This post was submitted by my Dutch friend Roxy.
She has spent the past 9 months living and working in Sydney and is sharing her tips for getting an Australian working holiday visa and preparing for a year in Australia.
I must admit, when Ashlea first approached me with the idea of writing a blog about how to get an Australian Working Holiday Visa (WHV), the first thought that came to mind was: “What do I write about? You go to the website, apply, and pay. Et voilà! You have a WHV!” Then I realised however, that I was, perhaps, a bit hasty in my dismissal.
Yes, the information is there and the process is fairly straightforward once you’ve got all the information, but the real work starts after you’ve received your visa. Having gone through this tedious process myself (through trial and error) with less than three months to go, I hope to share with you what I’ve learned and assist you with organising your year abroad!
Step 1: Organising the WHV
As an EU citizen, I’ve hardly ever had to organise a visa (except for Vietnam) and admittedly did feel a little overwhelmed when I first ventured into the land of Australian Visas. Being an immigration country, Australia has devised a visa for every situation you could possibly imagine. This is great, if you meet the exact requirements. If you don’t, tough luck.
Types of WHVs:
I’ll briefly outline the requirements for both. I’ve used the Department of Immigration’s website as a source and strongly encourage you to check both the website and the forms for yourself before applying for the WHV. The department has a rather peculiar habit of changing minute details and forms a few times a year (why make it simple if it can be complicated?), so my outline might no longer be up to date by the time you apply. Always use the most up to date form when applying!
Australian Working Holiday Visa requirements:
Each visa is valid for 12 months and requires that:
- You are at least 18 but not yet 31 years old.
- You do not have a dependent child accompanying you.
- You must be outside Australia to apply for your visa.
- You have enough money to support yourself (about AUD 5000).
- You have a return or onward travel ticket.
- You have not previously entered Australia on a WHV.
- You are a genuine visitor who wants to have a holiday in Australia.
- You have to meet the health requirements. (Unless specified, you don’t have to provide evidence for this.)
- You must have adequate health insurance, unless your country has a reciprocal health care agreement (more info later).
- You must meet certain character requirements. (You don’t need to provide police certificates unless you’ve been instructed to do so.)
Both WHVs are priced at roughly AUD 420. Since I am Dutch, I applied for the WHV subclass 417 online. It was a straightforward process and 5 hours later I had been granted the visa. I unfortunately don’t know what the process for the WHV subclass 462 is like, so advise you to research it thoroughly.
Step 2: Preparing for a year in Australia
Usually, ‘preparing for a trip’ means (sort of) figuring out where to stay, what there is to see/do, and where to go. I won’t be focussing on that, because there are far better sources out there that will provide inspiration. Rather, I wish to highlight five aspects of living a year abroad that I hadn’t necessarily taken into account before my departure.
Do I want to stay 1 year or longer?
If you have the possibility of obtaining a second WHV, realise that this entails 3 months (88 days) of specified regional work, which you can split up. In the end I chose not to do it for various reasons, but I did look into it a bit and can offer some advice for organising the regional work, which I’ll elaborate in the next section.
If you cannot extend your visa, but you still want to stay, you have 3 options:
- Apply for jobs and find a company that is willing to sponsor your temporary visa,
- Pay for a working visa yourself (many restrictions, very expensive, and time-consuming),
- Date an Australian, fall in love, and decide that you want to get married (in exchange for Permanent Residency and the government knowing very intimate details about your relationship).
In all cases, I recommend consulting an immigration specialist – they can advise you accordingly.
Tips for organising regional work:
- Do it as soon as possible after your arrival. It’ll be out of your way and you’ll save yourself of stressing over money if you can’t work for a (few) day(s) due to bad weather conditions, for example.
- Check out the harvesting seasons (also here and here) per region and decide where to go based on demand for extra labour (as many others do this too, hostels will be fully booked – so make sure to get a place in time! The hostels will usually offer to find you work in exchange for a small fee).
- Double check your postcodes to make sure you’re in regional Australia, as classified by the Department of Immigration! I can’t imagine anything worse than doing 3 months of labour only to discover it’s invalid.
- If you do decide to harvest (it’s not the only option, but it’s the one I researched most so I’m focussing on that), choose crops that are larger rather than smaller, as repetitively picking small crops such as berries will increase your chances of developing RSI (or so I’ve been told).
- Check the weather conditions and determine what you’re willing to endure. Picking mangoes, for example, pays relatively well but requires you to wear protective gear in the midst of summer (and it can get hot here!).
- If you’d rather not leave your 3 months up to chance and want to secure the WHV for your own peace of mind, WWOOFing might be a suitable alternative. You’ll work at an organic farm in exchange for accommodation and food, and are often more flexible in your working times. (This also seems the safer option to me – the wwoofing farms are part of the wwoofing network, so you sort of have an idea of where you’ll end up.)
- Budget 4 months of your year for regional work – travel and weather conditions will always take up extra time and you never know what unexpected events might stray you off your path.
- Mining pays well, but is almost impossible to get into – even for Australians. Not worth considering.
