Working and Backpacking in Australia | Life After Southeast Asia?

Uluru - Backpacking Australia  

For many a young backpacker, it’s almost a rite of passage. Fly to Southeast Asia, spend all your money, then head Down Under to earn it all back again!

In this guide, we’ll look at why Australia is so attractive for backpackers, how to get an Australian Working Holiday Visa, tips on finding a job down under and amazing places to visit across the country in your free-time. Feel free to jump to what you’re looking for:

Why Visit Australia?

A huge country of great diversity and a real laid back attitude on life. Possibly the easiest people on earth to get along with, the Australians will make you feel right at home! The language is English, dating back to 1776 when Captain Cook from England first anchored up off the east coast, just north of what is now Brisbane.

A vast country, most of it remains uninhabited and it takes over three hours to fly across the whole country. The diversity in life and experience is huge, with the bustling cities like Sydney and Melbourne contrasted with the famous backpacker route of natural beauty up the east coast.

Australia is the only country that is also an entire continent and it is the flattest and driest continent in the world. Almost 75% of the land cannot support agriculture of any kind and as a result 70% of the population live in the ten largest cities.

From Darwin in the North (which is actually closer to Singapore than any other Australian city), to Adelaide in the South, Perth in the West and Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in the east, there is so much to take in during a trip to this incredible country. The cities worth visiting are spread round the coastline of the country but are all easily accessible by internal flights or buses.

Australia is also home to the world’s largest sand island, rainforests in the north, Ayres Rock in the middle and beautiful beaches everywhere… no wonder it’s been a magnet for backpackers for decades!

Section 1 – Working in Australia

Fruit picking in Australia.

Section written by Nina Ragusa.

The Australia Working Holiday Visa

So your pockets are running dry and you’re looking for something new and fresh. Maybe you’ve been in Southeast Asia for quite some time or perhaps you’re looking into going to Asia soon, but you need some travel money. Well, mates, Australia is right there and needs you to come over and work! The climate is good. The money is great. What are you waiting for?

Australia has a fantastic working holiday scheme for many foreign nationals. You’re likely eligible to have the opportunity to live and work in Australia for a year or more, making money and exploring the vast country while you’re doing it.

Here’s a deeper look into Australia’s working holiday visa that could fill up your back account, knock a few bucket list items off your list, and then send you on your way to travel Southeast Asia all over again!

Step 1: Check if you’re eligible

If you have no children and are aged between 18 and 30, then you can apply for a One Year Working Holiday Visa. This is actually ‘the largest visa category for temporary residents and accounts for around 45 per cent of the total.

It’s actually pretty easy to get started. Just check this link to see if you’re from one of the eligible countries and apply online or at an embassy. The instructions are pretty straight forward. Then wait for approval. Even if you’re not from the approved lists of countries or perhaps you’re over the age limit, it’s still worth it to see if you’re eligible for a skilled visa.

Step 2: Get your shit together

This varies from country to country, but this is a good overview of the basic requirements needed to get an Australian working holiday visa.

  • Passport
  • $5,000 AUD in the bank
  • Under the age of 31
  • Functional English
  • Money for the visa fee
  • Two passport photos
  • Medical check

Over the age of 31? All is not lost, but you will need to be sponsored to get your 457 VISA. This allows you to work here for four years (plus your partner) – but you need to remain at the same company for the full duration. If you leave the business or get fired, you have one month to find a new role or get kicked out of the country. After your four years is up, you can apply for PR (perm residency) which means you’re free to work anywhere. Three years after that, you can then apply for citizenship.

Step 3: Figure out what kind of work you want to do

From mining, to fruit picking, WWOOFING, office temp work or bar and restaurant work – what are your opportunities? Well, there are heaps of different choices!

A popular backpacker job would be in the agricultural industry. Broccoli harvesting to mango picking could soon be added to your resume should you so choose, but there are other options. Another choice is to work in the hospitality industry, at a cafe or a restaurant or as a bartender. Mining jobs, nannying, gardening, retail, hotel and B&B’s, housekeeping, and more are just a few more ideas for what you could do for work while living here.

Check out these interviews with backpackers about their various jobs in Australia.

When is a good time to go to Australia?

This all depends on what industry you want to get into. If you’re aiming for working at a hotel, it would be a good idea to come a bit before their high season (in whatever region). If you want to work in farming, check when harvesting season is. Keep the weather in mind while looking at when to come as well.

