How to find a job in Australia on a working holiday
There’s nothing like Australia, the land Down Under is a huge and diverse continent, unlike any other. Due to the stunning natural scenery and iconic sights Australia is top of many bucket lists and rightly so with such a range of experiences. From hip cities to sacred rocks, from the world’s oldest rainforest, the largest reef, miles of endless beaches and dusty red outback roads with unique animals not found anywhere else.
But Australia is an also an expensive place to travel and long distances quickly eat up your hard earned cash. If you’re from an eligible country and aged between 18 and 30 then a year’s Australian Working Holiday Visa could be your ticket to swapping cold, grey skies with epic experiences under the Australian sun.
It would take a lifetime to see all of this vast and expensive country, but a years Working Holiday Visa can be the perfect way to fund your travels and spend a year immersing yourself in the Australian culture. But it’s not all sun, sea, sand and kangaroos in Australia, earning some money will probably be a top priority during your time in this expensive country but fortunately most backpackers can expect to earn AUD$20 – 25 an hour! (the minimum wage is $16.87 hour) But finding a job is not always straight forward.
So after my own life changing year down under, I share my experiences and what I wish I had known before my working holiday. It’s a long post so if would rather all this information, and so much more, is included in my FREE Backpacker’s Guide to a Working Holiday in Australia that you can download.
Apply for an Australian Working Holiday Visa
In order to work in Australia you will need an Australian Working Holiday Visa (you need to be between 18 – 30 from an eligible country, be in good health, have no criminal record or accompanying dependent children and have enough money to support yourself initially) Visa requirements vary for each country so check your eligibility for a working holiday visa here
Applying for the Australian Working Holiday Visa is often a really simple online process, being from the UK mine only took 30 mins to be approved! (If your from the US check out this post- A guide to getting an Australian work visa for Americans) But it’s best to allow 4 weeks for approval. To avoid any extra fees it’s best to go straight to the Australian immigration website directly to avoid paying any agent fees that are so unnecessary as usually it is such an easy process. (Some companies can add on £85 for just filling out a few easy forms!)
Once your visa is approved you have a year to enter Australia to activate the visa.
Save some money
Even though you are going to Australia to work it doesn’t come cheap. Don’t arrive broke! Australia is an expensive place, but don’t let this put you off as once you start earning Australian wages things feel a lot more affordable.
You can’t guarantee that you will get a job in the first week and it’s no fun being on the other side of the world with no money so arrive with some savings behind you.
Save enough to cover your flights at least £500 one way from UK or $800 from USA, the AUD$420 visa fee ( £227 / US$ 365 ) and bear in mind that you may be asked to show proof of funds in the form of a recent bank statement, from AUD$5000 ( £2700 / US$4,350 ) if you arrive on a return ticket and enough additional funds, approx AUD$7000, to purchase a flight home if you arrive on a one way ticket.
Get to Australia!
This may sound obvious but usually there is little point trying to arrange work before you arrive in Australia, employers simply won’t take you seriously and they will want you to be in country and ready to be interviewed and start as soon as possible. Being flexible with the date that you fly can save you a lot of money. I use Skyscanner to search for the cheapest day out of the whole month to fly.
Call your Aussie relatives or friends
Now is the time to call up your long lost, twice removed Aunt or any friends of a friend who moved to Australia and find someone to stay with for the first week. If you can it will help you settle in a lot easier, save you money, and you’ll be relieved to have a friendly face at the other end of a hellishly long flight. Also, having a relative or friend to stay with should give you an all important address to use that will make it a lot easy to get all the paperwork in order to start your job hunt. If you don’t have a relative then book yourself into a hostel, not only will you save money but you will also make loads of new friends and many can even help you find a job or if money is really tight then check out these.ways to get free accommodation.
Before you arrive in Australia you can get your resume and covering letter prepared like you would for applying for any other job. I found the Australian job market and application process to be less formal than the one the UK. Australian’s like your resume (CV) to have a photo and I also found it useful to make my resume less formal, more brief and straight to the point. Make it easy for employers to clearly see your relevant experience for the jobs you are applying for. Job competition can be tough as there are many backpackers going for the same jobs so try to make your resume stand out.
