If you want to really experience Australia, with plenty of time to swim in the surf, spot koalas in eucalyptus trees and gobble juicy barbecued prawns at night, perhaps a year-long stay might appeal.
By visiting Australia on a working-holiday visa, you can earn Aussie dollars to fund your travels, soak up the culture for longer and enjoy more unforgettable Australian experiences.
If you’re age 18 to 30 (or, in some cases, up to 35 – the program has made some post-pandemic changes) from an eligible country (like the UK, USA, Canada, most Western European and Scandinavian countries, plus Japan, Taiwan and Korea) and have no dependents, for AU$510 ($355) you can apply for a Working Holiday visa that allows you to work for a year in Australia. You are entitled earn the same amount of money as an Australian worker and have the same rights.
If you want to stay a second year, working in certain rural areas or specialist industries during your initial year lets you stay on. Yet there are also some common misconceptions and pitfalls to avoid.
Here’s all you need to know to get best experience possible out of your time Down Under.
Why you should consider a working holiday
It’s easy to overlook the “work” part of a working-holiday visa and concentrate instead on the “holiday.” Yet there are loads of rewards that come with working overseas – and they might even be better than going on vacation.
Sophie Schmitt, a traveler from France to Australia, told us she picked fruit and took care of children on her Australian working-holiday visa. Her experiences benefited her beyond seeing the country. “The best thing is you meet other travelers out on the farm, and then you meet them again down the track,” she says. “There is a sense of community. People share tips. It’s better than just a holiday.
“Working gives you the opportunity to stay longer and discover more. You’re throwing yourself out there, and you learn! It changed my life. When I returned to France, I realized I can find a job anywhere because I thought, ‘I was traveling and working for that long. I can do anything.’ It was the best thing I did for myself.”
Makoto, from Japan, worked in a Japanese restaurant in Sydney, and also picked fruit and helped teach archery to Japanese kids at weekend camps. He says he loved the Australian work culture. “Making friends and going out with them makes it a good experience here. Everything is so amazing for Japanese people because it is so different from our culture. You have to do everything by yourself – no friends, no family – but even this is a good experience,” he explains.
How much money you should expect to earn in Australia
Maddy Busch from a YHA in Sydney told us that a lot of travelers are surprised by how much they get paid in Australia for such laboring work as painting or gardening.
“Casual workers are often paid around AU$25 an hour” – the national minimum wage is AU$21.38 per hour – “although you do have to balance that with the cost of living. It’s a lot higher here in Australia than some people realize,” she warns.
Award wages vary by industry and occupation. Employees in some types of work, such as hospitality, are paid an extra “penalty rate” for working on Saturdays or Sundays. Regardless of your nationality, anybody working legally in Australia is entitled to the minimum wage for that job. To ensure you’re being paid fairly check with the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
Be aware that the post-pandemic rental-property shortage, even in rural areas, eats into every worker’s take-home pay. Before accepting a position somewhere new, be sure to check on housing availability. If you’re offered free accommodation as part of gig, don’t be afraid to ask for photos so you know what to expect since standards can vary, whether you’re doing farm work or nannying for a family.
What jobs can I get on an Australian Working Holiday visa?
Travelers working in Australia often take roles in retail, hospitality, childcare and farming industries. Prince Harry loved his three months mustering cattle on Tooloombilla Station in outback Queensland.
Matt Heyes, founder of Backpacker Job Board, tells us that one of the site’s more unusual postings has been a gig for male models to promote beachwear in Sydney. “If sporting budgie-smugglers on Bondi Beach isn’t your style, perhaps you’d like yacht-sitting in Queensland, or being the office manager for a 75-year-old family-owned pearl farm instead?
“We regularly receive ads for pedicab drivers [cyclists] in Cairns. And there’s always big demand for staff to work at some of Australia’s many high-profile sporting and music events – be it for cricket, tennis, AFL or visiting international music artists. These kinds of jobs offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a part of a unique event,” he explains.
“Currently, we have a massive lack of chefs in Australia and so we’re experiencing our biggest surge in ads for qualified chefs across all aspects of the hospitality sector, anywhere from the cities to regional and remote Australia.”
Tips for finding work
- Think about all the employable elements you could bring to a job, such as a driver’s license, technology skills or experience in teaching or coaching.
