working Holiday Visa
  • Find jobs: New Zealand Working Holiday Visa holders commonly work in hospitality, outdoor recreation, adventure tourism, and agriculture. If you plan to live on the South Island, you're likely even more restricted to these fields. Higher-wage jobs are more common on the North Island around Auckland, with Queenstown, Wanaka, and Nelson being the cities on the South Island with the most job opportunities. During the ski season, many resort jobs hire seasonally. Use the Go Overseas Job Board to filter by job type to find recent job postings. Other good resources for finding work are Trade Me and Seasonal Jobs New Zealand.

The Republic of Korea's H-1 Visa

Eligibility requirements for US citizens:

  • Must be aged 18-30 at time of applying
  • Must have valid US passport
  • Must be a post-secondary student or have graduated university within the last 12 months
  • Must have proof of sufficient funds to support yourself for 3-months
  • Must have a roundtrip airline ticket to enter
  • Must have proof of medical exam
  • Must not have a criminal record
  • Must have a completed activity plan

Working Holiday Visas for the Republic of Korea, formally known as H-1 Visas, must be submitted to a local Korean Consular Office. They will review your application and may request supplemental documents or an interview. The processing time typically takes five business days once the application has been submitted. If approved, US citizens can live and work in Korea for up to 18 months, but your choice of job fields is restrictive on this visa. Professional occupations, language teachers, and entertainers are not permitted on an H-1 Visa.

If you're unable to apply in person, you may request your consulate to get permission to apply by mail. However, this requires you to mail your passport and will take much longer to process, so it is recommended not to do so if possible.

  • Cost to apply: $45
  • Apply now: H-1 Visa
  • Find jobs: Most of the jobs available in The Republic of Korea for US citizens are for teaching English. However, the working holiday visa does not allow US citizens to teach English. Finding work if you don't speak Korean will be difficult, and the jobs will be highly competitive. Check out the latest job posting on the Go Overseas Job Board, join expat communities on Facebook, and try to find international networking events to give yourself an edge.

Ireland's US-Ireland Working Holiday Agreement

Eligibility requirements for US citizens:

  • Must be aged 18-25 at time of applying
  • Must have valid US passport
  • Must be a graduate or undergraduate student, or have graduated university within the last 12 months
  • Must have proof of access to at least $4,000 USD
  • Must have a roundtrip airline ticket to enter
  • Must have medical or travel insurance covering the duration of your trip
  • Must have two references

The US-Ireland Working Holiday Agreement (WHA) has a two-stage application process in which you must submit documentation to your relevant Consulate General or Embassy. The application submission is typically handled by mail. However, it is possible to submit your documentation in person with an appointment at the Embassy of Ireland in Washington or the Consulates General of Ireland in Boston, Chicago, New York, or San Francisco.

The first stage of the application requires you to submit your completed application form, photocopy of your passport, two passport-sized photos with your name on the back, your résumé with two references, proof of your student status, a bank statement with at least $4,000, and your application fee payment. Once your first stage of the application has been approved in principle, you will need to provide proof of a return airline ticket, proof of medical or travel insurance, and your original passport. After this round of documentation has been submitted and approved, your WHA will be issued.

Once in Ireland, you are permitted to stay for up to one year and find short-term casual work, although employment should be an incidental aspect of your trip and not full-time. Before doing so, you will first need a Personal Public Service Number (PPSN) from the Department of Social Protection. Additionally, anyone staying for more than 90 days on a WHA visa needs to register with Garda National Immigration Bureau.

  • Cost to apply: $339 + return postage + $300 if staying for more than 90 days
  • Apply now: US-Ireland Working Holiday Agreement
  • Find jobs: Most work available in Ireland to WHA holders is in hospitality or tourism. Since the weather in Ireland can change quite drastically from winter to summer, you’ll find the tourism industry thrives in the warmer months. This means more business for the country and more job opportunities for you -- so it would be smart to arrive between May and June. To find job opportunities, check out the Go Overseas Job Board, use websites like Jobs.ie, and look at the classified ads in local newspapers.

