After working in Italy for 8 months, I decided to go to Australia for a working holiday. What surprised me most was not how difficult it was, but just how easy.

It’s incredibly simple for many countries (including Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Canada and the UK) to get the Australia working holiday online. Assuming you have no previous criminal records, significant debt, or dependent others, all you need is your passport and credit card. Cha-ching!

Don’t Pay Anyone For Something You Can Do Yourself

I had been dreaming about making the move to Aus for many years, but I think what really pushed me was this article by blogger Kate from the States: Australian Work and Holiday Visa: the do it yourself guide, as well as her article on how she affords travel. Spoiler alert: she argues that done right, travel is actually cheaper than our overcomplicated lives at home (I agree).

She has an awesome, unglamourous, quick-and-dirty approach (when talking about flights: “just get there”) which I love. Being a pretty cautious Canadian gal, I had thought paying a company to help me get to Australia would be a good route, but after reading this post, I felt empowered to just do it my own way and figure it out from there.

It worked out pretty well, and I’m much better for it.

Ready for down-unda? Take a read-through and bookmark this guide for everything you need to know about getting your visa, getting to Australia, getting a job and making money in the luckiest country in the world!

Step 1: Get a Working Holiday Visa

Many countries can apply for the subclass 417 online, which gives you up to one year in Australia working in just about any job for any employer up to 6 months with each employer. Right now, the visa costs $440.00AUD and I received mine in less than 8 hours.

You must be at least 18 but not yet 31 years of age upon entering Australia, hold a valid passport from one of the eligible countries below, and you must be able to prove you have over $5,000AUD to fund your vacation in Australia (however I’ve yet to meet anyone who they actually checked).

Eligible countries for visa subclass 417:

  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Republic of Cyprus
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (including British National Overseas passport holders)
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Republic of Korea
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom

The countries above are also eligible to apply for a second-year visa in Australia! Just one catch: you have to work on a farm or other “specified” (read: undesirable) industry for 88 days. I’ll write more about this soon.

Americans and anyone with passports from the following countries should apply for subclass 462: Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, People’s Republic of China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, Uruguay. These countries are not eligible for a second year working holiday visa.

Step 2: Start Planning!!

For most of us, this is the most stressful step of the process! Where to begin? Australia is a huge country and you might only have one year (unless you do the second-year visa) to enjoy it.

A. Start by considering a few things:

  • When do you want to arrive? The time of year when you want to travel could affect WHERE you want to begin either for flights or weather or job opportunities. Summer is from December til march and is peak season in the south but rainy season in North Queensland. Winter, from May to August, in Sydney and Melbourne is much colder than you’d expect but quite pleasant in Queensland.
  • What kind of job do you want to do first? Farm jobs vs hospitality vs office jobs may also affect where you will begin. Check out the Harvest Line website to figure out where to be and when for which harvest (but keep in mind crops are weather-dependent). Hospitality jobs peak when the weather is good and the guests are plenty. There are heaps of tour agencies (HappyTravels, PeterPans, Wicked Travel etc) who seemed to be hiring outgoing sales people all the time.
  • How do you plan on moving about? This can be finalized while in Australia, but it’s something to keep in mind! Many people buy a van once they’ve made enough money (highly recommended), although another option is to take public transport. Some people mix between renting cars and busing.

B. Start with some kind of realistic budget that you can stick with. I read Nomadic Matt’s How to Travel the World on $50 a Day which has great tips for budgeting and what to expect with pricing in almost any country in the world.

As outlined in the book, it’s real tough to do Australia in $50 a day, but it’s possible! For my partner and I, I budgeted 100$ day (50$ each) for our road trip down the east coast and we ended up with way more money at the end than we’d expected.

Accommodation:

  • Hostels normally begin at $25/ night for a bed.
  • Campsites are often free but sometimes $10-30 night / vehicle.

Food:

davide cooking sausages at barbeque australia

Taking advantage of the free Australian barbeques.

 

  • Cook it yourself for as little as pennies per serving
  • Cheap meals in Aus: $7-15
  • Beer: 2-3$ each in store, 5+ in bar
  • Wine: “Goon”, or fortified box wine is especially popular with budget-conscious backpackers. It’s about $10 for 4L. There’s also plenty of cheap bottles for about $5.

Public transport:

  • Only really exists in big cities, but it’s about $3/ride
  • Buses between cities, I can’t really say, but I think your best bet is to buy a hop on hop off pass.

Sightseeing / activities:

 

group fun fraser island dingos 4x4

We went on some seriously memorable excursions like this group tour of Fraser Island!

