Here I am at the end of my year-long Australia Working Holiday Visa. It’s been an amazing year; I’ve swum with whale sharks, seen humpback whales breaching, sailed around the Whitsunday Islands (and been paid for it!) and soaked up the sunshine on so many picture-perfect beaches. I’ve had a lot of fun and learned a lot since I wrote the ultimate guide to the Australian Working Visa 12 months ago.
Here I’ll share my top 10 tips for anyone taking up a working holiday visa for Australia.
This is easily my number one tip. At the ripe old age of 32 (hardly old, I know) you have limited opportunities to take up working visas in many places.
Countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada have an age limit of around 30 to apply for a working visa, so if you’re thinking about a year or two working abroad – you should get cracking in your 20’s, don’t wait. Into your thirties, your only other real options are being sponsored by a company, marrying (or living dependent with a resident), or possessing a skill that is in high demand. Sadly, as highly skilled as I think travel agents like me are, we don’t seem to be in high demand anywhere!
As a result of the latest federal budget in Australia, from July 2016 Working Holiday Visa holders will no longer be entitled to a tax-free threshold on their first $20,000 earned - a sign that Australia has started to tighten up on backpacker benefits.
I’ve also heard rumours that the second year working visa opportunity (offered once you’ve completed 3 months of regional work in your first year) will be restricted. This has yet to materialise, but there’s a feeling here that change is on the horizon. If you’re planning to work in Australia - keep an eye on the Immigration websites so you are always up to date with the latest news.
The truth is; it’s hard to do both. Before leaving the UK, I heard stories of how much money is to be made in Australia, with backpackers earning piles of cash to spend later on in their travels in cheaper destinations like Asia. I had this same hope, but I knew I also wanted to make the most of my time here.
My first job was in a beautiful, remote resort which was very much cut-off from civilisation. All my food and lodging was covered, so I was able to save money, but I soon tired of sharing a room (which is often what’s provided with resort jobs) and hungered for my own space and independence. I didn’t want to feel like I was living to work/saving or getting by on meals of 2-minute noodles.
So what actually happened is that I didn’t live in backpacker style; instead I rented my own ensuite room in a shared house, I ate well and I forked out for flights and a holiday to the Margaret River region of Western Australia to catch up with a friend. After that, I moved from Western Australia to the East Coast, which certainly ate into my savings.
In total I worked for 10 months of my 12-month visa, averaging 30 hours a week in what I would describe as fun jobs - a camp assistant at a beachfront resort, receptionist at a 5* hotel and as a hostess on sailing boats in the Whitsunday Islands. I still managed to save money, just not quite the fortune I’d anticipated!
The jobs I most commonly saw backpackers doing were in housekeeping, waitressing and bar work. If you have experience, these can be easy to pick up on a short-term basis as many traveller hotspots are accustomed to high turnover. My experience of bar work and waitressing entailed many breakages, so I decided this role wasn’t for me!
Keep in mind that your visa limits you to a maximum of 6 months with each employer and many places won’t consider you for a role if that role entails a training period. It’s hard for them to employ someone who will have to leave shortly after they’re trained up and performing well.
I had this experience when I applied for a reception job at a resort; they struggled with the fact that I the visa restricted me to working only for 6 months in any one position but gave me the job in the end. That said; if there a long-term resident applied for the same position, I think he or she would have been given preference.
When I left the resort, I had 2 months left on my visa and that is where I really struggled. I found even housekeeping jobs wanted at minimum 3-month commitment. In the Whitsundays, the first boat job I went for quickly replaced me when a long-term resident came along. I found something else in the end, but it’s worth bearing in mind that securing work isn’t always straightforward when you can’t commit to a decent time frame.
If you’re in Australia for a year, you probably want to work as much as you can. The points I made in my first blog about planning for your Working Visa still stand – especially to research the tourist season and plan ahead. My partner and I arrived in Airlie Beach in Queensland in December and we were fortunate in finding work relatively quickly. Had we arrived in winter I think it would have been a completely different story.
We also organised our CVs prior to our arrival and ensured we had plenty printed out ready to distribute. We walked through town and dropped our CVs into every tourist information centre, travel agent and boat company we could find. In my experience of small towns, this seems to work better than emailing a CV, or using recruitment websites like ‘Seek’. I think potential employers appreciate the personal approach and the fact you’ve made an effort to come and see them.
Although it might sound obvious - if you’re dropping in a CV in personally, it’s important to be well presented. I mention this because the manager of the resort I worked for spotted some backpackers handing me their CVs. He immediately discounted them without even reading their CVs, just because they strolled in barefoot. They were applying for housekeeping roles, so you may think that appearance may be less important, but it’s always good to smarten up and make a solid first impression just in case.
As a Working Holiday Visa holder, you’re entitled to claim back some of your tax from your time here – a welcome bonus at the end of the year!
Tax claims can be made through the ATO (Australian Tax Office), but the process is a little complicated and time-consuming. I decided to go through a tax agent who can be found at many of the travel agencies or online. They give you a simple form to complete which you submit with your pay slips. If you do not have copies of your payslips, they will help you chase them up. They charge around $200 for their service, but I think it’s worth it to take the hassle out of the process. The tax rebate will be deposited into your bank account roughly 6-8 weeks later, giving you and a little bonus for your spending money.
Many working holiday-makers forget they can also claim a ‘Superannuation’ refund. In Australia, once you earn above a certain threshold, your employer must contribute an additional 9% of your wages into a Superannuation fund. For Aussie residents, this is basically a pension contribution but for foreign workers, this will obviously never be used. We are therefore entitled to claim it back on leaving the country (unlike a tax rebate which can be refunded in June at the end of the tax year).
Again, these claims are best handled by a tax agent who will make the case that you have now left Australia for good and will never use the Superannuation contributions. I’m just about to apply for this, so I can’t comment much more on the process or amount of refund you receive. I’ve heard it is still taxed quite heavily by the Government, so maybe expect to get around 50% of your contributions back). That said, any money recouped is a bonus, so I think it’s worth the effort involved.
My year working in Australia has passed so quickly and I’ve had an amazing time. Applying for the Working Holiday Visa was a spur of the moment decision for me and I snuck in just before I was too old to apply. If you love the sunshine, an abundance of natural beauty and beach life, you’ll probably love Australia too. If you’re currently planning your year here, I envy you – you have some fun times ahead! As for me, I’m about to fly over to the Cook Islands to complete my Dive Master qualification; the first step into diving as a career as I have fallen in love with the ocean since I’ve been here. I’m hoping to find some resort work in the Cooks, as they often employ foreigners in these positions - wish me luck!
If you want to work in Australia – go for it! I know from my time working at Travel Nation that many of my former colleagues have lived and worked in Australia and New Zealand. They will be able to give you some practical recommendations when you book your trip and help you book flexible flights. To get planning – call one of the team on +44 1273320580 or request a trip quote by email.