Embarking on a gap year is an exciting life opportunity. But it can also be daunting. If you’re not sure where to begin, this guide will help you get started on what is sure to be the greatest adventure of your life.
Congratulations on your choice to take a gap year in Australia. It’s a decision that will leave you with incredible memories as well as skills and work experience that will put you ahead of your peers.
Prospective employers look for certain qualities in candidates, many of which can be shown by having done a gap year - courage, curiosity, maturity, open-mindedness and independence, just to name a few.
If you’re not yet sure what career path you should take, a gap year is an excellent chance to try your hand at different jobs. If you’re totally sure where your career is headed, this could be an ideal opportunity to get real-world experience in your field. Whether it’s paid or volunteer, it will enhance your CV and provide you with valuable contacts in the industry.
At the very least, you’ll experience an incredible part of the world, make lasting friendships and leave with cherished memories.
What should I do before I land?
Once you’ve decided to take a gap year in Australia, there are a few things you can do to prepare and make your arrival as smooth as possible.
Apply for the Working Holiday Visa
If you’re a resident of The United States, you should apply for visa Subclass 462. Get detailed information on the requirements for this visa as well as instructions on how to apply here.
Applications are often approved within a few days, but be sure to give yourself at least a month in case any of your details need to be verified by the Australian Department of Home Affairs.
Decide where to base yourself
Once your visa has been granted, you can really start planning your trip. The first step will be deciding which of Australia’s amazing cities to base yourself in. If a truly metropolitan experience is what you’re after, consider Sydney or Melbourne. If you love a more tropical climate, laid-back lifestyle and lots of opportunities to access the Great Barrier Reef, living in Cairns or Airlie Beach might be right for you. Adelaide and Perth are excellent locations for people that love the beach and discovering great food and wine. If you’re looking for real adventure or a quintessential outback experience, head to Darwin.
Australia has so many great cities and regional areas. Be sure to travel around and see as much as possible during your stay. Read about the backpacker precincts in around Australia for a better idea on what you can find in each location.
Get an open return ticket
One of the most exciting things about travel is the unknown. Giving yourself the flexibility to make or change plans as you go will ensure you never miss out on doing something that appeals to you. By booking an open return ticket, you are essentially pre-paying for your flight home without locking in the date. This option gives you the flexibility to extend your stay in Australia without paying high fees for changing your return airfare dates. If you commit to staying in Australia for one year and then decide that you’d like to remain for a second year, this flexible ticket option makes it simple to adjust your travel plans.
Some countries have a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Australia. However, it’s recommended that you take out health insurance to cover any unforeseen medical treatment you might need in Australia. You are personally liable for all your healthcare costs while you are in Australia and insurance can help limit your financial liability.
Travel insurance is also recommended to protect you and your valuables as you move around the country.
Create your CV/Resume
It can be challenging to secure work before you arrive in Australia as prospective employers will want to meet you face-to-face. However, there are a few things you can do before you arrive to make the process easier.
Having your CV (or resume) ready to go when you arrive will save you time and stress. If you have a PDF version, you can start emailing potential employers right away, or you can make a more lasting impression by hand-delivering your CV to prospective employers. Your hostel will likely have internet and printing services, or you can head to a local library to print a few copies.
Try to keep your CV to one page, and list only relevant experience. Get more tips and tricks to writing an Australian CV here.
Start practicing for job interviews
In Australia, most employers would prefer to meet you face-to-face before they offer you a job. But don't be nervous. Depending on the role, interviews tend to be fairly casual. To give yourself the best chance at success, be sure to dress nicely and be well-presented, arrive a few minutes before the scheduled interview time, offer detailed answers to the questions and show enthusiasm and interest for the role and the company.
Even if you're a confident person, doing some interview prep can help you to stand out when you meet prospective employers. Look online for sample interview questions with tips on how to answer them. If you can, practice with a friend.
Remember that interviews go both ways. This is also a chance for you to learn more about the role and the company so you can decide whether it's a job you want to do. You should have a few questions ready to ask your your prospective employer to help you decide. Be sure to phrase your questions in a positive way - so rather than asking if you will be required to do overtime, ask what a typical day on the job looks like.
Here are a few more great questions you may want to ask your interviewer.
What do I do once I land?
You've made it! Now it's time to take care of a few things so you'll be ready for an incredible gap year.
Fulfill your second year requirements
A Working Holiday visa has a validity of 12 months. However, it’s possible to apply for a second-year Working Holiday visa if you meet certain eligibility requirements. One of the requirements is the completion of three months of specified work in a rural area. If you’re considering staying a second year, or even just unsure whether you’ll take the option, doing your specified work right when you arrive is something to consider.
First of all, it will allow you to meet other working holiday makers right off the bat. It’s a great opportunity to connect with like-minded people, hear about the experiences they’ve already had in Australia, and get a better understanding of what to expect from your gap year. You may even meet someone who can help secure you a job once your specified work requirements have been completed. Secondly, thanks to its rural nature, most specified work comes with accommodation (whether paid separately or deducted from your wages), so you won’t need to worry about securing a flat - or even deciding which city you want to base yourself in - until your three months are complete. Finally, by doing the specified work early, you won’t have to worry about uprooting yourself later in the year. You can fully settle into your new life Down Under and immerse yourself in the Australian culture and way of life.
Information about harvest work opportunities in regional Australia can be found at the Australian Government’s Harvest Trail website.
Find a place to stay
Once you know where you plan to land, you can get your accommodation sorted. While you could secure a permanent room or flat before arriving, it’s best to give yourself a week or so to get the lay of the land. You may want to compare different neighbourhoods - exploring your options for public transport or local job opportunities. You may even prefer to find a job before deciding where you’re going to live.
