Here’s the thing about visas: unless you have immigrated or seriously considered trying to immigrate, you probably don’t know how difficult the process is. There are options, of course—if you do have in-demand skills you can get sponsored by a company that will bring you to your desired country, you can move abroad as a student at a foreign university or as the spouse of a foreign citizen, or if you have a lot of money or a pension you can retire to some beach town in Spain or Guatemala. But if you don’t have a ton of work experience and you’re happy just to get out for a year or two and live somewhere new, your best option is a working holiday visa.
Until I lived in Ireland, I had never heard of a working holiday. But when I got to Ireland, it seemed like everyone was abroad (so many Canadians!) or going abroad (to Canada, Australia, etc.) on this thing called a working holiday visa. Now, just about six years after I first arrived in Ireland, I’m on my second working holiday visa and I love the opportunity it’s given me to live abroad for a longer period of time. I think one of the reasons Americans aren’t as likely to do working holidays is that we have fewer options than other nationalities (for example, Canadians can go to over 30 countries, whereas Americans only have 5 options, and three of those require you to be a student or recent graduate), but I think another reason is that we just don’t know about them! So I wanted to write up a little guide to working holiday visas available to Americans.
Note: Obviously, nothing I say here is legal or official advice in anyway. I will be providing links to the relevant government websites and I suggest you utilise them. Also, while requirements are often similar for folks from other countries, there are some differences so make sure to look up your respective country’s visa options if you are not from the States.
Why get a Working Holiday visa?
Let’s start with the big question: why apply for a working holiday visa rather than just going on vacation? For one thing, the visa lets you stay much longer than the regular tourist allowance. Generally, you get 12 months, and for Australia you can even get a whole extra year if you do 3 months of work in a rural area during your first year. And oh yeah, you’re allowed to work. Much easier to fund your travels without depleting all your savings if you’re allowed to have a job. The great thing about the working holiday visa is that you don’t have to be sponsored by a company, so you don’t have to have a job ahead of time and you can also do jobs that wouldn’t normally be eligible for a high-demand, high-skills work visa, like hospitality or admin work. It’s a great way to get to really explore a country and keep some money in your bank account as you go.
The easiest options: Australia and New Zealand
To get a working holiday visa to Australia or New Zealand, pretty much the only thing you need is to be aged 18 to 30. Places in the Australian and New Zealand working holiday programs are unlimited for Americans, and to apply for the New Zealand visa is even free (for Australia it’s about 350USD). The visa comes through quickly (for NZ it took a couple days and for Australia only a couple of minutes) and then you can head off on your great adventure! You will need to be able show a couple thousand dollars in savings—although nobody I know has ever actually been asked for this at immigration, it’s still a good idea to have until you can get set up with an apartment, a job, and so on.
So which one should you do? Well of course, my recommendation is both! But if you feel like you can’t escape the real world for too long or you’re on the edge of 30 and only have time to squeeze one in before you age out, I would definitely go for New Zealand. I’ll write a longer post about this soon though, so stay tuned.
For students and new grads: Ireland, Singapore, and South Korea
I didn’t technically do the Ireland working holiday visa because I went to grad school in Ireland and so the visa I got after I finished was a “postgraduate visa” rather than a “working holiday visa,” but in essence, it was the same. One of the great things about the Irish WHV is that there is no age limit, as long as you are a current college or grad student, or have graduated in the last 12 months. On the other hand, for most of us who went to college straight out of high school, that timeframe has long since passed. However, if you are still in school or thinking of going back, it’s a great option to keep in mind!
To be honest, I don’t know a ton about the Singapore and Korea working holidays. For both, you must be a student/recent grad, and for Singapore your school must be ranked in the top 200 globally. There’s also an age requirement of 18-30 for Korea and 18-25 for Singapore. So while it is possible, it’s definitely more limited, but I wanted to bring them up in case you’ve dreamed of going to Asia but aren’t interested in something like English teaching, and in case the parameters apply.
The bottom line
A working holiday visa is generally only temporary (it can’t usually be extended and if you want to stay longer you have to find sponsorship for a different visa type), but it’s an amazing way to experience long-term travel in a different part of the world. You’ll meet locals and other travelers, mix work and adventure, and come back richer in life but not poorer in savings (at least not significantly poorer… hopefully). Obviously it does often mean putting career and other aspects of your life on hold, but I think it is 1000 percent worth the trade-off and I would recommend it to almost anyone if it is available to you. This is only a small overview of working holiday visas, but if you have any questions, please reach out! I love to share my experiences and advice.