- If you are going to work in hospitality where alcohol is served, you will need to earn a Responsible Serving of Alcohol beforehand. This is required in all six of Australia’s states.
- Consider carefully what you are physically willing to do. Note: mango tree sap hurts!
- Get help editing your résumé to make sure it reads easily and well, especially if you’re not fluent in English.
- Ideally, arrive with some savings so you don’t feel compelled to take the first job you see, or something you don’t truly want to do.
Fruit-picking work in Australia
Queensland offers the greatest variety of fruit and plants to pick, including avocados, cotton, custard apples, mangos and melons.
Sophie worked picking bananas in Queensland with a friend. “Bananas? Never in my life again,” she says. “We were handling machetes from 5am till midday to avoid the heat, but we were so completely knackered by midday that we didn’t want to do anything else.”
She also picked lychees. “Green ants would attack us, and they hurt!” Sophie warns. “Do your research and talk to other travelers on the road before taking a job.”
Makoto worked a couple of hours outside of Cairns. “I know many people who did picking on a farm and gave up because it is so hard. But if you are lucky, you can get good money. I got lucky and got some easier jobs on the farm like packing the fruit and driving the tractor.”
I’ve been offered commission or “piece work” rates. Is that OK?
Workers can agree to accept “piece work” rates, which means the minimum wage won’t apply. Instead, you are paid by the amount you pick, pack, prune or produce. If you work hard, you can make good money – but there can be factors outside your control which may impact your bottom line.
Some jobs will offer you a commission pay structure based on how much you sell. Combining commissions and/or piece rates with an agreed minimum hourly rate will ensure you take home something even on a bad day.
Make sure the job terms are in writing, not just verbal. Even an email can help make everything clear, including when you’ll be paid for the job.
Want to stay a second year in Australia?
If you want to stay a second year in Australia, it pays to think your plan through early. If you work three months in an approved industry in your first year, you can apply for a second working-holiday visa – and can then work anywhere you like in the country. By making such a first-year commitment, you will also get to enjoy Australia’s best asset: its natural beauty.
The most common types of eligible “specified” work that will enable you to get the coveted second working-holiday visa include jobs in fruit picking, fisheries, construction, bushfire recovery, mining and tourism in more remote areas.
Tips for extending your stay in Australia
- Check the latest requirements on the Department of Home Affairs.
- Keep pay slips and any evidence of work you do. You will need to prove that you worked enough hours in the right industry and postal code.
- Check when and where fruit will be in season before making travel plans. Australia is a continent-sized country, and harvest season varies by place.
Sort out your paperwork
First, you will need an Australian bank account to get paid. Since this can take some time to organize, get going on this as soon as you arrive in the country. (Note that it’s not possible to set up an Australian account outside the country.)
You also need a tax-file number (TFN). You can apply for a TFN via the Australian Taxation Office’s website – but only once you are in Australia. You have 28 days to give your first employer your TFN; otherwise, you can expect to be taxed at the highest rate rather than the correct rate for WHV workers.
Note that employers have to pay a 9% “superannuation” (your retirement pension) to you, too. You will be able to transfer this home when you leave the country. At the end of your gig, ask your employers for a summary showing your total income and the amount of tax and superannuation withheld. There are Australian-based companies that can help with claiming back this money when you depart.
Unfortunately, we do hear occasional stories of shoddy employers taking advantage of working-holiday makers. Thankfully these dodgy employers are the extreme minority. You can avoid being taken advantage of by knowing your rights and being clear in your communications regarding pay and expectations. Knowledge is power.
Tips to avoid potential rip-offs
- Check your wages with Fairwork.gov.au to ensure you are being paid the right amount.
- Get your rate of pay in writing and, if working in agriculture, be clear if you are to be paid on an hourly or “piece rate” basis.
- Find out about safety requirements, especially for potentially dangerous work such as construction, farming and mining.
- Don’t put down money to “reserve” a job or pay for fruit-picking accommodation before seeing it.
- The Australian Fair Work Ombudsman recommends not signing up for work with anybody who approaches you at regional airports or bus depots.
- Ask other travelers if they have had experience with specific employers.
- The best jobs are often shared by word of mouth.