I spent two years in Canada on a working holiday visa, and now I’m in New Zealand on a year long visa. I’m perhaps going to be applying for my Australia working holiday visa later this year, so I do know a fair bit about the subject.
This guide is written from the perspective of a UK applicant. Each visa’s terms and conditions are based on the reciprocal agreement between the participating countries. For other nationalities, please see the the appropriate government website for specifics relating to your country.
From the day I decided that I was leaving for Canada until now, this question always comes up. Be it friends and family at home or tourists and travellers that I meet along the way, those who are interested in spending a good length of time in Canada, New Zealand or Australia often assume that anything to do with visas is going to be complicated and difficult. The truth is, sometimes it’s super easy, sometimes it’s needlessly complicated (I’m looking at you, Canada), and sometimes that arbitrary number known as age can get in the way.
So ladies and gents, this handy guide should hopefully clear things up and point you in the right direction towards your next overseas adventure!
Canada Working Holiday Visa
The Canada Working Holiday Visa was my first venture into visa applications, and it’s without a doubt the lengthiest and most confusing working holiday visa application process of them all. Don’t let that put you off though -it’s not difficult, just slightly long winded. The program is called ‘International Experience Canada’ and the application process has actually changed a little since I last applied.
Back in the day, you had to be ready and waiting at your keyboard as soon as the applications opened up in order to secure one of the 5,000 visas available. The process was frustrating to say the least with the website crashing every other click. It also used to be the case that you could only apply for 12 months at a time, so many of us applying for our second year in country had to adhere to UK time when the applications opened. I did have a good old rant about it in one of my old blog posts if you are keen.
Although the current process seems a little fairer, it’s still a good old slog compared to the others. As it stands at the moment, you will need to go on to the IEC website, create your profile and enter into a ‘pool’. From these pools, candidates are randomly selected to apply for the visa. The IEC website will detail when the next round of invitations will take place. So the process as the moment is kind of like a really boring version of The Hunger Games. Last year, the 5,000 allocated slots were announced in October for 2017. The first round of invitations took place at the end of November, and at the time of writing there were over 400 places left for this year’s applicants.
Once you have received your invitation to apply, you will be able to, well, apply. You have 20 days to accept the invitation before it’s offered out again. You will need to complete the online application forms as well as submit your supporting documents which include electronic copies of your passport, police certificate, CV/résumé, digital photo adhering to size specifications and medical certificate if applicable.
Age Restriction: 18 – 30 inclusive
Length of visa: Up to 24 months (no need to reapply or complete rural work)
Cost to apply: CAD$126
Minimum funds: CAD$2500 upon entry (bring a print out of your bank statement)
Visa restrictions: Nothing out of the ordinary – you can apply to work for any employer, in any industry, in any part of Canada (although Québec employers may ask for proof of your proficiency in speaking French)
New Zealand Working Holiday Visa
Last year, one hungover, grey January Sunday morning I decided that I wasn’t quite ready to fully submit to a life of office work, unpaid overtime and fluorescent lighting and on a whim, I applied online for my second working holiday visa. Within three days my application was approved and I had a year to year to make it happen! It really was that easy. All I needed to have on hand was my passport number.
The ‘Secret Working Holiday Visa’ for those 30-35, or those who have applied before
If you are between 30 – 35, or you have already spent your two year working holiday visa in New Zealand, your ship may not have sailed quite yet. There is another application option, offered by a company called BUNAC who facilitate overseas working and volunteering adventures, generally for the younger crowd or those without the confidence or time to arrange things for themselves.
One of BUNAC’s programs is called the International Exchange Program, or IEP, for New Zealand. The terms of the visa are exactly the same as those on the working holiday visa. The only difference is that the age eligibility for this visa is 18-35, and those who have already completed their two years in New Zealand can apply again using the IEP. The catch? At £600, it’s a pretty steep option.
