For decades now, thousands of Aussies have been making the pilgrimage to our northern commonwealth relatives, namely England or Canada, to pursue a rite of passage for many 20-somethings -- the overseas working holiday.
The appeal is obvious: to live and work overseas whilst exploring Europe in summer or snowboarding the mountains of Whistler in winter. You will find many travelers are not so fussed about the actual work -- they are enticed by the adventures that beckon in and around their new and exciting home.
So it's no surprise, given that this trend of having a gap year (or two) is not showing any signs of slowing down in Australia, that people have started up companies dedicated to organising all of this for you. For a price. They provide you with a 'package', so someone else can research, contract, sell and book this once-in-a-lifetime experience all for you.
Now, I am not saying that this may not be helpful, but I am saying it is totally unnecessary. Why?
Because you can do it all yourself. For free.
These companies are capitalising on the market of 18 to 25-year-olds who think they need to pay someone to organise their visa, flights and job upon arrival for them. All swept up in the excitement of a new snowboard, they suddenly become daunted by the prospect of taking care of all the logistical issues of physically moving overseas.
This is understandable. I have spoken to these kids. I have spoken to their concerned parents. Because I have worked for a company that did exactly this.
The longer I worked for this company, the more I realised the costs involved were all slightly ridiculous. They were (are) cashing in on these kids lack of knowledge and travel smarts, and charging whatever they deem appropriate for return 'flexible' (read: only flexible with fees) flights, travel insurance, a welcome package (read: a few sheets of paper and two nights in a hostel) and an interview.
That's right. Not even a confirmed job, but the promise, date and location of an interview.
I also started to feel morally wrong booking some of these kids on these packages, clearly before they were ready to go. Having lived overseas myself, twice, I know that travelling, even if for an extended amount of time, is very different to actually living overseas. The reality of paying tax, visiting the doctors, getting your drivers license and paying rent is going to be very different and a big change.
I thought some of these kids would be much better off if they just grabbed a few mates and booked their own backpacking adventure first. If they learned how to book things themselves, use different websites, budget with money, share rooms (and sometimes beds) with other people and communicate with different cultures and languages.
There is a difference between going to your local travel agency and asking for specific travel advice and getting flight quotes -- moving countries is something entirely different altogether. You don't learn anything about the world by paying someone to organise it all for you. By all means, seek help, seek advice, but do it yourself.
You cannot truly call yourself a working holiday visa holder unless you have waited on hold to a government's visa help-line for more than an hour. Or accepted that paying $300 a week for a room shared with four others is completely normal. Or had to pawn your camera just to pay your bond (wait that may have just been me). Or worked two jobs for the first six months just so you can travel for the next six. Or had to extend your travel insurance because you're not ready to come home yet.
Travel is such an invaluable teacher, but with a company organising everything for an exorbitant price, they weren't going to learn a thing. And they were also getting ripped off.
It's no surprise that I left that company.
Here is my quick, basic guide for those keen for an overseas working holiday.
Decide you are ready to go.
Really ready. You must be dying for new experiences and challenges and if not, you're not ready yet. Give it time. Everyone needs to do things in their own time and jumping on a plane to live somewhere else just because everyone else is doing it will probably see you coming back in less than three weeks.
Save. Then save some more.
You will always need more money than you anticipate. Having said that, if you aim for $10 000 and only manage to save $5000 by the time of departure, go anyway. Just work harder and play smarter.
Apply for your WHV.
There are different requirements for the UK and Canada. Only ever go by information, prices, waiting periods and applications at their official government websites which are below:
The IEC (International Experience Canada) Program. It's currently 150 CAD for two years.
Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) Visa. It's currently 225 GBP for two years.
Book a one-way flight.
I say this as an ex-travel agent. If you book a return, you will need to book a flexible return ticket, which is quite expensive. You will also need to nominate a date to come home by. Then if you want to change this date, you will need to pay the airline change fee, any fare difference plus the agent/website amendment fee. Just book a one-way and live life on the edge. If you can keep enough available on your credit card to buy you a one-way flight home, it's the simplest way to go.
I would suggest taking out insurance for as long as you want your visa potentially granted for. Although you will have the two years approved before you arrive, the border guards have the right to only grant you entry on your visa for the same length of your travel insurance. I went half way and bought a year's worth, as you can extend with ease. They are all pretty much the same, just ensure you are covered for any extra-special things you intend on taking such as a really expensive camera, piece of jewellery etc. Also, if you are intending to ski or snowboard in Canada or Europe, make sure you take out the optional snow-activity cover.
Research your new home with an abundance of enthusiasm if you haven't already!
If you are going with a friend, start making inquiries for places to stay. Gumtree is a good place to start. If you are flying solo, and don't know a soul overseas, then I recommend booking the first week at the most highly-recommended hostel in the area -- then talk to the staff there and other travellers. You will be surprised how quickly you will make connections and figure something out.
Start applying for jobs.
Even in the hostel you have been staying in. Don't expect the world, unless you have a very specific skill or trade. On a sponsored work-permit visa, you won't be successful in getting most professional roles. The locals will always win over you. So go in with the attitude that tending a bar, working in a hotel, selling day-tours, being a nanny or teaching English is the greatest thing ever.
And it will be.