A gap year can get pricey, but luckily, Australia and New Zealand make it easy to afford one with their working holiday schemes. These two Oceanic countries are among the few that offer a full year's working holiday visa to just about anybody between the ages of 18 - 30 who meets a few basic qualifications.
This visa allows its holders to live and work anywhere in the country for a full year, limited in opportunity only by their own ambition and the hiring policies of whatever job they decide to go for (read an overview in our American's guide to working holidays).
Instead, I want to focus on the types of jobs you can find. Some jobs won't hire backpackers. Many see them as "flighty," but the opportunities are there, and given the drive and a bit of luck, you'll be making enough money to fund your entire trip and more. Who knows? You may even find a career.
Regardless, below is a list of the kind of jobs you can find while on a working holiday in Australia or New Zealand.
Hostel Concierge or Helper
- Pro: Easy to find on a working holiday visa.
- Con: Not always the best paying or best working conditions.
- Average salary: Minimum wage or a free place to stay
- Where to find a job: Ask at your hostel/look on job boards
Bar none, the easiest job to get in Australia and New Zealand is working in the hostel where you wind up living. The "flightiness" of backpackers is not only taken into account here; it's expected and appreciated in a place with a high turnover rate.
Hostel owners love to hire backpackers because there's a certain amount of understanding between employer and employee -- you will work here for a short time, at which point, the person who moves into your bed will take your place. Hostel owners also appreciate the familiarity. If you've been there for some time and have been a good guest, they have no problem offering you work.
The downside to this is the informality of the job. Working in the hostel often involves a simple "work-for-rent" agreement. So rather than sign a contract and earn a biweekly paycheck into your account, you're merely assigned certain chores about the hostel -- changing sheets, cleaning the kitchen, quieting down rowdy rooms, or working the front desk -- in exchange for not paying to actually stay there. This is fine if you're only looking for a way to extend your stay, but if you're looking to actually save some money, it's obviously not ideal.
Also, keep in mind that many hostel owners actually use a system like this to take advantage of backpackers who are desperate, paying them far, far less than minimum wage for the work actually accomplished. Since it's all off-the-books, there's nothing you can do about it except avoid the situation in the first place. Many "working hostels," particularly those based around regional work designed to earn a second-year visa (for which Americans are not qualified for), have been criticized for this practice.
- Pro: Relatively easy work and easy to find in-season
- Con: Hiring is usually seasonal and has high turnover rates
- Average salary: $14-18/hour
- Where to find a job: Pass your resume around in-store
Retail work is the second-easiest work to find in Australia and New Zealand, and far more reliable than the sketchy contract-less hostel work. Retail usually involves a high-rate of turnover regardless of travel plans, plus minimal training, making backpackers perfect for the role. But it does come with its own particular set of pros and cons.
For one, although the turnover rate is high, it's not that high. Businesses have high and low seasons (the high season being summer generally, or leading up to Christmas), and so they hire aggressively leading into the high season and then reduce the team size through the low season due to expected departures.
If you arrive at the wrong time, you may find that businesses in the area aren't hiring, either because they have already filled out their high season teams, or are in the process of reducing the teams for the low season. Many smaller retail stores can operate with a single person manning the shop, which makes it even more difficult.
That said, retail work can be a great idea. It's relatively easy (unless you get an awful customer), especially if you're a people person. The hours are usually very flexible, and it's decent money (Australia has an absolutely ridiculous minimum wage, and even then, it's not uncommon for shops to offer two or three dollars higher hourly). It all depends on what you're looking for.
Server, Bartender, or Barista
- Pro: Better pay, interesting people
- Con: Strange hours, unsavory people
- Average salary: $15-18/hour plus tips (which may be split)
- Where to find a job: Pass out your resume in-person
Restaurant work is similar to retail work, with comparable salaries and ease of finding work. They also deal with the same issues of high/low season hiring patterns, although restaurants need far more people to operate (both front of house and back), which works in your favor when applying. And although the standard in Australia and New Zealand is "no tipping," many people often will if they feel you've done a good job, which means you can earn even more money than usual.
As a bartender, you may even be allowed to drink and eat on the job as a means of connecting with the customers, which makes the job easier and more fun. Some bars and restaurants (or even hostels, actually) will send you off to flyer for their events, which sometimes means you'll be paid to walk around in a costume and chat up attractive people.
As always, however, there's a trade-off. With restaurants you may work long or odd hours -- which is important to keep in mind if you want to dedicate a good chunk of your week to exploring your new surroundings (though sometimes it works in your favor).
Australia and New Zealand also have particularly ferocious drinking cultures. This can be fun at first, but it can also make the work unbearable, and if you're working in a backpacker bar, you're sure to face scenarios, both violent and disgusting, that you might not immediately expect.
