You’re a 26-year old Canadian with a yen to cross the Pacific Ocean to travel to New Zealand. All your friends have been to Rotorua, Hobbiton and Queenstown and you feel like the odd one out, having never even left your small town of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Your 27th birthday is just around the corner and you’re getting desperate to count yourself among the (imaginary!) cohort of maverick world travellers.
Mixed in with the desperation to travel and see the world outside your insular little town is one very real worry – money. You know you haven’t saved enough to fund a trip to developing Mexico, let alone developed New Zealand. Now another emotion is entering the mix: sadness that the trip is probably not going to happen anytime soon.
Just when you’re on the verge of accepting your ‘fate’ and trying to break social media by constantly whining about life’s unfairness; your college mentor calls to suggest that there may be one way for you to travel to New Zealand after all. You start getting excited and she gives you the best news: you may be eligible for a visa that will allow you to not just travel, but live in New Zealand (albeit temporarily) and for longer than a normal two- or three-week holiday. She notices that your eyes are about to pop out of your head in a sudden surge of hope and she finally utters the three magical words you’ve never heard before: Working Holiday Visa! Whining off, excitement back on!
So what is a working holiday visa (WHV) and what do you need to know about it? This article provides a broad overview of WHV with tons of examples so you can decide if it is for you. After all, “To travel is to live” according to the inimitable Hans Christian Andersen, so if a WHV gives you the means to travel and live, why not grab the opportunity with both hands?
What Is A Working Holiday Visa (WHV)?
A working holiday visa is like a combination travel and work visa. In general, a WHV allows a holder to live in another country for a certain period of time (visa validity period) and work in that country to fund their travels. This type of visa may include an open work permit, which means that the holder is not restricted to a certain type of work in a specific field. He/she is free to move around the country for work and travel so they can structure their time and experience in a way that suits them best.
Usually, the primary purpose of a working holiday visa holder is to travel, not work. Work is simply the means that enables the visa holder to fulfil their travel dreams in that country. For many people, a WHV offers a golden opportunity for self-improvement and emotional enrichment through experiential and travel-based learning and employment.
What Can You Do With A Working Holiday Visa?
While a WHV can definitely be used as a tool to take time off from ‘real life’, it can also be beneficial in many other ways. The working holiday visa is a very versatile visa because, in addition to travelling and working, it may also allow you to:
- Study: The allowed study period is usually short-term (few weeks-few months). For studying a longer-term course, a student visa is usually required.
- Volunteer: Most WHVs allow holders to volunteer their time with a local charity. This is a great way to get some valuable international ‘work’ experience and broaden your list of contacts.
- Network: In addition to volunteering; attending seminars, meetups and chamber of commerce meetings is a wonderful (and often free) way of meeting professionals in a new country and requesting them to grant you informational interviews or update you on job opportunities.
- WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms): For many WHV holders, especially those travelling to Australia and New Zealand, the visa offers a chance to work on an organic farm for a few hours per day in exchange for room and board.
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Which Countries Offer A Working Holiday Visa?
In many countries, working holiday visas have been around since the 1970s, but in some others, they are a relatively new concept.
Whether or not a country A has a working holiday visa regime with respect to countries B, C and D usually depends on whether or not A has a bilateral agreement, i.e. a reciprocal arrangement with B, C and D. If such a reciprocal agreement between two countries exists, citizens of each country are allowed to work in the other country with a WHV under similar, comparable rules. Such agreements do not exist between all countries; therefore many countries do not issue WHVs.
For example, India does not have bilateral WHV agreements with any country and therefore Indian citizens cannot apply for WHV under any conditions. On the other hand, Canada has agreements with a number of countries so Canadian citizens have a wide range of options if they want to apply for a WHV to travel and work. The USA has agreements with only a few countries, so American citizens have fewer WHV options. On the positive side, it is extremely rare for American WHV applications to be rejected (especially by Australia and New Zealand) – surely a pleasing consolation for American applicants!
What Are The Common Eligibility Criteria For A Working Holiday Visa?
The eligibility criteria for WHV vary from one country to another so applicants must do their own research before initiating an application. However, to begin with, there are some general features of WHVs that readers may find useful.
