Every time I look at my Facebook news feed I’m reminded of the political turmoil in my home country, the United Sates. Every other post seems to be about the orange disaster that has befallen my homeland and I’m sorry guys, but I’m glad I got out while I could. My work and holiday visa to Australia came through a few days after the election and I had more than a few people wondering if I was fleeing the results. No, I’d say, the plans were set in motion before the election, but you know, the timing for an extend trip abroad doesn’t seem so bad. So whether you are looking for a breather from the political mess back home or just want to see another part of the world, there is good news, you can run away to the land down under for 1-2 years and get paid while doing it!
Getting the visa:
A work and holiday visa to Australia is extremely easy to get; normally the process is no more than a week and the cost of the application is a relatively reasonable $340 USD. If you are an American between the ages of 18 and 31 all you have to do is go to https://online.immi.gov.au/lusc/login, create an account, and apply online. You will need proof of funds (i.e. a bank statement showing you have access to at least $5,000) and a valid US passport.
If you have lived in a tuberculosis risk area for longer than 6 months, like I did by living in Guatemala, you will need to complete a medical evaluation with one of their certified doctors. Unfortunately, this is the part that makes the visa complicated as their list of doctors is quite short, with not a single one in the state of Oregon, so if you need to get the medical evaluation make sure you leave a couple of months for this process. It took me a month to get it all done, but that was because once you submit your application you only have 28 days to get the medical evaluation submitted so I had to rush it. I ended up flying from Portland to San Jose then taking the BART to Berkeley to get to the only doctor that had an appointment within my 28 days. It worked, but the cost of flights and the medical exam ($435 and you cannot use insurance) brought my cost of the visa up to $1035 USD.
Once your visa is granted you have one year from the date of granting to be able to enter Australia and begin the visa. For example, my visa was granted on November 17th, 2016 so I had until November 17th, 2017 to enter Australia. I entered Australia on February 24th, 2017 so I have until February 24th, 2018 to live and work in Australia. The visa is a multiple entry/exit visa so there will be no problems coming and going from Australia for the duration of the visa, like I will be doing in May for my US trip.
Second year extension:
You may have noticed I said 1-2 years in Australia then said I have a year from the first entry to Australia to stay in Australia. How might you stay two years then? Well this is the second year extension which you can apply for if you do regional work during your first year on the visa. Regional work counts as any work outside of the cities, but most people opt for fruit or vegetable picking as this is almost always counted as regional work. A good reference for fruit picking jobs and seasons is http://www.fruitpickingjobs.com.au/australian-harvest-and-crop-calender/.
How to get a job:
Once you arrive in Australia I would suggest immediately looking at the backpacker job boards to see what work is available and where. Some of the ones I have been using are backpackerjobboard.com.au, ibackpacker.com.au, and gumtree.com.au. The boards are updated fairly regularly so during the job hunt it wouldn’t hurt to check them all everyday or so. There is also the tried and true method of printing up some resumes and walking door to door.
Be aware that a lot of the backpacker work in Australia is seasonal so to get the most out of your visa you will need to be willing to move to where the work is. I am personally not following this model and am finding it is harder to get work because of it. Fortunately, for me the reason I’m not moving for the work is that my boyfriend works as a locum physiotherapist, thus as his earning potential is far higher than mine we move to where he can get work and I try my best to get work while we are there.
Minimum wage in Australia for casual work is $22 per hour so do not accept any work that is a lower pay as it is illegal. Minimum wage for full time work is $17.70 per hour, but at full time they are required to give you 4 weeks holiday, sick leave, and benefits so if you get a full time type job make sure these are included. If you leave said full time job before taking holidays they are required to pay these back to you at the end of your work, this is why the casual wage that doesn’t include holidays is higher than the full time wage.
I have seen a lot of ads, especially on GumTree, trying to offer work for accommodation, but this is also not legal. Employers are legally required to pay their staff, but if people keep getting away with not paying backpackers they will keep doing it, regardless of the law. Do not take accommodation in lieu of pay, it is illegal and encourages employers to take advantage of backpackers. There is plenty of other legal, well paying work out there.
Responsible Service of Alcohol:
You may want to invest in your Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) course as anyone who serves alcohol or who works in an establishment that serves alcohol must have done this course by Australian law. You will need to do an RSA for each state that you work in so make sure you know which state you will be working in before you get your RSA. An RSA for Western Australia is $49 AUD from www.onlinersa.com.au and the course should only take you a day or so.
The work and holiday visa stipulates that employees may only work for up to 6 months with one employer, because this is a work and holiday visa at the end of the day and they want you to utilize the holiday portion as well as the work portion.
So there you have it, everything I have learned about how to work in Australia as an American citizen. Australia is a beautiful country with something for everyone and this visa is doing a great job at making backpacking here much more affordable and within reach for the average backpacker. Another thing to think about as a Northern Hemisphere native, Australia is cozily situated in the Southern Hemisphere which means you can flee a cold, northern winter for the sun of summer in December. The sun is calling, maybe it’s time to answer.