Working Holiday Visas: Are You Qualified?

by Published

College graduation is looming in the distance (or in the rearview mirror) and you could, of course, settle down, apply for a responsible job in your hometown, and be perfectly happy. Or…you could apply for a Working Holiday Visa abroad, and work in another country for six months to a year! (We vote for you go for Option #2). 

Working Holiday Visas vary from country to country, but they all offer young, recent graduates and U.S. citizens the incredible opportunity to legally work in another country, gain invaluable life and work experience, and continue to explore the world.

traditional architecture and temple with flags in Singapore

Singapore might not have been on your radar before, but with a working holiday visa it should easily top your travel bucket list. 

Sound like your kind of gig? Before you pack your bags, first make sure you’re qualified to go! Here’s everything you need to know about the beloved “working holiday visa” (and how to get one).

FAQs on working holiday visas

1. Where are Americans eligible for a working holiday visa?

While European citizens have much more flexibility in choosing where to apply for a Working Holiday Visa thanks to opportunities set up by the European Union, U.S. citizens are eligible for Working Holiday Visas in just five countries. Each of these countries has its own specific requirements for visa applicants, but the good news is you have some options! As an American, you can work in Australia, Ireland, Singapore, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Giddy up!

2. Are there age requirements for getting working holiday visas? 

You betcha. Here’s a breakdown for you:

  • Australia’s Working Holiday (subclass 462) Visa is open to U.S. citizens aged 18-30, which is a great for recent grads and those in their mid-to-late 20’s, who want a break from Real Life and are looking for an adventure!
  • Ireland’s Working Holiday Agreement requires its student applicants to be 18 at the time of applying.
  • Skipping off to Singapore? This Working Holiday Program is open to U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 25. Singapore only accepts 2,000 applicants a year, so be prepared for a pretty competitive application process!
  • New Zealand’s Working Holiday Visa is for U.S. citizens, ages 18-30, and good news! New Zealand has an unlimited number of places/visas each year, so as long as you meet the other requirements, you’re all set to live out your dreams of being a hobbit!
  • South Korea requires its Working Holiday Visa applicants to also be between the ages of 18 and 30, so you have plenty of time to decide to take your life abroad!

[Watch: Working abroad—words of encouragement from those lucky few who've done it]

3. What other working holiday visa requirements are out there?

The working holiday visa requirements vary from country to country. We did our best to summarize here, but always recommend asking consulates directly for specific questions about your situation and eligibility for a working holiday visa.

Australia

  • While the Australian Working Holiday Visa allows visa-holders to stay in Australia for as long as a year, you can only work for one employer for six months at a time.
  • You cannot bring a dependent child with you to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa.
  • Aside from the visa application fee, you must prove that you have sufficient funds to support yourself while in Australia. The minimum amount of money you’ll need to have with you is AU $5,000. 

Ireland

  • You can only stay in Ireland for one year.
  • Applicants to Ireland’s Working Holiday Agreement must either be currently enrolled in a full-time, post-secondary (a.k.a. post-high school) higher education institution (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctorate degree), or you must have graduated from a higher education institution within 12 months of applying for the visa.
  • After the application fee, you must prove that you have either a plane ticket leaving Ireland plus €1,500, or €3,000 total (basically, they want to be sure you can’t get stuck in the country due to a lack of savings!). 

Singapore

  • You can only stay and work in Singapore for six months.
  • Applicants must be either currently enrolled in a higher education institution at the time of applying, or must have graduated and received a degree. 

New Zealand

  • You may stay in New Zealand for one year. While in New Zealand, you may not accept a permanent job, and you may study or train while there for up to six months.
  • Applicants may not bring a dependent child with them while on a Working Holiday Visa.
  • You must be able to prove that you have at least NZ $4,200 to live off of while in New Zealand, and you may be asked to prove you have a return airplane ticket home.

South Korea

  • You may stay in South Korea for up to 18 months.
  • Applicants must either be currently enrolled, or recently graduated from, an accredited university.  
  • You cannot bring a dependent child with you while on a visa in South Korea.
  • Applicants must be able to prove they have sufficient funds to support themselves for the majority of their time in South Korea (KRW 3,000,000), as well as proof of return airfare to your home country.

[Get matched with a working holiday program today!]

Quick Note About Language Requirements

For applicants trying to go to Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, you must show some proof of English language proficiency. This can mean either proving your citizenship from an English-speaking country, or scoring an appropriately high score on an internationally approved English test. So yes, you can be a non-native English-speaker and go abroad on a Working Holiday Visa! Just be sure that your grammar is up to snuff to pass the tests.

Saltee Island, Ireland, grassy cliffs with flowers and the ocean

There’s a reason Ireland is constantly likened to a gem. Get a working holiday visa to experience this sparkling island. 

4. What if I don’t have a college degree?

All five countries where U.S. citizens can obtain a Working Holiday Visa (Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea) require Working Holiday Visa applicants to either be enrolled or have completed a degree from a institution of higher education at the time of their application submission. 

