Australia Living & Working Abroad

Setting Up Your Life in Australia on a Working Holiday Visa: An Arrival Checklist

November 16, 2015

So, you’re moving to Australia. You have your working holiday visa, you’ve prepped for the big move and your flight is booked. What’s next? No worries — once you’re here, getting set up and ready to look for work is easy. My advice? Give yourself a week to settle in. Book a bed in a hostel, meet people and explore your new home base. Everyday, chip away at this list a little bit — it’s everything you’ll need to do to get started in Australia. When it’s time to find work, you’ll be ready to go!

1. Buy an Australian SIM card and get your phone set up.

This should be your first priority. After all, you can’t hand out resumes until you have a phone number to list on them! You can pick up SIM cards for your unlocked phone about $2, often with $30 starter packs for your first month. They’re easy to find — if you don’t have a provider store nearby, look for a SIM card at a post office or major grocery like Coles. Service here runs on a month-by-month basis, and you can easily top up online. Plans usually range between $30 and $70 a month depending on your provider and how much data you want.

Back in Melbourne, I chose to go with Lebara on the recommendation of a friend. On the upside, it’s cheap: for $40 a month, I got 3 or 4 GB of data with my unlimited texts and calls, a better deal than some of the bigger providers. Unfortunately, I learned when I moved to the west coast that Lebara’s coverage isn’t so great. It only takes me going a couple of kilometers outside of Broome before I’m without service. If you plan on moving around Australia and spending time outside of major cities, Telstra or Optus are definitely your best bets.

2. Set up an Australian bank account.

You have some options as far as setting up a bank account goes, but most of my friends and I set ourselves up with Commonwealth Bank. They have branches and ATMs absolutely everywhere, and every customer service experience I’ve had with them has been awesome. If you lose your debit card, they even have a cardless cash option to get money out using a code sent to your phone — something I’ve never seen back home! I’ve read recommendations from other bloggers that you set up your bank account before leaving your home country for Australia, but trust me — that’s definitely not necessary. Setting up a bank account here was as simple as walking in to a branch with my passport, taking two minutes to fill out a form and waiting for my debit card to arrive. Too easy!



3. Apply for a tax file number (TFN).

Once you start work, you technically have thirty days to provide your employer with your tax file number. Still, if you get it done earlier, you won’t have to worry about it later! Most everyone I know received their tax file numbers quickly, but they can take several weeks to process. It only takes ten or fifteen minutes to fill out the form on the Australian Taxation Office’s website.

The only important bit to know here is that you’ll need an address for your number to be sent to. Hostels are usually good about accepting mail, but if you’re moving around a lot, you might want to ask someone with a more stable address. When I was shuffling between St. Kilda and Fitzroy in Melbourne, I missed my mail. As it turns out, that’s not really a problem either. All you have to do is call the taxation office at 13 28 61 (between business hours Monday to Friday) and they’ll find your number for you.

4. Sort out any certifications required for the kind of work you’re looking for.

Hospitality is definitely the most popular kind of work backpackers look for here in Australia. It’s some of the easiest work to find, especially if you already have experience and take the time to walk into restaurants personally instead of hiding behind a computer screen sending off resumes.

In Australia, working in hospitality requires a Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certification. For everywhere except New South Wales, you can complete a national certification that will transfer states if you move. I took my course in person through an organization that held sessions at my hostel in St. Kilda; it took about four hours and cost $50. A lot of people also choose to do their certification online. For work in New South Wales and around Sydney, I’ve heard that the course is a couple of hours longer and a little more expensive. There, online certificates are not accepted.

Outside of hospitality, the most common certification backpackers need for work is a White Card for jobs in labor and construction. The course focuses mostly on laws, safety and controlling risks for on-site work. This, too, can be completed online.


5. Figure out your ideal housing situation.

When I first moved to Melbourne, I lived at a hostel in St. Kilda for two weeks and at a slightly cheaper Airbnb sharehouse in Fitzroy for another. After my friends from back home joined me, we found an apartment with a week-by-week lease in the heart of St. Kilda. In Broome, on the other hand, I lived at a backpackers for a full three months before bouncing between a couple of sharehouses. My point? When it comes to sorting out your housing, you have a lot of options.

Hostels, of course, are the easiest go-to and your best bet for meeting people. They’re also usually your most expensive option. While lots of backpackers choose to live at hostels full time (especially when doing farmwork for their second-year visas, in which case farmwork is often provided through the hostel), you’re likely to save a lot more money finding an apartment or sharehouse. Gumtree is the best, most popular website for finding housing (and, really, just about anything else you might need here!). I’ve also had luck finding sharehouses on Airbnb, while some of my friends have recommended Flatmate Finder. You can also find local sharehouse and flatmate groups for neighborhoods and cities on Facebook — outside of Gumtree and word-of-mouth, this is probably the next most successful option I know of.

Another option? Buy a campervan! If you’re planning on road tripping around Australia and spending a lot of time outside of major cities, this is a popular option. Caravan parks often run about $90 a week (very cheap if split between a couple!), while many find free options for parking their vans. While it’s obviously not the most practical choice for city life, it’s one of the best ways to save money if you’re planning on traveling a lot.

More questions? Have some advice from your own experience in Australia? Hit the comments section!

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  • Reply Irene November 17, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    Amazing post dear! Have a nice day:)

    • Reply Katie November 18, 2015 at 8:23 am

      Thanks, Irene!

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