- Pro: Working outside, usually relaxed work environment
- Con: Many are scams
- Average salary: Base pay of $100-200/week plus commission
- Where to find a job: Online job boards
I hesitate to include fundraising in this list. It's a viable means of making money, sure, and if you're the kind of guy who watched Wolf of Wall Street and thought the main character was a real role model, then you may have a ball of a time approaching random people on the street and asking them for money. But it's a problematic business model, and unless you truly need the money, I'd recommend steering clear.
The problem with fundraising is twofold. The first is in the hiring process, which can be misleading at best and fraudulent at worst. Australia and New Zealand have a website called Gumtree, similar to Craigslist, and there are many businesses that advertise fundraising on the platform. Come work for us, they say, and you can earn a baseline salary of $700 AUD per week, plus commission! Our best agents can earn up to $2500 per week!
Obviously, this sounds appealing to travelers, who show up to the interview, only to find another 20 people there, being concurrently indoctrinated. At the interview, which is really more of a training session, you'll be told that you'll actually be earning around $200 per week -- if that. By then, you're already there, and many people will simply go along with it in order to not appear obstinate.
The second problem is in the work itself. This "fundraising" (usually some form of shocking energy) is often door-to-door, and agents are shuttled out in vans and given areas to canvass. Gas not included. Depending on the quality of the employer, you could theoretically finish a business day owing money to your boss. Add to that the sweltering temperatures that Australia and New Zealand can hit, along with a lack of food and water, and you have a truly terrible opportunity that all too many backpackers fall into.
- Pro: Much better pay and job security
- Con: Very difficult to find
- Average salary: $18-25/hour
- Where to find a job: Online applications, friend referrals, and temp agencies
So, this brings us to office work. It's the most difficult work for a backpacker to find. Offices, especially the kind in your field where you could potentially start a career, do not like high turnover rates, and HR will usually throw a backpacker's resume straight into the trash.
Even if you were planning on being there for a full year, you couldn't stay longer than that without sponsorship, which is a long and costly process for both you and the office. It's much easier for them to simply hire an Australian or Kiwi. That's not to say backpackers don't get these kinds of jobs - I myself held two office positions while working in Australia - but they are difficult to find and often require a favor from somebody already in the company.
The flipside to this is that it's great work. The pay is usually fantastic (I was earning a salary of $50,000 per annum), and comes with benefits like matched contributions to a superannuation account, company lunches and drinks, and more. You'll be working regular hours in a more stable environment, and if you're really lucky, you may even be working in a field you'd like to stay in back home. So don't be turned off by the difficulty in getting hired. Apply, apply, apply. If it pays off, it pays off big.
If you'd like, you can also consider temp work. However, because of the nature of temp agencies, which don't necessarily assure you work, it's often better for those with limited time in the country to take immediate employment at a bar or hostel while looking for offices that sponsor.
- Pro: Great pay, exciting jobs
- Con: Restrictive employment requirements
- Average salary: $18-25/hour
- Where to find a job: Apply online or ask about work after going on the tour as a customer
Of course, not everybody wants office work. Not everybody wants to work in Australia for the purpose of getting a sponsorship. Some people just want to have fun. And if that's your goal, then there's nowhere better to work than at a tour company.
Tour work can be anything from taking bookings, to manning a desk or a phone, or driving customers to and fro, or even leading adventures yourself. Tour work embodies the best and worst parts of working in Australia: great pay but unpredictable hours, plenty of adventure but lots of downtime, difficult to find but extremely fulfilling.
Even if you don't get to work in the field, simply working for the company will often entitle you to tag along on your days off, meaning you could get free tours of the Franz Josef Glacier, free scuba trips off the coast of Perth, or even free (or at least, discounted) skydiving lessons in Cairns.
Many of these jobs require special certifications. If you're working for a scuba diving company, you may need to be qualified in search-and-rescue diving, or even up to divemaster. If you're driving a tour group, you may need a special license. But that's the beauty of taking a gap year to work in Australia and New Zealand in the first place. You have a chance to build on your skills, earn new certifications, and discover something new you could be great at.
Regional Work (Farm Work, Crop-Picking, etc.)
- Pro: Second-year visa applicable, brotherhood-through-tribulation mentality
- Con: Back-breaking work, sketchy at times
- Average salary: Often paid by kilos of fruit harvested rather than hourly wages
- Where to find a job: Online, hostel-posted job boards, friend referral
If you move to Australia, you're going to hear the term "regional work" thrown around quite a lot. Just about every single foreigner will be talking about it, whether they're looking for it, or looking for ways to actively get around doing it.
Regional work involves pretty much any farm work within certain areas of the country. Maybe you'll be picking fruit, or tending sheep, or planting crops. Either way, it's almost always back-breaking work with terrible pay and unbearable hours.
So why do people do it? The answer is that most backpackers on a working holiday visa are allowed to earn a second year in the country if they do regional work for a total of 90 days (this isn't an option for Americans, sadly). Having two years in the country can be a godsend, as it makes office jobs more likely to hire you and thus, easier for you to earn sponsorship if you're trying to become a permanent resident.
People fight tooth and claw for these positions just because of this fact, and an entire corrupt system has arisen to accommodate this. Here are a number of problems you should avoid.
