Australia and New Zealand’s locations make them dream trips that most people are never able to take — which is probably why travelers feel such a draw to them. It’s rare to find a traveler who doesn’t want to visit at least one of the two countries, and many desire to spend a gap year living and working Down Under. But which country to choose?
Over the past few years, I’ve done working holidays in both countries, and while Australia and New Zealand have much in common, there’s also a lot that separates them. The country you choose — or which you choose to go to first — will depend on the kind of experience you’re looking for.
The working holiday visas for Australia and New Zealand are relatively straightforward, but there are things to watch for, since both countries approach their visa schemes somewhat differently. Generally, however, visas are not too difficult to get as long as you follow the rules.
Australia has two different visas for this kind of travel: the Working Holiday visa (subclass 417) and the Work and Holiday visa (subclass 462). Which visa you can apply for depends on which passport you have, but most people from Western countries apply for the 417, with the exception of Americans, who have to apply for the 462.
The differences are few, but they are important. Both visas have a 12-month duration and limit the time you can work for a single employer to six months. This means that after six months at a job, you’ll have to find another, and it can limit the opportunities available to you. The 417 allows a further 12-month extension if you’ve done regional work for at least three months in certain economic sectors. If you want to go for the extension, read the guidelines closely because immigration officials have been getting more stringent in the past few years.
New Zealand, on the other hand, has a different working holiday scheme for each country from which the foreign worker comes. Most of the visas have a 12-month duration, with the exception of those for the United Kingdom and Canada, whose citizens can apply for a 23-month visa. Depending on your country, you may be limited to working for a single employer for three months (like the Italians) or you may have the option of applying for a three-month extension if you’ve done three months of regional work (like the French) — but again, read your visa terms, as they vary by country.
The visa for New Zealand is generally easy to get, as long as you’re not from a country with a risk of tuberculosis. British and Canadian citizens applying for the 23-month visa will likely have to undergo a medical examination and submit documentation with their application, but this often isn’t necessary for the 12-month visa. But, whichever visa you choose, you shouldn’t have a hard time getting approved as long as you follow the instructions and don’t have any glaring red flags (like criminal convictions or previous deportations).
Jobs & housing
The kinds of work and the affordability of housing will vary widely based on which areas of the two countries that you visit. Rents will be high in major cities — Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland, in particular — and cheaper in smaller cities and rural areas. A lot of backpackers in Australia live in hostels while they work, but there are also plenty of share houses around where you can rent a room on a short-term basis.
As long as you’re not too picky, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find jobs in either country, though the ability to speak good English will be important for many urban jobs. The job market in Australia seemed better to me, though there are many factors that influence the amount of work available: region, time of year, economic cycle, etc. You’ll find plenty of work in construction, hospitality, and temporary office placements in urban areas, while rural work will tend toward farm labor, which many backpackers go for.
While the cost of living can be quite high in both countries, their minimum wages are among the highest in the world — A$18.29 in Australia and NZ$15.75 in New Zealand — meaning travelers will be able to earn decent wages to fund their adventures, especially in Australia. However, they also need to be on the lookout for scams and employers trying to rip them off. In Australia, it’s not uncommon to hear about farm workers not being paid what they’re due, and I’ve heard of several instances of people being asked to do “trials” at cafes in New Zealand before they would even be considered for a job.
Even though New Zealand may be much smaller than Australia, there’s still plenty to do there. New Zealand is known for stunning natural environments, plenty of options for adventure tourism, and is a particular draw for fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit — though that’s not to say that Australia doesn’t also have beautiful scenery and a large variety of activities for travelers. It also has more vibrant urban environments (simply because there are so many more people) and beaches that can be visited year-round thanks to Australia’s warmer climate.
Both countries have great bus networks, cheap domestic flights, and huge tourism industries geared to serve the backpackers and other visitors who flock there every year. Australia, in particular, serves as a great base for further travel to the Asia-Pacific region, with notably cheap fares to South-East Asia and Japan. You can do the same from New Zealand, but with lower wages and more expensive flights, there’s less bang for your buck than in Australia.
Whichever country you choose will be a good decision, and will offer any traveler amazing experiences to cherish for the rest of their lives. Backpacker life isn’t always easy, especially some of the work you might have to do just for a paycheck, but when you look back on it years down the road, you’ll have plenty of good memories and stories to share.
The best things to consider when making your choice are the type of experience you want and, at least in my opinion, the restrictions your visa will place on you. The three-month work limitation on some New Zealand visas can make it difficult to find jobs, while for Canadians and Brits, the 23-month visa might be far more attractive. Either way, think about what you want, make the choice that best suits those desires, and then have a fantastic working holiday.