#work and travel australia
Working your way round Australia
The gap year spent travelling around Australia is an increasingly popular rite of passage. Last year, the Australian government issued 113,936 working holiday visas, with nearly 30,000 of them going to British applicants. It’s a big adventure, but doesn’t have to be a complicated one. It’s simply a case of knowing where to look.
The working holiday visa
The Working Holiday Visa allows holders to stay in Australia for up to a year, working for a maximum of six months with any one employer. During this 12-month period, holders may leave and enter the country as many times as they wish.
The visa must be applied for outside of Australia, and applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 30. Evidence of having sufficient funding for the trip is also required – a certified bank statement showing AU$5,000 ( 2,120) in your account and a return plane ticket. Applications can be made online at the Australian Immigration Department’s website. The visa costs AU$185 ( 80).
Note: Visa eligibility requirements, costs and entitlements are subject to change – check before applying.
The simplest way is getting a return flight, with the best value coming from the less prominent Asian airlines, such as China Eastern. Malaysia Airlines and Royal Brunei. Most airlines will include a free stop-off on the way, as it is inevitably two flights rather than one. Rock bottom prices start at around 550 return, although in practice expect to pay 700 to 900.
Round-the-world tickets are also worth considering – they work out slightly more expensive, but include a series of stop-offs. Expect to pay between 900 and 1,300 with specialists such as STA Travel and Roundtheworldflights.com.
One thing to bear in mind is the destination city. Many fly into Sydney, blow most of their money there and end up staying for most of the year. It’s worth considering flights into Darwin, Cairns or, particularly, Perth. The latter tends to be slightly cheaper. Another potentially cheaper option is getting a return to Thailand or Singapore then using a budget carrier such as Tiger Airways to get to Perth or Darwin.
The more adventurous can go the long way, over land and sea from London to Sydney. Oz Bus runs a mammoth 12-week tour through 20 countries for 3,750.
Most Australians fly between the major cities, which is unsurprising given the vast distances – it’s roughly as far from Darwin to Sydney as it is from Oslo to Istanbul. The main airlines are Qantas (plus its budget subsidiary, Jetstar ) and Virgin Blue. The same theories apply to these as to European budget airlines – flights are cheaper booked in advance and at unpopular hours of the day.
However, flying from place to place somewhat defeats the object – much of the country’s character is unveiled in the long journeys through country towns and pure nothingness.
In terms of freedom to explore, buying or renting a car or van is the best option. The cheapest cars can be found advertised by fellow travellers on hostel notice boards, although the safer bets are sold and hired by specialist companies such as Travellers Autobarn and Wicked Campers. Prices range from AU$1,000 to AU$10,000, depending on vehicle type, age and roadworthiness.
The other option is the bus. The Greyhound network covers most of the country, and sells passes based on either route or distance. It’s the cheapest way to get from A to B to Z, but it can be a pretty unexciting way to travel. Then there are tour companies such as Oz Experience. Adventure Tours and Wayward Bus. Geared to the backpacker, these prove more expensive, but can be more fun and informative.
Many of the more popular destinations and activities are bundled together in package deals by specialist backpacker travel agents. These include Backpackers World. Adventure Travel Bugs. Wanderers Travel and Peter Pans. Generally these deals will represent a considerable saving on buying the components (usually a Whitsundays sailing trip, Fraser Island 4WD safari and numerous free nights’ accommodation in hostels) individually. However, there are usually extra costs involved – insurance, park entrance fees etc – and there is often very good reason for a bargain basement price. The included hostels can sometimes be miles out of town, while the baseline Whitsundays yachts tend to be very crowded, with poor catering and facilities. It pays to investigate exactly what is provided for the price.
Australia has the most geared-up, extensive hostel network in the world. Some are still very basic, but the sheer level of competition means most have had to buck up their game. This has led to many resort-style one stop shops (particularly in the north), and more upmarket flashpacker hostels, such as those in the Base chain. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, though – many of the larger complexes are utterly lacking in charm. Word of mouth is the most reliable indicator, especially in the smaller towns.
Very few people continue to stay in a hostel if staying in a city (usually Sydney, Melbourne or Perth) to work for a while. Estate agents usually insist on six-month contracts at the very least, and properties usually come unfurnished. As a result, many backpackers end up in (not entirely above board) shared flats, the new person handing their bond money to the person leaving. These are particularly prevalent in Pyrmont, Sydney and St Kilda, Melbourne, and are generally found through word of mouth and notice boards. Expect to pay between $100 and $250 a week in rent, depending on the quality of accommodation.
Backpacker magazines such as British Balls! and TNT are also good sources of longer-term accommodation.
If blessed with specialised skills and qualifications, finding work is a doddle. Tradespeople and nurses are always in demand, while gold can be struck in IT and accounting. Otherwise, the work on offer is generally poorly paid and not particularly glamorous – welcome to call centres, fruit farms and bars. Again, the backpacker magazines have good job listings and contacts, while agencies such as Work And Travel. Freespirit and Geoffrey Nathan specialise in placing backpackers. It’s not worth bothering with the more mainstream agencies – unless you meet their requirements, they generally couldn’t care less.
Many jobs – especially in bars and restaurants – aren’t advertised. A bit of legwork, nipping in and dropping off a CV can pay dividends. There may not be any vacancies at the time, but when there are, your name is down.
If struggling to find work, it’s worth moving to another city. In November and December, for example, Sydney is crammed with backpackers, all looking for temporary work.
The cost of living in Australia is slightly cheaper than it is in the UK, but not by much. The days of three dollars to the pound are long gone – expect an exchange rate of around 2.4.
It is possible to get off the plane with hardly anything in the bank and walk into a job within a few days, but unlikely. The Australian government figure of AU$5,000 is a little over-cautious, but it’s worth having enough to live on for at least six weeks. How much you need depends on spending habits and (largely) alcohol consumption.
Pay rates are very ordinary – expect AU$13-$17 per hour in bars and restaurants, $20-$30 an hour for accounting work, for example.
The base tax rate for non-residents is 29%. In some circumstances, it is possible to get a partial refund at the end of the financial year. Try companies such as Taxback.com to check eligibility. Be warned, however, that non-residents without a tax file number are taxed at 46.5% – get one as soon after arrival as possible.
By far the most common route is up the East Coast from Sydney to Cairns. Chilling out in Byron Bay. driving and camping on Fraser Island and sailing around the Whitsunday Islands on the Great Barrier Reef are practically obligatory activities. Most will visit Melbourne and Darwin too. For tours, the big four tend to be Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland, The Great Ocean Road in Victoria, the Red Centre and Kakadu National Park.
The West Coast is becoming an increasingly popular (and far less crowded) alternative. It even has its own reef – the Ningaloo. For somewhere completely out of the way, there is Kimberley in the north-west, while up-and-coming spots on the East Coast include Coffs Harbour. the Town of 1770 and Mission Beach.
Other options for staying include sponsorship. for which applicants must have an Australian company willing to back their application, and permanent residency for those with skills in high demand. The Immigration Department website has the details and eligibility requirements, which are frequently subject to change.
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