Backpacker Tax

If you were looking into working in Australia recently, you may have heard about the proposed ‘backpacker tax’, which, lucky for you and me, was recently ruled illegal in Australia’s court. The tax was set to take a hefty 32.5% chunk out of every dollar! As it stands today, the working holiday maker tax rate is 15% until you earn $37,000 AUD.

How much can you earn working in Australia?

Well, considering there are so many different industries to get into, it varies. Of course, how much you pay will depend on experience as well… But here’s a bit of a taste: (Per hour and in AUD)

  • Truck driving – $25 an hour
  • Office/temp work – $21 – $25 an hour
  • Scaffolding – $30 an hour
  • Hospitality – $18-25+ for a bar or restaurant.
  • Gardening – $25 an hour.
  • Emptying bins – $26 an hour.
  • Au Pairs are getting anywhere from $15-30.
  • Trade and labor type jobs are $20-30+.
  • Farmwork/tractor driving – around $24 an hour.
  • Fruitpicking – Around $5 for every kilo of strawberries picked, and $30 per bin for apples (on average you can pick 4 bins a day).
  • Note – Farm work varies greatly. Sometimes it’s hourly, sometimes it’s by the bucket… I haven’t worked in the agricultural realm (yet?) but it’s definitely known for farmers to take advantage, so be sure you’re working with someone legit. Anywhere from $400-$1000 plus accommodation depending what farm you’re on and the skills you possess. (For example, you might get paid more if you have tractor driving experience.)
  • Call centres pay $15-20 plus commission.

It’s worth mentioning that if you speak fluent English and have a decent skill set, you’ll get paid more. I know of some people who have minimal English and no background in hospitality doing a similar job I’m doing and only getting $15 per hour (cash). These prices are just an average for a skilled worker and they do vary.

How do you find a job in Australia?

Just like you would anywhere else. Either you apply online, or you go around the old-fashioned way with a smile on your face and a CV in hand!

For more information about finding a job in Australia and the kinds of jobs you can get on your working holiday visa, see this article.

Tips for travellers with an Australian Working Holiday Visa

  • Bring money to start. It happens to be a requirement to come with at least $5,000 AUD in your bank account, but while they don’t always check, it’s nearly impossible to survive for long with barely anything. Australia is not cheap like Southeast Asia! Save a bit before coming. You’ll be living in one of the most expensive countries in the world.
  • Cook for yourself. Eating out often will get very pricey here.
  • Don’t enter the country once you’ve been approved just to leave the country again. You get one year in total no matter how many times you enter and reenter the country. You don’t ‘get those days back’
  • It might be a better idea to get a job right way although I know the lure of travel can be great. Just get a job to make sure you can get a decent one (it can take time) and save in the beginning. If anything, you can come back as a tourist if you run out of time on your working visa, but you can’t come back on a working visa so easily.
  • Make sure you check off everything and turn everything in properly when applying. Remember, you’re paying for this visa, you don’t want to lose any money for a silly mistake.
  • Facebook groups. Join them. The backpacker groups and the groups for jobs in a particular city. It can be a good resource for finding work and getting information and advice.
  • Follow up with places you’ve applied to. Competition can be high. Show them you’re really interested in working there.

Want to stay a second year in Australia?

You’ll need to do three months (88 days) of regional/harvest work (farmwork/fruitpicking). NB – it has to be specified work in a specified area, and will have to prove you were there by way of wage slips, bank statements and sometimes even pictures. You then submit your application and pay your fee online, and if approved, should get your visa extension anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.


So what do you think? Is working in Australia for you? Would you do it? And what will you do with the money you earn from your working holiday visa? What about some more travel… yes please!

Section 2 – Backpacking in Australia

A camper van near the sea in Australia.

Section written by Will Aitkenhead.

There’s no way we can cover everything there is to know about Australia in the article, so we’ll simply provide a quick overview that points out the most famous backpacker hangouts and top 10 must-have experiences in the continent. Of course, there are plenty of off the beaten track adventures to be had and we’ll let you figure them out yourselves!

Australia’s Capital – Canberra

Canberra is the capital of Australia purely by default. With Melbourne and Sydney squabbling over the title in the early 1900s, Canberra was build as a compromise in 1908. It lies in its own state, the Australia Capital Territory, and has a population of only 300,000. There is not a great deal to do here but can be a useful stop off to break up the journey between Melbourne and Sydney for a day or two.

If you do find yourself in Canberra, the Canberra City YHA is the cheapest and best place to stay. The city is also home to Brumbies rugby union side and the Canberra Raiders rugby league side who both play at the Canberra Stadium, which is a great place to catch a game. The government buildings in the north of the city are well worth a visit too.

