As one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Australia is like catnip for the young and bold, the newly graduated, and the in-transitions looking for an adventure.
The perfect launchpad for a year of work and travel in Australia is through the working holiday visa; an ideal gap year destination for experienced travelers and newbies alike. No matter who you are though, you probably have a few questions on how to prepare for a working holiday in Australia, what to do once you're there, and how to wrap it all up.
At Go Overseas, we’ve prepared an extensive guide that will help you through the process and ensure you have a work and holiday experience to remember.
Before You Go to Australia
If you’re heading to Australia, make sure you’re going to actually get through immigration. Get your entry requirements sorted out well before you go. In fact, plan to start on this at least three months before you head out -- just in case there are any complications. Here are three of the most important things to remember:
1. Secure a Working Holiday Visa
Maybe this is an obvious one, but step one to a working holiday in Australia is getting the working holiday visa!
It’s an electronic visa (which means that you won’t need a paper in your passport), but bring a printed copy of the confirmation to the airport just in case. To apply, you will need to create an account with the Australia Department of Affairs and fill out the application online. Be sure to note the type of visa your country of residence is eligible for (Subclass 417 or 462). With your work and holiday visa, you can stay and work for up to 12 months.
2. Arrange Your Finances
Be sure to have proof of finances for your working holiday. Technically, in order to enter Australia on a working holiday visa, you’re required to have one of three things:
- A bank statement proving access to a minimum $5,000 AUD (between $3,000-$4,000)
- A credit card with a limit of the same or more
- A booked departure flight back out of the country
Ensure you'll have exactly what you need by printing out proof of the above or bringing a bank statement with you when you leave for Australia.
3. Choose a Location
Part of the fun of a working holiday in Australia is playing it by ear. The world is your oyster: go where you want and enjoy it to the fullest! For an effective working holiday, settle down in a few places for an extended period of time. Work your 9-to-5 in Melbourne's beach suburb, St. Kilda, during the week, then relax on the sun-dappled Luna Park lawn as the sun goes down.
Here are popular locations where you can enjoy your working holiday in Australia:
- Sydney may not be the capital, but it’s certainly the most expansive city in the country. Bondi and Manly are hip areas with loads of young travelers, and you can easily hit places like the Blue Mountains for a more natural experience.
- Melbourne is the cultural center of Australia, with tons of live music, shows, food, and a vibe unmatched by any other city. It’s also home to the Great Ocean Road: one of the world's best road trips.
- Brisbane is small and intimate compared to the other cities, but is modern enough to keep things interesting, and its central location lets you bounce to every other part of the country easily.
During Your Stay in Australia
Once you've got some savings, your documents in order, flights booked, and a bucket list full of Australian destinations to travel to, you're good to go! Here are four things you should know to get started and maintain a positive working holiday visa experience.
1. To-Do List Upon Arrival
Once you arrive in Australia it is best to fight through the grueling jet lag and be sure to get these items done as soon as you arrive.
- Open a bank account: The first thing you should do when you arrive is open a bank account. A few good options include ANZ, Commonwealth, and Westpac. Workers who will eventually travel to New Zealand will enjoy using ANZ, as it is available in both countries.
- Get a new phone number: There are a few major mobile networks in Australia, including Telstra, Vodafone, and Optus. Don’t bother springing for a new iPhone when you arrive. Electronics in Australia are expensive and will break the bank if you’re on a budget. Bring an unlocked smartphone from home instead.
- Find Housing: In Australia, rent is paid weekly, not monthly. For a basic room, expect to pay around $130-150 AUD ($95-$110) each week. Nicer rooms, be they larger or in better locations, will usually cost between $190-$230 AUD ($140-$170) a week. Look at Gumtree or hostel message boards to find listings; people will always be looking for roommates.
- Apply for your tax number: You’ll need this for any job you manage to lock down. It’s how the Australian Tax Office keeps track of your finances. Applying is as simple as sending in a form online -- use your current accommodation’s location when prompted for an address.
2. Find a Job
Once you’re all set up in the country, you can focus on working in Australia. Technically, your visa will allow you to work any job that hires you, but in practice, most businesses are well aware of the mercurial nature of travelers who choose the working holiday visa. Some are hesitant to bring them into the fold. As such, most travelers take on work in a few different areas:
- Restaurants & Bars: These places are always hiring, and it’s one of the few places where your accent is actually a bonus, as talking to the guests will usually net you some decent conversation and maybe some tips (note: tipping isn’t a requirement in Australia).
- Retail: While many bigger shops are just as hesitant to hire travelers as any corporation, the more heavily trafficked tourist shops are cool with a constantly rotating roster.