This is where it gets crazy. Excursions are very expensive in Australia because they’re usually so awesome! But that makes it impossible for us average joes to do them all, so you’ll have to pick and choose if you plan on sticking to a budget. From horseback riding on the beach, skydiving, bungee jumping, surf lessons, overnight sailing, off-roading, helicopter rides … and that’s just skimming the surface. There are millions of trips to choose from! My best tip is to get yourself to a HappyTravels shop and talk to a sales agent. BE FREAKISHLY AWARE that they’re trying to sell you everything and they’re not your friend, but get as much info out of them on how to plan your time around Australia. What excursions are out there and start narrowing down what you want to do and when. They’ll help you by showing what packages are out there and how much they’re going for. Be fierce and shop around. Don’t say yes to the first offer you can usually get them down.

Also, check their “open dating” policies or change date policies. This comes in handy when you’re looking for an open schedule! Just keep I mind November to January tends to be peak season and spaces fill up fast. So even if you book your open ended ticket in June, you’ll still need to reserve your spot 3-4 weeks in advance.

Step 3: Book a Flight!

The Internet is over-saturated with information on this topic so instead of repeating it all, I urge you to check out these sites first:

If you find a great flight for a good price, check the airline’s website directly as well. Sometimes you can save a few bucks by booking with them directly!

The more flexible you are with your departure date, the easier it will be to find a flight in your price-range.

Step 4: Start Packing!

Packing for the big beautiful country of oz is tricky! It’s a massive country with wildly varying climates over the year. Plus, you might be planning on doing some speciality sports or activities that require equipment.

Many backpackers here have much bigger backpacks than in south-east Asia or Europe. There’s just so much more you need and replacing it can be expensive.

My rules when packing for myself:

  1. Pack as light as humanly possible – instead of bringing a regular bath towel, I brought a paper-thin micro fibre towel off of Amazon. Instead of carrying paper books, I downloaded ebooks and put them on my phone.
  2. Pack only the things you absolutely need, no “just in case” suits, ties or dresses.
  3. If you like to shop, pack old clothes and replace them with new ones as you go along.

General things to bring:

  • Running shoes for walking and sports
  • Bathing suit
  • Sunscreen (probably cheaper where you’re from)
  • Flip flops (aka Australian thongs)
  • Light summer clothes
  • Light rain jacket
  • Hoodie and sweater for cool Melbourne weather (yes, it does get cold in Aus)
  • A pair of jeans or two
  • Camera
  • Sunglasses
  • Refillable water bottle (easy to find water fountains but difficult to buy eco-friendly water bottle
  • Drivers licence
  • Student card (for student discounts)
  • Passport, duh
  • Smaller backpack for day trips
  • Shampoos creams makeups are all much cheaper in America so if you’re into that stuff make sure you stock up.
  • If you’re type-A about your smartphone and don’t want to buy a new one, bring an unlocked one in a beautiful protective case (like Lifeproof!)

Don’t bring:

  • Camping gear (your car might have it included or you’ll end up leaving it with the car. You can buy everything you need for cheap at Kmart or Supercheap Auto)
  • Surfboard (buy it second hand here)
  • Valuables (shit happens, man)

Step 4: When you get to Australia

SAMSUNG CSC

We were super stoked to get started on the Great Ocean Road.

Ok, now you’re now in the promise land! But hold your horses, before you get started you need to do some administration so you can get a job smoothly and be on your way.

A. Get a phone and Aussie SIM card. You have to do this first because the bank will need an associated telephone number. If you already have your phone, awesome, just buy a SIM card from the supermarket and plug it in! (You’ll need wifi from your hostel) If you need a phone too, go to a specialty store and see what they can do for you. Be aware that the coverage in Australia is patchy. Telstra is by far the most expensive, but it has the best coverage. I went with Boost which has the same coverage for less money and 1 extra GB every Sunday! However, the customer service is nonexistent and if you go over your data (which never happened) there aren’t any real add-on packages to choose from. Oh, and don’t try calling overseas. It will cost you a fortune just for a few minutes. Use WhatsApp instead.

b. Open a bank account. Even though I went with Westpac personally, I recommend CommonWeath Bank because it’s more backpacker-friendly and they have ATMs in Bali if you go there for vacation. They also have a Superannuation (‘super’) account included whereas Westpac does not. And you HAVE TO have a super if you work for a reputable company.

Just go to the bank with your passport and some money to deposit (usually minimum 50$). An associate should be able to help you out in less than 30 minutes.

C. Get your money to Australia. It could be cheaper to have your home bank transfer your money directly to your Australian savings account. It cost me $18 from Royal Bank of Canada and nothing from Westpac to do this, however, banks do not always have the best rate. I have also used CurrencyFair, but it takes a little bit longer.

