The Working Holiday Maker

My latest foray into travelling the world as a nomad has been as a working holiday maker in Australia. The reason behind my move was simple, I was turning 30 in 2012 and didn’t want to let the chance to visit Australia slip by. You may recall that after I returned from Poland and Ukraine I was working on my uncle’s farm once again. While there, I got talking to one of my cousins who’d done the entire work and travel thing through Australia. She recommended it saying that, though similar to Canada in some respects, there were still some differences. Further, since I had training as a farm hand already I’d be able to find work most easily.

So I applied.

I can’t remember it taking very long to process the visa. The visa application itself is done online with the non-refundable visa application fee due at the end of the application (about $375 AUD). If you’re still unsure about applying, you can save your application and re-visit it at a later time (I did this several times, hesitating before finally committing to going to Australia).

The visa application form is rather straight forward, basically, if you can answer no to any of these questions:

  • are you a criminal?
  • are you thinking about claiming asylum in Australia?
  • are you fit and able bodied?
  • are you between the ages of 18 and 30? (Although, I’ve recently read that Australia may up this limit to 35, but I couldn’t find any new information about that. Failing that, New Zealand will take you until 35.)

If you pass those questions, you stand a pretty good chance of securing a working holiday visa. If you, like me, have lived outside of your home country for more than three months at any period over the last five years, then you’ll need to undergo a chest X-ray. Here’s the kicker: when I first applied I had to go “old school,” that is, get an X-ray done with film, etc. and ship that stuff to Sydney, totalling about $200 in processing and shipping costs. However, many of the clinics on the Australian panel are moving over to digital imaging and that will save everybody time and money.

Within a few weeks I was approved for the visa and was informed through the website of what I could and could not do with the visa. Basically, the work you take on during your time in Australia is supposed to be “incidental” to your travels, meaning that you’re not supposed to be expecting to move and settle in Australia on that visa. They restrict the number of months you can work with each employer to six months. After that, you’d better move on. They track this by way your Tax File Number (TFN) which you will need to get paid.

There’s no sticker that goes into your passport or anything. You show up at immigration as you do in every other country, try not to get too nervous when they ask you about you doing in life, etc., then they stamp you in and tell you to have fun. That’s it. Now you’re in Oz, upside down and on the opposite side of the world. I had a wonderful blonde lady stamp my passport and smile at me.

Then you go get a job because Australia isn’t a country you can survive for very long without a job. I’ve compiled a list of Australian work resources for those interested in this visa scheme.

Before you get a job, however, you’ll also need to open a bank account and apply for a Tax File Number. The bank account is bloody easy: show up at one of the banks (Westpac, Commonwealth, ANZ, Citi, etc.), fill out some forms, show them your passport and one more piece of identification (driver’s license or credit card) and that’s it. You’ll need to give them an address where you’re staying so give them your hostel’s address. You’ll find that many hostel staff will be able to help you apply for the TFN and bank account. It’s really not that hard and I commend the Australians for making the process very simple for us foreigners.

You’ll be told to wait a few days, then go back and pick up your shiny new AUSTRALIAN bank card. Kinda neat, to tell you the truth. I chose to go through Westpac because I was told it was one of the few banks that operates throughout the country, specifically in the middle of nowhere (ie, farms and the Outback). My sources were wrong. Not only does Westpac have huge fees, Commonwealth is probably your better choice for “in the middle of nowhere banking.” Whatever the case may be, I stuck with Westpac and also opened a trading account with them. I figured if North America went bust, I would always have an Aussie account.

Oh, and at the time I entered Australia, their interest rates were bloody well nice! In the neighborhood of 5.25%. They’ve since cut their rates but it’s still pretty decent.

And that about does it for getting into Australia with your work and travel visa. If you’ve never been to Canada or the US, then you’ll find life a little different. I, however, found that the day-to-day life was rather similar. Aside from having a strong accent, the Australian disposition and way of life is remarkably similar to North America.

My one complaint about Australia was that it was bloody expensive. Well, I got to thinking about that again and it turns out that it’s comparable to life in North America. Meaning that you might spend more but you’re also earning more in Australia. To be sure, it’s not a backpacker’s haven, but it can be a backpacker’s office.

For more information on the visa process, check out the Australian government’s website as they have lots of information for those interested in working and travelling through the country. (That link applies to Canadians, but your visa requirements depend on your nationality.) Lastly, if you’re interested to see what kind of work I was doing (mainly farming), then you may be interested in checking out my “Working Holiday” collection of posts.