Over 220,000 people a year are granted an Australian Holiday Working visa. And it’s no surprise with its stunning beaches, warm to sweltering hot temperatures all year around, varying cultures and a uniquely beautiful ecosystem – the Great Barrier Reef – off the shores of its east coast.
In fact, the Australian Holiday Working Visa is the most popular holiday working visa in the world – which allows you to travel the country for up to two years, work throughout your trip and re-enter Australia as many times as you like throughout its duration (think island hopping trips in South-east Asia too). With the country geared up to receive backpackers, and many like-minded travellers, it’s an option that a lot of people consider when intending to travel full time.
We recently joined the Holiday Working Visa bandwagon, having touched down in Australia on the 17th January. With everything now setup, a van bought and the road trip well underway, we thought we should share the things we wish we knew before we had arrived – to help the start of your Australian holiday working visa run as smoothly as possible.
Before you arrive
Before you arrive there will undoubtedly be a number of things you need to have in order. You’ll want to be sure that your visa and accompanying paperwork are correct, including travel insurance, Australian bank account (we’ll explain why setting one up before hand is better), and accommodation for at least the first month after you touch down on Australian soil.
The Australian Holiday Working Visa
The first and most important thing to set up is your Australian Holiday Working Visa, for obvious reasons if your intention is to arrive in Australia with a Holiday Working Visa. Depending on the country in which your passport was issued, you will either be eligible for: the Working Holiday Visa Subclass 417 and the Australian Work and Holiday Visa Subclass 462.
The Subclass 417 Visa and Subclass 462 Visa
We were eligible for the Subclass 417 Visa and, to be honest, the process was incredibly easy. After creating an account on the Australian Gov website we had to fill out the relevant application form, whilst making sure that we had all of the required evidence and enough funds to make the payment. Before we knew it we received an email saying our visa had been granted. Unfortunately, we don’t know how long it takes to acquire the Subclass 462 Visa.
For the Subclass 417 Australian Holiday Working Visa we had to provide evidence of employment, proof of funds, copies of our passports and two passport pictures. We also made sure to have this all printed out and to hand for when we landed in Australia incase we were required to confirm anything.
For the Subclass 462 Visa the same documents are required, though you may need to prove evidence of education and your level of the English Language.
What the visa lets you do
As the title of these visas suggest – Australian Holiday Working Visa – you are able to both travel and work in Australia. Of course, there are some restrictions when it comes to work, but if you’re here to get sand between your toes, experience the outback and dive amongst coral whilst perhaps getting a few hours in here and there, the restrictions shouldn’t bother you too much. With both of these visas you are able to work with an employer for up to 6 months, after that if you wish to continue working you’ll have to find new employment.
As for the holiday part, you can stay in Australia and soak up the sun on a year long holiday if you’ve saved enough money to support yourself. Take some time to visit all of the major cities, take the roads less travelled, and see some of the world’s most iconic sites. Take the year to chill out.
Alert Student Finance (For those in the UK)
If you went to university before leaving for your big adventure make sure you let Student Finance England know that you won’t be in the UK for a while, or you’ll end up with enforced repayments. The process is pretty simple, just give them a call and they send you an Overseas Assessment form to fill out and return along with the evidence required to show that you won’t be in the country for the year. You have to provide evidence of your visa, 3 months worth of bank statements, and you must let them know of any employment you’re currently in. You have to submit this form every year to update Student Finance on your situation, so bear that in mind if you plan to be out for longer than a year. Similarly, if you enter employment abroad, you must notify them.
Setting up an Australian bank account
We have decided to add this into the before you arrive section because we wish we had done this prior to our arrival! When you set up an Australian bank account in Australia, you have to pay the bank a monthly service fee – around $4 – to keep your account active. When we arrived we looked at biggest banks in Australia – Commonwealth and Westpac. We had seen online that the monthly service fee would be waived for 12 months for overseas visitors – perfect! However, it turns out that the bank account needs to be opened online and, crucially, before you arrive in Australia! So we missed out. Make sure you look at your banking options before you arrive and save yourself the fees. If you’re not working, saving those extra $4 a month may go a long way.
Once you arrive in Australia you’ll need to complete the application process and activate your account by heading down to the bank with your proof of identity and, If you’re from the UK, your NI number – be sure to jot it down before you leave home, we don’t suggest taking your NI card with you.
