One of the best ways to be able to fund your travel abroad is to go on a working holiday. Getting a Working Holiday Visa will grant to entry to a country for a specific period of time and also give you the right to work legally. That means that you can earn the money you need to fund your travels while you’re there.
As you will have gathered from the title, this guide is written with my knowledge of having completed a working holiday in Australia so some of it, such as recommendations and costs, will be specific to the country. However the general advice can be applied for a working holiday pretty much anywhere or might even be useful if you’re about to move abroad for the first time.
APPLYING FOR A WORKING HOLIDAY VISA IN AUSTRALIA
AM I ELIGIBLE?
To be eligible you need to be between 18 and 30 years old when you enter the country, have no dependents and hold a valid passport from an eligible country. The government also states that you need to have 2000 GBP in funds when entering Australia or a return flight booked. You need to bring proof of these funds with you when you enter the country (although they don’t check everyone it is better to have the proof just in case!)
HOW DO I APPLY?
You fill out a Visa 417 form online and send this with a copy of your passport. You can also apply by post and there is a downloadable form on the website.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
In most cases not long at all! The website gives estimated times as 14 days for 75% of cases and 32 days for 90% of cases. Higher risk cases are defined as applicants from countries that do not have ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) eligible passports. If you have an ETA passport (which you most likely do – it has that little chip on the front which allows you to skip the queues at passport control and use those blasted facial recognition machines, which always ends up taking longer than the queue!) then your visa is tagged electronically to your passport so you won’t need a piece of paper in there to show you have the right to enter the country. Instead when they scan your passport at the airport it will show up on the screen that you have permission to enter and stay for the duration of your visa.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO GET A WORKING HOLIDAY VISA IN AUSTRALIA?
Easy! I don’t know anyone who’s applied for a Working Holiday Visa in Australia and been denied. I think as long as you don’t have any criminal history or serious medical conditions you’ll find it a breeze. There’s no lottery system or time deadlines or anything as stressful as trying to get a visa for Canada.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
At this time (June 2018) from around 440AUD (£220).
WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS?
The main one is that you can’t work for the same employer for more than 6 months. This is because by applying for a Working Holiday Visa you are stating that the primary reason for your visit to Australia is to travel, and that any work must only be undertaken to supplement that travel. It’s pretty well documented that wages are above UK average and in line with the cost of living (unlike the UK) so the government understandably want to discourage people from coming here purely to work and save money to take back with them.
BEFORE YOU GO
INFORM YOUR BANK THAT YOU’RE MOVING ABROAD
If you only take one piece of advice then let it be this. I actually did mention to my bank that I was going abroad but to someone in person at the branch who obviously failed to note it down. It’s probably best to put it in writing. The fact that my bank seemed to be unaware that I was in Australia made it a nightmare to transfer funds from my UK bank account to my Australian bank account and eventually I had to transfer the money to my mum and then get her to make an international transfer to me from back home! In the meantime I used my UK bank cards and paid for the privilege of doing so.
TAKE OUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
Yes, do get travel insurance for the whole year. It’ll be expensive but there are some companies that cater specifically for people on a working holiday and will give you a better rate. Also make sure there are no clauses in the small print because some insurance policies only cover you for a certain amount of time in one country, even if you purchase it for the whole year. This is because they’re tailored for people hopping between countries on round-the-world trips.
TAKE A PRINT OUT OF YOUR BANK STATEMENTS
Best to do this just in case they do ask for it when you’re entering the country. The Australian government website says that you have to either have a return flight booked and paid for or prove that you have the funds available to pay for that flight and to support yourself when you initially enter the country (around 2000AUD)
PRINT A COPY OF YOUR VISA
Your Working Holiday Visa is electronically attached to your passport so you don’t need it to enter the country but you will need it for things like setting up your bank account. You might not be able to access a printer for a while when you first arrive so you’ll save yourself the unnecessary stress of trying to find one whilst jet-lagged in a busy city if you just bring a copy with you.
ONCE YOU ARRIVE
SET UP YOUR BANK ACCOUNT
Setting up your bank account is one of the first things you’ll want to do. The good news is that it doesn’t take long and involves minimal effort, you just need to make an appointment with one of the banks and take your passport and a copy of your visa with you.
Choose a bank that has lots of branches in all areas of the country and doesn’t have any hidden charges etc. I was with National Australian Bank (NAB) and found them to be perfectly fine. Whenever I did need to go into the branch they were always efficient and pleasant to deal with, they also made closing my account super easy for me. My only grumble was that they were not open on a Saturday, which is a little inconvenient when you need to go to the bank but work a 9 to 5 in the week. Commonwealth Bank is a good alternative to NAB and they seem to have branches everywhere and be open on a Saturday!
Once you have set up your bank account in Australia it will take about a week for you to get your bank card. I’d recommend taking enough AUD to get you through a week or a prepaid travel card to use just until you get set up. If you use your UK bank card there’s a charge every time you use it.
On top of this when you go to a cash machine of a bank other than your own in Australia they charge you for withdrawing money. It’s something silly like a couple of dollars but this gets annoying pretty quickly and is why you want to choose a bank that has loads of cash points, because you’ll always be seeking them out. Personally I mostly stopped carrying cash because contactless payment was so widespread and convenient (the limit is higher for contactless in Australia than in the UK).