Get your paperwork in order
So by now you already have your Australian Working Holiday Visa. It is possible to get a starter pack from companies like STA Travel who will sort out your documents (for a fee of course!) but it’s not too difficult to do yourself, especially if you can sort out somewhere to stay for your first week.
Bank Account and Tax File Number
You will need to set up an Australian Bank Account for your future employer to pay your wages into. With the Commonwealth Bank you can do this before you arrive in Australia but its also pretty easy to just walk in to a branch with your passport and an address to open a bank account.
You will also need a TFN (Tax File Number) so that you don’t pay too much tax. You can find out more information about this and apply online here but you have to wait until you are actually in Australia and it takes a week or 2 to arrive in the post.
If you’re a tradie you will do well in Australia so make sure you bring relevant qualification certificates with you, although you may need to take extra courses to met the Australian standards so it’s best to research your industry before.
Responsible Service of Alcohol
A popular job for backpackers is working in hospitality. If you want to work in a bar or restaurant or somewhere where alcohol is served you will need an RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) qualification. It differs from state to state but most of the time can be completed easily online in just a few hours.
Apply for your Medicare Card
Australia has a reciprocal health agreement with other countries like the UK entitling you to apply for a free medicare card. Just go into the local medicare office and apply but bear in mind that if you need to visit the doctors you will need to go to a practice that does ‘bulk billing’ or you may still need to pay. In some towns, like Mackay where I worked, it was near impossible to find a practice that bulk billed, they were all private but its definitely worth getting your medicare card. It’s also a good idea to have travel insurance as well as medicare isn’t quite the same as the NHS and it doesn’t cover everything.
You’ll need an Australian mobile phone sim card and number so future employers ( and new friends) can contact you. If you get your phone unlocked before you leave home then you will most likely be able to put an Australian sim card in to your existing phone without having to buy a new phone. Telstra has the best network coverage – the others are very patchy outside the major cities.
The downsides to the Working Holiday Scheme
The Australian Working Holiday Visa is designed to “allow young people to have an extended holiday supplemented by short-term employment.” It is not the right visa for you if you plan to come to Australia to work permanently, although there is the option to extend to 2 years if you complete the 3 months regional work (I’ll go into more detail on this later) and people have been known to get jobs on WHVs and then gain sponsorship for residency but securing a permanent residency visa can be a complicated and costly process.
With this in mind there are limitations to what work you can do. Officially you are only allowed to work for any 1 employer for a maximum of 6 months. Officially you can do any sort of work but actually many employers will not treat an application from a working holiday visa holder seriously, unless you have an in demand occupation like a nurse or trade qualifications.
Some backpackers have created a bit of a bad reputation for working holiday visa holders due to being more interested in drinking and partying and not being responsible, hard working or reliable; add the fact that you can only legally work for one employer for 6 months and perhaps it’s not surprising that many employers are simply not interested in employing backpackers for only a few weeks before they move onto the next job. Remember, you may be in Australia and want to party but a job is still a job wherever it is and needs to be treated professionally.
Don’t come to Australia thinking of it as a career move, due to some of the limitations mentioned above it may be difficult to get a job in a higher than entry level position or in a field that is unrelated to your previous experience as employers don’t want to put in the training only for you to move on in 6 months. For example, a friend of mine moved from the UK where she held a managerial position in a blue chip company only to move to Australia to work as a part time bar maid in Melbourne. Of course there are always exceptions and some backpackers have gained sponsorship and made Australia their permanent home but just be aware that it doesn’t come easy. Australia may be called ‘the lucky country’ but the path isn’t always smooth sailing.
Finding a Job
Be open minded and flexible to maximize your chances of finding a job in Australia. Knowing the limitations, and the reluctance of many employers to recruit working holiday visa holders, it’s probably best to focus your efforts on ‘backpacker jobs’ especially in a field that you already have experience in back home. There are several websites that specialise in jobs for backpackers where the employers advertise jobs that they are happy receiving applications from backpackers.
