Sophie is a UK-based travel blogger who lived and worked in Melbourne for two years on a Working Holiday Visa. She is the co-founder of Saints on a Plane with her sister Alex where they blog about how to fit travel into a permanent lifestyle.
I did my WHV in Australia – this visa had always been on my mind, but I wasn’t entirely sure when I was going to actually get around to doing it. I finally made the plunge after returning from a long 9 month backpacking trip for a few reasons.
Once home, I couldn’t get into the usual British life again. I had had a taste of travel and it wasn’t out of my system! I wanted to move somewhere and actually live a little life there for a while to really get to know a new place – not just pass through with a backpack slung on my shoulders.
However, the reason I bought that flight to Australia and applied for the visa so soon after my travels was because I had met a lovely Aussie during my time away. We had a long romance as I went from country to country, and he was super keen for me to come over to Melbourne to live. We didn’t know where it was heading, but getting the work visa meant that I could be there for two years, earn money and be with him…
How did you find the visa application process?
It was pretty straight forward! I applied through the government website and it was approved pretty quickly – I have a British passport and there is a reciprocal agreement between the two countries meaning work visas are readily available for any who wish to work in either country. You do have to be 30 years old or younger, so I thought I better do it now in case life gets in the way in the future.
The visa took about two weeks and I had already bought my flight. There was a small panicked feeling that I wasn’t going to get my visa in time for my flight, but it all worked out in the end! I had enough time to sell a lot of things on eBay, work a crap temping job for some extra cash and pack, before I waved goodbye to my family again – they thought I wasn’t going to be coming back!
Was it easy to find a job in Melbourne?
I knew that I had to get a job in hospitality as that was the only work experience I had at that point. I have a degree in Archaeology but after studying for 3 years, I wasn’t quite ready to face a career.
Finding bar and cafe work in this city was seriously easy. I think I went into three places before I got a call for an interview! I worked in a little cafe in the arty northern suburbs and it was great fun – I met a great group of friends, had such a laugh and (kind of) learnt how to make coffee. I stayed at that cafe for a good year, although when I was in Australia, there was a WHV clause which stated that you can only stay in one occupation for 6 months maximum… But with the friends I made there, I wasn’t willing to leave so early! Working in a cafe/bar is the best way to make new friends in a new city that you plan to stay a while in.
Once I got bored of that cafe, I moved onto temping and that was the best money I had ever been on! I worked in one of the tallest skyscrapers in Melbourne doing mundane admin work, but the money made it worth it – I was on about $24 an hour, which was fantastic! Reclaiming weekends was fab too, as sometimes you just want to have a relaxing weekend instead of running riot behind a cafe counter.
When I wanted to save some serious money, I worked three jobs for about 6 months. I worked in a new cafe, an old pub and at a veggie/vegan cafe – the variety was great and so was the money. I managed to save quite a bit by working my buns off in these places, especially as they usually fed you quite a bit during your shift. My savings went straight into my travel fund.
Although based in Melbourne, did you get to travel out of the city at all?
I absolutely loved Melbourne – the time I was there wasn’t enough to fully explore it! But i did manage to crowbar in more travels. It mainly centred around exploring Australia, such as, Perth and Tasmania, plus I also hired a camper van with friends one Christmas and we drove from Melbourne up to Byron Bay. Work did restrict my travels, but only because I was happy in the jobs that I found and I didn’t want to resign to go off travelling. The experience of living and working in this new city was enough for me!
Did you end up staying for the two years?
In order to get your second year of the work visa, you have to do 3 months of agricultural work in specific rural areas of Australia. I was still with that guy who I had met on my travels and was so gutted to have to leave to do my farm work. I had made Australian friends, so no one else had to go away to do this – I was on my own!
I began with doing a few weeks of WWOOFing (Willing Workers Of Organic Farms). This allows people to go work for food and accommodation on land or organic farms, and if you work somewhere that is deemed rural, then it can qualify you for your second year work visa (note: as of 2016 WWOOFing sadly doesn’t qualify you for a second year visa). I stayed in the state of Victoria and worked with a few backpackers on some land, and then alone on an elderly man’s large garden. It was pretty easy there and he had a billion cats (shame that I’m allergic!), but I was pretty miserable being away for so long.
You can spread out your agricultural work, but I was keen to get it over and done with. An Aussie friend hooked me up with her dad’s friend who owned a large orchard in Warragul, so off I trooped to pick apples. The weather was awful and the only places to stay were cruddy motels which pretty much cost what you were earning on the orchard, plus they had extra tenants: mice. The other backpackers I met were really lovely, but picking apples for 8 hours a day was incredibly hard.
I was homesick (for Melbourne), bored out my brains and generally quite low. In hindsight, I should have gone up the coast to places where I could have enjoyed my time off and got sun instead of miserable rain, but hey ho! It definitely made things hard between myself and the Aussie who I had come over to be with. We had been on the rocks and it soon ended when I returned from my farming trip. It was sad, but at least I had a whole new year of being in Australia to enjoy.
What did you do once your second year was up?
When my working visa expired, I popped over to Thailand and Borneo to see family and travel a bit with a friend. I applied for a 6 month tourist visa during my holiday, and I prayed that it got approved as I had a return flight to Melbourne. Luckily, it was approved and I had no issue getting back into the country – sometimes immigration might get suspicious as they think you’re returning to work illegally (no work visa and get paid cash in hand) and are known to pull aside backpackers for interrogation at the arrivals gate. I was able to get another 6 months of Australia where I made the most of it and hung out with all my best friends. I knew I was on limited time because I couldn’t keep doing visa runs every 6 months and I was so sick of working in hospitality, so when that visa ended I flew back to the UK (via Vietnam of course). I was so sad to leave as I had hoped I’d somehow figure out a way to stay, but everything happens for a reason and i knew I needed to go home.
Any tips for potential WHV travellers?
If you head to Australia to do your WHV, you should get your farm work done as soon as possible. Once you’ve done it, you can kick back and relax without a worry of having to search for rural work and leave behind dear friends you may have made!
I would recommend doing the rural work with friends, as going at it alone is demoralising and depressing… unless you’re lucky and end up with some great co-workers.
All in all, the decision to leave home to do a WHV was one of the best decisions I ever made. When it was all over it left me feeling very confused about where I belonged, and I still do! I’ve been in the UK for 3 years now and my heart is still in Melbourne. I’ve been to many places in the world, but this place ticks all my boxes for a city. I’m heading back in a few weeks for a two week holiday as one of the girls I met in that first cafe is getting married, and I’m a bridesmaid!
The people I met, the experiences I had; it was all totally worth it and it really changed my life. I met an Aussie guy just before I left and he soon flew to the UK to join me after I left Melbourne – we’re still together today and I thank my lucky stars that I made that decision to move to Australia to do my WHV or I may never have met him. So if you’re thinking about doing your WHV, DO IT. Do it now before it’s too late, see what happens and enjoy the experience!
Thanks to Sophie for sharing her experience. I hope you get to return to Melbourne soon, I can completely understand your feeling about this wonderful city.
You can follow Sophie and Alex’s further adventures over at their blog Saints on a Plane, which offers an alternative look at travel for those who don’t want to give up everything to live a nomadic life but still want to see the world – I think I probably fit into this box quite well! Be sure to also check them out on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.