Where to go on a working holiday - Australia, New Zealand or Canada?

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A working holiday visa enables residents from a variety of nationalities to reside and work in a country for a limited amount of time. It is only available in some countries and to certain nationalities; it has an age limit and it is only granted once for each individual. As a European, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are the most common destinations because they’re all English-speaking, western countries but other nations such as Japan, Singapore and Taiwan offer similar schemes.

The working holiday scheme is a great way to get relatively easy and uncomplicated, temporary access to working and living in countries that have an otherwise more complicated and lengthy immigration process. I have been to Australia, New Zealand and Canada on working holiday visas and will compare the programmes offered by these places in this article, looking at various criteria to answer the questions that I often hear from people wondering which country to choose, with a focus on UK residents...

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Eligibility, duration and age limit of working holiday visas

The eligibility, duration and age limit of the working holiday scheme not only depends on the destination but also on the country where the applicant is residing. UK citizens can apply to all three countries when they are 18 to 30 years inclusive; this means until just before their 31st birthday.

The working holiday is a one-time only visa, hence it is only granted once. It allows Brits to stay for up to two years in Canada without any restrictions on the amount of time that is spent working, whilst they are able to stay 23 months in New Zealand and during this time, work for twelve months.

In Australia, the initial visa period for the working holiday visa (subclass 417) is only twelve months, all of which can be spent working, however only 6 months at a time for the same employer. People on working holidays in Australia can apply for a second year visa if they do three months of specified work in regional Australia (usually farm work) and that they still are less than 31 years old by the time they apply for the visa extension.

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Applying for a working holiday visa

The application process for Australia and New Zealand is quite straightforward: First, you have to create an online account; you fill out an online form if you apply for a one-year visa and you pay the fees. The visa is usually granted in a matter of days. Aside from the passport, there is not a lot of additional documentation required unless you plan to work in specific fields (e.g. medical). Fees in Australia are currently 440 AU$ (251 £) steeper than for New Zealand at 208 NZ$ (108 £) and Canada with 250 CA$ (143 £) in total.

The application process for Canada is a bit more complicated, as Canada only issues a limited amount of working holiday visas for each term. This means that upon creation and submission of your online profile, you enter a pool of applicants, out of which by random selection, people are invited to apply. Once the applicant receives an invitation letter, they have ten days to accept the invitation, occurring the application fee, and then another 20 days to apply for a work permit via a separate step in the process. In most cases, this application also requires a police certificate, which has to be obtained from the country of residence.

For all three regions, applicants have to start their visa by entering the country within one year upon receiving the visa (in the case of New Zealand and Australia) or the work permit (in the case of Canada).

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Finding accommodation

The best thing to do before flying out, regardless of the destination, is to book a hostel for at least the first four or five days, or even longer in the busy season. Whilst I lived in hostels for the majority of my time in Australia and New Zealand because there were plenty of usually nice and affordable hostels around, the situation in Canada was different. The stream of visitors is a lot more seasonal in Canada, which means that sometimes there just isn’t any availability in the summer months. This goes in particular for the touristy areas like Toronto, Vancouver or Banff and Jasper National Parks, where I really recommend booking ahead. Hostel prices here also tend to vary depending on the season: They usually start from 30 CA$ (17 £) per night for a bed in a shared dormitory and I have not come across a hostel that offers reduced, weekly rates. On the contrary, long-term stays in hostels are not really encouraged in Canada and some hostels even have a two-week limit as to how long you can stay (although they aren’t very strict about reinforcing this). In the summer months between June and September, some hostels increase their rates to sometimes more than 60 CA$ (34 £) per night for a bed in a shared dorm. Therefore I made sure to get myself a room in shared flat as soon as I could, which wasn’t easy either the busy summer months in Vancouver.

In Australia and New Zealand, the accommodation situation was a lot more relaxed. Even during busy periods such as the Fringe Festival in Adelaide, Southern Australia, it was still possible to find a hostel bed. There seems to be more accommodation for backpackers in Australia and New Zealand and it is lower priced (generally between 25-35 AU$/NZ$ (14-20 £). Many hostels offer cheaper weekly rates for long-term stayers and in general, as opposed to Canada, having a shared room in a flat is not necessarily cheaper on a monthly basis than staying in a hostel.

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Finding work and cost of living

Finding work for backpackers in Canada and New Zealand is slightly more difficult than in Australia. Australia is so popular with working holiday makers that employers down under are very used to working with backpackers and there are lots of casual jobs, and ways to find them: Backpacker magazines, hostel notice boards, or simply word of mouth. However, many of these jobs are very basic: fruit picking, restaurant work, housekeeping and manual labour. Better-paid work is available in all three countries but a bit harder to find. In Australia and New Zealand, it is possible to work in hostels for free accommodation, which I did for quite a while and I was able to save a lot of money in consequence.

