Make Your Australian Working Holiday Work!

Trip Start Jan 13, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Saturday, July 21, 2012

A working holiday is the perfect way for anyone aged 30 and under to travel Australia. You have up to two years giving you plenty of time to mix the two aspects of this visa, working to fund the next adventure. Whether you plan to travel by air, bus, campervan, motorbike or foot (some people do…) you're going to need to earn those all-important dollars. And here’s how…

First of all you’ll need a visa!

The most reliable source of visa info is the government immigration website which at first can be a bit confusing as it lists hundreds of different visa types for every different situation you can imagine (including those for actors, those heading to Oz for medical treatment and those lucky buggers who have the option to retire in this beautiful country.) I’ll make it simple for you; if you’re looking for a Working Holiday Visa for Australia you’ll need either a Subclass 417 or Subclass 462 depending where in the world you are from. Check here to see which is the one for you.

The application costs $280AUD at the time of writing this and you can convert that here to find out how much that is in your currency. Be sure to apply in plenty of time; although I have known visa’s to be confirmed within a matter of 3 days I’ve also known it take a couple of weeks depending on individual circumstances (health conditions etc.) And don’t book your flight until you know your application has been approved…just in case.

Everything is electronic now so once you’ve been approved you’ll be sent a confirmation email to give the yay or nay. Keep this email safe. Print copies, leave one at home with someone you trust, staple one to your leg, tattoo the number on your neck…this is the most important document you now possess. That and your passport and the plane ticket you’ll need to get to the country in the first place. Now you can get excited.

(I have to mention at this point that although it isn’t a requirement of a working holiday visa I highly recommend getting travel insurance. There are long stay policies specifically for backpackers and long term travellers. Yes it may seem like an annoying expense at the time but you will thank yourself when you break both your legs and get bitten by a shark while trying to surf and need an emergency flight home to see your mum.)

So you made it to Australia and spent all of your money in the first month! Yay!

You’ve seen the Opera House, fed a kangaroo or wallaby type-thing, you may have even held a koala and your tan is looking pretty damn fine (I hope you’ve been using sunscreen.) Unfortunately all of this excitement is bound to take its toll on the bank balance; after all, Australia isn’t cheap when you haven’t been earning Australian wages! So, holiday’s over, this is where the working bit comes in. Here are some of my tips to make sure you get a job before you have to ask mummy and daddy to buy you a flight home or resign yourself to a life of prostitution and shoplifting…

Hello Jobseekers!

Get yourself a Tax File Number. You’ll need this so you can be taxed properly when you land yourself a job. Get more info and apply for your TFN here.

Time to job hunt! In my experience the best websites for jobs all over Australia are Seek and Gumtree. Looking for temporary contracts (usually 3 month assignments) is your best bet because with anything longer term, companies are unlikely to consider a 'traveller’ under the proviso that you’ll be driving off towards the horizon before they can file your tax forms. Some agencies specialise in this so it’s worth looking them up too. Also, never underestimate going old school and handing out copies of your CV…which, by the way, over here they call a résumé.

Keep your options open; Office/admin, bar work, waitressing, promotions, telemarketing, the dreaded fundraising job. You could head to the middle of nowhere and work in a roadhouse with very little to spend your money on - a very good saving tactic. Whatever you do you’ll meet some great people (probably a load of wankers too, being realistic) and see a different side of Australia to the one you see as a tourist. Did you know people in Sydney like to wear running shoes for the commute? I'm not even kidding. 

Know your visa restrictions!

You have to know them, because trust me, nobody else seems to. Plus you’ll come across as organised and sensible at your interview.

-         You can only work for one employer for a maximum of 6months. That includes full-time, part-time, casual, voluntary, anything!

ˇ         There are no restrictions on the number of hours you can work.

That is pretty much it but if in doubt, check the government immigration website.

You got the job!

Congratulations! You are awesome. Now don’t forget that copy of your visa you stapled to your leg, your employer will want a copy of that along with your passport, your tax file number, your bank details, a few blood specimens and a stool sample (just kidding…well, I suppose it depends what job you go for.) You’ll be handed a million forms to fill out and you’ll want to look like you know what you’re doing so here’s a couple of pointers

ˇ         On the red and white tax form you will be asked "Do you consider yourself as a resident for tax purposes?" This is entirely up to you and is nothing to do with your actual resident status. If you say yes you get taxed less. If you say no you get taxed more but can claim more back at the end of the financial year (June/July.) Some employers think they have the right to complete this section of the form for you, but they don’t, it is your choice. I choose to be considered as a non-resident because it’s like a compulsory savings account and I welcome the bonus when tax-return-time comes around.

ˇ         You will be asked to choose a superannuation fund. This is the Aussie version of a pension and your employer will contribute to it while you work for them. The company you are working for will have a standard super company they use so just go with that unless you’ve researched a particular one you want to go with (it makes very little difference to us travellers.) Remember the name of the company and your membership number once they send it out to you – you can use those details for future jobs so all of your superannuation is in one place, ready for you to claim back when you leave. Another bonus!


It’s very difficult to get a straight answer about the minimum wage here in Australia. It varies depending on the type of work. Sydney and Perth pay the highest and that is reflected in the cost of living. Adelaide wages are notoriously lower but again, that is reflected in your weekly shopping bill.

In Sydney you can expect to earn $22 - $25 an hour for anything office based, $35+ an hour for something more skilled like a graphic design or roles in IT. Fundraising and Telemarketing jobs pay $18 - $21 with waiting, bar work and retail paying anything from $17 upwards depending on the size of the establishment.

In Adelaide and other smaller cities I’d say knock off a few dollars an hour. I personally wouldn’t do any work for less than $15 an hour. Some companies are out to rip travellers off by not paying you through the books and avoiding tax, this also means you won’t have any tax to claim back later. I’ve known travellers work in small-scale fast-food joints for $10 an hour, no tax, no super. That’s a hard way to save money.


Don’t forget what you’re here for. Keep shoving those dollars into a savings account and remember to live thrifty even when you’re earning. Seek out the cheapest deals on accommodation and food and make the most of free activities where you are to entertain yourself on the weekends. Set a date to leave and aim for it.

Three weeks after landing in Sydney I bagged a temp contract with Bank of Queensland as an Internal Account Manager with a combination of little-to-no experience and what is considered a charming British accent. Vicky worked as a Card Support Officer for HSBC and three months later we left the rat-race and hit the road in $3,000 worth of campervan with about $6,000 in our back pockets. That is how you do Sydney!

In Part 2 of Make Your Australian Working Holiday Visa Work

ˇ        Getting that all important 2nd Year! 

            88 Days/3 Months? What’s the deal?
            The truth about Working Hostels.
            Can I really pay someone off to get my 2nd year? Should I?

ˇ         Getting your tax back!


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