How to Prepare for your Working Holiday in Australia
Have you ever had a hero? Someone WHOSE footsteps you'd do anything to follow in?
At the ripe old age of seven I discovered I had two. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (duh).
Bold, fearless, and fashionable, the pint-sized duo really did have it all. In the year 2000 my favourite chicks set sail for the land down under to film "Our Lips are Sealed." While watching MK and Ash have a ripper of a time in Sydney, my destiny was unearthed; I would one day become cool and live in Australia.
I am now halfway through my first Working Holiday (417) visa in Australia and holy Vegemite has it been an experience. Although I did my fair share of pre-trip research, there's plenty I wish I'd known before arriving. Alas, I have no time travel capabilities, and therefore my advice is best spent on you!
Here's what you need to know to prep for a working holiday down under:
** These tips will be most useful for anyone coming from Canada/ the U.S - but should be helpful for anyone planning a long-term stay in Aus.
First things first...
Score the Visa
If you're aged 18-30 from any of these eligible countries, hold a valid passport, no kids, and have never been to prison, you're in luck! Applying for the Working Holiday (417) visa is easy peasy. Hop onto the Department of Immigration site and fill out your basic details, criminal history etc. The visa will set you back about $450 and is usually processed within two weeks, if not instantly. That being said, save yourself the stress and get it early! It isn't activated until you land in Australia, so you're allowed to apply up to a year before you actually want to arrive!
Everyone knows Australia is a tad isolated; so if you're looking for some of the longest and most expensive flights on earth, Oz is your forte (worth it though, I promise). If you happen to be under 25, or a student, the world of travel deals is your frugal little oyster! I found a drop-dead deal with STA travel. Even though the price was in USD, the youth rate I found was SO much cheaper than all the leading standard fares I came across. If you're not a lucky youngster, Skyscanner can help you find the best of the rest!
Don't Ditch The Insurance
I can't stress this one enough. BUY some god damn travel insurance.
In the past six months I've visited the doctor, dropped my phone in the toilet and then smashed it a few weeks later. These are pretty minor, as far as insurance claims go, but they definitely add up. If it wasn't for travel insurance, I'd be stuck biting these expenses and probably many more. A quick Google sesh will give you an overwhelming amount of insurance options and advice. Personally, I went with World Nomads for two main reasons - price and flexibility. World Nomads offers Canadians a Nil Excess policy, meaning that no amount is too small to claim. You're also able to purchase or extend with World Nomads insurance when you're already on your trip. This was significant to me, because I could pay the first 6 months upfront and renew for the remainder of my Visa after making a bit of cash in Oz!
What you actually need to bring
Look at how much stuff I brought! No, I'm not clueless, I just ignored the "holiday" part of Working Holiday. Yes, 12 months is a long time, but Australia is a pretty Western place with amazing shopping.
You don't need to prepare for every situation, you'll just end up over-packed like I was. If you get an administrative job, you can easily buy the work clothes you'll need over here. It's plausible you'll end up in a uniform, making those work clothes you packed obsolete. Save yourself the extra baggage fees - bring half the clothes you think you'll need. Two sweaters and two pairs of pants at the most. Think bikinis, tanks and cut-offs. Beautiful warm weather bliss awaits!
Dolla dolla bills
For convenience, you're going to want to set up a bank account before you arrive. This gives you the option to transfer your cash ahead of time and pick up your debit card as soon as you get here. The major banks in Australia are Commonwealth, Westpac, ANZ & NAB. Personally, I went with Commonwealth, after reading their useful setup guide for internationals.
Once your account is open, you'll want to move some cash over from your home account to get you started. Converting money at the airport is SO EXPENSIVE. And, you're technically required to have the equivalent of $5000 (CAD) in your account before starting your working holiday. This amount is suggested as sufficient funds to support yourself until you find work, and to get you an early flight home, should you need it (check out this document checklist). Personally, I've yet to meet a traveller on the 417 visa who has actually been asked to show proof of funds at the airport, BUT it's not worth risking it. Do yourself a favour and print off your bank statement, incase, by some minuscule chance, you are asked to show proof to immigration.
When it comes to sending $$ internationally, I can't complement XE Trade enough. Their system is quick, easy to use and offers super affordable rates. I've used their services multiple times to send and receive money back and forth to Canada, with nothing but kudos to share.
In Australia there's this neat thing called a superannuation fund or "super". The money comes from your employers, and is set aside as a mandatory way to save for your retirement. Currently the minimum amount of super your employer must pay is 9.5% of your base wage. The first job you get in Australia will likely suggest one automatically for you. If you've started your holiday through a travel agency, they'll also have a suggested super fund to get you started.
Assuming you're not going to actually retire in Australia, you'll need to claim your super back within six months after leaving the country. This is important because if you forget about it, your super is no longer yours and now belongs to the Australian Government (boo!).
After you arrive, but before you start work, you need to set up a Tax File Number or "TFN." It's the Aussie equivalent of a Canadian SIN card number. You can apply for this in about 5 minutes online.
It will take some time to process, so I highly recommend doing this ASAP once you arrive!
You've probably heard that the cost of living in Australia is quite high, BUT rest assured, so are the wages. The national minimum wage currently sits at $17.70 an hour (for part-time or full-time workers 21 and over). However, there are a lot of factors that affect wage which were completely new to me. For example...
Penalty Rates = I love Australia. Seriously. They work to live, not live to work. Therefore, if you work on weekends your employer pays extra! How amazing is that. The actual rate was recently scaled down a bit, and a lot of people were pissed off, but personally I'm still stoked that penalty rates are even a thing.