In Canada, it is also possible to work in hostels but the pay is an hourly rate rather than a lump sum paid through free accommodation. The only way to work for free accommodation is via schemes that bring hosts and workers together to work for free accommodation, which exist in all three countries, e.g. wwoofinternational.org, helpx.net or workaway.info.

In general, salaries in Australia are highest (current minimum wage 18.29 AU$ / 10.33 £), followed by New Zealand (15.75 NZ$ / 8.19 £ ) and Canada (13.60 CA$ / 7.76 £  in British Columbia; minimum wage in Canada is province-dependant). Because of the sheer amount of jobs available in Australia, it’s also the easiest of the three places to get a job in the first place. Australia has the highest cost of living of the three countries but also the highest salary.

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Travel planning and getting around

Probably the biggest difference between the three countries’ working holiday programmes is the ‘holiday’-side of things, as these countries have very different climates, landscape and therefore travel conditions vary considerably. Many people don’t actually travel that much on a working holiday visa because you can always get a tourist visa when your work permit runs out. However you do it, I would highly recommend travelling extensively in all three places, because each one of them is amazing in its very own way.

In Australia, the weather is good all year around albeit in different parts of the country. The best thing to do is aim to be south during the Australian summer (winter in Europe) and to head north for their winter (the European summer). This way you’ll get the best of the beautiful, sunny Australian weather all year around. Australia is very big so whilst you might choose to drive all of it, it’ll take a lot of time and cost a lot of money. However, because of the sheer amount of backpackers downunder, getting around is relatively easy anyhow. There are plenty of busses, the Greyhound bus offers a hop-on, hop-off ticket for long distances, it’s easy to meet travel buddies online or in hostels and internal flights are cheap, even when booked on relatively short notice and during high season. It’s also fine to be spontaneous because accommodation and transport aren’t scarce.

New Zealand is probably easiest to travel around, simply because it’s much smaller than both Australia and Canada. Travel conditions are relatively similar to Australia, with lots of possibilities available, and it is also absolutely feasible to see both the north and the south island driving one’s own vehicle in around six weeks. Buying a car is easy and car insurance is surprisingly cheap. For both Canada and New Zealand, travelling over summer and working over winter is definitely the best idea. This way, you can see more and enjoy the spectacular scenery at its best.

Getting around in Canada is a little trickier and more expensive. Internal flights and trains are considerably more expensive and as the distances are very long, driving one’s own vehicle means lots of time spent behind the wheel and lots of money spent on petrol. The only cheap way to get around is the Greyhound bus, which sadly doesn’t offer a hop-on, hop-off ticket in this part of the world. However, there are several websites where travellers can publish and find ads for rideshares and this is working very well, especially over the summer months. In the winter, some places are shut down anyway so in Canada, I really wouldn’t recommend doing a lot of travelling in winter.

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So where’s the best working holiday?

If you’re still wondering which destination is ‘the best’, the answer is as often: ‘It depends’. I can absolutely say that all of the three working holidays have rewarded me with some of the best times in my life to date. The most important question future working holiday makers should ask themselves is which country they naturally feel most drawn to. Australia is a breeze with lots of sun, a relaxed atmosphere, a lot of other backpackers, surreal desert landscapes and animals that don’t exist anywhere else. New Zealand has the most breathtaking, varied landscape on a much smaller scale and friendly locals, which makes it an easy-going place for travellers and to work. In Canada, you’ll find abundant wildlife and nature, very distinct seasons with hot summers and cold winters, lots of snow and winter sport opportunities, as well as polite and very welcoming locals. You’ll benefit from planning ahead a little more in Canada, but it is totally worth it.

My recommendation would be to benefit from the working holiday programmes in as many countries as you can, to make sure you have sufficient funds so you afford to travel and you don’t get to a position where you’re stressing about money, don’t expect to earn bucket loads of money once you are working and if you do more than one working holiday, don’t compare. No working holiday is the same and it will only diminish the experience if you expect that things will work the same way in each of these places, just because it’s the same type of visa.

Words by Christina Zimmer

More information about working holidays and how to apply:

Canada: www.cic.gc.ca/english/work/iec/eligibility.asp

New Zealand: www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/united-kingdom-working-holiday-visa

Australia: www.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/visa-1/417-

Christina Zimmer is a freelance content marketer, blogger and travel writer with a passion for hiking, photography and music. She has just returned to London from a working holiday in Canada. Follow her journey on www.theonewhotravelled.com.