Tips for those who want to go to Australia

Some folks were asking about my working holiday experience in Australia. Although I’ve written a few articles about the working holiday visa itself, I thought I’d put together some advice for those who are thinking about it but still unsure.

This is a rather lengthy article and is divided into three parts: getting around, money, and living in Australia. It’s all garnered from my own experience so take it for what it’s worth.

Before you go

Australia is very similar to North America and Western Europe in that it is a developed country with first world health care and, surprise surprise, people who walk and talk English, albeit in a slightly different accent than what the rest of the world is used to. That being the case, it’s similar to North America especially if you in the trades or have no problem going anywhere to work. There is a lot of money to be made, but you’ll also be spending a lot, too. Natural landscapes, red dirt that somehow yields grain crops, gorgeous women on world class beaches, skin cancer (thanks to the massive whole in the ozone layer above the continent) and a nightly display of the Milky Way are all things that make Australia a unique place to visit, work and live.

Visa. Unless you’re hopping a boat from Indonesia and want to claim asylum on the continent, you’ll need a proper working holiday visa to work in Australia. The current cost is around $400 and takes about three weeks to process. In order to qualify for the visa you’ll have to prove that you’re not on any police wanted lists, have sufficient means to get your ass out of the country if you fail at getting a job, and that you’re not from any country on the banned list. I’ve written a bit about the working holiday visa scheme, so take a look here, here and here for more info.

Budget. You will hear that Australia is expensive and that you need a lot of money simply to get going. It’s true that flights can be expensive (and very, very long), but soon you’ll see that the minimum wage of Australia is much higher than your home country. To put this into perspective, in Canada, the minimum wage is around $11/hr while a pint of the cheaper beer is around $5. Minimum wage in Europe is around 9 Euros/hr, but you can buy a beer for 1 or 2 Euros. Sandwiches, the blessing of some innovative individual, bought from the store will run you about $8 in Australia, Canada, maybe $5 or $6, Europe, $3 or $4. So, you see, the cost is relative.

The thing to watch out for is what you’re spending your money on. When you visit a new country you’re excited to try all the new things at least four times before deciding you don’t like it or don’t need it. Food (including coffee and beer because, let’s face it, you’re going to be socializing a lot) will remain a constant and depending on your health needs, your budget will fluctuate. So, if you’re buying food from restaurants and cafes, etc., expect to budget about $30-40 a day. However, if you’re making your own food and buying groceries at the supermarket, you can budget about $100 for the WEEK, and that’d include meat, dairy, poultry, vegetables, fruits, etc. Many hostels will provide a free breakfast, but keep your expectations low and you will be more pleasantly surprised.

Getting Around

***The following three paragraphs about transportation in Australia is very similar to my post on travelling across Canada on a budget. Read that post for ideas that are same same but different.

Transportation. One of the best ways to get around Australian cities is on foot or by public transportation. A lot of the hostels are centrally located meaning that you can either find work within walking distance or able to access it via public transport. Many Australian cities have a combination of bus and train systems in place to help you move around the country. Greyhound goes most places around the country, but Western Australia is served by partner bus lines. Next, the Indian Pacific and the Ghan Railway traverse the continent in an West-East and North-South manner, respectively. By the way, they are consider two the longest train journeys in the world and are considered classics in most over-landers’ books.

Car. If you’re looking to work in more remote areas, either for your second visa or for the money (cause it’s bloody well good out there), then you might want to consider buying a car. They don’t don’t need to be a real schmick make up of a car (meaning, it doesn’t have to be fancy), but it shouldn’t be a gas guzzler either. If you buy a hippiemobile you’ll be able to plug into campsites or simply sleep in the van at night off road or on a farm. You’d have some privacy at least and not have to deal with messy roommates. Bear in mind, however, a hostel dorm bed can cost about $25/night, so if you’re penny pinching, a car might cost you an upfront cost of around $3000 as is (plus registration and insurance) which is the equivalent of 4 months in a hostel dorm. It’s something to consider. If you’re staying city-side, a car might be more of an inconvenience. If you’re planning on venturing outside the city limits on a regular basis (as in, changing cities), then a car might suit you.

Plane tickets. It’s best to buy your tickets to Australia sooner than later. However, if you’re like me and indecisve as ever about all your options, tickets to and from the continent usually top out at $1300 ONE WAY. If you’re in no hurry home, you could always buy a ticket to Bali for a few hundred dollars and then overland it for a month in southeast Asia. Places like Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok often have cheap flights to European destinations (sorry North America, you’re SOL on this one) thanks to low cost carriers such as Air Asia. I often use cheapoair.com or skyscanner.com for my flights.

