Hundreds of thousands of young travellers head to Australia to work and travel each year. On a working holiday visa, you are allowed a year’s worth of travel, with the bonus of being able to work to fund yourself along the way. The Australian economy is well equipped to provide for travellers taking this route, with thousands of temporary jobs waiting for the broke backpacker.
There is also talk of the upper age limit rising to 35 – so now is a good time to start thinking about it!
What is a Working Holiday (or Work and Holiday) Visa?
There are two different types of visa which allow backpackers to take up temporary work while in Australia. Depending on your home country, you will need to apply for either a visa subclass 417 or subclass 462. According to the Australian border website, both of these are defined as
“a temporary visa for young people who want to holiday and work in Australia for up to a year.”
However, there are a few potential pitfalls that the unwary traveller might encounter. But fear not! Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to manage your Australian working holiday with ease.
Before You Leave Home
1. Applying for your visa
Time taken: 10 minutes
Applying for and receiving an Australian visa is actually one of the easiest visa processes I’ve come across. The Australian government are quick to respond and very efficient. With this in mind, do not bother going through an agency to sort your visa out. You’ll just be wasting your money. It’s very, very easy to do yourself.
First, head to the Australian work visa website. Scroll down to the ‘Working Holiday’ section and click on the appropriate link. Choose ‘Working Holiday, subclass 417’ if you’re from any of the below countries:
- Republic of Cyprus
- Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (including British National Overseas passport holders)
- Republic of Ireland
- Republic of Korea
- United Kingdom
Or, choose ‘Work and Holiday visa, sublass 462’ if you are from any of the following:
- China, People’s Republic of
- Slovak Republic
Unfortunately for visa subclass 462, only US passport holders can apply online, so other passport holders will have to download the PDF form and send their application to the relevant immigration office.
Once you have determined which subclass of visa you need, click through to the page, fill in the form and voila – ten minutes and you’re sorted.
Then all you have to do is pay (the amount differs depending on where you’re from), and wait for a response.
In my case, the confirmation email came instantly, and the visa acceptance within an hour of that. It was so fast that I actually thought I must have done it wrong, or it must be some sort of scam (it wasn’t).
So far, so easy!
2. Setting up your bank account
Time taken: Five minutes
So you’ve got your visa sorted. The next thing you might want to do is set up an Australian bank account. This is optional, because of course you can do this after you arrive in Australia.
However, in my experience, having this done in advance made the process incredibly straightforward on arrival. Another advantage is that if you want to, you can transfer money across to your Australian account in advance. This way you can avoid ATM fees from foreign cards during your travels, and instead just incur a one-time fee from the money transfer company.
Given the current (terrible) situation of the British pound, I now wish I had taken this option. In general, if your home currency is looking weak, this might be a good idea. You can find out how your currency compares to the Australian dollar by checking out www.xe.com and having a look at the graphs for the past month. Use a company such as TransferWise or Currencies Direct.
If you’d like to read a more detailed article on international money transfer, take a look at the one on Money Saving Expert.
Setting up an Australian bank account online took me about five minutes. There are four main Australian banks: ANZ, NAB, Westpac and Commonwealth. I chose Commonwealth, but any of the others will have a similarly simple process (although NAB don’t provide accounts for temporary residents).
Australian banks tend to charge for using ATMs that are not under their name. Therefore, choosing the bank with the most ATMs is a sensible bet. This is why I chose to go with Commonwealth (they have over 4000 ATMs in Australia, compared to ANZ’s roughly 3200 and Westpac’s 3000). However, it is worth noting that ANZ allows you to withdraw money in New Zealand banks as well without charging. It’s totally your choice!
I’ll explain the process using Commonwealth’s website, but it will be very similar with either of the other main banks.
First, head to their website and click through to the bank account application page:
Banking → Moving to Australia → Open a Bank Account
If you’re on a working holiday visa, you will want a Smart Access Account, so click on that. Once you’re there, just click ‘OK’ and go through the form, filling your details in. This takes about five minutes, at most – and it’s as simple as that!
See below for what to do on arrival to complete your bank set up.
3. Reciprocal Health Care
Australia has reciprocal healthcare agreements with several countries, including the UK. This means that certain types of medical treatment can be subsidised or free, depending on where you’re from.