Most countries that issue WHVs put a cap on applicants’ age. In other words, applicants are required to be within a certain age bracket at the time of application to qualify for a WHV. The age limit stipulated by New Zealand and Australia is 30 for the applicants of some countries. Canada allows applicants from Australia, Chile and Denmark (and some others) that are up to 35 years old, but limits the age of applicants from Japan, Netherlands and Sweden to 30. American citizens applying for a WHV to Ireland do not have to meet any age restrictions.
Very few countries allow applicants to apply for a WHV to the same country twice. So, if you’re a New Zealand citizen who applied for a WHV to Japan in 2016 and utilised it for travelling and working in Japan, you cannot apply for a WHV to Japan again in 2019 (even if you meet other requirements such as the age cap). In short, a WHV is a ‘limited-time’, ‘single-entry’ opportunity.
Some countries such as Australia and New Zealand allow extensions on a WHV that’s close to expiry, but this is more of an exception than a rule.
Some countries require applicants to show evidence of sufficient funds while applying. What constitutes as ‘sufficient’ depends on which country you’re applying from and where you’re going. For example, Australia requires that applicants have at least 5000 AUD in their bank account before applying. Canada stipulates that WHV holders have at least CAD 2500 before arrival to help cover initial expenses and to also buy a departure ticket. Germany does not require WHV holders to buy a return ticket in advance. New Zealand citizens applying for a WVH for Japan are required to show proof of at least 3000 NZD in their bank account. For the UK, WVH applicants that can show proof of at least 1800 GBP are more likely to make successful applications.
Many countries such as Japan and Canada require that WHV holders enter their country without dependents in tow (especially children) since the WHV is issued for a single person only. Canada and Japan also mandate that WHV holders purchase health insurance that covers the duration of their stay before they enter the country. In the case of the UK, WHV holders are required to declare their health status (and criminal status, if applicable) prior to entering. For some countries, a medical test is mandatory before a WHV application can be processed. For example, Canada requires Lithuanian and Taiwanese applicants to undergo a test, but this requirement is relaxed for applicants from many other countries. New Zealand usually asks applicants to provide medical certificates if they apply for a 23-month WHV.
A few countries such as Australia require applicants from ‘non-English’ speaking countries to submit proof of English competency. This means that simply holding a passport from the UK, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland is enough to allow you to enter Australia on a WHV. However, citizens of other countries such as Spain or Vietnam need to submit their results from an internationally accepted English proficiency test such as IELTS, TOEFL, PTE or CAE with their WHV application. New Zealand also has similar rules for applicants of certain countries (such as Turkey).
Australia also requires that applicants from some countries such as Indonesia and Spain submit a letter of support from their government plus evidence of tertiary qualifications along with their WHV application.
For How Long Is A Working Holiday Visa Valid?
The validity period of WHV depends both on the country travelled from and the country travelled to. Many WHVs are issued for a 12-month period, but extensions are possible in some cases, notably Australia and New Zealand. Some countries issue 24-month WHVs. For example, Australian citizens are eligible for 24-month WHVs for Canada and UK (assuming they meet other criteria). However, first WHVs for Australians to Cyprus and Japan are valid for three months and six months respectively. Both are extendable to 12 months (total) on arrival. The United Kingdom also issues 24-month visas. New Zealand offers 12-month and 23-month WHVs for some nationalities, with slightly different rules and eligibility criteria for each.
How Much Does A Working Holiday Visa Cost?
Like almost every other consideration, the cost of a WHV (the application fee) also depends on which country you’re applying to and from where. In general, WHVs tend to be cheaper than other visas such as work visas or permanent resident visas. Japan offers a free WHV for all partner countries.
The below table provides information on the cost of WHV for some countries:
|WHV Issuing Country||WHV Application Fee|
|Australia||450 AUD (base fee)|
|Canada||150 CAD ‘participation fee’|
How & Where Can You Apply For A Working Holiday Visa?
The application process for a WHV is usually fairly easy (with some exceptions!), irrespective of where you’re applying from or for which country.
Almost every country allows applicants to submit their applications online. The processes to apply for a WHV to New Zealand and Australia are among the easiest, probably because they are two of the most popular countries for working holidaymakers. Across the board, it’s pretty rare for applicants to be asked to visit an embassy or visa office in person while their applications are being processed.
