Things to Consider Before Working Abroad On a WHV
First of all: it's been absolutely incredible to read some of your responses and direct messages that have lovingly landed in my inbox! It fills me with so much joy to know that what I am writing is being read, and more importantly, understood. The whole reason I began blogging was so that I could share the ups and downs of world travel in order to help others on their journey, as well as being able to reflect on my own.
When I set out two years ago I didn't have a lot of friends or family members who had done this before, so I was learning from whatever internet reads I stumbled upon during my early planning stages. So I wanted to contribute to that wave of people sharing their experiences too. Of course, everybody experiences travel differently - and you will each probably undertake different tasks, visit different countries, take different routes, meet different people and leave with different lessons. Some of you might HATE it. Whilst most of you, will thrive. I figure if you're brave and bold enough to book the flight, you're probably of a right mind set to at least try and enjoy the ride.
I remember how anxious I was to move out of my family home and venture off to university six years ago. I had so many unanswered questions ranging from everything from the mundane to the utterly ridiculous; will I make friends for life? am I going to enjoy my course? how do I cook a salmon fillet without killing myself? what's a TV license? Am I going to be that one chick at Freshers week that ends up on LADBible? I couldn't even make toast without burning it. Sure enough, I spent many nights on the phone to Momma Emery, who kindly talked me through each stage of safely and effectively cooking a chicken dinner.
It was a huge learning process. It was unnerving and scary, exciting and empowering. Moving to Milan in my second year however, was a whole different bag of burritos. Flying to Italy to live and study in a strange country where I did not speak the language, had no current friends or family members, and no idea what I was getting myself into, was a hell of a lot scarier. So I understand the pre-travel nerves. But every second of my time there, no matter how difficult, was absolutely worth it. I welcomed those crazy and wonderful winds of change with open arms.
Then fast forward four years and I had landed a job in Sydney Australia - ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD whaaaat. A few months down the line from then and I begin living and working in New Zealand. A country so far from home that I never thought I would be able to visit. 18 months later and here I am still, sat at my desk in Queenstown, tapping away at a keyboard, thinking HOW THE HELL DID ALL THIS HAPPEN.
I MADE IT HAPPEN
Well, I would like to say it was hard work, but it was more down to personal pursuit than actual grafting. It was a healthy dose of curiosity, determination and wonder that brought me here. Confidence - yes, though much of it was a case of 'fake it until you make it'; self belief - this grows throughout each stage and you end up really surprising yourself, and lastly; passion. Passion above all can ride you through any storm. Once you find something that endorses that magical feeling within you, then you'll often stop at nothing to pursue it. My passions for learning, for adventure and for discovery is what kept me leaping over any obstacles that were hurled my way.
That's the real beauty of all of this. ANYONE can do it (visa permitting haha). You don't need a degree, you don't need to be rich, hell, you don't even have to be that intelligent... but you do need to be relatively switched on. I am living proof that you can land in a country you know nothing about, know nobody, not even speak the language... and you can survive. However, I won't be doing that again if I can help it! Life proves difficult when you are under-prepared, and lord knows I've managed to land myself in some rather undesirable situations due to not reading the small print (for example, read about my Top 10 worst travel experiences here).
So what advice would I pass on to my fellow budding nomads who are also considering obtaining a working holiday visa (WHV) to some far off, exotic destination? Read on...
What is a WHV?
"A working holiday visa is a residence permit allowing travelers to undertake employment (and sometimes study) in the country issuing the visa to supplement their travel funds." Generally, the participating countries have an age restriction of 18-31, though places like Australia are considering broadening that gap to age 35. The work visa will cost you a fee and can be obtained online through immigration portals, which once granted, you'll have a certain amount of time to land in that country and activate it through customs. There are many strict rules surrounding the use of the visa's - with sometimes devastating punishments for those who abuse the terms and conditions, so make sure you're clued up!