Singapore's Work Holiday Pass

  • Must have valid US passport
  • Must be a undergraduate or graduate student of a university recognized by the Singapore government
  • Must not have held a Work Holiday Pass within the last year
  • Must have a Singapore residential address that meets housing requirements
  • Must have a flight out of Singapore by the end of the pass validity
  • May require fingerprints and photo registration

The application process for Singapore's Work Holiday Pass is much more complicated than the other countries on this list. Candidates must first submit an application online through the Singapore Ministry of Manpower website, including a copy of your passport and degree certificate or transcripts, and a copy of your student ID. If accepted, you will receive an in-principle approval (IPA) within three weeks.

Once you have an IPA, the next step is to obtain entry approval and fly into Singapore. You must apply for the Work Holiday Pass within three months of receiving the IPA, and it can only be issued while the applicant is in Singapore. After entering Singapore, candidates need to submit additional documentation either in person through an appointment at an Employment Pass Service Center or via the myMOM online portal.

Note: The Work Holiday Pass in Singapore is highly competitive, with a maximum yearly capacity of 2,000.

If approved, you will be issued a Work Holiday Pass valid for six months. Pass holders can travel and work throughout their stay, although certain professions will require additional registration. Since your six-month pass starts as soon as you receive it, and you have three months to do so from the date of your IPA, it is wise to apply for jobs in Singapore on a visitor visa, then apply for the working holiday pass before starting your job.

  • Cost to apply: $175
  • Apply now: Work Holiday Pass
  • Find jobs: Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, Singapore is expensive and most people there speak English, so there aren't the same opportunities to teach English. Most available jobs are in banking, IT, law, marketing, communication, and construction. Start your job search in this country long before arriving. Browse the Go Overseas Job Board, and network on websites like JobsCentral, JobsDB, Monster SG and Craigslist SG.

How much to save before working abroad

The American's Guide to Working Holiday Visas: How Much Should I Save?

Though each country requires you to have a certain amount of sufficient funds, not all will ask for proof. That doesn't mean you should show up with $100 in the bank. We recommend that you have their required amount at least for peace of mind. This will also allow you to travel upon arrival without worrying about getting to work immediately.

Once you get to your working holiday country and find a job, you’ll have an idea of how much the cost of living is and what you can afford with your salary.

It’s hard to say what you’ll be earning because, like in the US, every job is different and the cost of living will vary greatly depending on where you land work. You might be surprised to find that you can earn a lot more money in certain countries than you would at home. For instance, Australia's minimum wage is AUD 20.33 per hour (equivalent to over $27 in the US).

Of course, the cost of living is a bit more expensive over there, especially in the major cities, but you’ll make more than enough to cover living expenses.

In New Zealand, the minimum wage is NZD 20 (nearly $14 USD) per hour. However, it’s a more affordable place to live than Australia, so on that salary, you can cover the cost of living as well as save up enough to travel throughout the country.

As far as expensive cities go, Singapore is at the top of the list. Since there's no minimum wage, it's also hard to know how much you'll be earning. However, since most jobs are top-tier in tech or communications, you can expect to earn enough to cover your weekly expenses. If you're interested in traveling, it might be worth saving up a little bit more before departing.

The minimum wage in Ireland is €10.20 (around USD 12), and, like New Zealand and Australia, you’ll find some areas are more affordable to live in than others. Your salary will cover your expenses while there, but you might want to bring extra funds for travel during and after your stay (as well as some leftover funds for when you return home!).

How to meet the medical insurance requirement

It's almost always required to have medical insurance when traveling on a Working Holiday Scheme. Of course, you should always have insurance when traveling abroad, especially long-term, in case you get sick or injured while overseas.

Start your search for travel and medical insurance a few months before your departure to ensure that you have plenty of time to find a company and enroll in a plan.

There are several choices out there, but World Nomads is popular. Booking with them usually only takes a matter of minutes online, and you can renew your policy abroad, which you'll find a lot of other companies do not allow.

Travel with less stress!

Auckland Unsplash

Traveling abroad as a young adult is an incredible opportunity to broaden your perspective, develop new skills, become more independent, and build a global network of friends and professional connections. Working Holiday Visa Schemes are the most streamlined way to work and travel abroad for up to a year.

Spending a year working or traveling in another country allows you to immerse yourself in the culture and go beyond being a tourist. The countries that offer US Citizens this opportunity are all incredible destinations to work abroad or take a gap year, so no matter where you choose -- you'll grow.

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