Visas are the hemorrhoids of the travel world – annoying, something you hope not to have to deal with very often, and generally just a pain in the ass. Alright that was gross, but I still stand by it.
As difficult as it was to legally work and live in Bali, the visa process for Australia was thankfully free from any particular difficulties or drama, though like all things ‘Australia’, expensive and not necessarily communicated in the clearest possible of ways. Still, it’s a move I’d highly recommend if you’re a) already living on this side of the world and looking to fund your continued travels, b) have a somewhat solid amount of money saved up and want to make a decent living wage while living abroad, or c) experience a whole new country without the sacrifice of a first-world way of life, or without the need of a job skill that requires extreme flexibility (such as online freelancing jobs, teaching English, tour guiding, etc.).
Moving to Australia: Visa Basics for Americans
First off, there are two types of visas for overseas residents planning to live and work in Australia – the Working Holiday Visa (Subclass 417), and the Work & Holiday Visa (Subclass 462). Despite the Visa-naming committee doing a shit job of differentiating the two, the main difference is that those eligible for the Subclass 417 Visa have the option to extend their visa for a second year in Australia, whereas those eligible for the Subclass 426 Visa are not. For those from the United States, the Work & Holiday Visa 462 is our only option. Ignore any Canadians who tell you differently, as they’re eligible for the 2nd year visa, whereas we are (unfortunately) not.
*Note: You must be outside of Australia when applying for this Visa, though you do not have to apply from within your country of residence (10 cool points for Oz on that one). For example, Peter and I were both accepted for our Australian visas while living in Bali.
Work & Holiday Visa Requirements:
- You’re between 18 and 30 years old (must apply before you turn 31).
- Have a current passport with at least 6 months of validity after your date of arrival.
- Have no dependents you plan on bringing with you to Australia.
- Meet the educational requirements – a high school diploma or higher.
- Have functional English skills. Or whatever the hell it is that Aussies speak.
- Have not previously entered Australia on a Work & Holiday Visa (462), or a Working Holiday Visa (417).
- Meet the character requirements, which basically means they aren’t accepting criminals or major assholes.
- Meet the health requirements. In our case, since we were applying from Indonesia and had been there for more than 3 consecutive months, we were required to get a full medical exam and chest x-rays at the local hospital in Bali (BIMC in Kuta) prior to our arrival. Lesson: Indonesia ain’t so clean.
While they also state that you’re required to have health insurance (or travel insurance), as well as enough money to support yourself for the duration of your stay in Australia – approximately $5,000 AUD, or $3,770 USD – and enough money for a return or onward ticket at the end of your visa, there was no one who actually checked our bank accounts or seemed remotely interested in any of this information, either before or when we arrived. In my opinion, if there actually is someone who follows up with this “requirement”, they seem to have a lot of days off. My advice, should you not have enough money in your savings account when you arrive but still want to be safe, is to at least have a credit card with an available line of credit nearing this amount. And, umm, you’re still on your mom’s health insurance, right? Right?! Pretty sure that’s right.
Finally, they say you must be “a genuine visitor.” So… visit genuinely, I guess.
*Note: Some countries also require a letter of government support, though this does not apply for residents of the United States, Israel, or People’s Republic of China. Specific requirements vary by your country of residence, but the above is specifically written for U.S. residents only.
Visa Application Process & Costs
Currently, U.S. passport holders are the only people able to apply online for this type of Visa. Luckily, this process is extremely quick and straightforward, and can optionally be done by mail, though anyone under 31 years old opting to apply by mail versus online is truly an old soul. And perhaps a bit of a weirdo.
But I digress. At the same time you complete the online application, you’ll be required to pay the fee for the Work & Holiday Visa, which was $329 GBP (not AUD, as the agency was strangely located in Great Britain), or approximately $435 USD. This, along with our $80 USD medical exam and x-ray fees in Bali, amounted to a total of approximately $515 USD per person. Not cheap by any means, but way less difficult and more lenient than many other countries we’ve considered, so overall I think it’s worth it.
After your online application (and medical examination results, depending on where you’ve traveled in the last 5 years) is processed and accepted – anywhere from 6 days to 4 weeks, typically – you’ll receive an email with your Visa Grant Notice, detailing your grant number, visa conditions, client ID number, and date when you must make your entry into Australia, or up to one year from the date your visa is granted. And that’s it! You’re set to buy your plane ticket and start planning your move.
Visa Stipulations & Conditions:
- Valid for a stay of up to 12 months, beginning the day you enter Australia.
- The Work & Holiday Visa 462 is multiple entry, meaning you can leave and reenter Australia as many times as you like. While any time spent outside of the country counts against your 1 year timeframe, this is great for those wanting to explore nearby countries like New Zealand, Fiji, Indonesia, etc. during their time in Oz.
- No limitations on what type of employment you can get, so long as it’s legal. (Not this year, massage parlors.)
- Limit of 6 months with any one employer, meaning if you plan on working throughout the entirety of your stay, you’ll need to find 2 different jobs. This apparently does not apply for those who are self-employed and working on an ABN, or Australian Business Number. This could also change depending on your job industry, or if you’re offered sponsorship from your employer (my friend was sponsored by an ad agency in Sydney for an extended stay, for example, so it does happen).
- Eligible to receive Superannuation (similar to a 401K in the U.S.) from your employer, and collect it upon departing from Australia.
- Eligible to receive a refund on all taxes paid under the $18,000 AUD threshold.
- Can study for up to 4 months.
*Note: As of January 1st, anyone on a Working Holiday or Work & Holiday Visa is subject to a new, non-refundable Backpacker Tax rate of 32.5% on all income earned (from $1 and up), though it’s still a controversial issue and has already been pushed back once. Stay tuned for changes, as this could seriously be a deal breaker on whether or not Australia is considered an affordable place to live and work for those on a temporary visa. Personally, we would have chosen somewhere else if this had been in effect before we arrived.
Keep an eye on job postings and standard salary expectations on the Backpackers Job Board of Australia for a fairly accurate estimate of what you can expect to make – and possibly save, if you’re somehow magically able to do that – before you pull the plug and buy your one way ticket.
I would apologize for this post being extremely dull for those not from the States, and specifically those not from the States considering a move to Australia, but this is my own damn blog and I make no apologies. Happy moving, mates. Keep it funky.