Working Holiday Australia: Backpacker’s Bible

Bye bye summer, it was nice knowing you. So what do we have to look forward to now? Short days, long nights, clouds and howling winds. Bleurgh, who needs it? So what do we do? Just sit back and accept it, I suppose. Well, maybe. Or we could chase the sun, chase it across the world to Australia where we know it’ll be hanging out.

And just how are you supposed to pay for that? Well, make it a working holiday and Australia suddenly becomes a much more affordable destination. Travel solely as a tourist and the strong Australian dollar will gobble up your precious savings faster than you can say ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie’. No one wants to be the first one skulking off home with a flat-lined bank account while their friends zig-zag between the odd job and the beautiful blue of Bondi Beach all year long.

If you already had your heart is set on taking a working holiday in the first place, then all good! Australia is the place to do it. First-up, you can speak the language so there’s one less colossal hurdle to jump when it comes to finding jobs in Oz. Second, backpacking is a national pastime and hostels are geared up for helping travellers find casual work, as well as showing them a good time.

The following backpacking guide covers all the essentials you will need for your working trip, including Australian working visa advice, other before-you-go preparations, when’s the best time to visit and tips on how to find temporary work in Australia. When you have all the paper work sorted, we can move on to the fun stuff including Oz itineraries, fun events and must-see sights.

Prices are in A$ (Australian dollars) or £. This currency converter will open in a new tab.

Working holiday visa

If you want to earn money in Australia, you’ll need to apply for a working holiday visa before you arrive. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, this can be relatively quickly and easily online. There are a few different ones available for you to choose from, depending on your circumstances.

If you’re aged between 18-30 you’ll be eligible to apply for either of these two options.

OPTION 1. Working holiday visa (Subclass 417)

  • You from Belgium, Canada, Republic of Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan or United Kingdom
  • Cost: A$270

OPTION 2. Work and holiday visa (Subclass 462)

  • You are from Bangladesh, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey or the USA
  • Cost: A$270

Once approved, your working holiday visa is valid for entry to Australia for 1 year and allows you to stay for a year once you arrive in Australia. You may work for each employer a maximum of six months or study in Australia for up to four months. At the end of one year, you may be eligible to apply for a second working holiday visa.

If you don’t fit into the 18-30 bracket, you can find a ton of useful information over at the Australian Visa Bureau.

When to go

Being in the southern hemisphere, Australia’s seasons are a little topsy-turvy…

  • Spring covers September to November
  • Summer runs from December to March (no white Christmas then!)
  • Autumn from March to May
  • Winter around June to August

Overall, Australia is generally a dry place with very hot summers, but being the huge country it is, there are regional variations. In the north you’ll find tropical conditions with highs of 30 and 50 degrees celsius. There’s a wet season between December and March too, which can get a little crazy – some of you will remember the terrible Queensland floods in 2010-2011. The south has only moderate rainfall while the centre of Oz is the driest region, where bushfires are common. Snow is rare, but there is enough regular snowfall for winter sports along the mountain tops of the Great Dividing Range, which passes through New South Wales and Victoria.

November, December and January are Australia’s busiest months. Not only will flights be more expensive, but you will also be competing for jobs with other backpackers and students who are looking to earn extra cash over the summer holidays.

The best time to visit Australia is the end of winter or the beginning of spring to get ahead of the other tourists and locals. What’s more, by the time summer arrives, you’ll have saved up enough money to take to the road and experience Australia properly. And with all the music festivals, sporting events and film festivals and beautiful beaches waiting for you over the summer, you won’t regret it. If you want a few pointers, check out our top 10 fun events in Australia post.


The Australian dollar (A$) is divided into 100 cents and is very strong at present. This is a big problem for budget travellers who will find themselves spending a lot more on accommodation and food and alcohol. Australia is now more comparable to expensive destinations such as Sweden or Japan.

The average shopping basket (including beer, coffee, cola, water, sun cream, and a three course evening meal for two including wine) in Australia costs £102.15 compared to the US where it costs £67.92 or in Bali – the cheapest destination to top the list – where the basket cost a mere £30.55 (From The Post Office Worldwide Holiday Cost Barometer 2nd January 2014)

As you can see, your money won’t stretch so far. Picking up some temporary work in Australia to finance your trip as early as possible is definitely a good plan.


Travellers visiting from United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Slovenia, Malta, Republic of Ireland, New Zealand and Italy are entitled to limited subsidised health services for medically necessary treatments (ill health or injury) in Australia for the duration of their trip. For all you need to know on what you’re entitled to and how to apply for your Medicare card, check out Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA).

When visiting the doctor, all you need to do is show your RHCA card, sign a Medicare bulk bill form at the doctors and you won’t have to pay anything.

