A Guide to Getting a Work Visa in Australia for Americans

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad

Securing a one year work visa Down Under can be as easy as filling out an online form in 15 minutes.

It always surprises me how many Americans don’t know about the working holiday visas down under. To be fair, I was one of those Americans too, until I took my first solo venture to Europe and made friends from a variety of different cultures. One of those friends happened to be British, and she told me about the working holiday visa she was planning on doing in Australia, and how she thought it applied to Americans too.

In an instant, the course of my life changed drastically.

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad

I did my research, found out that she was correct, and I was blown away. Americans never get work visas abroad because our immigration and work visa status for foreigners in the US is pretty unwelcoming. Most times, if you want to live abroad as an American, you have have to either go to school in another country, teach English, or have a unique skill in the workforce that can’t be replicated easily by locals.

And if you do have a unique skill, your employer usually has to prove to the government why you’re the best man for the job, out of the hundreds, thousands, or millions of other people from that nationality. In other words, it’s hard to do unless you have a highly specialized skill or a connection that already gives you a foot in the door.

However, because Australians are incredibly friendly, their working holiday visa program extends to Americans as well as a lot of other nations. The one caveat is that you have to be between the ages of 18 and 30. If you haven’t hit your 31st birthday yet, you can generally secure a working holiday visa in Australia within 24 hours without much sweat. If you’re over that age, there are still visas that you can apply for, but they’re nowhere near as easy to acquire as the working holiday visa.

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad
Work mates & friends in Melbourne

 

This post is mainly focused on those who want to apply for a working holiday down under and are under the age of 30. However, if you’re over the age limit, skip to the end and I’ll share a good resource that discusses how you can still make your dreams of expat life a reality in Australia.

Note that I’ll be putting together a similar post soon about acquiring a working holiday visa in New Zealand, but let’s start with Australia since it was the first country I moved abroad to on my own in 2013.

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A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad

Australia

The Working Holiday Visa sub class 462 has the following requirements:

  • 18-30 years of age
  • US passport holder
  • Ability to prove sufficient funds, ($5,000 AUD). Although this is an official requirement, I was never asked for my specific bank account details on my application, or verified proof of this. I recommend having over this amount before moving to Australia, but if you only have around $2,000-$3,000 and you’re just itching to go, a credit card that has a $5,000+ limit should suffice as well. Not ideal, but it will get you there and allow you to start working in Australia.
  • Ability to pay the visa application fee – $440 AUD
  • Be of good character and meet the health requirement
  • Graduated from high school or completed an equivalent qualification
  • Are not accompanied by dependent children
  • Have not previously entered Australia on a Work and Holiday Visa (subclass 462) or a Working Holiday Visa (subclass 417)
  • Have adequate health insurance for the duration of your stay in Australia. It’s easy to get inexpensive travel insurance, like World Nomads, for a year or two. Or if you’re under 26, you may still be under your parents’ health insurance that you can use abroad.
  • Be outside of Australia when you apply for and are granted the visa

If you meet these requirements, you can apply for the visa here. Make sure to read below about the other commonly asked questions concerning this visa.

Okay, your visa was approved. Congrats! But that’s only the beginning.

The “Holiday” in Working Holiday Visa

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad
Staff party in Sydney

First off, the point of the working holiday visa is to give you the opportunity to travel around Australia and support yourself as you do it. You don’t have to have a trust fund or even that much money, just an understanding that you’ll have to find a job, or have enough money to buy a plane ticket home if that doesn’t happen.

If you already have a lot of money saved up and you simply want to live abroad for a year without working, you don’t have to work. It’s just nice to have the option in case you do need more money, because Australia ain’t cheap. With this said, even if you do have the money I would recommend working at least for a small part of your stay. Getting to know the Australian work culture and making local friends through work is all part of the experience.

Also, because the purpose of the visa is to travel, see the country, and boost tourism, Australia only allows you to work at any given job for 6 months. That means you may want to think of two cities you’ll want to live and work in while you’re in Australia, or maybe just work for half the time that you’re there.

