One of the most popular means of temporarily living abroad is doing a working holiday in Australia. You can see why it’s popular – the visa is easy for many nationalities to get, it’s a trip into sunshine while earning money, it’s a very easy country to travel, it’s aimed at young people (the age limit is 30) so you’ll mainly meet like-minded travellers, and people return with a real sense of life and travel experience.
But for many, it can be a daunting prospect. It’s not like moving out and living a few miles down the road where your mum can still do your laundry and help out if anything goes horribly wrong. You’re literally on the other side of the world. So I can understand why people are scared to take the first big step – or even the few after.
Here’s my ultimate guide on how to make the most of your time down under – bear with me, guys; this is a big one!
[UPDATED: March 2019]
First thing’s first – you’re going to need your visa before you do ANYTHING else.
To apply, go to the official Government immigration website. Chances are you’ll be applying for the 417 visa, but do check your country’s guidelines (Americans should apply for the 462 visa). You are only eligible to apply before your 31st birthday, although there are proposed plans to raise this to 35.
The visa currently costs $440AUD charged into your currency (around £250) and gives you a year to enter Australia once it’s been granted. You then get a year from the date you land in Australia.
It’s really easy to apply – the form is very straightforward, and you’ll set up an Immi account to track the progress of your application. It could be granted in minutes, or sometimes days. I actually applied on Christmas Day and it was granted on Boxing Day! Who the hell works in government offices on Boxing Day?!
Next will be the most exciting part because it means it’s really happening – your flight!
I highly recommend either: booking a one-way flight, or getting a flexible return ticket. I don’t think I’ve met a single person that has used their return flight on the original booked date.
STA Travel are great for giving advice on flexible tickets, plus they have really good deals for people under 26. Personally, I just booked a one-way direct with Emirates because we were flying from Singapore rather than direct from the UK. Use Skyscanner, Momondo and Google Flights to find the best deals, but remember: it’s a 24 hour flight, you’re not going to want to rough it too much. (unless you’re like me and have a 3 month layover in Asia!)
Remember: the government will expect you to have sufficient funds in order to support yourself during your time in Australia and most importantly afford your flight home. Generally, they want you to have access to $5000, but this can include credit cards with limits of the same value. I know people who arrived with as little as $1000 (…*raises hand* – although I would have been covered by my credit card if asked), and I don’t know anyone who has been checked. That risk is entirely up to you.
Speaking of risks, I also highly recommend getting travel insurance. It’s worth noting that residents of the UK and select European countries can apply for a free Medicare card that entitles them to discounted or even some free medical care. However, do NOT use this as a substitute for travel insurance – plenty of things still aren’t covered (for example… ambulance costs, thefts, flights) and can seriously dent your travel funds.
One of the best is World Nomads, although I went with Explorer Insurance who have great prices. A friend of mine also received excellent service from STA’s insurance – she actually ended up getting an ambulance three times, to the tune of $1000 each time!!! I’ve even read (multiple) stories of people waking up in hospital to the $1000 bill for an ambulance they didn’t even call. So I reiterate – PLEASE GET TRAVEL INSURANCE.
(Once again – thank God for the NHS, right?!)
Before you start work, you’re going to need two things: a bank account and a tax file number. Sounds scary? Fortunately, both are super easy to get.
For banking, I recommend Commonwealth or NAB. Commonwealth is extremely popular among backpackers due to the fact you can apply for an account before you even arrive in Australia. However, some people have had problems being charged a monthly fee, so ALWAYS check what account you’re signing up for. In addition, their accounts do charge the monthly fee after a year – so if you’re planning to do a second year, Commonwealth may not actually be the best.
I went with NAB, and highly recommend them (not least because I have a pink debit card!). I’ve never heard of fees being implemented, and while Commonwealth pride themselves on being the bank with the most ATMs in Australia (another selling point for backpackers), NAB actually lets you use any “rediATM” for free even if it’s owned by a different bank.
NOTE: only ATMs for your bank are free; any others incur a $2 fee, even just to check your balance. (outrageous, I know) However I can use any BOQ, Bank Of Sydney, Macquarie Bank OR NAB ATMs, among loads of others, for free, multiplying my options.
Your tax file number can ONLY be applied for once you’ve arrived in Australia. You need it to work, however it can take up to 28 days to arrive, so you can start working for an employer before this as long as you can provide it after you’ve started your job. Bear in mind that you may not get paid until you’ve provided it as they’ll need it for tax purposes.
The TFN is 100% free and easy to apply for online. If you don’t have a permanent address or it’s taking a while to arrive, you can phone their number to obtain it, so don’t panic!
It’s also worth arriving with an unlocked phone and buying a sim card. The two biggest operators are Telstra and Optus, but Telstra has the best coverage in rural areas. Boost are a very good value alternative that run on Telstra’s network, although I haven’t had any experience with them. Expect to pay around $30 a month for calls, texts & data.