- Beware of farmers offering to sign you off in exchange for money. I’ve heard of successful stories, but also of plenty of scams. If you do decide to go down this road, it is at your own risk.
Although this is a no-brainer, I added it because having good insurance is one of the most important things to organise and not worth skimping on (and because I’m Dutch and the Dutch would rather be insured double than not at all). So check that you have health, travel, and liability insurance sorted before you depart.
Some countries have Reciprocal Health Care Agreements with Australia. These countries are: New Zealand, the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Malta, Slovenia, and Norway. If you’re a citizen from one of the mentioned countries, you can get some essential medical treatments while visiting Australia. I don’t know much about it, as I opted for private health insurance due to cost & complicated circumstances (if you happen to be a Dutch reader of this blog, ask Ashlea to get in touch with me and I’m happy to explain as it applies to you too!), but do have a look to see if it’s relevant for you.
Being an island with an isolated ecosystem, Australia’s wildlife is incredibly fragile and thus customs is very strict about what can(not) enter the country. Here’s a list of what you must declare upon entry. For inquiries, see food or drink import inquiry and the souvenir, collectables and equipment import inquiry. (Fun fact: you’re allowed to bring up to 10kg of cheese into the country, but only if it’s intended for human consumption.)
The AUD 5,000 requirement set by the Australian Government might seem like a lot initially, but from experience I can tell you that it disappears quickly. During my first few months here, I realised that I had greatly underestimated several external factors that affected employment and as an extension of that, my budget. Hence, I recommend doubling the required AUD 5,000.
- Politics & economy – For years, the Australian economy was booming and unemployment
rates were really low. This meant a higher and quicker chance of employment in a wider spectrum of sectors. I arrived shortly after the current government was elected, and roughly a week before the annual budget plan was presented. Had I done my research, I’d have been aware that they’d announce budget cuts. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when budget cuts are presented, fewer jobs are advertised, and thus it takes longer to find work.
- Home advantage – My dad once told me that as an EU citizen, I had an advantage over non-EU citizens when applying for jobs in EU countries, for no other reason than that I possessed an intrinsic knowledge of Europe’s cultural heritage. I share this, because it never occurred to me that the tables would be turned in a foreign country with shared history. Realise that without Australian permanent residency or citizenship, you have this disadvantage to overcome. (Of course, being from abroad also has many advantages that should not be forgotten!)
- The Working Holiday Visa – The WHV is both a blessing and a curse (I slightly exaggerate). It offers you maximum flexibility, but on the flipside employers tend to be wary of people with a WHV. Having a WHV stereotypes you as a traveller, and therefore less dependable (after all, you can quit and leave at any time). This bias is also something to keep in mind, especially if you’re looking for longer-term employment (> 2 months).
- Australian work experience – This is a bit of a conundrum. Many employers prefer to employ people with previous Australian work experience, but in order to get this experience, one needs to be employed. This varies between sectors though (hospitality does not have this preference), as well as companies/ businesses (international ones are generally more accepting of foreign employees).
I understand that these factors can paint a bleak picture of employability in Australia. Please know that I do not wish to discourage you from realising your goals. I just want to make you aware of and prepare you for the obstacles that lie ahead. Though challenging, many people have gone before you and successfully overcome them.
Realise also that the intensity of these factors greatly varies based on your own goals and where you are located. If you intend to work and travel, and don’t particularly mind what work you do as long as you get paid, you probably won’t have too many issues. However, if you come here on a WHV intending to find temporary sponsorship, these factors will be quite relevant.
Step 3: Arriving in Australia – What to organise?
Once you’ve arrived in Australia, there are several things which ought to be organised as soon as possible, namely: your tax file number (TFN), a mobile number, a bank account, accommodation, and employment.
TFN – You obtain you tax file number by applying via the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The ATO divides tax payers into two categories: non-resident and resident for tax purposes. When you’re travelling around, you belong to the former. When you’re living in a city for 6+ months, you belong to the latter (as with the WHV details, I do recommend you review this information for yourself).
Mobile number – Australia has multiple providers, of which the bigger ones are Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. Contracts are pretty expensive here, and it might be more worthwhile to get a prepaid simcard. All prepaid simcards have internet availability too, so have a look and figure out which best suits your needs. When getting a simcard, you must show a form of identification and a letter from your bank (among other things – check with the provider). Newspaper agents are more likely to let you slip under the radar.
Bank account – Do this within the first 6 weeks of arrival! When you open a bank account within your first 6 weeks, you only need to provide two forms of identification. Together, they make up at over 100 points. If you leave it for later, they are worth fewer points and as a result you need to supply more evidence. So save yourself the hassle and get this done immediately. Some of the bigger banks to choose from are: Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, and ANZ.
Accommodation – If you intend to stay in one place for a while, you likely don’t want to spend the entire time at a hostel. Gumtree is a website much like Craigslist, and has a vast selection of housing advertisements and is also a great resource for cheap furniture.
Step 4: Tips for gaining employment
With the external factors I mentioned earlier, how do you go about finding a job? Below are a few tips from myself and other expat friends. Most of them are more relevant if you’re looking for longer-term employment, but I reckon some are helpful too for those who wish to travel around.