- Hostels: Jobs at a hostel will usually involve reception or housekeeping service, but be careful. Many work arrangements require a few hours of work a day in exchange for free rent, which isn’t really conducive to actually making money.
- Sales/Fundraising: Be it telemarketing or door-to-door, these places love travelers. Just watch out for people that promise a commission-based salary, as they often take advantage of people desperate for work.
- Seasonal/Farm Work: These jobs cater to the people trying to get their second year visa, and specifically seek out backpackers to fill the positions. It’s grueling work, but they also pay out a lot including room and board.
Personal recommendations, working holiday programs, and online job boards are often the best way to find jobs. The minimum wage in the country is currently $18.93 AUD (about $14) per hour, and you can expect to earn more than that depending on where you work.
3. Exploring Australia
Australia is a pretty huge country, and a lot of that space is wide open. Getting around can be a bit of a chore, but you’ve got options.
- Flying isn't always the best budget option, but obviously necessary for getting there -- especially if you're trying to make it somewhere quick.
- Open buses are a good idea. You buy a ticket to a destination, and you’ll get a certain number of times you can hop on and hop off along the way. You just need to let them know when you’ll be on the bus, and you’re free to explore the route they take.
- Rent or buy a car: This is the best way to see the country. You’ll be able to stop anywhere that looks appealing, and if you get a van with a bed in the back, you won’t even need to book accommodation.
Depending on how much of Australia you want to see, you could choose one or a combination of all of these options to explore your temporary home.
4. Taking a Holiday
You can’t have a working holiday in Australia if you forego the “holiday” part, right? Australia is a great place to explore and there is so much to choose from! Here are some exciting destinations to enjoy while you’re there:
- East Coast: By far the most popular route to explore in Australia, which includes Queensland and New South Wales. The East Coast is full of beautiful beaches and even more beautiful people. Add Cape Tribulation, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Atherton Tablelands to your itinerary.
- The Red Center: Start in Adelaide and work your way north through the famous opal mines and desert before you reach Uluru/Ayer’s Rock.
- West Coast: Few travelers actually make it that far away from the beaches of the east. But if you can get to the Left Coast, you can see a different side of Australia.
- Tasmania: Tasmania is Australia’s final frontier. With natural beauties like Bay of Fire, Cradle Mountain, and Wineglass Bay, you can explore for weeks and still have more to see. Not to mention, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart is one of the best museums in the entire world.
At the End of Your Year in Australia
This will undoubtedly be the hardest part of your working holiday, but all good things must come to an end (to make room for more good things, of course). Here's what to do at the end of your working holiday in Australia.
1. Cash Out
If you’ve been working a decent amount, then you’ve got some money coming your way. Although there are changes in Australia’s new budget laws, people with working holiday visas are entitled to claim some back taxes they’ve paid over the year.
That means once you’ve left the country, or before you leave, you can file a tax return (even if it’s not the end of the tax year), and have extra cash deposited into your account. Claiming that money back is as simple as downloading a form from the Visa Bureau and mailing it in.
2. Extend Your Stay
Is it possible to extend your visa if you don’t want to leave? Of course! Here are some ways to extend your stay in Australia:
- Second (or Third) Year Working Holiday Visa: Some working holiday visa holders are eligible to earn a second year’s working holiday by doing regional farm work. This is great if you want to try and stay in the country for a long time, but keep in mind the work is difficult, remote, and long.
- Student Visa: Ideally, you'll use this before even considering the working holiday visa. Australia has some amazing universities and technical schools, meaning you can get a full degree and explore the country while you're at it. By signing up for classes as a school, you can get a student visa. Like sponsorships, this visa will tie you to a specific location for some time, so make sure you truly want to stay there.
- De Facto Visa: This one is the hardest to get… and not just because of the paperwork. The De Facto visa refers to “De Facto Spouse,” and means that you’re in a long-term, committed relationship with an Australian who is so desperately in love with you that they can’t bear to see you leave. You don’t need to be married, but you definitely need to be on your way there. The Government will expect documentation of your relationship from beginning to present, as well as testimonies from people that know you.
Obviously this section is a brief synopsis of each type of visa you might be eligible for if you want to stay in Australia. You should definitely do additional research if you want to try for one of these options.
By now, you should know just about everything you’ll need to know about working and traveling in Australia. The only thing left to do is go out and live it. Australia is truly a fantastic country to explore, and the opportunities to work and play are endless.
A working holiday in Australia is a chance not just to work and travel Australia, but to discover yourself beyond your comfort zone in a country totally worth uncovering.
This post was originally published in June 2015, and was updated in February 2019.