- Some hostels bill themselves as "working hostels" that will get you regional work to apply towards your second year. However, there will be so many backpackers there that the work only comes "when there's space." You'll stagnate here, paying all of your money to the hostel without earning any in return.
- Some farmers will attempt to sell verification of 90 days of work, meaning you can pay them to sign off on it without actually having to work a day. Sometimes this will work. Often times it doesn't, and everybody involved will get in trouble with the law. Traveling women should be cautious in particular, as there have been reports of farmers asking for more than cash for their signatures.
- Some farmers will call their opportunities "regional work," because it is work that takes place further out from the cities. They won't explicitly say it, but the job they're offering won't actually count towards your second-year visa. You'll have to do your own detective work.
- And finally, you need to make sure you're even eligible for a second-year visa. Americans, for example, are not. You could do everything perfectly, only to find out that you were never allowed to get a second-year visa in the first place.
Where Can I Find Work?
Work is available all over Australia and New Zealand. Finding it is simply a matter of getting there. However, certain areas are better than others.
Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, and Christchurch (essentially, any larger tourist city in the southern part of their respective country) hire almost exclusively in the months leading up to the southern summer. October and November are the ideal months to arrive. December is cutting it close, though you may still find work. After that, it becomes much more difficult to find work.
Queenstown, New Zealand, and the surrounding areas actually have two hiring seasons - the beginning of the southern summer, and the beginning of the southern winter, at which point it turns into a skiing and snowboarding Mecca. If you're looking to work a ski season, it's best to arrive as early as March and April to start putting your name out there.
Northern cities like Cairns and Darwin (and Auckland, to an extent, though not nearly as much due to New Zealand's greater predilection for the cold) become hotspots during the southern winter, and backpackers will often trickle up the eastern coast of Australia as the seasons change, chasing the sun.
You can stop in places like Byron Bay and Brisbane, but if you're heading all the way to Cairns and Darwin (which are already relatively small), you should get there early.
If you're headed to New Zealand, I've gone in more depth on the pros and cons of several destinations in my article insider tips for working holidays in New Zealand.
How to Find Work
There are a few different ways to actually find work, with a fairly clear progression of preference. They are as listed:
Obviously, the best way to get a job is to have somebody in the network put your name into the pile. It instantly gives you preferential treatment because there's an added level of trust. Office jobs are much easier to get if somebody recommends you. Make friends with the people in your hostel. Make friends with everybody you see. You never know who can help you out.
Flyering your resume
Sometimes, the best way to get hired is to simply ask for a job in person. Tailor your resume for the job you're looking for, then go out and pass them around. Putting a face to a name helps a lot. If you'd like to work at your hostel, simply ask at the front desk if they have anything available.
Going through an online application can be tedious and fruitless, but applying directly with companies, either through LinkedIn, various job sites, or the company website, is still a good option.
Go through Gumtree
This should be your last resort. It should be a slight red flag if a company is begging for workers on Gumtree, as it usually indicates some kind of scam or a terrible job with a high turnover rate. That's not to say there are no opportunities to be had at all, but you should be extra wary before accepting an offer here.
Use a working holiday program
Another option is to use a working holiday program which will help you with all the hard parts of finding a job. These programs give participants an orientation to the country, often offering tours and trips around the city, and will typically set you up in a dorm with other working holiday visa holders when you arrive. Then, they help with logistics like getting a tax number, buying a cell phone, and distributing your resume to find a job.
What Do I Need to Work?
Working in Australia and New Zealand isn't as simple as showing up and flyering your resume all over town. You'll need a few things.
For Australia at least, I've already given full details in our guide on how to work and travel in Australia, but for both destinations you'll need the following:
- A working holiday visa It may sound obvious, but make sure you've applied for one before leaving home.
- A bank account Once you've gotten into the country, you'll need to organize a bank account so you can actually get paid. There are only a few main banks in either country, but I recommend ANZ, which works in both Australia and New Zealand (guess what ANZ stands for!).
- A superannuation account You may also have the option to open a superannuation account - this is the equivalent of a 401k, and you won't be able to touch the money in it until you leave the country for good. It's not necessary (especially if you won't be working in an office), but it can save you a lot of time when claiming your money back at the end of the year and don't want to remember details of each individual employer-provided plan.
- A Tax File Number You can apply for the tax file number once you're in the country. This number will be your identifying number for the government, and it's very important for claiming back your taxes after you leave the country (working holiday visa holders are entitled to claim back 100% of their taxes paid up to $18,000, once their visa has expired). You'll need an address to get the number, though most hostels will simply let you list wherever you're staying.
Get Out There
It can be intimidating looking for work. Nobody wants to feel like their money well is drying out without any hope of replenishing it. But working in Australia and New Zealand is a privilege many people don't get, so don't miss out on the opportunity you've been given by taking a working holiday there. You've got one thing going for you on your resume just by showing up: you're a world traveler. That counts for something.