Start following (inter)national news on Australian politics and the Australian economy on a regular basis at least 6 months prior to your departure. (I promise you don’t need a background in either of these to spot trends and patterns – I’m a biologist by training with little knowledge of either.) This will give you an idea of the political & economic situation, and help you assess your chances of finding work. If possible, also follow the news in your sector. To get you started, check out: Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, or The Guardian.
Think of all the advantages you have as an expat and how these might be relevant to the job you’re applying for. For example, you’ll probably have an alternative style of thinking/analysing problems, which creates innovative solutions. Yes, you do have the disadvantage of not being Australian, but you also have experience and knowledge that locals might not have. Emphasise these points!
Obtain a RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) or RCG (Responsible Conduct of Gambling) to increase your employability, as hospitality is one of the easiest sectors to get a job. These certificates allow you to work in licensed venues (serving alcohol) and venues which offer gambling activities. You must take a course for each certificate, and can choose to do one or combine them. Budget around AUD 200. It is important to know that each state has its own certificates! (The links I’ve provided are valid for NSW only.) If you’re traveling around, this means you need to obtain new certificates every time you move to another state. If you’re looking for longer-term employment or possibly sponsorship, I still recommend getting a part-time job in hospitality to get Australian work experience.
Note: Regarding sponsorship, visa laws are such that a company has to prove that they cannot find a suitable Australian candidate for the job prior to hiring you. Know your skills and assets (remember those advantages I mentioned?) and how these make you the preferred candidate.
Many jobs are advertised on www.seek.com.au or www.indeed.com.au. It’s worthwhile to follow the job listings in your sector to detect fluctuations in availability. Many jobs will also specify that they’re reserved for permanent residents or citizens only. It’s a waste of time to apply to these jobs.
- Check out www.gumtree.com.au for job listings too (it’s how I found my part-time job).
- Recruitment agencies are hard to get into with a WHV (the stereotype prevails here too). You can’t call them up or walk in with your CV. Most will only accept online applications via their own websites. If they’re interested, they’ll contact you and set up an appointment, after which they’ll (hopefully) take you on. Only then will they match you with job vacancies. Agencies also tend to be specialised in certain fields, so research which ones fit your needs. It’s good register with 3-4 recruitment agencies and to let them know of the others’ existence. Remember, they get paid to get you a job.
- Australia has its own CV/resume (these seem to be used interchangeably here) and cover letter formats. Employers love to have a detailed yet concise outline of responsibilities, duties, achievements, and results of your previous jobs written in your CV. (This was quite strange to me, as in the Netherlands your CV lists your job titles only and the interviews are for talking about previous employment/ what you can offer.) www.seek.com.au has good tips on how to edit both CV and cover letter accordingly.
- If you are looking for longer-term employment (within you field), it is worth mentioning in your cover letter that, although you have a WHV, you are not a traveller and intend to stay in [city] for [x] amount of time.
- It might be worth finding out if anyone in your professional circle has contacts in the city you want to go to. At my previous internship for example, I asked if they had contacts in Sydney. They did, and I managed to organise a paid research internship in my field with recommendations from my previous lab.
- Network, network, network! Via LinkedIn, www.meetup.com, professional organisations, your fellow countrymen & women, Facebook… you name it.
Step 5: What to do if things don’t go according to plan?
I had the unfortunate experience of having a very bad start to my year abroad. Details are not relevant, but it’s suffice to say that I was ready to give up and fly back home with no intentions of ever returning again. Nevertheless, I persevered (thankfully so) and gained a little more wisdom which I’d like to share with you in case you find yourself in similar circumstances. Of course, I hope you won’t need it.
- Remove yourself from what happened as much as possible
Whether that means going to a different suburb or city, doing your regional work earlier than planned (or delaying it) – opt for a change of scenery that will provide you with a safe haven and distraction. Every person deals with unexpected events differently, but I believe it is essential to have a private place you can retreat to.
- Take the time to process, heal, and learn from events
Dealing with what happened adequately ensures a more effective and ultimately quicker healing process. It’s better to invest time and energy in this now, as opposed to pushing forward. In the long run the former will give you more time to enjoy the rest of your stay than the latter. It took me four months to get back on track again, and another four to definitely put it behind me. I’m not saying you should take this long, but listen to yourself and give in to the time you need.
- Reassess your plans and practice flexibility
This speaks for itself – give yourself what you need and move forward from there. It has no use sticking to plans that no longer apply to your situation. Work around it and see this as an opportunity to create an even better year than you had previously imagined.
- Hang in there!
You will be pushed and your strength will be tested. It is one thing to go through difficulties when you’re surrounded by friends and family, but it’s quite another when you’re on another continent with very few connections and those closest to you are far away. Know that nothing lasts forever and that you will get through it.
Finally, I’d like to add that all my friends who’ve come here on a WHV found the first few months challenging and were ready to give up at one point. It’s a normal part of the process. Once you’ve overcome it, you’ll probably not want to leave this beautiful country!