5. Where can I work abroad with a working holiday visa?  

In all five countries in which Americans qualify for a Working Holiday Visa, you may work at any level of employment in any field – assuming, of course, that you’re qualified. Obviously, if you’ve ever only played the board game of Operation, you can’t just stroll into the first Irish hospital you see and offer up your services as a nurse. Also, try to avoid illegal jobs because, you know, they’re illegal. Otherwise, you are welcome to work wherever you’d like!

It’s important to note that certain counties restrict how long you can work for a certain employer. For example, all of these countries ban visa-holders from accepting a permanent job, and Australia and New Zealand require its Working Holiday Visa participants to only work for one employer six months at a time. This can obviously have an affect on the type of work you can do and how much money you can make, so keep that in mind when planning your time abroad! 

6. How much money can I make with a working holiday visa? 

How much money you make while on a Working Holiday Visa obviously depends entirely on the country you’re living in and the type of work you’re doing. Obviously, aside from the financial requirements set in place by each government’s visa process, you should also have some extra personal savings on hand for travel and emergencies.

Most employment for Working Holiday Visa-holders are seasonal and, thus, not exactly high-paying, salaried jobs. However, the good news is that many countries have high minimum wages! In Australia, for example, the minimum wage is $18.29 AUD, and New Zealand’s minimum wage is $15.75 NZ. Obviously, this is much higher than the minimum wage in the United States, even given the exchange rate, and gives you much more to live off of! However, you must also take into account that the cost of living in Australia and New Zealand is fairly high, and you may have to stick to a strict budget, or work multiple jobs at once, in order to pass by.

Ireland’s minimum wage is 9.25 EURO which, considering the high cost of living in Europe, can be challenge, but is doable with enough creative budgeting and hard work! While Singapore has no legally-instituted minimum wage, the cost of living there is astronomically high, so be sure to aim high (in terms of salary) when searching for jobs! South Korea’s minimum wage was recently increased to 7,530 won ($6.60), but English-teaching and tutoring side-gigs can bring in a lot of extra savings!

If you play your cards right, you can get a job abroad that is not limited to the service industry or seasonal employment. If you find a job relevant to the field that you’d like to work for - even if it’s just an office temp position - you could make some serious cash. More to spend on travel through the Outback!

It’s important not to go into a Working Holiday Visa assuming that you’re going to emerge on the other end rich and rolling in cash. The point of going abroad for six months to a year is to have the opportunity to live and work abroad in a foreign country. You’re there to gain work and life experience, and to travel, but not necessarily to start your booming personal business that will earn you a private jet. 

[The Case for Quitting My Job to Travel Without a Backup Plan

rushing water from fjordland national park, New Zealand

If you’re looking for an adventure, your working holiday in New Zealand will be filled with sweeping views and some serious adrenaline.

7. Hey, quick q. What makes the Australian work visa so great?

The Australian Working Holiday Visa is a pretty popular one. Aside from the appeal of living in the Land Down Under, Australia boasts an aforementioned high minimum wage, a thriving economy, lively cities with diverse culture and cuisine, and half the unemployment rate of the United States.

Australia is also a very big supporter of a work-life balance, making sure that employees are treated properly and also have plenty of time to actually live their lives with the money they’re making. When coming from a culture that is constantly go-go-go, this can be incredibly refreshing!

It doesn’t hurt that Australians are known for adventurous, happy attitudes and lifestyles. Plus, you know you want to take a #QuokkaSelfie.  

What are popular jobs with a working holiday visa? 

Because you can’t accept a permanent job on a Working Holiday Visa, many visa-holders work seasonal jobs while abroad! Here are a few of the most popular areas of work for people with a Working Holiday Visa: 

1. Hospitality

 Working as a hotel or hostel concierge while abroad is a great option for those on a Working Holiday Visa! Not only will you get to work with locals and meet people traveling from all over the world, many hostels offer free accommodation for its employees. Because backpackers and visa-holders are always on the move, there are a lot of hospitality job openings

You’ll be working in a lively, informal environment surrounded by fellow travelers and new, potential friends! Just be sure to do your research – many hostels will hire people “off-book” and will underpay you, but with no one to hold them accountable, they can get away with it.

Recommended hospitality programs for working holiday visas:

2. Retail

Luckily, retail and sales are found worldwide, so you may already have experience in this field! There’s also always a lot of turnover, so you will definitely find jobs in this field available. These jobs are relatively easy, have flexible hours, and decent pay; in fact, Australia and New Zealand actually have remarkably high minimum wages! This makes retail an excellent option for those living and working abroad short-term.

Seoul, South Korea, streets with high rise buildings at sunset

Make big bucks and experience a totally new culture working and traveling in South Korea. 

Recommended retail programs for working holiday visas:

3. Food and Drink Industry

Working as a waitress/waiter, barista, bartender, or chef is one of the top forms of employment for working holiday visa-holders. In the culinary industry, you’ll have to face the challenges of high vs. low seasons of employment hiring, but if you can easily snag a job in this field if you have little to no work experience. However, some background knowledge is always a plus! When it comes to bartending, the better the drinks, the better the tips! You can make quite a bit of money if you have generous customers, and you’ll probably get to eat and drink on the job! 

