How to get an Australian working holiday visa / by Chris Tyre

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Outside of the backpacker’s circle, it’s still relatively unknown to most young Americans that they can live and work in Australia. Europeans have been heading down under in herds for years now taking what they call a “gap year” on their CV/resume. My fellow Americans, it’s time to join the movement! Over the past year, a few people have reached out and told me that I’ve inspired them to go to Australia. While flattering, I can’t take credit. I think they’ve always had the sense of adventure within them. But if you too have that sense of adventure and you’re seriously interested in living and working in Australia, then this is what you need to know.

Part 1 | The Visa: What are the requirements?

  1. You must be between 18 and 30 years old.
  2. You must have a valid passport with at least 6 months until renewal.
  3. No dependents. Australians prefer single foreigners! But seriously.
  4. You must have sufficient funds to support yourself when you arrive in Australia. (“Sufficient” is subjective, yes, but do start saving once you commit. I do believe they spot check some applicant’s bank accounts.)

Also, having a clean criminal record goes a long way. I’m not sure where they draw the line on convictions, but as long as you don’t have any felonies you should be ok I’d imagine. However, before you book a plane ticket, get off at the Sydney airport and say to the customs officer, “Good day, mate! I’m here to live and work” there are a few more things to note.

The application and visa process:

  1. You must apply for the visa while outside the country of Australia. If you hold a passport from the USA, you will need to apply for the subclass 462. This visa isn’t limited to USA passport holders, but they are the only ones that can apply online for it. Citizens of most European countries in addition to Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Republic of Korea, and Taiwan can apply online for the subclass 417 which is essentially the same or like they say Thailand “same, same, but different”.
  2. The application will cost you $420 AUD or roughly $300 USD. If your application is approved, your visa is valid for 1 year. However, for those on a subclass 417 visa, you have the option to extend the visa for an additional year by doing 80 days of farm work during your first year in Oz. This is currently not an option for USA passport holders or other nations applying for the subclass 462 visa. Why? Politics. Has a lot to do with Australia’s relationship with the various countries and the benefits that are reciprocated to their citizens in those countries.
  3. Once your visa gets accepted, (could take a few months, but more likely just a few days), you’ll have one calendar year to get your keister to Australia before your timeline expires.
  4. Upon landing Australia, I’m assuming you’re not sailing there, your visa clock will start. You are free to enter and exit the country during that time period, but that still counts toward your one year in the country.
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Part 2 | Working in Australia:

Note, the “holiday” part of the visa is really easy. (I’ll share some Aussie adventures in later posts.) But the “working” part is a little more challenging. With that said, you are free to apply to any company or position that you’d like while you are down there. Just like at home, that doesn’t mean you’ll get hired. Also, when they see that your on a temporary visa or “backpacking” that will turn many employers that are looking for long term employees. Remember that resume styles vary country to country so research how to write an Australian resume before you start applying and crying.

If you are wondering, “Should I apply for jobs before I get down there?” my answer is NO. One, when they see that you are not from the country, they are not going to take your resume too seriously. Not that you couldn’t get interviewed or possibly hired, but the odds aren’t in your favor. Two, you’re not going to want to work your first month. Travel! Explore the city, the countryside, the beaches, etc. Maybe Sydney’s not your scene. Try Melbourne. Maybe you prefer something more rural, try Tasmania.

Working in hospitality is probably the most common, available, and easiest job to obtain for most working-holiday visa holders. This type of work will also give you flexibility to take day trips during the week and maybe some extended holidays depending on the restaurant or bar. It’s also a great way to converse with locals.

Work restrictions: You can only work for a single employer for up to 6 months. At that point you two either part ways or they may offer you a sponsorship to continue to work with them and for you to live in Australia for an extended period of time. This is typically only for “career” type positions.

Working as a digital nomad: Australia is not a hot spot for expats living as digital nomads, especially for ones starting out. The cost of living is high and the wifi is slow. With that said, there are some fantastic coworking spaces and Australians make an incredible cup of coffee, especially in Melbourne. There is an abundance of independently owned cafes and hip coffee shops all over. Starbucks struggles down there. And when you do find one, it’s usually full of Asian and American tourists.

What’s a good wage? Minimum wage is $17 AUD per hour before tax. If that seems high for you, remember that Australia has a higher cost to living. Many travelers on visas are making between $17-25 per hour. With that said, there’s a lot less taken out of your paycheck by the government than you are used to in the United States. It’s very common in hospitality jobs that they may pay you under the table in cash. The biggest perk is that there’s no tax taken out. This could also allow you to work with that employer for over 6 months because you’re flying under the radar. The downside is many times the wage offered may be at or under minimum wage. You may settle for $16 an hour if you’re also collecting tips or if there are other benefits like free lunches or dinners involved. But if they offer you $15 or less, even though that may be more than minimum wage for you back home, you’re getting screwed in Australia. Keep looking!

Fun Fact: Melbourne has been name the world’s “most livable city” five consecutive years, 2011-2015.

Shockingly, there aren’t kangaroo parks downtown where commuters can lock up their kangaroo from nine to five while they are in the office. However, kangaroos can be seen all over the countryside and outer suburbs.

Shockingly, there aren’t kangaroo parks downtown where commuters can lock up their kangaroo from nine to five while they are in the office. However, kangaroos can be seen all over the countryside and outer suburbs.

Part 3 | Leisure:

This post has been very heavy on the actual visa and working, but obviously, that’s not the main reason most apply for this visa. It’s the traveling, partying, wild outback adventures, making international friends, and obviously cuddling with koalas.

While in Sydney, making coffees in a hostel in exchange for room and board, I met the talented videographer Tom Watters. He created a trailer-like highlight reel of his Australian working-holiday experience throughout 2014. (If you watch carefully you’ll see a few cameo appearances of myself.) Enjoy Australia Uncharted. Cheers, mate!