However, in some cases, you will need proof of enrollment in your own country’s healthcare scheme – so make sure you enquire about that before you leave! See below for what to do once you have arrived in Australia.
Note: reciprocal health care still will not cover you for most things – you still need to take out travel insurance as well! This will cover you for more extreme emergency measures, as well as things like lost or stolen possessions.
Check out my earlier post on travel insurance if you need more guidance!
After You Arrive
4. Getting an Australian phone contract
Time taken: Fifteen minutes
There are two main mobile providers in Australia: Optus and Telstra. Telstra is always quoted as the one with best coverage, but the actual percentage difference in coverage is only 0.8%. However, in remote areas Telstra wins for signal hands down, so bear that in mind if you’re planning on road tripping!
Telstra and Optus shops are common in most cities, so one way to get your phone contract sorted would be just to visit one of these. Telstra’s cheapest deal is $30/month for 3GB data, unlimited texts, and $700 worth of calls. Optus has $30/month for 1.5GB data plus unlimited talk and texts.
However, there are a couple of tricks to getting a cheaper deal if you aren’t after a contract with loads of data (which costs quite a lot per month).
Before that, though, you need to make sure your phone is unlocked – or else you won’t be able to use an Australian SIM card! There is a great article from Too Many Adapters on getting your phone ready to travel: if you don’t think your phone is unlocked, take a look at the ‘Unlocking’ section.
Hopefully all that will be swiftly sorted, and you’ll be ready to hunt for a good deal.
A good way to skimp on the cost of your contract is to get a SIM with a secondary provider. That is, a company which utilises either the Optus or Telstra network, but sells the data, calls and minutes at a cheaper price, under a different name. Some options for this include Amaysim, Vaya, and even Coles Supermarket.
I personally went for the Coles option: $20/month for 2GB data and unlimited talk and text, on the Optus network. I didn’t want to be committed to paying upwards of $30 per month for 12 months, so this contract is great for me. However, some things to consider:
- Wifi in hostels in Australia is generally quite terrible, and in many places you have to pay for it. Therefore, depending on what your priorities are, mobile data can be worth its weight in gold. If your hostel charges $4/day for reasonable wifi, you’d soon be better off having more mobile data for the month.
- Some deals are for month-to-month contracts, while some are for 12 months. Clearly, month-to-month gives you that bit more flexibility (say if you want more data from one month to the next), but often it’s cheaper to be locked in to a 12-month contract.
- If you are considering going to particularly remote locations, it may be worth looking at a phone coverage map to see which network is likely to be best in that situation.
- Vaya is an online-only mobile provider. This means that you have to have an address that you are willing to have the SIM card sent to (as you can’t pick one up in a supermarket like with Amaysim or other maintstream providers). It also makes things a little more complicated if you don’t have an Australian bank account.
5. Finish setting up your bank account
Time taken: Thirty minutes
If you’ve followed the process above, setting up your bank account on arrival will be very easy. Simply visit the local branch you selected online, with your passport and welcome letter, and someone will take you through the procedure.
I actually forgot to take my welcome letter into the branch, and they were still able to set it up for me. With Commonwealth, we had to download their app in order to finalise the process, which is why it’s a good idea to sort your Australian phone out as soon as possible. Commonwealth have free wifi in all their branches, which makes it easier! They will ask you for a contact number as well, which you will have to go back and change if you haven’t got an Australian number yet.
Within half an hour, you’ll have your new debit card and have online banking all set up. The great thing is that you’ve already filled in all your details online, so you don’t have the faff of going through all this in branch.
However, just to reiterate, it is definitely also possible to set up your account once you’re in Australia.
6. Applying for your Tax File Number (TFN)
Time taken: Ten minutes to apply, two weeks for it to arrive
Within two weeks of arrival, make sure you apply for your TFN. You should do this regardless of how late you plan to start working. They aren’t obligatory to work in Australia, but without one you will pay more tax (and who wants that?).
Luckily this is a very simple process. Simply go to the website and fill in your details. You will need the following information with you when you apply:
There are a couple of things, however, which may make this difficult. The first is that an address is required for you to have the TFN sent to. Obviously this is problematic for the nomadic backpacker!