BEFORE YOU GO
GET THE RIGHT VISA The most important piece of advice that I could possibly ever give you, is to look carefully at exactly what you are applying for. Many of you may know already that I had visa trouble in Australia, of which I received a three year exclusion period due to some misunderstanding on my application. I expected to still be living in the land down under right now, and despite having to make a quick exit to the nearest country (hence, New Zealand) and fortunately having a great time here, getting excluded from Oz is probably the biggest regret I will ever have in my life. I say this because not only did I get kicked out of a country I saw myself living in forever, but I have now potentially screwed up any chance of getting into the USA, Canada... who knows... because now on any future visa application, I have to inform immigration of this exclusion, even when the ban is eventually lifted. I was lucky that immigration New Zealand read my case (a five page long essay explaining what happened) and agreed that my circumstance wasn't entirely my fault, giving me the chance to start again in this incredible, mountainous country. For the full story on how I got banned from Australia read here.
DON'T INCRIMINATE YOURSELF UPON ARRIVAL So this is a big one that many excited travelers overlook, because we all think we're invincible and that it 'won't happen to me'. But I know of a few unlucky souls who upon landing in their new destination, have been detained at customs for hours of questioning for no apparent reason. Immigration and border control are expected to carry out 'random' airport security checks on newcomers, which can lead to you being isolated in an interrogation room with a stern looking officer questioning your every intention of being there. I'm not trying to stir fear here, although airports make me nervous as hell now, but I personally know of a few people that have been held in Queenstown customs for up to six hours and later been deported after their phones revealed private conversations that mentioned visa abuse, cash-in-hand jobs, illegal work, drug use or dodgy dealings. My advice here is to set off free from any anxiety by removing anything that could potentially get you into trouble, whether it's a conversation you had five years ago over Facebook that mentions the word 'drugs' or simply a meme saved to your phone about smoking marijuana. It honestly isn't worth the risk. OK, MORE OF THE FUN STUFF...
TIPS AND ADVICE FOR WORKING ABROAD
Sort out your accommodation beforehand. When I first landed in New Zealand (under the circumstances that I had been forced to leave Australia with less than two weeks to plan) I ended up homeless for a couple of weeks due to the high demand for hostel beds in the ski resort and adventure capital, Queenstown. I arrived with a couple of nights booked into Nomads Backpackers but as it was December, all the hostels had been fully booked over Christmas and New Year, leaving me in a bit of a sticky situation. As usual, I figured it out and survived to tell the tale, but my advice would be to always plan accommodation ahead wherever you can. In my case, I wasn't given much choice, but if you are looking at booking any trip ever, I highly recommend sourcing a roof over your head for at least the first two weeks in order to give yourself time to figure out your bearings whilst hunting for better options. It took me two months to find a suitable house in Queenstown, and up until then I had slept on sofa's, in tents, in cars, in five different hostels, in a mates bed and even in a bathroom.
Misconceptions about working in another country I have now been residing happily in Queenstown for 22 months and I can wholeheartedly say that although I am nestled in a whimsical land of mountainous landscapes, crystal clear lakes, magical starry skies, ski fields and coastal drives, I am still waking up every morning to head to work, clocking off 13 hours later and racing home to cook dinner and go to sleep ready for another day of #retaillife. I am still living the same life that I was back in the UK, it's just a lot nicer to wake up to snow capped mountains rather than concrete buildings and rain (which by the way, we still have here). Just because I am 'traveling' - which at the moment I am not, I have been stationary in this town for the best part of two years - doesn't mean that I am not stressing over personal finances, struggling to pay bills, working my ass off, trying to organise my social life, make friends, attend events, go to the gym and spend my days off spring cleaning the house. People seem to think that moving to another country means you become immune to the mundane - you're too busy exercising your right to roam to have 'real life' issues. WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG SO WRONG. I'm doing everything I did back home, just a lot further away! The main difference here, is that I'm somewhere unfamiliar so I am a lot more inspired to leave the comfort of my home and go exploring on my days off.
That brings me on to this next point: it is so easy to fall into routine and forget why you came traveling in the first place. When you're working a 50 hour week, meeting up with the same group of friends, hitting a boxing class every Monday, a dance class every Wednesday and trying to slot in a few merry evenings of dancing on tables in the local bars, it can quickly absorb you. Over here we refer to it as the infamous 'Queenstown bubble' - a very fun and social bubble, but a bubble nonetheless. Like many other wonderful places on the planet, it entices you in and then all of a sudden six months have gone by and you haven't even left the outskirts of the town. There are so many 'locals' that have lived here now for well over a year that have never even been to the North Island! I feel sorry for folks who are less motivated to get back onto their original paths - isn't the whole reason you came abroad to explore another country? experience another culture? What's the point if all you're going to do is work, pay bills and drink at the weekends? I make a point to uproot often; go for a hike or a drive to the next city, ensure that days off are filled with trips and activities, trying my best to do something new every week. I fear that if I spend my time lazying around watching movies in my pajamas, then my visa allowance will pass me by and I will have wasted precious adventure time.