Quick checklist of things to do in Canberra:

  • Visit Parliament House
  • Take a look at the Australian War Memorial
  • Visit the national portrait museum of Australia
  • Watch a game of rugby at the Canberra Stadium

The Backpacker Capital – Sydney

The one city that every traveller must visit on a trip to Australia, with a bustling central business district and chilled out beaches just a short ferry ride away, Sydney is an incredible city for all ages.

George Street is the main shopping street and most of the backpacker hostels are situated around the top of George Street. Base Backpackers on Kent Street is an excellent and cheap option and they have a great bar, which runs special nights most days of the week. Wake Up! also provides very good service as does Maze. A lot of Australian nightlife is centred around hotels in the city so be sure to look out for them, whilst Scubar, underneath the Sydney Central YHA is great fun and packed with travellers.

Popular Sydney hangouts for backpackers

  • Bondi Beach – a classic for anybody interested in surfing or just a chilled out day on the beach.
  • Manly – another beautiful beach just a ten minute ferry ride from central harbour, check out the Bavarian Beer Café on the port side.
  • Harbour Bridge – spectacular views of the city as you take a walk across the world famous bridge. Luna Park on the other side of the bridge is worth a trip in the evenings.
  • Darling Harbour – home to the fantastic aquarium and worth a walk around to check out the huge cruise ships that come into Sydney.
  • Olympic village – take a short train trip out to the Olympic Park, home of the 2000 Games. If you’re lucky you might even be able to watch a rugby game, or take a tour of the stadium.
  • Opera House – always worth a visit to the world famous structure and the Botanical Gardens just next to it are stunning.
  • SCG and Aussie Rules stadium – if you are into your sport then a trip here is always good fun.
  • Blue Mountains – Take a day trip for some stunning views of natural beauty.

Top 10 Backpacker Adventures in Australia

1. Fraser Island

Hire a 4×4 and camp out for two/three nights on the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island. Arguably the most beautiful place on earth, with crystal clear water at Lake Mckenzie. Make sure you get up early to take in the sunrise.

2. Sail the Whitsunday Islands

Sit back with a cold beer and sail around the stunning Whitsunday islands for a couple of days, before returning to enjoy the lively nightlife of Airlie Beach.

3. Sydney Harbour Bridge

Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge at night and witness the spectacular cityscape under the stars.

4. Cairns

A backpacker must. Explore the Daintree Rainforest, go whitewater rafting on the Tully River, dive on the Great Barrier Reef or dance on the tables of the Woolshed – you must visit this place!

5. The Great Ocean Road

Drive the Great Ocean Road. The road stretches across the south coast of Australia from Melbourne to Adelaide. Whether you just do a day trip out of Melbourne or the full three day trip make sure you do it. You’ll get the chance to take in one of the world’s most attractive pieces of coastline.

6. Uluru

Head inland and visit the one of the world’s natural wonders – Ayres Rock or Uluru. Sacred to the Aboriginal people, this giant sandstone is 450km from the nearest town, Alice Springs, but worth the trip for its collection of springs, water holes and collections of ancient drawings.

7. Sport in Melbourne

Watch sport in Melbourne. The Victorians love their sport and Melbourne is the home of sport in Australia, whether to get to the Rod Laver Arena for some tennis, The Etihad Stadium for rugby, the MCG for cricket/Aussie rules or Albert Park for the F1 make sure you take in some action.

8. Brisbane nightlife

Experience a night out in the Valley of Brisbane. World renowned for its nightlife, Brisbane is home to the best clubs in Australia. The Valley is the place to go on the weekend but if you’re there in the week then be sure to check out the Down Under Bar, a backpacker’s heaven.

9. Kangaroo Island

Head off the beaten path. Once you’ve travelled the Great Ocean Road take a well-earned rest on Kangaroo Island. South of Adelaide it is a pristine paradise with stunning beaches and incredible food.

10. Fremantle

Take a boat trip out of Fremantle Harbour, Perth. Make sure you avoid those sharks!

Have you been working and backpacking in Australia after travelling in Southeast Asia? Get in touch! We’d love to hear about your experience!

Nina Ragusa is the intrepid soul behind 'Where in the World is Nina?' This American wildflower shares her explorations without fluffing the details. You can expect wit and sarcasm dashed between REAL travel information and adventurous stories. Nina is a professional beach bum, hula hooper, and revels in getting lost on purpose.Interested in becoming a writer for us?