When you get to Australia you’ll probably want to stay in a hostel whilst you find your feet. This will be the cheapest option and it will allow you to meet fellow travellers who can answer any travel – or life – questions you may have. It’s also useful for finding some tours and getting a sense of where you want to head to on your trip as you hear stories from fellow travellers.
When looking for hostels we use a site called HostelWorld. It’s super easy to use – enter the town, amount of people and dates your looking to be at a certain location and a list of available hostels will appear. You can see pictures, check out their amenities and read reviews from other travellers.
We recommend staying in one town and having your hostels planned out for about a month. At the start, you’ll have to go through a bit of admin, which can take anywhere between 7-27 days to complete – letter, cards etc will need to be sent.
Once you’re in Australia you’ll notice that a lot of hostels allow people to work for stay. If you’re looking to save some money this may be a good option to consider.
When you’re travelling long term, moving around all of the time, and don’t have a permanent base, getting travel insurance is so important. Travel insurance won’t just cover you in case anything happens, but will also cover your belongings in case they are lost or stolen. There are a number of Travel Insurance companies out there but be careful, some of them require a return ticket to purchase. When we were looking for cover we didn’t have a return ticket, in fact we still don’t. We don’t know where we will be coming home from or what route we want to take. Luckily we found True Traveller Insurance. We were able to insure ourselves, our laptops and our cameras for the entire year, without the need for a return ticket.
‘Do I have enough money?’ is the usual kind of anxiety inducing thought that can leave you umming and ahhing even before you get to tourist information desks, Australian supermarkets and bars where you reach for that fresh, shiny and newly issued Australian bank card.
Before even setting a foot in the country, you are required to have, at least, around $5000 of available funds. When you arrive, if you’re smart with your money, it can last you a while. Though this isn’t something that should worry you too much. There are plenty of opportunities to earn and save as you go along. We recommend that you have, at the very least, enough funds to get you home in a case of emergency.
When you get to Australia
Once you touch down in Australia there are a few things to get out of the way, which will help you further down the line. We managed to get everything on this list ticked off in the first week so we could start our adventures quickly and without a worry.
Tax File Number(TFN)
An Australian Tax File Number is a unique identifier in the tax and super records for those working and living in Australia. Whilst it is not compulsory to have a TFN when working, it will save you from overpaying tax and allows you to possibly claim back some of the tax you’ve paid when you leave or head home. It’s worth doing even if you don’t think you’ll be working – you never know if you’ll need to.
You can set up your tax file number online in a matter of minutes. You will then receive your tax file number in the post within 28 days.
Medicare is a scheme you’re welcome to join if you’re on an Australian Holiday Working Visa. We do recommend joining this scheme. With it, you can go to certain practices without having to pay doctors fees and could even get some medication fee-free if it’s medicare reclaimable. For those of us who come from the UK, it’ll be like having the NHS lite for your peace of mind.
To set up your medicare account you need to find your local medicare office. Head down to the branch with all of your documents, and collect and fill out a form. You’ll then be seen by a Medicare officer who will check everything over and add you into the system. Whilst it can be a lengthy process, it is relatively straightforward.
When you go to the Medicare centre you’ll need to take your passport, your visa, and an Australian bank account so that they can open your medicare account. You’ll also need to have a postal address to which Medicare can send mail to, incase you make a claim. This address must be somewhere that your mail can be picked up from and will not be returned to Medicare throughout your stay. It could be a friends address or a family member; it can also be anywhere in Australia, you just want a safe place for your mail to land. If Medicare mail is returned to sender it could put your account on hold – it takes a lengthy process to remove the hold.
Once all setup, your Medicare card will take around 27 days to arrive, but you can start using your account and a digital Medicare card right away by downloading the app.
Where would most of us be without our phones, right? Phone contracts of some kind may come into question. The big competitors in Australia are Optus, Vodafone, and Telstra. You can get pay as you go options, monthly rolling contracts, and 12 month contracts. If you choose to take out a contract rather than opting for pay as you go you’ll need to show your passport and visa when setting it up.
We opted to get one contract to share on Optus, and one pay as you go sim on Telstra. We did this to try and save money, and get as much internet as possible. Our Optus contract is $40, which we split between the two of us. It gives us 15GB of data – we use this for Google maps and accessing the internet when there is no wifi – and it gives us unlimited Netflix and Spotify streaming, so we never have to worry about using all of our data watching films or listening to the latest roadtrip playlist. Our Telstra sim is just a pay as you go which we need to top up every 3 weeks or so. Telstra apparently receives more signal than any other provider throughout Australia, so it’s kind of an emergency sim if we venture quite far out of Optus range. The perks are that we can use free and fast Telstra air hotspots, which are dotted around all of the major cities, which is a touch when you’re not living somewhere that has wifi.