If you end up in hospitals, simply show your passport or RHCA card for free medically necessary treatments.

Still, it’s best to take out comprehensive medical insurance before you travel to Australia. Even under the RHCA, you are not covered for ambulance services or medical evacuations which can cost over £100,000. Make sure you get an itemised receipt detailing the service and contact details of the health provider.


Yellow fever is not a disease risk in Australia, but the government requires travellers arriving from or transiting through certain countries to present proof of a yellow fever vaccination. 4-6 weeks before any trip, it is always a good idea to visit your doctor for an International Certificate of Vaccination which will list all the vaccinations you have received.

Australia emergency numbers: 000 for police, ambulance and fire brigade

Health advice telephone services

Banking & tax

If you are going to be working in Australia then you’ll obviously want to get paid, which means you’ll obviously need to set up a bank account. You can do this before or after you arrive, it’s up to you.

Setting up a bank account
It’s best you set up an account within six weeks of arriving in Australia, as you’ll only need your passport as identification. Leave it any later and you might need to bring in additional kinds of identification – tricky if it’s all back in your bedroom drawer in your home country. A better idea is to set up an Australia bank account before you leave home.

Visitors from the UK can find a list of Australian banks in London which can help you open an account prior to your departure.

Here’s some more information about banking in Australia.

Claiming your tax back

On average, travellers on a working holiday visa are refunded A$2500! When you finish work, your employer must give you a copy of your Group Certificate, a payment summary showing your total income and amount of tax withheld. With this you can lodge an annual tax return to the ATO by October of that financial year. To do this you must obtain an Australian Tax File Number (TFN) within 28 days of starting your job in Australia. You can apply either:

If you want a little professional help, Taxback is a global company that can help you claim your tax back.

Getting there

For most people, Australia requires an expensive long haul flight. Peak months are December and January so if you really want to keep costs down, try to avoid arriving during this period. Don’t forget that flying with a cheaper airline might mean a less generous baggage allowance.


Those 24 hours can be a godsend in disguise. For little extra you could break up your journey with a stopover, not only to combat jet lag but explore another destination too.

Popular stopovers to Australia include Singapore (awesome food and sweet hawker markets), Bangkok (Full Moon Party – need I say more), Hong Kong (another foodie heaven), Kuala Lumpur, Fiji (paradise), Tokyo (impossible to describe, must be seen), Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Los Angeles (home of the stars) and Hawaii (another piece of paradise). Stopovers in South East Asia are great for budget travellers, so long as you don’t overdo the shopping!

Prices start to creep up if you opt for Cape Town, Shanghai or Beijing and really soar if you attempt stopovers in South America such as Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires. Of course, if you have the cash, these are pretty awesome places to explore.

For more advice on stopover destinations, why not take a gander at our flight stopover guide.


Whether you are visiting for three months or 12, you don’t want to be lugging around a lot of suitcases. You will only have a limited luggage allowance on flights and some of the cheapest long haul airlines offer a meagre 23kg of checked baggage plus one item of hand luggage (7kg) if you are flying in economy. Anything over this allowance is usually priced by weight.

The most generous checked baggage allows is with Emirates. They offer 30kg per person plus an item of hand luggage, but they charge £35 per additional kilo. Yikes!

If you do decide to pay for extra weight, be aware that if your flight includes a stopover lasting more than 24 hours, you will be required to pay the additional baggage fees all over again for the second flight.

If you really need the extra suitcase, consider a door to door courier service instead. The cheapest way is by ship – which takes longer but it can be sent on ahead of you – or more expensively as air freight which takes about 14 days.

Getting around

Air Travel
Australia is a huge country and getting from one city to the next will take a lot longer than you think. If you are short on time, internal flights are quick and relatively good value. The cheapest domestic airlines include JetstarTiger and Rex Airlines (Regional Express). Virgin Australia and Qantas are more upmarket options but have an extensive network. In advance, you can book a one-way peak summer ticket Sydney to Melbourne for about A$50 (1 hour and 20 minutes), Sydney to Cairns for A$90 (3 hours) and Sydney to Perth around A$140 (5 hours).

It is slow going but Australia’s bus network is cheap and reliable. Most have air conditioning, toilets and are smoke-free. The national provider is Greyhound Australia but watch out because a Greyhound ticket is not always valid between destinations in the same area or state although this is waivered if you hold a bus pass.

Some tour bus operators serve equally well as a decent hop on hop off service. These backpacker buses in Australia offer better value for money but you will probably encounter more tourists – a great way to meet fellow travellers but it depends what type of experience you are after. Oz Experience is popular, especially with solo travellers, and a one way ticket from Sydney to Cairns costs A$500 with unlimited stops and is valid for 6 months. An alternative is Autopia Tours, where a three day trip along the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne to Adelaide via the Grampians will cost A$345 with.