Casual Rates = Get this. If you're not a full-time permanent employee, you get paid a higher wage! It's so logical, I can't believe Canada doesn't have this policy. This is super important for backpackers, who almost always get hired on a casual basis. The increased pay is meant to help counter the lack of benefits paid by the employer, as well as the unstable schedule.
Award Rates = Modern awards or award wages are standards of pay based on the sector or industry your job falls under. There are 122 categories of employment industries here in Oz. You can calculate what your pay rate should be here!
Make sure you get paid what you're worth! There are seedy employers around who take advantage of backpackers. If an employer doesn't ask for your TFN or Super preferences, they're not doing their due diligence! Check out the Fair Work Ombudsman for more deets.
UNLOCK YOUR damn PHONE
I never even thought about this before I left... Of course I bought out of my Canadian phone contract, but I didn't even think about the fact that it was locked to a Canadian network. There's a good chance that paying to unlock your phone AFTER arriving won't even be worth the cost of your phone. so PLEASE remember to unlock it before you leave home!
The major phone companies in Australia are Telstra, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile and Optus. Unfortunately, on the Working Holiday visa, you're not applicable to start a contract in Australia (you can't guarantee you'll be here for a full year or more) so pre-paid is definitely your best bet. Grab a pre-paid SIM from any of the carriers, gas stations or grocery stores.
As one of the world's top backpacking destinations, Australia has a bounty of budget hostels. Definitely opt for dorm-style rooms to save yourself some $$ and meet other travellers right away. A bed in the average 4-8 person dorm will set you back about $25-40 AUD per night in most major cities - and a private bed will be around $40-55 AUD nightly. Keep in mind hostels book up fast around the holidays - and will cost you nearly double. I've heard from other travellers that hostels in Sydney book up as early as October for the three weeks surrounding christmas. Make sure you arrange your accommodation early if you're planning to arrive in December or January!
set your work expectations to real
I ignored EVERYONE about this... I'm a bozo. Don't be me. Don't be a bozo.
Australia is very similar to North America in a lot of ways - because of that, it's easy to gather the impression that you're going to find the same work over here that you had at home. Despite my best efforts, I can confirm that's just simply not true.
Australian companies want to hire Australians. A Working Holiday Visa not only confirms that you are not Australian, it also implies that you're here to travel around and can't be relied on for corporate roles. Whether you were a makeup artist, journalist, architect or legal assistant at home, chances are that's not what you're going to be in Australia - at least not on this visa!
As you probably know by now, the 417 Visa restricts your working rights while in Australia. Although you're allowed to work in the country for 365 days, you're restricted to work no longer than 6 months for any individual employer. I was well aware of this while starting my job hunt, but I didn't realize how massive this obstacle would prove to be!
BUT I promise I'm not saying it's impossible to find work. Breathe!
What I am saying is that your expectations for work need to be realistic, or you will end up wasting so much precious time and money.
If I had a dollar for every corporate journalism/marketing role I applied for, I could buy a lifetime supply of Tim-Tams (and I probably would, they're actually so yum). After chatting to heaps of other travellers, those who had a breeze finding work chose one of three main paths.
1) Hospitality: If you're like me and you bleed coffee, then you're in luck! Ask any Australian if coffee is a big deal over here and they will give you a bloody confident "yes". Australia is a coffee snob culture, and with good reason; it's done well and it's cherished by locals. If you're setting your sights on any of the major cities, especially Melbourne, you're sure to see a cafe on every single street corner. The cool part is that they're usually not chains either. Australia is huge on one-of-a-kind hipster cafe's with serious character. Some super swanky shops won't hire anyone without years of Australian barista experience or even a barista certification course under their belt (CRAZY RIGHT!?). BUT there are plenty of small, family-owned cafe's that are happy to take on visa holders, as long as you can commit to a few months of early mornings and good ol' fashioned hard work.
Same goes for bar work. If you're living in any of Australia's major cities, restaurants and bars are filled with foreign workers. You'll have to jump online and complete an responsible serving of alcohol course (specific to which state you're working in.) These are pretty easy to complete and cost between $50-$150 depending on the state. Click here for more info! Keep in mind, bar work is almost always on a casual basis, meaning you'll be fighting for hours and likely only working evenings and weekends. Pros and cons folks!
2) Au Pair Work
I can't speak to any personal experience on this one, but, from what I've heard it can be a great gig. Working as a nanny in Australia gives you the chance to earn stable income while scoring very low living costs. Many Au Pair jobs are live-in, meaning you move into the families home and care for their little ones while the parents are at work. Au Pair jobs can be set up formally through agencies or more casually through job posting sites like Gumtree (Australia's version of Kijiji).
3) Call Centres
Working in a call centre was by far the highest-paying and most reliable gig I've had so far. The great thing about call centres is that they often take on extra short-term staff during busy periods; making the visa restrictions irrelevant. It wont be the most thrilling job you've ever had, but at $25-$28 an hour I highly recommend it!
Oh and one more thing on the work front!
Make recruiters your friends with benefits. Australia has a recruitment heavy employment culture. From big names like Randstad and Hudson to small one-off agencies, recruiters are huge players in the Oz job market. Learn more about how to cozy up to recruiters here!
& LAST BUT NOT LEAST
I reckon it's time to get bloody excited! Australians are some of the nicest, most fun-loving people in the world, so get prepared to have the time of your life mate!