However, like in all parts of the world, working in restaurants and bars can be a challenging job. You’ll work long, odd hours, have to put up with difficult customers, and probably spill food on your clothes. But the payoff is definitely worth it!

Recommended food and drink programs for working holiday visas:


4. Office Work

Yes, believe it or not, you can gain some office and professional experience while abroad on your Working Holiday Visa! Many countries have temp agencies you can use to get short-term administrative gigs. Just think how great it would look on your resume for future employers or graduate schools to show that you did work relevant to your career interests while abroad.

Recommended office work programs for working holiday visas:

5. Tour Guide / Instructor 

While abroad, you can work for a number of companies in a number of different capacities such as city tour guide or any number of athletic instructor positions (skydiving, scuba diving, skiing, you name it!). Obviously, it helps if you’re certified to teach such activities, but being a native English-speaker can be especially helpful when catering to other English-speaking tourists. How much money you can make will of course vary depending on the country you are living in, and the field you choose to work in. 

There are an endless number of jobs you can snag while abroad on a Working Holiday Visa, and these are just a few of them! Although you don’t need a job before arriving in-country, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to a few businesses beforehand to make a great first impression.

Recommended hospitality programs for working holiday visas:

[Save and compare your favorite working holiday programs with MyGoAbroad]

Gold Coast, Australia, city rising up next to the beach and ocean in the afternoon

Australia is the Gold (Coast) standard for working holiday visas. 

Alternatives to working holiday visas

Still craving to live and work abroad but don’t think Working Holiday Visas are for you? Here are a few other options to consider!

1. Find a Short-Term Job Abroad 

Maybe one year isn’t good enough for you. Maybe…YOU WANT IT ALL. 

Okay, dramatics aside, some people just know that they want to make their move abroad permanent. This can mean finding a legitimate, permanent job through an employer who will sponsor a permanent work visa, in the field you’d like to work in. 

  • Au Pair Paris offers you the chance to work with children, teaching them English while living with a host family and learning French in return! Your days will consist mostly of childcare, but the freedom of the weekends and the ability to live in one of Europe’s most incredible cities is unparalleled. 
  • Teach English through the International TEFL Academy in locations such as Spain, Costa Rica, or Thailand (and basically any destination that isn’t eligible for Working Holiday Visas). You can work with both young and adult students, bridging the gap between your own English-speaking homeland and your students’ culture.
  • Still not finding what you’re looking for? Browse all jobs abroad

2. Consider Interning Abroad 

If you’re not sure if you’re ready for the Real World, but you’d still like to gain some international work experience, consider interning abroad! This is an excellent opportunity to see how the work world works in your chosen country, and to earn some great references for your resume.

  • You can intern in London – one of Europe’s largest political, economical, and cultural hubs – with the Mountbatten Institute to gain incomparable entrepreneurial and business experience. 
  • With IES Abroad, you’ll be guaranteed an intern position in a variety of locations, including Cape Town, Sydney, Milan, or others. With these programs, you’ll be provided with on-site support from program staff who will help you transition to your new host country for the summer. 
  • In need of more ideas? Browse all international internships

3. Find a Volunteer Program You’re Passionate About

If working for money isn’t your thing, why not work for the fulfilling knowledge that you’re making the world a better place? There are literally thousands of volunteer abroad programs waiting out there for students and recent graduates hoping to make a difference.

  • With Frontier, you can contribute to a number of projects worldwide that are all dedicated to wildlife conservation. Volunteer with the fishies, the birdies, the elephants… your call!
  • Support GoEco’s program in Nepal, dedicated to empowering young women to create brighter futures! 
  • Find something else that makes your heart flutter — Browse all volunteer programs 
Morning fog along the green, rocky coast of Ireland with small farmhouse

Find a little shine in the mornings on the Emerald Isle. 


4. Become a Digital Nomad

Do you like the idea of traveling whenever and wherever you want as well as setting your own schedule and workload? You might want to follow the path of a digital nomad! Working remotely around the world while traveling is not as easy and simple as it sounds. You will still have to work hard to support yourself financially. Be sure to do plenty of research before committing to this lifestyle, and make sure it’s right for you! However, there’s no doubt that working as a “digital nomad” allows you an amazing amount of freedom.

Interest piqued? Read how to work your way around the world without the visa hassle.

Working holiday visas = your ticket to happiness 

Working Holiday Visas offer young students, recent graduates, and young adults the incredible opportunity to venture out from their homes and explore new countries, all while earning a living wage! This experience looks good on a resume for future employers or educational institutions, yes, but more importantly it will give you the chance for personal growth. You’ll expand your worldview through the challenges of living and working in a foreign country alone, and you’ll inevitably become a more interesting and well-rounded person because of it.

Find even MORE jobs abroad