Not fast, not particularly cheap but a great way to soak up the scenery if you have time on your hands. Some of the great Australia rail journeys include the famous Indian Pacific which takes three days to link Sydney, Adelaide and Perth and crosses the wonderful Nullarbor Plain (Latin for ‘no trees’). There is also the Ghan which you can take from Adelaide via Alice Springs and through to Darwin.

Yes, there is some fabulous scenery (kangaroos and Uluru/Ayer’s Rock) but for budget travellers it adds up to three days in a reclining seat with only a couple of short stopoffs and a lot of dusty emptiness. These trains are also not ideal and if you are travelling alone.

Sydney to Melbourne on the XPT takes about 11 hours and a one-way economy seat costs A$110-A$130 while Sydney to Brisbane on the XPLORER takes just over 15 hours and includes a bus change (also between A$110-A$130).

Rail Passes: First, think about where you want to go and then consider which passes suits you. Remember that passes are usually subject to the following rules:

  • Unlimited travel for either a 14 day, 1 month, 3-month or 6-month period.
  • The pass must be validated within 6 months from the date of purchase.
  • Seat reservations should be made in advance because you are not guaranteed a seat.
  • Valid in economy or pay for upgrade and sleeper berths.

Passes and standard train tickets in Australia can be booked via If you want to save a few extra pennies, booking your rail pass online before you arrive in Australia will save you about 10%.

For more information on train travel in Australia, on board facilities and journey descriptions see the man in Seat61.

Car and campervan hire
If you want to do everything at your own pace, car or campervan hire in Australia is a great budget option. Rates start around A$50 (2-berth) or A$65 (4-berth) per day – be sure to take a close look at the policy and make sure it offers unlimited kilometres and expect to pay more during peak season.

Backpackercampervans offers 24-hour roadside assistance and is Australia’s largest vehicle rental operator, but Wickedcampers offers basic rentals for rock bottom prices and bizarre discounts for smokers, hippies and anyone who has fun with a photocopier. For example, a Great Ocean Road round trip in a 2-seater camper for 5 days and four nights costs A$499 while Cairns to Sydney one-way including 14 days and 13 nights for two people costs A$1499. Some are fitted with basic kitchen facilities and crockery, air conditioning and tables and chairs for alfresco dining.

Tips for driving in Australia

  • They drive on the left-hand side
  • 35 mph in cities and 68mph on Australian highways
  • To hire a car you will need your driver’s license and if you intend to stay in Australia longer than 6 months, you will need to apply for an international driver’s license – you can do this before or after you arrive in the country. If you do not hold a driver’s license you need to pass a Driver Knowledge Test to get a learner’s permit which will permit you to drive. You must keep your driver’s license on you when you are driving.
  • Generally drivers must be 21 or over* to hire a car but some companies require under 25s to pay an additional charge.
  • The cheapest days to fill up on petrol are Tuesdays and Wednesdays; Fridays and Saturdays often see a spike in the prices, especially on the cusp of a long weekend.
  • Most insurance policies cover third-party personal injury but we suggest you extend this minimum cover to third-party property insurance or pay for an ‘insurance excess reduction’ policy. For example, instead of paying A$1800-A$5000, you will only pay A$200-A$400.

*Wicked will rent standard vehicles to overseas drivers under the age of 21

Driving in the Outback
If you plan to travel in to the Outback, a 4WD is not essential. More importantly, you should be prepared for lack of facilities en route.

  • Ensure you have plenty of water, GPS or a radio transceiver.
  • Do not attempt to cover isolated territories from October to April or if there has been flooding.
  • Carry a tow rope and two spare tyres. If you become stranded, let the air out of one of the tyres and burn it – the smoke can be seen for miles.

Nice and flat with gentle rolling hills means cycling in Australia is a great alternative. The Bicycles Network Australia (BNA) is filled with useful maps and cycle directories to help you pick your route.

If you’d rather not have all the stresses that come with renting, you can buy second-hand bicycles, campervans or cars at Also a great place to sell your stuff when you leave Australia.


Ah, what Australia does best! As a top backpacking destination they have hostels all over the country to cater for budget travellers. Most have private rooms available, but dorms will be your best for those on a budget and offer way more opportunities to meet your fellow travellers.

Expect to pay A$25-A$40 per person, per night for a bed in a dorm in the main cities. For a private room in a backpackers hostel the cost will usually range from A$35-A$55pppn.

Looking for work

Hostels are geared up for job-seeking travellers and often have a dedicated jobs desk so register your interest when you arrive. A few hostels that can help backpackers find work  include Wake Up Hostel (Sydney), Glebe Point YHA (Sydney), Cronulla Beach YHA (Sydney), Habitat HQ (Melbourne), Brisbane Backpacking Resort (Brisbane), Brisbane City Backpackers (Brisbane), Blue Galah Backpackers Hostel (Adelaide) Plantation Backpackers (Coffs Harbour) and Mooloolaba Beach Backpackers (Sunshine Coast).

