First things first: your ‘working holiday’ won’t feature much ‘working’ if you don’t get your hands on the appropriate visa, so the first step on your journey is to visit the Department of Immigration’s website to apply for a Work and Holiday visa (subclass 417, including the UK and Germany, or subclass 462 – check the website for eligible countries). The application takes about an hour to complete online, costs $440, and you have one year to enter Australia from the date it’s granted – then when you arrive you’re allowed to stay for 12 months, working in six-month stints with a single employer, and you can extend your stay by another year if you work for three months in regional Australia (typically doing farm work). Not a bad way to earn a little extra beer money for your trip!
By now you’re dreaming of sipping tropical cocktails in Cairns and take a selfie with a cuddly koala, but don’t forget to take care of the little, important, boring details before you leave – we’re talking about setting up a bank account, tax file number, health insurance, and phone. Most employers will only pay into an Australian bank account and the big four banks – Westpac, Commonwealth, ANZ, and NAB – all have accounts tailored to new arrivals. You’ll also need to give your employer a tax file number, which can be obtained online. Australia has reciprocal health care arrangements with several countries but it pays to have private insurance, and if you’re planning to work in a regional area, Telstra is the phone carrier with the widest coverage. But enough of the boring stuff . . . get back to planning your adventure of a lifetime!
Here’s a statement that will surprise absolutely no one: Australia is a warm country. Sydney’s average daily high temperature is 23 degrees Celsius, go north to Cairns and Brisbane and the mercury rises to 25 and 29, and even Melbourne – a city with a reputation for dreary weather – hits 20 . . . the same average temp as sunny Barcelona! That’s not to say parts of Australia don’t get cold in winter (June to August), especially in the south of the country, but fill your backpack with clothes suitable for warm weather. Australians are casual dressers – shorts and flip flops (or ‘thongs’ as we call them, and no, that doesn’t refer to the type of thong that rides up your bum) are acceptable at plenty of places beyond the beach.
If you’ve just slinked off a 24-hour flight to Australia, the last thing you want to do is lug your baggage (and jetlag) all across the city trying to find a bed – so book your first couple of nights at a YHA hostel and you’ll feel right at home for the first couple of nights of your trip. The hostel common room is also a rich source of knowledge about working holidays that you won’t find online, and certainly not by locking yourself into a short-term rental or a work exchange as soon as you arrive. Who better to ask about your own working holiday than a hostel full of backpackers who have been there and done that themselves, plus, many YHAs offer job assistance and have noticeboards advertising available work. Oh, and hostels are heaps of fun – and isn’t that what you’re coming to Australia for?
Hospitality, construction, retail, nannying, clerical roles, farm work . . . there are plenty of jobs available to backpackers if you’re flexible and realistic. It’s hard to find professional work given you’re only here for a short period of time, but the good news is that even unskilled labour is rewarded with good wages in Australia – $20-25 per hour is the norm. Check out Australia’s no.1 job site Seek.com.au, the government’s own Job Search, and Gumtree – basically an Aussie version of Craigslist – to look for work, but be aware that you might need qualifications depending on what you do – you require an RSA license to serve alcohol or a ‘white card’ for construction, for example. Sure, not all the are glamourous, but hey, if you’re saving up for another month of sunsets at Bondi Beach or cruising around the Whitsundays, you won’t be complaining!
When you’re on your working holiday, don’t get too wrapped up in the ‘working’ and forget about the ‘holiday’ – and use your employment to really get to know a place by living like a local. Get out there and change locations during your stay – you could start off pouring beers in Cairns then spend three months picking apples in Tasmania to qualify for your 12-month extension, then turn your hand to construction in Sydney or try an au pair gig in Melbourne. Don’t spend the whole time sweating about work – Australia a huge, diverse country for you to explore, and with 80-plus hostels dotted right across Australia, YHA is your home away from home every step of the way.