Further reading: My Ultimate Budgeting Guide For Your Backpacking Trip To Australia
Hold on tight guys, because now comes the hard part. You’ll have NO problem whatsoever finding work if you have experience in:
– hospitality: bar work, barista or café experience
– labouring or construction
– working with children
If, like me, you only really have experience in retail or – like Ash – office work, you may find it tougher, but it’s really down to persistence, luck and often an open mind. I’ve never gone a week without a job in Australia, but then I was also willing to travel solo to a little “town” 50km from the nearest shop.
Remember that your visa restricts you to working up to six months with one employer (apart from in northern Australia – anywhere above the tropic of Capricorn, including all of NT – where you can work for a year), so don’t go looking for a great marketing or IT job because the time-frame limits most of your options for skilled or industry-specific work in all the major cities.
However, there are tons and tons of jobs going for backpackers, including:
– bar work
– waiting in cafés and restaurants
– kitchen hands in cafés and restaurants
– event staff (this could include bar, food, crowd control, cleaning, car park attendants, etc)
– farm work
– country pubs or roadhouses
– au pair work (usually low-paid but with all accommodation and food included)
– construction or general labouring
– sales and fundraising (face to face and call centre)
– inbound call centre customer service
– temping office work (usually through an agency)
Australia loves its qualifications and certificates, but most of them are easy to get. To serve alcohol you will need an RSA, or a Responsible Service of Alcohol (and sometimes an RSG for gaming because lots of pubs have “pokies” – gambling machines), and the Australian government has decided to make this more complicated by having a different one for some states. This means if you get qualified to work in a bar in Victoria, you will need to take the course again in NSW and again in Queensland. Yes, it’s stupid, because they are virtually the same. You can take most of them online, however the VIC and NSW ones must be done in person.
If you’re looking at construction work, you will need a “white card“. This is again easy to get. For working with kids, you’ll need a “blue card“. I even had to get a food safety certificate (free) for my bakery job, most warehouse jobs require a forklift licence and health & safety certificates, and security is another biggie for qualifications.
The best places to look for work are:
– Gumtree: be aware of lots of scams and generally avoid any that shout ‘EXCITING OPPORTUNITY FOR BACKPACKERS MAKE LOADS OF $$$$$’ as these are usually commission-only fundraising or sales jobs
– Seek: always check the job description because many jobs on here are for Australian residents, but there are absolutely tons on there and it’s one of the biggest job sites. I found my bakery job through it
– Backpacker Job Board: mainly focusing on farm work and sales, but Ash has found construction work through them. One downside is it doesn’t save your details so you have to fill everything in every time
– iBackpacker: super easy to use, great app, but I’ve never got a job opportunity through it so I have no idea how good it actually is
– Facebook groups: there are lots of these, people regularly post on the main Australia backpackers group but there are various job-specific groups like “Backpacker Jobs Queensland” and “Backpacker Jobs In Australia”
Another great idea for finding a job is actually putting YOURSELF on Gumtree. Provide some info about yourself including your age, nationality, experience, whether you have a driving licence and/or a car, and what type of work you’d like. Also provide a picture – people like to see who they’re going to employ. I’ve had loads of calls from my ad, but again be careful. I met one girl who was all set to go to a farm but the owner started sending suggestive messages and she decided not to go. She’d also been offered porn work by someone else!! Another MALE friend was offered payment for “massages”!
Of course, one of the most effective ways to find a job is to print out a huge pile of CVs (you can do this at a library or Peter Pan’s travel agents also offer printing services) and hand them out to every bar, pub, café, shop and restaurant etc you pass. Always ask to speak to the manager and follow up after your application if they don’t get back to you.
Finding Somewhere To Live
Lots of people stay in hostels as soon as they arrive in Australia. Some never leave.
Our plan was to stay in a hostel until we both had work, then move into an apartment or house share. As it happens, and as you probably know if you’re already a reader of this blog, we stayed in the hostel for five months because we loved the people and the atmosphere so much.
Further reading: The Pros And Cons Of Living In A Hostel
(Ash also cleaned the hostel in exchange for free accommodation so this is always a possibility worth looking into if you’re struggling to keep afloat! Plus lots of hostels have on-site bars that are always looking for staff.)
The best way to find an apartment is to look on flatmates.com.au or backpacker Facebook groups.
Gumtree is a great resource too, but always make sure you view a place before you pay a deposit, and make sure deposits are fair, too.
Farm Work & Second Year Visas
Farm work is another huge realm of possibilities for backpackers. It’s a great way to experience Australia and may well be one of the best things you do during your time there. It may also be the worst; however the big selling point is it is the main way that backpackers can get their second year visa – if you complete 88 days (or 3 months if full time) of regional work.
Please note: previously, US citizens couldn’t get a second year visa, however since November 2016 anyone on a 462 visa can obtain a second year visa after doing 88 days (or three months) of farm work, forestry, tourism or hospitality anywhere north of the tropic of Capricorn. This includes all of NT and some parts of Queensland and WA – and means completing farm work anywhere else won’t qualify. (note that tourism and hospitality still do not count anywhere for those on a 417 visa, i.e. most Europeans! Swings and roundabouts, people. Swings and roundabouts.)
