Could you work abroad? (Shutterstock: see below)
Article Words : Alexandra Gregg | 03 February

How to take a working holiday

Combining travel and work could lead to the most enlightening journey of your life, but how do you find the 'paycation' that’s right for you?

Why a working holiday?

It’s impossible to get to grips with a foreign culture in two weeks, but few people have the means to spend months travelling. A working holiday could be the answer. “You can earn money while gaining an insider view of a new country,” says Hollie Brooks of BUNAC, which offers work abroad and volunteer programmes.

According to Susan Griffith, author of Work Your Way Around the World and Gap Years for Grown-ups, countries such as Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are popular choices as they issue working holiday visas to eligible foreigners. “But most jobs are more ‘work’ than ‘holiday’ and novices should expect hard graft,” she warns.

What can I get out of it?

A well-planned working holiday takes you beyond being a tourist. Some roles – such as working at a summer camp or teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) – offer the chance to stay with local people, eat their food and become part of the family. Some jobs, such as bar/restaurant work, mean you’ll see the social aspects of a country.

Teaching English in Korat, Thailand (Shutterstock)
Teaching English in Korat, Thailand (Shutterstock)

For young people starting their careers it’s a confidence booster, explains Hollie: “It’s also a great opportunity to add international work experience to your CV.” For mature travellers, a working holiday can shake up staid routines and give a sense of perspective. “It will help to develop soft skills such as self-reliance, problem-solving, budget management and team cooperation,” reckons Susan.

How do I get started?

Consider what you want from your working holiday. Research destinations and whether you’re allowed to work there. Outline your budget too: you may receive a small wage or free bed/board, but you’ll still need to pay for flights, visas, insurance and spending money.

“While some travellers are confident enough to set off without anything lined up, many will prefer to enlist the help of a mediating company to set up a placement,” says Susan. Seek advice from several organisations and compare what’s on offer, especially when it comes to support services and cost.

Grape picking in Australia (Shutterstock)
Grape picking in Australia (Shutterstock)

If you choose to go it alone, websites such as Workaway, Season Workers or Jobs Abroad Bulletin list opportunities for all ages. You’ll need to submit an up-to-date CV and cover letter, preferably in the language of the country you wish to work in. If you secure a job, you may require a bank account/tax code in that country too. For example, in Australia, you’ll need to apply for a tax file number online after entering the country, as well as opening a bank account – just visit a branch with your passport.

What job – and where?

“Most job-seekers will depend on the two industries that survive on labour: tourism and agriculture,” says Susan. This could range from working at a theme park in the USA to being a catering manager in Cannes. “Positions can be found in almost every corner of the world,” she continues. “I’ve heard of opportunities in the Maldives, Panama, the Lofoten Islands...”

Guy Hobbs, author of Hands-on Holidays, knows how wannabe working holidaymakers can get an authentic experience: “One activity that pays fairly well, offers free or subsidised lodging, is limited in duration yet will expand your cultural horizons is fruit harvesting.”

He also champions WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), which links volunteers (aged 18+) who are willing to work in the great outdoors with farms in need of labour: “It offers good physical exercise in beautiful countryside, an education in organic farming and a great opportunity to meet people.”

WWOOFing in Australia (Shutterstock)
WWOOFing in Australia (Shutterstock)

Another option is teaching English as a foreign language. You can gain a TEFL qualification online or at a TEFL centre; there are several options, from 20-hour to 150-hour courses. The TEFL website lists jobs in 40 countries, as well as tips on how to secure a position. There’s no upper age limit for TEFL, which is useful as some working trips are limited to those aged 18-35.

“Broadly speaking, people of any age can arrange and enjoy a working holiday,” insists Susan. “In fact, elder people might be preferred for their maturity or experience.”

Other ‘all-age opportunities’ include crewing a yacht or volunteering on a kibbutz. The kibbutz body in Israel officially only places those aged 18-35; however they can take people up to 70.

How long can I stay?

Tourism-related jobs typically last for the given season. Short-term English-teaching jobs may be available in summer camps, but teaching posts are usually for a full academic year.

How long you stay also depends on visa limitations. For example, the USA’s J-1 intern/trainee visa allows a visit of up to 12 months, while the standard J-1 visa gives students the chance to work for four months, between 1 June and 15 September.

Sea turtle conservation in Sri Lanka (Shutterstock)
Sea turtle conservation in Sri Lanka (Shutterstock)

Anything else?

“Set aside a chunk of your travel budget to cover the visa costs,” says Guy. As an example, to teach English in Thailand you’ll need to apply for a nonimmigrant B visa before departure; this costs 2,000 baht (£37) for three months, 5,000 baht (£92.50) for up to a year.

“Rules, eligibility, age limits, length of stay and costs vary enormously from one country to the next, so it’s vital to get your facts straight,” stresses Hollie. Lastly, remember a working holiday isn’t really about the money, as Guy explains: “You’ll never make a fortune – a little spending money, maybe – but the opportunities do exist to make a worthwhile experience fund itself.”


Main image: Soren Egeberg Photography / Shutterstock.com