A Working Holiday Visa Overview for Americans

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.

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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.


 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Happy travels!

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Jobs for now: secrets to scoring a great temp assignment

I’ve always thought of myself as a career-minded person, so for me, the one big downside to long-term travel and moving around a lot is not getting the chance to search for my dream role. Although I wouldn’t trade my travels for the world, living in four countries in the last four years (soon to be five countries in the last five years as Steve and I are planning to move to Australia after our New Zealand visas finish) means that I’ve done a lot of job-hopping. When you’re not staying in a place long-term, companies are hesitant to hire you for a position that offers career growth, and even if they were willing, it feels a bit pointless when you know you’re going to be moving on soon enough anyway.

Now of course, even if you’re not building your career, you still have to work (unless your parents give you a $1000 per month allowance and pay your rent, I guess). On working holiday visas, many choose to do seasonal jobs like fruit picking, while many others go for hospitality and tourism roles. For myself, I go for temp work.

I started doing temp work before I really started moving around. The summer between college and grad school I didn’t want to go back to a previous summer job like lifeguarding, but I also didn’t want to sit around all summer (nor would my parents have let me). My mom suggested I apply at a local temp agency and hopefully get a few days of data entry or call centre work. I didn’t really know what a temp agency was at the time, but off I went to fill out the paperwork, take the Microsoft Word and Excel (yuck) tests, and have a quick meeting with one of the recruiters. The very next day I got a call with an offer to be their office receptionist for three months until I moved to Ireland for school.

It turned out to be the perfect way to get a short-term role without too much hassle, so when I returned to the United States after my master’s and moved out to Seattle with no job lined up, I immediately started applying to temp agencies again. Sure enough, I was quickly offered a temporary role as a copywriter at an e-commerce site. After a few months as a temp, I was offered a full-time job and continued on at the company until I moved to Vancouver.

Because I’d had these positive experiences with temp agencies in the past, of course when I moved to Wellington and started looking for a job here, registering with recruiters was my first step. Within two weeks, I had been offered a four-week assignment (that ended up being four months… a fairly common occurrence for temp roles). I’m now on my second temp role here in Wellington, and when I move to Australia in November, I will definitely be registering with temp agencies there.

While there are definitely downsides to temping—limited job security, usually no health insurance—the flexibility and convenience can make it a perfect option for short-term and transitional periods. Here are some tips for getting a temp role and making the most out of your temping experience:

Continue reading “Jobs for now: secrets to scoring a great temp assignment”

Upside-Down Living

It’s been about a month and a half since Steve and I arrived in New Zealand on our 12-month working holiday visas and moved down to Wellington for the year. We’ve experienced a lot of cool things already—first time in Asia on our way over, first time in the Southern Hemisphere, first summer Christmas—and there are more to come—next week is my first summer birthday, and we’ll be spending it on our first overnight hike. This week our adventures are mostly stymied by rain and job-hunting, but I thought I’d take a break from firing off CVs and share a few of my thoughts on New Zealand so far.

  • Wellington has great local hikes

We’ve been lucky enough to make friends with cars who have been kind enough to take us along to a few trails, and we’re going to look into purchasing a vehicle of our own, but even if you have no access to a car here in Welly, there are still a lot of great hiking options. The closest is Mount Victoria, only a few minutes’ walk from the CBD (and where the hobbits hid from the ringwraiths under a log in The Fellowship of the Ring), but there are numerous other hikes of varying lengths and difficulties only a bus ride away. The photos in this post are from a few of my favourite hikes we’ve been on around Wellington so far.

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The view from up on Mount Vic
  • Flat whites and hokey pokey are amazing

I always thought that flat whites were an Aussie invention, but according to Wikipedia New Zealand claims it as well, so I’m counting it. I’d heard of flat whites before coming to the southern hemisphere, but I’d never tried one and now I’m hooked. It’s like a latte but less milky, a cappuccino but less foamy, the perfect combination to create a delicious coffee. I only had one for the first time about two weeks ago, and I’ve probably had five since. Similarly, hokey pokey is basically honeycomb ice cream, but somehow it’s so much better. There are these little crunch pebbles of honeycomb that sort of pop in your mouth and create a delicious sweet tweet.

  • Getting a response is nice

It’s inevitable: when you’re job hunting, you will get rejected. Not every position is the right fit. Still, even if a job is a reach, there’s nothing more annoying than getting the professional equivalent of being left on “read”. Now, I don’t know if it’s actually a positive of kiwi culture or a negative of other places I’ve gone job-searching, but I’ve already gotten a number of responses—positive and negative—to applications I’ve sent in. Obviously, getting rejected is never fun, but it’s so much nicer to know one way or another rather than wondering whether maybe you’re the ideal candidate but your application accidentally ended up in the spam folder.

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Hiking up to the Brooklyn turbine
  • Summer holidays are actually great

I arrived in Ireland in the middle of October and the Christmas holidays were already in full force. I personally hate hearing holiday tunes or seeing decorations before December, so that was far too early for me, but it was equally weird at first to get to Wellington in December and see almost nothing festive. However, I came to appreciate the holidays happening in the middle of summer—the weather is warm so you’re not stuck at home, students are in the midst of a much larger break from school, and there’s definitely something to be said for a Christmas BBQ. It’s especially nice when you have great friends whose family takes you in for the day.

  • For a small city, there’s so much to do

Wellington has 200,000 fewer people than Seattle and Vancouver—and when you include the metro populations both cities’ populations are closer to the entire population of New Zealand than they are to its capitol. I grew up in a small town and have lived in small cities, but I’ve gotten used to living in bustling metropolises so I was curious what it would be like to move back to a smaller city. If I had any worry that there wouldn’t be enough to do, my fears were immediately allayed when we checked into our hostel and found a summer night market going on outside. There are countless meetups, events, and other activities happening throughout the city. I can’t wait to explore even more!

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We actually cycled to Red Rocks, but I’m going to come back and walk it because biking over the soft sand and rocks was hard af
  • Sometimes you just have to commit

Ever since I ran a half-marathon in 2016 I’ve been talking about running another. The truth is, I’ve barely gone running at all since that race. Vancouver weather isn’t conducive to runs (super hot summers, super slushy winters) and unsurprisingly, neither is living in a van. I realised when I came over here that I probably wouldn’t start running again unless I actually signed up for a race, so when a friend mentioned Round the Bays I immediately registered. I’m definitely nervous because I had 13 weeks of training from registration to race date for the Vancouver half, and only half that for Round the Bays, but I’m feeling confident and ready to run.

Overall, I’m having an amazing time in Wellington and New Zealand so far, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings (hopefully a job). I’ll keep you all up to date!