APPLY FOR A TAX FILE NUMBER
If you’re going to work in Australia you need a Tax File Number so that you don’t get emergency taxed at a very high rate. You apply for your TFN online and should receive your number within 28 days. You can actually apply before you arrive in Australia in order to receive it sooner. It says on the website that you need to give your Australian address for them to send it to which could be an obstacle to this as you’d have to anticipate where you’ll be in the 28 day period. Unless you’re planning on working within 28 days of arrival (and I don’t know anyone who’s done that) it’s probably best to just do the application once you get here and have a better idea of your plans.
SET UP AN AUSTRALIAN PHONE NUMBER
So many people I know resisted getting an Australian number for ages because it seems unnecessarily complicated, but trust me eventually you will cave and get one so just do it at the start to save yourself the stress later. If you’re going to look for work you’ll need an Australian mobile number on your resume or it’ll put employers off contacting you. It’s also not that hard to set up and means you’ll have data to use the internet rather than having to constantly seek out free wifi.
Once you have managed the tricky process of unlocking your phone you need to get an Australian sim card. Find a shop that sells mobiles, there are sometimes sections in supermarkets or other large stores or you can go directly into a provider’s phone shop. I recommend Telstra, which are one of the biggest providers and they have pretty good deals for “pay as you go” equivalents. You can buy a sim card for around 2AUD and they will give you a link to a website where you go to activate the phone number once you have put it in your phone. You’ll be asked to choose a mobile plan when you activate, choose “freedom plus” as this is a top-up pay as you go type service option. Topping up or “recharging” 30AUD a month will get you everything you most likely need.
REGISTER WITH MEDICARE
Medicare is Australia’s health service funded by the state and the great thing is that you can register for it even as an international long-term visitor to the country. The Australian government stress that it is not a replacement for health insurance but it will give you free access to emergency treatment or anything deemed “medically necessary”.
Print and fill out a form and then take it to your nearest Medicare Registration Office with a copy of your passport and visa. The actual registration process won’t take the time it’s more fact that where you have to go is usually in a big government hub where there’s a huge amount of civil servants doing paperwork for every government-related scheme you can think of and so there’s normally a huge queue. Still do it – medical bills are expensive!
SET UP A SUPER ACCOUNT
Your super is your pension and in Australia employer’s are legally obligated to pay into a super fund for you from the moment you start working for them. If you don’t have a super fund they will usually have a company one that they will put you into, however if you then move on to another job they will put you in their company fund and so you’ll end up with little pots of money all over the place which will be a pain to claim back at the end of the year. It’s easier for you to set up a super account and then give these details to every employer you work for so they can put all of your money in one place.
My super was set up with AAA Super Plus but personally I can’t speak to the pros and cons of different providers, I can say that I didn’t have any problems with AAA Super Plus and one thing in their favour is that they have a super account specifically for visa holders.
WHILE YOU’RE IN AUSTRALIA
EXTENDING YOUR VISA
You can apply for a 2nd year Working Holiday Visa provided that you have completed 88 days of eligible regional work. Since 31st August 2015 when applying for your 2nd year visa you have to supply payslips that cover all of those days worked. Prior to this they were trusting about it but this lead to an abuse of the system where people would apply without fulfilling the conditions. The changes also mean that only paid work can count towards your 2nd year visa, whereas previously you could gain it through volunteering (i.e. WWOOFing). Regional work does not just mean farm work though. Some jobs in more remote areas of the country will sign off on 2nd year visas, for example I know someone who worked at a bar in the outback to get theirs.
To extend your visa you have to either be in Australia when you apply and when the visa is granted or be outside Australia when the visa is granted. Your 2nd year visa then starts when you re-enter the country. The great thing about the 2nd year visa is that if you leave the country while your application is being reviewed and then it is granted you do not have to return immediately. You can hold on to this visa and return for another year any time up until your 31st birthday.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
FILE YOUR TAX RETURN
It is best to use a company to claim your tax (and your super) back on your behalf. There are companies that specialise in lodging these applications for people on a working holiday. I was recommended Tax Back because they will also do super refunds and I guess it just makes it easier to have one company dealing with everything on your behalf. However, they do charge a percentage fee and I’ve heard it’s better to look for one that charge a flat fee – especially if you think you might have a fair amount of tax coming back to you – so that’s something you may want to consider.
The tax year in Australia runs from 1 July – 30 June. The conditions to getting your tax back are that you have to have been in Australia for at least 6 months of the tax year and worked for one employer for at least 4 months or 2 employers consistently for 5 months. You also need to keep all of your pay slips given to you by your employer as this will make the process of claiming your tax back much quicker. It usually takes 3-4 weeks.
You can apply at the end of the tax year for your refund for the previous year’s tax (even if you haven’t been in the country for 6 months yet). If you are leaving Australia during a tax year you can apply for your refund before the end of the tax year so long as you are permanently departing. You might end up working for periods during two tax years which means you may have to file two tax returns.
You can also apply to get your tax back when you get home to the UK. However if you have closed your Australian bank account you’ll have to pay the transfer fee to get the money sent to your UK account.
CLOSE YOUR BANK ACCOUNT
Remember before you leave Australia that you need to transfer any remaining funds you have in your Australian bank account back to your account back home and then close your account. You need to visit a branch in person to close your account so you may not be able to do this once you’ve left.
WHEN YOU GET HOME
CLAIM BACK YOUR SUPER
You can claim back the money paid into your super (pension) account when you leave Australia but this has to be done once you’ve left and your visa has expired. Like with your tax refund, it is advisable to use a backpacker tax/super company.
Anything vital you think I’ve missed? Please let me know in the comments. I’d also love to hear from you if you have any additional advice for anyone about Working Holiday Visas in Australia.