What do I need to do before I get a job?

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad

I was fortunate enough to have an American friend of my brother’s, who had already been living in Australia for years, show me the ropes of Australian life when I first arrived in Melbourne.

To be honest, I didn’t even think about most of these things before I arrived. It was nice having an American expat walk me through each of these steps to help set up my life in Australia. Most people won’t have that though, so instead, I give you this checklist to tick off.

Figure out where you want to live – you don’t have to do this right away, hostel life is a great starting point to make new friends and figure out your game plan. It’s also a safe bet in case you aren’t able to find a job and need to head home without any responsibilities like a sublease.

Regardless, it’s something that you should think about. Research hostels that would be good for a long-term stay. Once you get over there, or even before, start looking at the Australian version of Craigslist – Gumtree.com.au – for temporary sublets. I lived with a few different Australians during my time in the country and it was just another way to understand the culture better and create great memories.

Apply for an Australian Tax File Number – You’ll need this before you can start work. Your TFN is basically the equivalent of your social security number and you can apply for it online here. It’ll be sent to you within 28 days after you apply, so the earlier the better. 

Open up an Australian bank account – Do some research on the banks in Australia and how prevalent different ones are where you’ll be based. Try and open up an Australian bank account your first week in the country.

You’ll need to bring your passport, your TFN, and proof of a physical address (any hostel or hotel address will do) in Australia. I opened an account with NAB (National Australia Bank) since they don’t require a minimum, plus they’re easy to use and have good customer service.

Get yourself a prepaid sim card – It’s a good idea to have a way for people to contact you, especially if you’re applying for jobs. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you arrive, or you’ll have to figure out a way to unlock it or purchase a phone once you get over to Australia.

I used Telstra phone service when I was in Australia and never had any issues. All you need is a pre-paid plan that you put money into each month. Mine was only around $30/month and I could recharge my account online. Just walk into any location of the phone company of your choosing and they’ll easily set you up with a sim card.

Get your Responsible Service of Alcohol Certification (RSA) – If you’re planning on bartending at all while you’re in Australia, or even waitressing in a place that serves alcohol, you’ll need to get your RSA.

Australia takes their liquor laws seriously because of the amount of alcohol abuse in the country. Depending on where you’re working, the RSA certification will be different. In Melbourne, I had to go to an in-person class, where as in Sydney I could get certified online. Note that if you want to work in different territories, you’ll have to get a new RSA in each one since they have slightly different liquor laws.

Just Google RSA courses in the territory you’ll be working in and sign up for a class online. It’s better to do this even before you start applying to jobs since many places will be more willing to hire you if you’re already certified.

Will I actually find a job though?

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad

This is the question I get asked most often by Americans who are wanting to know more about the visa. The short answer is if you have a friendly attitude and are quick to learn new things, yes you will find a job! Unlike American work culture where it is unlikely you’ll find a job unless you promise your first kid and a lifetime investment (okay maybe just 1-2 years), Australia is used to the working holidayers coming in and finding temporary work.

Obviously, the best jobs for temporary work are going to be in the service industry which has high turn over – think bartender, barista, waitress, etc. There are also a lot of call center jobs as well because most people avoid that kind of work. If you have bartending or barista experience, you should easily be able to find a job. And even if you have another more specific skill, such as marketing, there are opportunities for that as well. I know other friends who have secured more career-type jobs and have gone on to be offered sponsorship to stay in Australia longer because they were highly valued.

It’s all about what you want from this visa experience. I wasn’t thinking longterm when I first arrived in Melbourne. I knew that I wanted a social job to meet people since I had moved abroad by myself. I also already had two years of barista experience and 6 months of bartending experience, so that’s what I did. I managed to find a job in Melbourne within my first two weeks in the city, but that was me going out for 8 hours a day, hitting the pavement, turning in resumes, and constantly talking to people. Sydney was even easier, I found a job my first day in the city and one of the first places that I walked into. It all depends on timing, the season, and what skills you can offer as an employee.