Age Restriction: 18 – 30 inclusive (18 – 35 inclusive for IEP)
Length of visa: Technically up to 36 months if you complete a two year WHV and one year IEP back to back
Cost to apply: NZ$208/£600 if applying for the IEP
Minimum funds: NZ$350 for each month of your visa. With the normal working holiday visa, you’ll be asked to show this upon arrival in country. With IEP it’s a the time of application.
Visa restrictions: You cannot accept permanent employment
Australia Working Holiday Visa
This is generally the first one that most backpackers tick off. My first ever proper travel experience was in Australia when I was 16, and so it wasn’t top of my list, back then anyway, and remains the only one I’ve yet to apply for. At it turns out, it may have actually been quite fortunate that it ended up this way. At the end of last year, it was announced that the upper age limit for the Australia working holiday visa for UK applicants was being increased to 35. Alas this has yet to happen, with the website stating the visa terms are still under review, however I remain hopeful!
Although I’ve yet to submit an application for this one – I do know that the application and processing times are very similar to New Zealand. Fill in the online form and usually you’ll receive your electronic letter within a week – and usually all you need is your passport number.
A small quirk with the Australia working holiday visa is the requirement to complete three months of rural work in order to qualify for your second year. This could be anything from farm working to fruit picking.
Age Restriction: 18 – 30 inclusive (possible change to 18 – 35)
Length of visa: Up to two years, with the second year subject to completion of 88 days of rural work
Cost to apply: AUS$440 – there is also talk of a $100 reduction on this to go along with the potential new terms that are currently under review
Minimum funds: AUD$5000
Visa restrictions: You cannot work for the same employer for longer than 6 months, and as above 88 days of rural work must be completed before a second year is granted
Resources: Australia Government Website
Advice for those approaching/currently 30
Given that most of the above visas have an upper age limit of 30, you may think that upon gracing your third decade, that the world of working holiday visas has been closed off to you for good. That isn’t the case. In fact, it is technically possible to enter the country of your choice on a standard working holiday visa at 31 years old.
You see, the 18-30 restriction is inclusive of those at 18 years old and those who are currently 30 years old. So so long as you apply and have your application accepted before you turn 31, you are still within the requirements of this visa. Once your visa has been granted, you have a year to enter the country and activate it. So you turn 31 on the 1st July 2017, you apply for your working holiday visa on 1st June 2017, and you have your letter of approval on the 15th June 2017. You will then have until (approximately) 15th June 2018 to enter the country, so you could technically be setting off on your first working holiday visa two weeks before your 32nd birthday.
Boring, expensive and annoying but completely necessary, You will need to make sure that you have proper travel insurance before even setting foot on the plane. Most people are aware of this, however the confusion arises when trying to figure out what kind of insurance you need. I have known people to set off on a two year trip around the world with what insurers call ‘annual multi trip’ insurance. This is not what you need. Annual multi trip insurance is designed for people who take three or more smaller holidays a year. Usually the terms of this insurance state that each trip can be no longer than 30 days. So a month into your working holiday visa adventure, your insurance is already invalid.
You will need specialised backpacker insurance, which is offered by most (but not all) travel insurance companies. I have my insurance with Holidaysafe, however there are loads of options out there.
An additional complication can come along when you decide to stay away longer than you originally planned, and your insurance expires mid trip. Most insurance companies will state that all trips must begin and end the the UK, so you can’t renew it when you are abroad. You may be able to call your insurer and ask them to extend your current policy, however if that’s not an option, then World Nomads will insure you from anywhere. They are very highly regarded travel insurance company, with one of the best reputations in the industry – however they are expensive.
I have been scoping my way around various working holiday visas for a few years now, so if you do have any questions, do feel free to drop me a line and ask. If you are eligible to take part in any of the above programmes, and you have the means and desire to do so, all I can say is get that application form done. The timing will never be perfect, there will always be a reason, or multiple not to go, or to delay it for six months…a year. Once the visa has been granted and the flight has been booked, you’ll find a way to make it happen and you’ll be so, so happy that you did.