In general, the process for applying for a WHV is as follows:
- Step 1: Decide which country you want to travel to
- Step 2: Confirm your eligibility for that country, especially with regards to your nationality and age, but also with your financial, health and job status, if applicable
- Step 3: Gather all necessary documents
- Step 4: Confirm if you can make the application online. If yes, find the website of the relevant department or embassy – Immigration, Department of Home Affairs, Federal Home Office, etc – and fill out the application form. Make sure that you save your application periodically.
- Step 5: If you are required to complete the application by hand and snail-mail it, download the form and fill it out legibly. You may be asked to send your passport and a self-addressed stamped envelope with your application.
- Step 6: Provide the required documents and pay the fees
- Step 7: Submit your application. Don’t forget to take a copy first. Make a note of the (usual) processing timelines on the application website
- Step 8: Check your visa status and follow up if necessary. Online applications are usually processed (and approved) faster than mail-in applications. Confirm if the visa will be electronic (e-Visa) or in the form of a stamp in your passport
WHV applications can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for processing so all countries recommend that applicants lodge their applications well in advance. Some countries follow a quota/lottery system (first-come-first-serve) for certain partner countries, so the earlier you lodge your application, the greater your chances of success.
What Kind Of Work Can You Do On A Working Holiday Visa?
The type and duration of work that is allowed on a WHV depend on the issuing country. In general, all WHV-issuing countries prohibit work that is permanent or illegal, involves providing commercial sex services or setting up a new business. Working as professional sportspersons and practising medicine without a proper license and registration (in that country) are also usually not allowed.
The UK’s WHV scheme – now known as the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme – allows visa holders to work over the entire 2-year period of their visa. In addition, there are no restrictions on the kind of work that they can do with a few exceptions: they are not allowed to set up their own business, work as professional sportspersons or take up work as trainee doctors.
Germany’s WHV rules with respect to employment are fairly comprehensive and differ by country. For example, Australian citizens with a German WHV can work for a maximum of 12 months and are allowed to change jobs. However, Hong Kong citizens are issued a WHV by Germany with the stipulation that although they can work for a full 12 months, they cannot work with one employer for more than 3 months. This means that if they plan to work for the entire duration, they need to change jobs every 3 months, which makes it harder for them to be ‘employable’. Freelancing is allowed on a German WHV but selling goods online is not.
New Zealand’s employment rules also differ by the WHV applicant’s nationality. Canadians on a 23-month WHV can work for the entire 23 months or split their time between work, travel and study. However, Thai nationals are only issued a 12-month visa and they are not allowed to work with the same employer for more than 3 months.
Income tax rules also differ by country. In the UK and in New Zealand, everyone who has a job has to pay income tax, irrespective of their nationality or residential status. In Australia, working holidaymakers are taxed based on their income and which ‘tax slab’ they fall under. In Taiwan, all holidaymakers staying in the country for more than 90 days are required to pay tax.
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What Kind Of Documents Do You Need To Apply For A Working Holiday Visa?
Some or all of the following documents may be required to apply for a WHV in any country:
- Application form
- Biometrics – photographs, fingerprints
- Application fees
- Evidence of health and/or travel insurance valid for the period and country of travel
- Bank statement showing proof of funds
- Return ticket
- Offer letter to show proof of employment in that country, if any
- Academic transcripts (some countries require evidence of tertiary qualifications)
- Any other type of identification
- Letter of support from the government of your home country
Are There Any Restrictions On A Working Holiday Visa?
As already mentioned in previous sections, the most common restrictions around WHV usually concern the applicants:
- What type of work he/she is allowed to undertake and for how long
Whether he/she is allowed to:
- Undertake a short-term study
- Enter the country without medical tests or certificates
- Bring dependents with him/her
And if he/she is required to:
- Book a return ticket before entry
- Buy health or life insurance
- Show proof of funds
A working holiday visa can be a boon if you want to travel to a new country without breaking the bank. With a little planning, lots of research and an exuberantly adventurous spirit, it can open the gateway to an experience of a lifetime.