Money

Bank account. You’ll need a bank account to store all of your hard earned beer money. Australia has a few banks to choose from, the most common one I found was Commonwealth, which also has ATMs in Bali (which is useful if you want to vacation there). There is also ANZ, Citibank, Westpac, St. George’s and then a few others. Most banks and ATMs will accept Cirrus, Maestro Mastercard and Visa cards so you shouldn’t have too much problem finding money to spend, unless you lose your card.

Taxes. As a FOREIGNER you will be taxed heavily, about 30% of your paycheque will go into the government’s pockets. Many people will tell you that you will get this money back. That’s false. It may have been like that a few years ago but now, in order to be taxed at the lowest tax bracket you need to stay in one place for six months, that is, you must become a resident for tax purposes. If you have a job in Sydney for three months, move to Melbourne, work five months and then travel for three months, you’re not a resident for tax purposes and you just lost 30% of your pay to taxes. You need to stay in the same region (ie, Sydney OR Melbourne OR Perth OR out in the sticks) in order to become a resident for tax purposes.

Supertaxrefunds.com.au publishes a few booklets about working and travelling in Australia. Although they offer tax services, have a read through their booklets first to gain a better understanding of the system. Finally, you could use a service such as taxback.com to do you taxes and they’ll keep a percentage of your return.

Or, you could do it yourself. It’s not that hard, add up all of your income (interest, dividends (like you have any as a FOREIGNER), and wages) and then subtract all of your expenses that helped you make that money (your flight to Australia, the visa, some work clothes, food and accommodation before and after you started you job, etc.) I’m no registered tax guy but I can tell you it’s not that difficult. The Australian Taxation Office (ato.com) even publishes a PDF booklet explaining how to do it all.

Jobs. Of course, the loss of tax dollars might not bother you if your wage skyrockets. If you’re working a schmuck hostel job in Sydney but land a mine housekeeping gig, forget the bloody taxes and take the higher paying job. If a farmer wants to employ you for four months to run a tractor and will provide food and accommodation and a vehicle, then maybe the tax return money won’t be as much as if you were to take the new job. I’ve written compiled a lengthy resource list for job seekers in Australia.

Pension. If you’re done with Australia or haven’t somehow managed to snag an Aussie hubby (seriously, it seems the Aussie blokes have more pick of the immigrant population/backpacker group than anybody else) and you need to leave the country, you will get your pension money back. While you might be getting taxed at 30%, your employer is often paying an additional 9% of your wage into your pension fund. When you leave Australia you can claim this money. Again, the government takes its cut (30%) and you get the rest. It’s not much but it is a plane ticket home for most folks. Read more about the Australian pension fund (called superannuation) on the government’s website (http://www.immi.gov.au/allforms/superannuation/).

Living the Life Down Under

Daily life. Your costs will reflect the standard of living you want. If you’re okay bumming around in camping sites and picking fruit, you won’t need very much cash. Neither will you have much savings either. However, stay in the city and you might make more but you’re costs will go up as you buy things like phones and plans, go out on dates, or trekking the mountains.

Phones and staying in touch. One problem with the rising costs of living in Australia is that things like a phone plan will set you back an inordinate amount of money and won’t work all over the country. Telstra is your best bet for rural coverage, then there is Virgin, Optus and a few others that work best in the city. I bought a low end phone that I could use as a modem and just bought a lot of data usage. I ended up spending around $100 a month on phone and data, but your usage might be different.

Health. Australia has a similar health care system to Western Europe and North America. Whether you need medical attention, a gym pass, good footwear or anything else for that matter, Australia has it. Further, marijuana, though illegal, isn’t punishable by death. So, if you’re so concerned about not packing everything you’ll need while in Oz, don’t worry, you can probably buy it there, too. Look out for those dollar stores as they often have those fashionable backpacker shirts and other stereotypical clothing items that will not only make your pictures more authentic, they’re cheap and easy to replace. Further, if you happened to have a close encounter with one of the seven deadliest creatures on the continent, don’t worry since most places have anti-venines available, though maybe not readily.

Overall, Australia isn’t a budget destination, but it does offer adventure, work/money and a way of life that is just a bit different from other Western countries. It’s a good opportunity especially if you’re young and really have nothing holding you in one place. If you do, negotiate!

I hope that helps! Let me know if I can help you out in any other way. 🙂