D. Get a tax file number. Just apply online at Australia’s mygov website. They’ll provide it to you in 18 days, you’ll just have to give them a call. If you get hired before then, just tell your employer that you’re waiting for your number. No drama!

e. If you plan on working in hospitality, get yourself certified. To legally sell alcohol in Aus, you have to do an RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol). This varies greatly by location, each state has their own requirements. For example, you can do the Queensland RSA all online and it’s also valid in Western Territory, Northern Territory and South Australia. Whereas in Victoria, you have to do the test in a classroom unless you already have it in another state, in which you can do a refresher course online.

The Hospitality Institute of Australasia has a basic course for $18AUD, but I upgraded to the “Bartender” course at $24AUD which includes online lessons on wine, beer and cocktails.

Step 5: Start Applying for Jobs

Home sweet home - Port Douglas, where we lived and worked for 4 months in Queensland!

Home sweet home – Port Douglas, where we lived and worked for 4 months in Queensland!

Most people arrive in Australia and want a job so they can start earning money right away. I’ll assume that’s you. Whatever job you’re looking for, you’ll find it with the right amount of smarts, perseverance, and networking! I cannot stress this enough. A job isn’t going to fall on your lap, you have to get out there and talk to people! Print out those resumes and hit the streets. Checkout Gumtree.com (Australia’s Craigslist) for job opportunities. Maybe the city you’re in doesn’t have anything but the neighbouring beach town does. Whatever you do don’t give up!
Most backpackers are able to find two jobs or at least work at a hostel to avoid paying rent. This is a great way to jump-start your savings and get you on the road.

You will have to provide some kind of commitment to give them the incentive to hire you over everyone else knocking down their door. About 3-4 months is the minimum.

Be savvy when applying for jobs. These businesses have been used and abused by flakey backpackers in the past who have left overnight and never shown up to work. If you get a job offer, get it in writing right away. Don’t trust anything unless it’s written down, and most importantly, let’s repair our names as backpackers out there and just be honest and reliable!
If you don’t mind working for free while getting a great experience, I recommend checking out WOOF (Word Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) or Helpx, which are both fabulous organizations for connecting willing volunteers with those in need in exchange for room and board. It’s a fulfilling and fun experience to work with real, rural Australians and make great connections in the country!

Just be smart and have clear expectations before you arrive. If it feels like slave labour, it probably is. If they make you work 12 hours a day and treat you like shit, just say no.
Send me an email if you want to know more about farm jobs and getting your second-year visa!

Step 6: Know your workers’ rights!

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, but frankly, in Australia, you will get ripped off. Too many people know foreign workers are far more agreeable and don’t know their workers’ rights. Even though you are not a citizen of Australia, you are covered by basic minimum entitlements of pay, breaks, working hours, payslips, superannuation contributions, etc.

  • Manage your payslips. If you think you’re being underpaid speak up. Legally you should be receiving payslips with every payment.
  • Check online what you should be getting paid according to your job
  • Your employer must be making superannuation contributions WHICH YOU CAN CLAIM BACK! Check online from time to time.
  • Do not accept cash jobs for less than 15$/ hour
  • On your tax information sheet (which you will fill out when you get hired) say you’re a resident for tax purposes. If you’re in Australia for about a year it’s fine. *NOTE that I’m neither an accountant nor a lawyer, I’m just saying what I did. There is a lot of talk about a “backpacker tax” which means travellers will not be able to do this anymore. As far as I know, it has not been passed. If you’re confused, talk to people at the hostel or call the ATO (Australian taxation office). 
    This is the really sad part about finding work in Australia. It just isn’t fair. In fact, it’s very unlikely you’ll find a job that complies with all the rules. 

Step 7: Find Accommodation!

I assume you’ve already booked and been staying in a hostel while looking for jobs. That’s perfect! It’s a great place to start where you can make friends and start formulating your Australian working holiday. From there, some people try to get casual jobs at the hostel so they can save even more money by staying for free! You normally need to provide some kind of commitment as well.

If you’ve already found two great paying jobs, you might not want to live at a hostel anymore and want your own space. Check out Gumtree.com or AirBnb and start applying for a short term lease nearby.

 

That should be enough to get you started and on your feet in the land of Oz! There’s a lot of information here (and I haven’t even covered buying a car or finding travel mates) but I promise it will be so much less complicated when you go through it.
Australia is a fantastic country to do a year (or two) working holiday with seemingly endless opportunities for work, making friends and getting awesome new experiences. I spent 9 months in Australia and I wish I could have done the entire year! You’ll learn, grow, and carry these experiences with you for the rest of your life.

So what are you waiting for? Australia is out there! Good luck!

Maddie xo

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