Don't just work to survive, make sure you're saving. I'm using Queenstown as a reference because it is an unfortunate circumstance that many of us once-backpackers-now-locals find ourselves in here. We come to New Zealand to experience its natural beauty, we travel around the two islands, get lured in by the ridiculous beauty of the countries adventure capital; Queenstown, and end up staying here longer than we originally planned. BUT with a housing crisis, sky-rocketing rent, expensive activities, all too tempting backpacker bars and lower than average wages, it becomes a difficult place to save. If you're wanting to venture further afield, you're going to need a car as there is limited public transport across the South Island. You're also going to need a hell of a lot of petrol, because the nearest big city is three hours away in Dunedin. If you want to pack a picnic for the journey you'll need at least $20 to rustle up a couple of sandwiches with the staggering prices that the supermarkets expect you to pay. Before you know it, a free day out of 'driving and taking photos along the way' has cost you upwards of $100. Yes it is hard to enjoy this country AND save, but it is possible if you try harder and live SMART. I say smart and not frugally because there is no need to live without your pleasures, but if you brew your own tea and whack it in a flask and pack a homemade lunch instead of dining at Ferg burger everyday on your break, then you're going to find it A LOT easier to stow away some dollar bills every pay day. Besides, you'll need some money for your next destination, because that's the sad reality of visa life. They eventually run out. My financial life motto is 'save half / spend half', it's what my Momma taught me and it's how I have always lived my life. You work hard, you play hard, you save hard so that when the time comes, you can be a YES MAN and not a 'ahhhhhhh shit I can't afford it' man.
Life on your WHV is temporary and transient. Sometimes, when you're happily and obliviously floating around in your little 'bubble', you forget that on a working holiday visa, though your life is often spontaneous and exciting, it is also very temporary. Unless you are lucky enough to secure a job where you are gifted the option to become a permanent resident, it is likely that you'll spend 12-24 months living in whichever WHV destination you've chosen. This 12-24 month period is enough time to become accustomed to a culture, well adjusted and used to a lifestyle, set up your own home, devise a routine, make a solid group of buddies to hang out with, find the love of your life or excel at your place of work. Then BAM! You have two weeks left on your visa and you must pack up and leave as if you never really existed there in the first place.
Get ready to wave goodbye to a dozen of your closest friends as they each in turn, end their WHV life with you and jet off to go live it up in SE Asia, leaving you in a lonely, jealous pile of sad. Then you eventually pluck up the courage to make new friends and then they go and break your heart all over again! Friendships can transcend oceans, but humans are far too busy to keep that up on a regular basis. I have had to tearfully say Adios to so many special people that I thought I could never live without and then low and behold, I've replaced their empty void with another equally awesome person - it's a grim reality but as time goes on, you become more stone-hearted and realise that that's just the way 'backpacker' life is. As a dear friend once told me; 'it's never goodbye, it's TO BE CONTINUED...'
Be prepared to live like a first year student again. When you first arrive at your new destination, you'll probably be staying in hostels - much like your uni halls of residence. You'll be living sparingly on a diet of packet noodles and stale bread until you settle into a job and you'll find that the best place to make friends is in the shared kitchen where you can bond over the delicious smells of other travelers cultural dishes. For months - or even years in my case - after you become a 'local', you'll still refer to yourself as a 'backpacker', even though you are no longer 'backpacking'. Much like how two years after graduating I still claimed I was living the 'student life' so that I could still enjoy discounts and justify naughty nights out on a Monday.
If you are indeed after some serious advice regarding applying for your WHV don't hesitate to contact me, so I can applaud you and entice you further. It is such a fantastic way to immerse yourself fully into a new environment, giving you the chance to earn whilst you explore. It takes guts to up and leave your home, soon to begin again somewhere new as an outsider. I don't think we are given enough credit for overcoming that initial fear, so here's to those brave souls out there that have! GO YOU.