Setting up a post box
We found out out that you can set up an Australia Post post box for free and have your parcels or mail sent there. As we knew we would be moving around we thought this was the perfect option for us in case we needed to buy anything online. Once your Australia Post account is setup you can change your delivery destination when needed. If we knew we would be in a different location in 3 weeks, and something took that long to be delivered we could just allocate a postal box in that location and have it sent there for no extra cost.
Finding fixed-term temporary accommodation
If you decide you absolutely love a city and want to spend a bit longer there then looking at fixed-term accommodation may be the cheapest option for you – and it will stop you having to move every couple of weeks from hostel to hostel. Once you’re moving around traveller circles you may hear people looking for roommates. There are sites like Flatmates which list vacant rooms throughout Australia. Alternatively you can look for long term house sitting on sites like Australia House Sitters.
Flybuys and Woolworth Rewards
This last one isn’t a must, but it may end up saving you a little money in the long run. Two of the biggest supermarkets around Australia are Coles and Woolworths. Both use different rewards cards and give you either money off or vouchers when you shop in their stores. The Flybuys card works in Coles and other stores such as Target and Liquorland. The physical card will take a few weeks to arrive in the post, but you can start using your rewards card straight away by downloading the app.
Getting Around The Cities
Local transport such as busses and trains are great when you’re in a city. They will get you to where you need to be and aren’t too expensive. You can either buy paper tickets or a plastic travel card which you top up when needed. However, whilst these busses and trains are great in the cities, these won’t get you from city to city. For that you’ll have to look at different modes of transportation.
Getting from City to City
For backpackers the Greyhound bus is a popular option – really it’s the only option of its kind, which is both good and bad. They have many routes running throughout Australia with an option to buy hop-on, hop-off tickets, and can also provide you with tours of some of Australia’s renowned landmarks. Getting from one place to another can be quite costly with one way tickets. If this is your selected mode of transport for the year, be sure to look at hop on, hop off tickets that come with a set KM travel limit.
Domestic flights in Australia are popular and relatively cheap if you buy them at the right time. However, you must remember that with domestic flights you only get 20KG baggage allowance. If you came over on an international flight with 30KG, you’ll need to lose or store 10KG somewhere for a while.
Renting a Car
Renting a car is another great option to get from city to city. It allows you to experience the great open road without having to commit to buying a car. If you’re only thinking of driving around for a few weeks to tick the most iconic road trips off your bucket list – The Great Ocean Road etc. – then this would be a fuss free solution. However if you want to drive as much of Australia as possible and camp around at some of the beautiful National Parks then buying a car or campervan could be a more cost effective option.
Buying a Car / Van
We knew that when we got to Australia we wanted to buy a van and drive around the coast of the country – yup we want to drive from Cairns to Western Australia around the entire coastal regions of the island. We knew this option wasn’t going to be cheap if we rented a vehicle, so instead we bought one. The plus side is that the money you invest in the start will come back to you when you sell it on afterwards.
Extending the Visa
On both Australian Holiday Working Visas you can choose to extend your stay from one year to two. However, this isn’t an easy tick-a-box-on-an-online-form kind of option, you need to work for it. If you want to extend your visa you’ll need to get yourself some farm work, which has to last 3 months. The rules are slightly different for each visa. You will also need to complete this work within the first 12 months of your first visa to be granted the next 12 months.
Side note: We met a fellow travellers in our first hostel who had just completed her farm work. She informed us that the creepy crawly and croc horror stories aren’t as bad as we imagined.
Go through an agency to find the work rather than Gumtree – there are a lot of scams on there. Or take a look on job boards like the Backpackers Jobs Australia Job Board. If you find the right work placement you’ll be able to go away with more amazing memories and possibly some friends for life.
Australia is a great destination for a Holiday Working Visa, and you won’t regret it. We are loving our time here – the weather, the open road and the stories we’re accumulating. We will continue to update you all on our adventures as we go along.
Feature image: The shores of Magnetic Island, off the coast of Townsville, Queensland, Australia – Photo by Luis Carrillo Coello