I remember a few years ago, sitting in the auditorium of one of my Travel and Tourism classes in College while a young guy with a puka shell necklace, spiky hair and enthusiastic hand movements raved to us about joining a program called SWAP in Australia. This non-profit organisation owned by the Canadian government encourages young Canadians between the ages of 18-30 study or work abroad. He told us about how he had the time of his life living in the land down under and encouraged us to join the program. I sat there twiddling my pen and imagined living like Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush. I imagined myself effortlessly surfing through a wave, living a simple life by the beach with a laid-back Australian surfer boyfriend.
Almost ten years later here I am, living the dream. It took a little while for me to get here but it’s only made it all the more worth it. Like puka shell necklace guy, I encourage anyone to apply for the Working Holiday Visa. He wasn’t kidding when he said it was an incredible life changing experience. It’s true, as cliché as that sounds.
First off, I assume you have already purchased your Working Holiday Visa and plane ticket to Australia. If you haven’t, that’s step one so go do that now. When you’ve done that:
- Buy travel insurance. This is actually a requirement for your visa anyway but I would recommend that you closely consider how many times you are likely to see the doctor, what kind of insurance you want and what things you want covered. I would not recommend getting the cheapest insurance possible assuming that the only thing needed to have covered are your limbs in case they were to get torn off by a shark. Which is exactly what I did and ended up having to pay out of pocket for unforeseen health issues that were not shark related.
- Get your phone unlocked before arriving in Australia. It’s expensive to do here and you don’t want to be stuck with some crappy Zack Morris phone until its unlocked. When your phone is unlocked it’s super easy to get a sim card and a monthly phone plan upon arrival. Most people I know are on Vodafone. I use amaysim and pay 45 dollars a month for 4GB of data, unlimited text/call to Australian numbers and 20 minutes’ for international calls.
- Apply for your bank account. I used Commonwealth bank and it took a total of four minutes to set my account up online before landing in Australia. It’s the largest bank in Australia. Applying beforehand makes it easier so that when you arrive all you have to do is go to your nominated branch, present your approval letter and passport and you are immediately given your debit/credit card. The good thing about this is you can transfer funds to your Aussie account before so that you aren’t carrying wads of cash into the country.
- Don’t over pack. This is obvious. It seems easy enough to pack light but then you consider that you are going to live in a different country for an entire year and it becomes outrageously difficult to narrow things down. Even after slimming down as much as humanly possibly, I still brought two exploding suitcases. I ended up having to pay $500 on overweight fees. As much as I’d like to think it was worth it, it wasn’t. Bring the necessities and then find the willpower and strength within you to leave the rest behind. It will be hard, but I believe in you!
- Be financially prepared. So there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is Australia is crazy expensive. The government recommends bringing $5,000 AUD in start-up funds to get you started. Although it’s not obligatory to have five grand in the bank, the customs agent has the right to be a jerk to you and deny entry if they don’t think you have enough to get going. I would suggest having at least $2,000-$3,000 anyway in case you get a horrible customs agent but also in case you don’t find a job with as great ease as you’d hoped. The good news is that drop bears don’t actually exist. But seriously, the good news is that the minimum wage reflects the cost of living. So once you get a job you’ll be laughing.
- Book the first few weeks in a hostel. It’s the best and easiest way to meet people. When you first arrive you’re either buzzing with excitement or shaking in terror – or both simultaneously. Whatever the case, having others in the same boat as you helps you to get sorted. One of my best friends now was a roomie of mine at the hostel when I first arrived. I met a lot of the people in my hostel that had been living there for months so they were able to provide me with a wealth of information.
- Get your Tax File Number (TFN). In order to get paid you need a Tax File Number. This number is your personal reference number in the tax and super systems. It can take up to 28 days to receive your TFN so you might as well apply online before your arrival through the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) at www.ato.gov.au. You will need to complete a new Tax File Declaration for each employer that you work for, or if you would like to make any changes to your existing taxation information or scale.
- Get a job. I can’t speak for others on this front, but for me this was the hardest part. The reason it was hard for me was because I was determined to get a job that was not in hospitality. After one night of free Goon at the hostel (another reason to stay in a hostel) I met an American guy who was just finishing his year and told me that registering with a temp agency was the way to go in Australia. The next day I googled some names he’d given me and discovered hundreds of recruitment agencies scattered across Sydney. It costs nothing to apply with them and that agency will make it their mission in life to find you a job. Recruiters are like ferocious car salesman but instead of cars they sell human labour (not in the Wal-Mart slave labour kind of way, but the Aussie-high wages and great hours kind of way). My first appointment with Hays was spent nodding in fascination as my agent blasted through my resume with a red pen, speaking at lightning speed and suggesting I change a few words to “liven” up my resume. They are the greatest, most convincing and ruthless salespeople I have ever met. If you are looking for something more administrative and office related then go the same route I did and apply at Hays, Randstad, Australian Staffing Agency, Manpower, Australian Recruiting Group (the list goes on and on).
- Start your farm work early. This is for the people who are sure they want to stay in Australia a second year. Even if you have planned to stay one year more likely than not you will want to stay another year so you might as well get your farm work over and done with at the start rather than scrambling at the end. Getting a good farm job takes some serious digging so start early! Keep your eyes peeled on sights like gumtree, backpacker’s job board, harvest trail. Check out this site.
- Last but not least, move out of the hostel. Assuming you’ve had your fill of hostel life and met your best buds, now it’s time for a real home with a shower where you can leave your shampoo. The most reputable one I’ve seen is Flatmates and I would suggest upgrading your account for $30 a month and making it your full-time job to peg down a decent place to call home. Alternatively, you can use Gumtree.
- Have fun! Don’t you hate when advice columns end with something as fluffy and soft as “have fun”? How insanely irrelevant and unhelpful. What it should say is, remember that this is an experience. If all fails, head home. At least you tried. Good luck!