Finding a place that suits you

To get the best value for money think about which facilities are essential to you. Ask yourself the following:

  • I can save money if I cook my own meals. Does the hostel have self-catering facilities?
  • Is breakfast included?
  • I need internet access to look for work and stay in touch with my family. Is Wi-Fi free? If not, what is the Wi-Fi access cost?
  • I don’t have an android phone, laptop or iPad. Are there internet kiosks?
  • I want to meet other travellers. Is there a bar or does the hostel organise social activities?
  • Is there a curfew?
  • Are there on site laundry facilities?
  • Can I store my belongings safely in a locker in the dorms?
  • Are there additional costs for linen and towels?
  • Does the hostel have air-conditioning?

Decisions, decisions eh! For all your cheap accommodation needs (beware, shameless self-promoting coming up) check out HostelBookers’ list of Australia backpackers accommodation.

Finding work

As mentioned before, your precious travel money will disappear quickly over in Oz, so if you are staying for an extended period, you should definitely consider at least some casual work, preferably at the start of your trip. Lots of backpackers do. In fact, Australia’s fruit and veg farming industry is reliant on the huge number of backpackers looking for work in Oz.

Don’t forget to check out the accommodation section for hostels that can help source work for backpacker guests.

Minimum wage
So, this may be an expensive country but once you start earning, the minimum wage is A$16.87 an hour/A$640.90 per week – not bad, eh?

Backpacker jobs
Harvest Trail: Seasonal fruit-picking and grape harvesting. It’s physical work and often in areas exposed to high temperatures. Some farms provide basic accommodation but this will vary from place to place. All workers must be covered for workplace injury by the employer.

Hospitality: Occupations in bars, restaurants and entertainment all require a Responsible Service of Alcohol training course. Some states (Queensland, Western Australia, Northern Territory and South Australia ) accept an online RSA course which costs about $55, others will require you to complete a 1-day course at any number of centres located in the main cities. If you are unsure, email The drinking age in Australia is 18.

Teaching in NSW: To teach, you’ll first need to obtain an Approval to Teach certificate. Find more information at the NSW Department of Education and Training.

Stud Farms: Working with horses is an interesting alternative to the backbreaking farm work. Check out this website for more info.

Nursing: If you have experience working as a nurse in your own country, then there are lots of temporary opportunities for you in Australia. Take a look at the following job sites:

Admin: You might have arrived in Australia to escape office life, but admin and clerical work are some of the best paid backpacker jobs in the main cities. So why not work on your words per minute and Excel skills before your trip.

Working in Hostels: A few hours of work in Oz hostels – cleaning, preparing breakfast or doing admin at reception – might offer free accommodation in return. Alternatively, get employed full time to receive a small wage. Check out hostel websites for vacancies.

Volunteering at festivals: A great way to save money and still enjoy your Oz experience is to work at events and festivals. Work in exchange for a free ticket to Oz music festivals, sporting events or food and drink festivals. Take a look at our article on the top 10 fun events in Australia and visit the websites to find out how you can apply to volunteer.

Visit Australian Working Holiday Facebook page for more advice.

Australia job sites Based in Perth and offers placements in Western Australia Australia’s biggest online job listings website. Since you cannot work for a company for longer than 6 months on a working holiday visa, be sure to search for freelance, temporary, casual or vacation positions. A government site with advice on careers as well as the option to search for temporary work under 6 months. An internationally renowned site that lets you pick your city then search by job type. Also great for buying/selling secondhand items, finding out about community events and rentals. Focuses on Western Australia

Staying in touch

Skype: Free Skype-to-Skype calls and video calls from your computer to another computer or download the Skype app to your smartphone. Also offers cheap pay-as-you-go rates for Skype to mobile (from 1.4p a minute) or take out a subscription for rates of 0.7p a minute.

Viber: Offers free international calls and text messages on your mobile to other phones that have the Viber app. Just ask your friends and family to download it before you leave.

If staying in touch with friends and family is important to you, remember to check out your hostel’s Wi-Fi and internet policy.

Phew, what a marathon. Still, you’re unlikely to find such a comprehensive guide to Australia than this one. I hope all that helped. Now what are you waiting for? You know all you need to know. Get on on that plane you little scamp and chase the sun!

Have any tips or advice for travellers jetting off for a working holiday in Australia? Let us know in the comments…

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Thanksto stormwarning.sukhchanderrobynejay for the images off Flickr! Please note, all images were suitable for use at time of publication according to the Creative Commons license

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