I first heard about Australia’s working holiday visa while living and working in Thailand as an English teacher last year. At hostels, backpacker after backpacker talked about heading to Oz after finishing their travels in Southeast Asia. And why not? With the country’s high minimum wage and plenty of opportunities for work, Australia’s working holiday visa offers a great opportunity to both fund a trip around a country so notoriously expensive for backpackers and to save up for future travels.
Honestly, I thought it sounded too good to be true. In all of my studying and working abroad, I hadn’t heard of anything like a working holiday visa before. As it turns out, they’re in short supply for Americans — only Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea offer the opportunity to US passport holders.
I left Thailand with my sights set on Australia. After six months back home, I applied for my visa and fled the approaching winter for summer in Melbourne. It was easy, and four months later (with winter having caught up with me, unfortunately), I’m still loving Australia. Here are all the basics about the visa that allowed me to move here for a year.
1. You must be at least 18 and not yet 31 at the time of your application.
You must also be from an eligible country (more below) and without dependent children accompanying you.
The working holiday visa allows you to live and work in Australia for one year. You can also study on the visa for up to four months. You must enter the country within 12 months of receiving the visa.
2. There are actually two visas: subclass 417 and subclass 462.
The main difference is that holders of the 417 visa can extend their stay in Australia for a second year after meeting certain work requirements, while holders of the 462 visa cannot.
Fellow Americans: we’re eligible only for the 462 visa. That means one year — and fair enough, because the States makes it pretty hard for others to stay long-term.
The 462 visa also comes some additional education requirements that the 417 does not. Americans are required to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Applicants from Argentina, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Uruguay must have completed two years of undergraduate university study or hold a tertiary qualification. Those from Chile must have a tertiary qualification or been approved to study for a third year, while applicants from Thailand must have a diploma or qualification from an approved list. That wraps up the countries eligible for the 462 visa.
Countries eligible for the 417 visa include: Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
3. Your year starts from the date of your arrival.
You can enter and leave the country as many times as you want, but the visa expires after one year regardless of the amount of time actually spent in Australia.
4. It isn’t free.
The working holiday visa isn’t cheap, currently costing $420 AUD.
It’s also worth pointing out that applicants are meant to be able to show proof of access of funds equivalent to $5,000 AUD. A bank statement on arrival should do, but honestly? I’ve never heard of anyone being asked to show this, and most people I know arrived with less money. Still, it’s good to come prepared with a plan in case you are asked.
5. The visa is intended primarily to allow young people work in casual positions in order to fund travel in Australia.
There are several restrictions on work that underscore the casual nature of the intended employment, namely that visa holders can only work for up to six months for any one employer — more than that and you’ll be seeking sponsorship, which by most accounts can be a long, complicated, paperwork-hefty process.
Most people I know on the working holiday visa take on casual positions in fields like hospitality, farming, labor and telemarketing. With that said, if you’re looking to find work in your professional field, it’s definitely possible. I have one friend who found an accounting job through a temp agency, and another who did a graphic design internship.
6. If you hold the 417 visa and want to extend your stay for a second year, you’ll have to complete three months of specified work.
You should apply for the second working holiday visa before your first expires, and it’s a good idea to complete your required work early in your first year so you don’t find yourself scrambling to get it in at the end.
Three months means 88 days of full-time work signed off by an employer; you can split the work between multiple employers. The required specified work includes farming, fishing and pearling, tree farming and felling, mining and construction. You can get all the details about what does and doesn’t count under the specified work tab on the visa applicants page here.
7. Only certain countries are covered under Australia’s health care scheme.
Again, fellow Americans — we are not one of them. Countries that have reciprocal health care agreements with Australia include New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Malta, Slovenia and Norway. If you’re not covered under a reciprocal health care agreement, you should look into travel insurance.
8. To work in hospitality, you’ll need your RSA certificate.
The RSA certificate is required for responsible service of alcohol in restaurants and bars. You don’t have to worry about it until you get here, and it’s pretty easy and painless. A national certification will cover you for all states except New South Wales (where the course is two hours longer and about $110). I completed mine in four hours for $55 dollars in St. Kilda. Most hostels will be able to hook you up with a course. While it’s not a bad idea to go ahead and get it done if you know you’ll be working in hospitality, a lot of states do allow a 30-day grace period to get the certificate from the start of your employment.
9. You’ll also need your tax file number (TFN).
You should wait until you arrive in Australia to apply, and you’ll have to have an address for the tax file number to be sent to. The online application is fast and easy, and the average waiting time to receive the tax file number is ten days. You have a 28-day window to provide your TFN to your employer once you’re hired.
10. Speaking of taxes, the amount you get back depends on whether you count as a resident for tax purposes.
The tax return situation is a little tricky, and one with a lot of rumors going around. You might have heard that working holiday visa holders get all of their taxes back when they leave the country — this isn’t necessarily true, especially if you spent most of your time traveling.
Basically, if you count as a resident for tax purposes, your first $18,200 are untaxed. Being a resident for tax purposes means being able to prove that you have lived or came to Australia with the intention of living in a routine manner for six or more months. The only situation in which you would get all of your taxes back, then, would be if you came to Australia on a working holiday visa, spent most of your time living and working consistently, and made under $18,200 during the tax year (this excepts, in most cases, a 2% Medicare levy). Above $18,200, and each additional dollar will be taxed at a given rate. If you file as a non-resident, you’ll be taxed at a rate of 32.5% — this will probably be deducted at the correct rate by your employer.
You’ll need to file a tax return after the end of Australia’s financial year (which runs from July 1 to June 30 the following year) and when you leave the country. At the end of the financial year, they need to be filed by October 31. There are plenty of services that will prepare your taxes for you, but I’d advise you to wary of whether or not you can and are filing as a resident for tax purposes.
As for superannuation? This is basically the Australian equivalent of the United States’ social security scheme, and you should be entitled to claim this back when you leave the country. It’s kind of like a little built-in savings plan!