You could start your job search by trying the following websites:
Also, don’t be afraid to call up or take in your resume into local businesses like pubs, restaurants, hotels, shops and farms and ask to speak to the manager. You have a better chance of beating the competition from other backpackers and getting the job if you make contact rather than just emailed over your resume. Show that you are responsible and committed, that you will stick around for a while as many employers will want you to stay and work for 3 months to make it worthwhile employing and training you and it goes with out saying to try and look as professional as you can if you are going in on spec.
Also ask around, some jobs aren’t advertised so try asking friends, relatives or other backpackers for a recommendation, sometimes in Australia it’s about who you know and a recommendation could be enough to get you a job and Australian’s are generally friendly folk that will try and help you out.
Get to know the locals
Working in Australia is the perfect way to really get immersed into Aussie life and get to know locals rather than just hanging around with other backpackers. Make an effort to find Aussie friends, they are best ones to introduce you to the Australian culture and show you off the beaten track places. Working in a rural pub in the heart of a country community was a highlight of my year in Australia.
Don’t let employers take advantage
Don’t get taken advantage of or fall for a scam. You also shouldn’t have to pay to find a job. Beware, there are employers that will try to take advantage of backpackers and there are a plethora of jobs that expect you to work just for food and accommodation or to work on commission only sales or charity door knocking jobs. I’ve heard of people taking on sales positions that are commission only or jobs in ‘fly by night’ businesses, like make shift tele sales or call centers, only to work for a few weeks and then find the rented offices cleared out and they haven’t been paid.
Know your rights, AUD$16.87 is the standard minimum wage in Australia (approx US$15 or £9.30) and most backpacker type jobs should pay around AUD$20. Some employers will try to get away with paying less than minimum wage so know the law and don’t accept anything less.
If you are working in a city a huge chunk of your wages will go on rent and food, leaving little money to save towards adventures in Australia.
You might be dreaming of a job overlooking Sydney Harbour but the reality is that many of the backpacker friendly jobs are out of the towns and in remote or outback hotels, roadhouses, farms or cattle stations. Australian’s don’t necessarily want these remote jobs so it becomes the realm of the backpacker. So to save money my main tip is to go rural. Be prepared to be cut off from shops, bars, buses, amenities and even mobile phone signals but, as many of these jobs will be live in, this comes with the advantage of being able to save a good chunk of money.
Finding a ‘live in’ job in hospitality or childcare that includes accommodation and food plus wages is your best bet if you want to save money for future travels and with free stopovers in Asia wouldn’t it be a waste to come all this way and skip experiencing the allure of Asia! Working a ‘live in’ job in a remote, country pub, road house or as an au pair is a relatively easy way of saving money to further your travels in Australia and a great way to get to know lots of new Aussie friends and many include food and board plus wages and as there are no parties, shops or anything to spend your hard earned cash on you could save a lot of money in no time. I saved $15000 working for 6 months in a pub in rural Queensland which was enough to pay for my half of a campervan and travels in South East Asia!
Getting a 2nd year Australian Working Holiday Visa
If you hold a subclass 417 visa you can apply for a 2nd year Australian working holiday visa if you complete 3 months (88 days) of regional work in a specified industry. Be aware that unfortunately this does not apply to American’s ( and other 462 visa holders) as they are not currently able to apply for the 2nd year visa meaning that American’s can’t renew for the further year. The Australian government states the requirements for the regional work:
Specified work is work that is undertaken in a ‘specified’ field or industry in a designated regional area. Please see the section on Regional Areas below to check the postcode list of designated regional areas.Approved industries for specified work include:
Taken from www.immi.gov.au.
The job hunting waters get even murkier when you are trying to get the 3 months (88 days) regional work. Employers know how much you want that 2nd year in Oz and can take advantage of this, meaning that the majority of 2nd year visa qualifying jobs are now voluntary. With so many backpacker’s desperate to do their regional work, getting paid a fair wage for a hard days work is unfortunately becoming difficult to find.
