Terra Incognita No More – Come Work in Australia!

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Australians take their tender years very seriously.  About one in four secondary school graduates postpones entering college and participates instead in a gap year, which often involves foreign travel. Their government encourages youth to spend time volunteering overseas.  According to their website, “At any one time there are about one million Australians living and working overseas.”  Australia, which upon its discovery was deemed Terra Australis Incognita, took little time to overcome its relative isolation.   “Incognita” no more, it was important to make a name for itself and get along well with other peoples.

As part of its drive to welcome intercultural diversity, it’s hardly surprising that The Land Down Under encourages youth from other countries to stop by.  Ambassadors up to the age of 30 are welcome to hang an entire year on the island continent.  After all, who would realistically fly halfway around the world to spend a mere four-day weekend in the large and beautiful land of Oz?

Kangaroo Australia
You think you’ll ever leave, punk?

Obviously not everyone is blessed with the financial resources to take a year off without pay, gap or otherwise.  Accordingly, Australia welcomes young people aged 18-30 to take a working vacation whilst enjoying the land of Oz!  Naturally there are the usual hoops to jump through beforehand, which I will explore with you, below:

Please note that this post concerns American citizen working holiday visa seekers ages 18-30 only. Citizens of other countries or older Americans can check requirements for working in Australia here.  

The expenses involved

The financial requirements for Americans to work in Australia are very straightforward.  If you don’t have a passport you will need to apply for one, at a cost of $110.00; allow six weeks to receive it without paying extra fees to expedite your application.  Be sure to consider the cost of the visa itself, which is about $360.00 currently.  Obviously you will also need to set aside the funds to get yourself to Australia and back home.  Please find a good travel agent to help you with this aspect of your travel planning once your visa is approved.

You don’t have to have a job lined up before heading south, but you will need to be prepared to prove that you have at least $5,000 in Australian dollars, or AUD (about $3,800 in US dollars [USD] as of the time of this writing).  You are required to have at least this amount available upon arrival to spend for your initial lodging, transportation and food expenses.  You’ll also need proof of return airfare, or a ticket home (thus the need for a good travel agent).  Such a requirement is common when you seek to spend significant time abroad in virtually any country.  The authorities want to make sure you have enough money on your own to support yourself, at least to start out, and then to move on once your stay is complete.

Sydney Harbour Australia
Sydney Harbour

What else will I need?

For additional requirements, be sure to stop by the official website of the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  Once you’ve got all your ducks in a row, you can apply for the visa online!  More information about this planning aspect of your journey is available by googling “Australia work and holiday visa subclass 462.”  It’s important to specify this subclass number as an American; other nationalities may be admitted for temporary work under different subclass numbers.


Be sure to allow at least 3-4 months for the application and processing of your passport and visa.  Ideally you are starting to get the ball rolling around April or May at the latest.  Why?

Most tourists who take advantage of Australia’s hospitality do so in the warm months, which in the travel industry is considered “peak” or “high” season.   Since many of the available jobs for temporary workers like you will be in hospitality (hotels, bars, restaurants), it makes sense that this is the best time to kick off your working holiday.  Remember that their summer is our winter and vice versa.  So their peak season is December-January-February.  Plan on arriving around November for the most opportune time to look for work and a place to live.  However, if you come anytime of the year, you shouldn’t have a problem finding employment.

Server in Australia


Be sure to figure out where you want to live when you arrive in Australia, and find a hostel there for affordable, temporary lodgings.  Many young people want to enjoy the vivaciousness of city life, so they should research Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, etc.  Others may wish for more bucolic, scenic but solitary surroundings.  Outback, anyone?

outback Australia

Determine what it is that draws you to Australia in the first place, and use that as a base to begin your preliminary online research.  No matter the environment you choose, finding suitable employment may take some time and effort.  Get started now, even while you wait for your application to get approved!

Work Safe

It couldn’t hurt to seek employment before you set foot in the Land Down Under.  With working holiday visa in hand, be sure to thoroughly research your rights as a temporary worker.  This critical information will ensure you know the minimum you must be paid and how much time off you’re entitled to.  You do want the time and means to travel and see this amazing country, don’t you?  You’ll also want to learn how to obtain a refund of the taxes you will have paid as a temporary employee.  This is under the Superannuation category.

Now you should research employers to your heart’s content, confident in the knowledge that whatever job comes your way, you know your employment rights!   Feel free to look for a desirable position suitable to your qualifications and work experience back home.  You may just find it!  If something looks good, shoot an email over to the potential employer.  Offer any prospects your availability to set up an interview via Skype.

All Sorts of Work

As a work visa holder, you need to accept that the work available to you may be tedious and unskilled; it just depends on the employment demand in Australia.  Many visa holders easily acquire the hospitality jobs previously discussed, such as bartending, waiting tables, or working at a hotel/resort.  Others may work outdoors on farms and ranches.  The possibilities are endless, but keep in mind the fact that you are only allowed to work short term does inconvenience most employers, as training new-hires is expensive.

Farmland Australia

If you can’t locate employment directly via an employer, it’s worthwhile to check out temporary employment agencies.  Remember, regardless of whatever job you get, you are only allowed, per the requirements of your visa, to keep it for a maximum of six months.  At that time you have to find a new job for a different employer.

The Bottom Line

Anyone considering obtaining a short-term working holiday visa in Australia will find that overcoming the application hurdles will be so worth it.  You’re only young once!  You’ll never forget the excitement and adventure you’re sure to experience, nor the warmth and cheer that Australians are so famous for!

More Information/Recommended Reading

Affiliate links are included below. This means I will receive a commission, at no cost to you, if you purchase a product through my link.

Whether or not an Australian working vacation is in the cards for you, be sure to enjoy some funny and informative literature about this faraway land:

Bill Bryson is one of my all-time favorite authors.  He’s funny and witty, and his books bring a light-hearted yet often edgy narrative to the subject at hand, which in this case is, of course, the Land Down Under.


Relax and avoid embarrassment by some serious study of Australian traditions and cultural mores.  Just because we speak the same language doesn’t mean we don’t need a means to translate Aussies’ colorful version of English!


Lonely Planet is known for being the go-to travel guides for young people.  They go way beyond the usual tired tourist traps, leading the traveler to discover less well-known local treasures.

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6 thoughts on “Terra Incognita No More – Come Work in Australia!

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    1. Thanks, Julie! I love the idea of volunteer travel also and have been looking for organizations that arrange it at little or no cost to the volunteer. Let me know if you know of any! 🙂

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