To overcome this problem, there are a couple of options. First, if you have any friends that you are planning to visit before you start work, you can use their address. This is what we did, and it made things really easy. She sent us the details once it arrived – not that we needed them.
Another option is to use a hostel’s address. This does require a bit of forward planning, however. TFNs take around two weeks to arrive after application, so you need to have a rough idea of where you’ll be in two weeks. Many backpackers end up having to hang around to wait for it, which is annoying if you had plans! Try at least to make it coincide with a place that you wouldn’t mind staying a few extra days anyway.
Once you’ve received your TFN, you don’t need it until you are looking for work. Just keep it in a safe place!
7. Enrolling with Medicare
Time taken: ten minutes to apply, up to 30 days to receive Medicare card
If you have the appropriate proof of enrollment in your home medical system, you will be able to enrol with Medicare on arrival. This means you’ll get your own Medicare card with a unique number, which you can show if you ever need to seek treatment. You can do this by downloading the form online and handing it in to your local Medicare centre, or by visiting your centre, where they will give you one to fill in.
Finder.com.au has an informative guide on Medicare with more detailed information on what is available for each eligible country, so check that out if you’d like to know more.
8. Finding a job
As I’ve mentioned, Australia is very well set up for backpackers to find jobs. Once you arrive, you will more fully understand this. A percentage of almost every place you go will be staffed by travellers, or at least non-locals. Hostels, bars, restaurants, shops, travel agencies, hotels – everywhere you visit has job opportunities. To a certain extent your success will be down to luck, but the work is definitely there.
Don’t be too fussy about what jobs you want to take. Particularly in popular places like Byron Bay, the competition will be pretty strong.
There are quite a few websites with backpacker job opportunities advertised on them. Some are dedicated solely to this, while others are more multi-purpose.
For job listings that are more specifically aimed at backpackers, take a look at:
- Backpacker Job Board: www.backpackerjobboard.com.au – be aware that some of the listings on here are quite out of date, so you may not get a reply.
- Travellers at Work: www.taw.com.au – the same applies for this website. For both of these, it is best to just look at the most recently posted jobs (regardless of location) and go from there.
- Harvest Trail: https://jobsearch.gov.au/harvest – helpful government resource connecting backpackers to farm jobs across the country. They have a useful interactive map, so if you have an idea of the location you’d like to be in then this will allow you to see if there is work there.
For more general career listings, check out:
- Seek: seek.com.au – self-proclaimed as Australia’s number one job website.
- Jobsearch: https://jobsearch.gov.au/ – the government’s offering.
- Gumtree: www.gumtree.com.au – a surprisingly great resource with a big variety of opportunities. Gumtree can also be useful if you’re looking to buy a car or van to kickstart your travel, or even a bike to allow you to get to work.
There are other job websites out there, but these are the most common and well-used.
It’s also very worth while just to speak to other people in hostels, to try and find out whether they have any useful contacts or advice for finding work in your area. Often word of mouth finds opportunities that aren’t online. In addition, you should make sure to print out a few copies of your CV to hand out in person – again, not all jobs are advertised online.
A Word on Second Year Visas
If you think you might want to spend another year living and working in Australia, there are a couple of criteria you need to fill.
For 417 visas, this includes farming, forestry, mining and construction, and fishing. For 462 visa holders, you can also do hospitality work (as long as it’s in northern Australia, again within a designated area).
The vast majority of people will do some form of fruit picking in order to fulfill these requirements. Farm work is easy to come by if you find the right location – in peak harvest season, they need all the help they can get!
If you are looking to get a second year visa, make sure beforehand that your job qualifies for second year visa status. It would be awful to work somewhere for three months only to discover you can’t stay after all!
You can apply for your second year visa either in or outside of Australia, but whichever option you choose, you need to remain there while your visa is granted. Second year visas can take between two and six weeks to process – so if you plan on staying in Australia, make sure you apply with plenty of time to spare!
If you fulfill these requirements, then once again just head to the Department of Immigration website to apply.
Have any questions about your Australian working holiday? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer! And if you want to hear some real-time stories about travelling down the East Coast, living in Melbourne, road tripping the south or doing my farm work in WA, check out my Australia travel diary.
Want more advice for backpacking in Australia? Take a look at my 50 Budget Tips here!