There are – essentially, but very vaguely – two types of farm work: fruit/vegetable picking (which also encompasses planting or packing in a warehouse, and is often found through “working hostels”), and livestock, which usually involves living and working on a farm e.g. a cattle station or piggery. (And how cute does a piggery sound?!)
If you’re lucky, you’ll land a fruit job that pays hourly, but to be honest most that I come across pay per bucket. This means the faster you work, the more you’ll earn, and for some fruits it’s an excellent way to make money – but in my experience, it can be completely not worth it.
For example, I picked mandarins in Mildura, and it was the worst paid job I had. They paid $75 per bin which sounded great until you saw how big the bins are. I earned $40 on my first day. It didn’t get any better, and thankfully I was moved to a farm just outside Mildura that paid $21/hour for planting and weeding. (not a glamorous job but the farm was great and I loved my time there)
As of August 2015, you must be paid minimum wage or more, and receive pay slips in order to qualify for your second year.
While this is trying to combat slave labour for backpackers, it has also scrapped a lot of loopholes and put a strain on the farming industry. For example, a lot of people used to do “WWOOF”ing, a system whereby you work on a farm for a few hours a day in exchange for free accommodation, food and sometimes even a small weekly wage. The farmer would then sign you off and you’d get your second year visa. Under the new ruling, this system doesn’t count, and while WWOOFing is still a huge thing, it’s caused problems for those small farms that relied on people who just wanted a real outback Australia experience, because now most of those want a real wage in order to get the visa.
Now, EVERYONE is competing for the well-paid jobs, because they’re often the only ones that count. This means that for a full time job, you need to be paid at least $600 a week; something that Mr and Mrs Jones probably don’t have when they only have a few cows and pigs. It also means that low-paid fruit picking jobs are plentiful but anything else will be snapped up straight away. (Please do note that fruit picking jobs DO still count towards a second year as long as you are being paid correctly and receive payslips)
However: there ARE other ways to get your second year, including construction in certain postcodes (all of the Northern Territory counts), mining, pearling, fishing and various other industries. For a full list, go to the Australian government website.
The good news is, once you leave Australia, you should get some money back!
The bad news is, the tax laws for backpackers have changed so you probably won’t get any tax back. The tax on claiming your superannuation has also increased, but it’s a little bonus. For this reason, you should leave your bank account open so that they can return it to an Australian account. You can then use Transferwise to transfer the money back to your home country and save money on the bank fees. (and if you sign up using my link, you can get a free transfer!)
Previously, backpackers were taxed in two different ways – either as a non-resident at 32.5%, or as a resident at 19%. The tax-free threshold still applied, so you’d be able to claim all your tax back on earnings up to $18,000. Unfortunately as of January 2017, backpackers are automatically taxed at 15% with no tax-free threshold (i.e. you pay tax on every dollar you earn).
This means you probably can’t claim any tax back, but the laws have confused a lot of employers, so there’s a chance you are paying too much, and it’s important to fill in a tax return at the end of the financial year.
There are two ways to fill in a tax return – either fill in the tax return form yourself (with free assistance from ATO if needed), or pay a small fee to an agent to do it for you. This is completely up to you. I’d actually say most people use agents, and I’ve heard about people messing it up themselves, expecting to get $3000 back in tax and they end up OWING money. But many agents overcharge to take advantage of naive backpackers, so make sure you shop around.
Personally, I filed my tax return myself and found it really easy. Assistance is always available if you do run into problems, and it actually gives you an estimate before you file it officially so if it looks like you’re going to mess it up you can re-do it.
It took one week to receive my money, although it can take a lot longer!
The good news is – even if you don’t get any tax back, you probably have some superannuation to claim back! This is like a pension, similar to the national insurance in the UK or 401k in the USA, except none of your pay goes into it – your company will actually pay it ON TOP of your wage! It’s essentially free money, but don’t look at your pay slips and get too excited just yet.
The government now taxes 65% of this so you won’t see a huge chunk of it. Some people actually moan about this. The fact we can even claim this at all blows my mind, though. FREE money.
Unlike tax, you can only claim this once you’ve left Australia, and once your visa has expired. This actually caused problems for me, because I came back to Australia on a tourist visa which lasts for a year. I think there are ways around it, but I couldn’t find a way to cancel the visa and therefore I couldn’t claim my super until 9 months after I had left. It can take up to 28 days to arrive, but I got mine within two weeks, which was lucky because it was right before the tax went up!
The most important thing
The most important thing is to have a good time! You’re in ‘STRAYA, MATE! Where the sun never seems to stop shining and it’s reflecting off that bag of goon you have in your hand.
Be open. Meet people. Make friends. Learn about the world. Do things you never thought you’d do. That’s what it’s about!
Any questions? Any out-dated or wrong info? (All these changing laws are getting confuuuuusing!) Let me know in the comments below! I’d be happy to help out and make your experience as awesome as possible!
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