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad
Work mates & friends in Sydney

I should also note that if you do go into the service industry, expect to be treated as temporary. Don’t get me wrong, I made so many great friends and connections working in Australia, but I was almost always working 2-3 jobs in order to reach full time hours. Most times it’s hard to find full-time work and employers are known to just stop putting you on a schedule without warning if they decide they want someone else in your position. You have to be ready for change and stay on your feet.

I was lucky enough to find one steady part-time job in Melbourne, and another steady job once I moved to Sydney. Both of these jobs involved bartending, and a work environment where I felt like part of the team, not necessarily temporary. Even though I was working other barista and waitressing jobs as well in those two cities, my bartending jobs were the ones that kept me afloat financially and where I made the best connections.

Where should I work & live?

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad

This is another question I get asked often and the easy answer is that it depends on your personality and what you want to see in Australia. I was really happy with living half of my year in Melbourne and the other half in Sydney. I ended up liking Sydney the best, but I would never take back my time in Melbourne for the world.

The main cities in Australia are completely different from one another so this is a decision to really think about. It’s also a decision that shouldn’t be set in stone. I was originally thinking I was going to spend my whole year in Melbourne, but after visiting Sydney for a quick one-week trip, I realized how much more it felt like home. Feel free to settle down in a place, but also don’t be afraid to change it up once you’ve seen more of the country.

I didn’t find Brisbane quite as exciting as Melbourne and Sydney, but I have heard that it’s a great city to live in. And Queensland in general has some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. More travelers are starting to choose places like Darwin and Perth to get more off-the-beaten path. I can see the appeal in both places, although I didn’t have a chance to see them myself.

When is the best time to move to Australia?

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad

This depends on where you decide to settle down in the country, but in general the shoulder season before high season is the best time to move to Australia and look for a job. Remember that Australia has opposite seasons to America. The high season in Australia is during their summer, also known as our winter. Therefore, the best time to usually find a job is in our fall – September, October, November.

When I first got to Melbourne it was in April, so it was a slightly awkward time to be looking for jobs. Most businesses were starting to cut down on workers in preparation for the slow season in the winter. And contrary to what most people think about Australia, it can get very cold in places like Melbourne in the fall and winter. Combine this with hardly any central heating and I was freezing my bum off having come straight from California.

How do I file taxes if I work abroad?

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad

This is not a question I thought about when I moved abroad for two years, and I ended up having to file back taxes when I came back to the States and started researching taxes for my business. Fun fact my fellow Americans, we live in one of the only countries that taxes their citizens instead of solely on where they work. So, even if you work abroad you’re still expected to file taxes at home by the tax deadline in April.

The good news is that depending on the country, you won’t be double taxed if you can prove that you’ve been outside of the US for a certain amount of time and have had to pay taxes in another country, such as Australia. Note that even if you don’t think you have to pay taxes, you still have to file your taxes in America. You have to prove your foreign earned income, and that you had a ‘tax home’ in a foreign country. You also have to prove that you were physically present outside the US for at least 330 days out of a 365-day period.

The good thing about Australia is that almost all working holidayers get their full taxes back in a year’s time. This means that even if you paid taxes while you were in Australia, you’re able to get that money back if you fill out an Australian tax return the next year. So in essence, you won’t really have to pay taxes at all while you’re living in Australia, which means more money for travel!

I’m over the age limit, what now?

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad

As I mentioned above, if you’re over the age limit it will be much harder to secure a work visa in Australia. But don’t give up hope just yet! There are a few other visas to look into if you’re over 30. Lindsay from Frugal Frolicker recently put together an awesome detailed post about how to move to Australia without marrying an Australian – although that’s always an option too ;). Read it here!

A Guide to Work Visas in Australia for Americans - Work & Travel Abroad

Now, that wasn’t too overwhelming or confusing, was it? I’d love to hear, have you thought of living abroad? Would you move to Australia now that you know it’s this easy?

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If New Zealand is more your dream expat destination, I’ve got you covered! I’ll be putting together another post all about how Americans can work in New Zealand for a year too, and guess what? It’s just as easy!

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A Guide to Working in Australia

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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