Once you’re on the ground you can start meeting up with your potential flatmates in person. You can tour the flat and get a better idea of whether the neighbourhood (and the company) is a good fit for you. Some useful sites for finding flatmates and rooms to rent are Flatmate Finders and Flatmates.com.au.
Open a bank account
Your employer won’t be able to pay you until you’ve set up a bank account. Thankfully, opening a bank account in Australia is easy and quick. Just visit a bank branch with your passport and proof of address (if you don’t have a permanent address yet, your hostel can help you with this). You don’t need an appointment - just visit a teller and let them know you’d like to open an account.
Australia has four main banking institutions - ANZ Bank, Commonwealth Bank, NAB (National Australia Bank) and Westpac. In addition to these, you’ll find several smaller banks as well as some online banks. If you plan to travel extensively throughout Australia during your stay, it may be more beneficial to stick to one of the main banks. You’ll find more branches and ATMs around the country, helping to avoid costly fees for using a competing bank’s ATM. Before choosing, be sure to read about the different account options, required balance and any monthly fees that may be applicable. This will help you pick the best account for your needs.
In a few days you will receive a bank card from your institution. Most bank cards come with a PayPass chip. This chip allows you to pay by simply tapping your card on the reader. For most transactions under AUD$100 you don’t need to enter your pin. Many mobile phones also allow you to “load” these cards to your telephone and pay by tapping your phone on the card reader. It’s a quick and easy way to pay and is a very common method of payment across Australia.
Apply for a Tax File Number (TFN)
You do not require a TFN to work in Australia, but it is to your advantage to have one. If you do not, you may pay higher tax and have no entitlement to government benefits that you may otherwise be eligible for. Residents and temporary visitors are required to pay taxes on income earned in Australia.
If you have a valid visa already issued, which allows you to work in Australia, you can apply for an Australian Tax File Number online via the Australian Taxation Office. It’s important to note that you cannot apply for a TFN before you arrive in Australia.
Applying for a TFN is done online and should take about 20 minutes. You will be asked to enter personal details, including your passport or travel document number, a postal address in Australia where your TFN can be sent, your legal name and other names you use or have used and contact details for yourself or your preferred contact person.
Set your phone up
There are four major mobile phone networks in Australia, each with a range of service plans and coverage. You can find a detailed ‘coverage map’ on their websites. Depending on where you intend to travel, it may be useful to check the coverage areas to ensure you will get adequate service and reception while you’re on the move.
Telstra - This is Australia's leading provider of mobile devices and services. They also have the largest coverage area;
Optus - Optus offers the second largest coverage area in Australia;
Vodafone - the smaller of the 3 major providers (covers mostly metropolitan and larger regional areas);
Virgin Mobile - uses the Optus network.
Most service providers require proof of employment and residential permanence (your name on a utility bill, for example) to enter into a contract with them. As you’ve just arrived, a prepaid plan is probably your best option. If you already have an unlocked phone, you’ll just need to purchase a SIM card and decide what level of talktime and data you think you need each month. You can top up as you go, or stick with a monthly allocation.
The easiest way to do this is to research the different plans and coverage, then head directly into the shop of the provider of your choice. They’ll help you match a SIM card and get set up. Just make sure you bring your passport with you.
Find a job
If finding a job is a major concern for you, there are work programs designed to take the pressure off. Some providers to look into include The Global Work & Travel Co. and Work N Holiday. They guarantee work opportunities for working holiday makers throughout the duration of their stay. The program might include airport pick-up, an induction to help you get established, and social activities. They may also help you set up housing, provide training and even help you set up your bank account and tax file number (TFN).
If you’re happy to see where the adventure takes you, work in hospitality, office administration, childcare and construction is usually readily available. Browse openings on Australia’s main job boards: Seek, Indeed, Jora and Backpacker Job Board. You can also check the job boards at your hostel or sign up with a recruitment agency.
Get more tips on finding a job here.
Furnish your flat
It’s not difficult to find a furnished room to rent in Australia. However, you may want to purchase a few things to make your house feel more like a home. If you want something new, most major cities have at least one IKEA you can visit for inexpensive furniture options.
If you don’t mind upcycling, Gumtree is a popular Australian website where people sell their used goods. You can find everything from furniture and cars through to clothes and even jobs advertised here. There are also a number of Facebook groups dedicated exclusively to selling, buying and trading used goods. Just search for “buy, swap, sell” in your city. Here’s a popular one for Sydneysiders to get you started.
If you don’t have a car, try negotiating delivery into the price of your item. Alternatively, visit Airtasker, an online services marketplace. Just place an ad (it’s free to place the ad) for the work you need done and what you’re willing to pay. Someone will accept the job and pick up your new furniture for you. Handy tip - if you’re looking for casual work and odd jobs, this is a great place to start.
Make some friends
One of the best parts of your gap year will be the friends you make along the way. Your hostel is the perfect place to start and will often host events where guests can meet and hangout. Another option is Meetup. You can visit the website or download the app to find organised events around your interests. Join a soccer team, play pub trivia or even learn a new language.
There are just so many beautiful places in Australia to discover - it’s time to get out there. Whether you get a hop on/hop off bus ticket to cruise the country, or buy a campervan and venture out on your own, you won’t regret taking the time to visit every nook and cranny.
And then what?
Stay for a third year!
There are a few conditions, but it’s now possible for Working Holiday Makers to stay and work in Australia for even longer. The most important condition is that you’ll need to complete six months of specified work during your second year to qualify. Previously, WHM visa holders were required to work in specific areas of Australia to qualify, but to make this easier to achieve, WHM visa holders are now able to work in a wider geographical area across Australia. You can also now stay with the same agricultural employer for up to 12 months (previously six months).