Many farm jobs are voluntary and the only payment is food and accommodation. To get a 2nd year visa I worked in the boiling heat from 6am – 9pm 6 days a week on a horse stud only to be housed in a caravan with horrendous bed bugs. The farm owners were horrible, there were no paid, full time staff, just backpackers volunteering, they totally took advantage and when I complained about the conditions they refused to sign off the work done toward the second year visa.
Another option is fruit picking, a hard job of which a lot is again done on a voluntary basis or paid a pittance by the weight picked. It helps if you have your own transport and you will need to be in the right place and the right time, try the Harvest Guide for information on the seasons and type of fruit picked but there is so much competition for 2 year visa qualifying jobs that it is really an employer’s market which again allows them to take advantage.
There are also agencies that help to find farm work but will charge a fee and working hostels but these will charge you above the odds for a bed in a shared dorm that takes a large chunk from your small pay packet. Working Hostels have been known to ask guests for a months deposit and then not come up with any work offers or make people wait for 2 weeks for a few days work, whilst all the time you are paying for the over priced bed of course!
Make sure the job meets the requirements
Before accepting a job check that the postcode, industry and nature of the work meet the visa requirements and that the employer is able to sign off the 2nd Year Visa to avoid wasting your precious time. Hospitality jobs in country pubs, hotels or roadhouses in regional areas do not count and strictly speaking neither does work as a cook or au pair on a cattle station but some people have still been known to qualify in these jobs.
Put simply, employers know that you really want that second year visa which increases the chances of scams and bad practice and makes the changes of securing a decent, paid job quite difficult.
Get your own set of wheels
There’s nothing like the thrill of the open road and the ultimate freedom to explore Australia on your own four wheels. Apart from the epic road trips and getting off the beaten track, having your own transport can really help you to get a job in a rural area. Having a car will make you less vulnerable to be taken advantage of if you are the middle of nowhere with no public transport, plus it enables you to be more independent and get around to explore on days off. If your driving license is not in English then obtain an international driving license before you leave.
Thinking about buying and owning a car or campervan in Australia can seem confusing and costly at first but it really is a great option and not too difficult. Owning a campervan was really a highlight of my year in Australia and enabled me to see a whole lot more of amazing Australia. For everything you need to know check out this excellent ultimate backpacker guide to buying a campervan for your Aussie road trip!
An added plus of owning a camper van is that it is your accommodation and transport in one! You can park up at free campsites, sleep in the van and save money on accommodation. If you can sell the vehicle at the end of your trip then you’ve just got yourself free transport and accommodation for the duration of your trip, only paying out for fuel (and maybe factor in some repairs too if it’s an older vehicle!)
Don’t forget to explore Australia!
It’s easy to get stuck into the routine of work or tempted to work as much as possible to save more money for future travels. But don’t work so much that you forget to do the very things you came all the way down under to do. You can sit in an office, graft away on a farm or work behind a bar anywhere, make time to explore the magnificent Outback, dive the Great Barrier Reef, soak in the glorious views of iconic Sydney, drive the Great Ocean Road, learn to surf or cuddle a koala. Make some everlasting Aussie memories.
Get your Tax and Superannuation Refunded
Did you know that when you leave Australia you can often apply for a refund of some of your tax and superannuation back. The average tax refund for working holiday makers is thought to be about AUD$ 2,600 and AUD$ 3,380 for superannuation refunds. That’s a nice injection of funds for your next gallivant and you should make sure to check out amazing (and amazingly cheap!) South East Asia before heading back home.
It can be a bit tricky to navigate the system on your own but it would be worth doing. There are companies that specialise in helping people get their tax back like Taxback.com. If you get in touch with them they can guide you through the process and help you sort it out, even if you have already left Australia.
Good Luck Down Under!
There is more to job hunting on an Australian Working Holiday Visa than the glossy magazines and adverts may tell you but don’t be put off though!
Use your common sense and there are still jobs in Australia that allow backpackers to have the time of their lives, make new friends, learn new skills and really get to know this amazing country and to also save enough money to fund further travels.
If I did it so you can you, make the leap and get out there while you can, you won’t regret the experience of a lifetime. Check out my Highlights of a year in Australia if you need any more convincing to head Down Under and start on your own Aussie adventure.