Not too long ago, I left my homeland of Australia and took a working holiday visa to the United States. Destination: New York City. When I told people – especially in the US — that I was on a working holiday, I was often met with confusion. 

“So it’s like an extended time-off?” my new friends would ask, or, “Is it work or vacation?” 

I usually answered the question in the simplest way possible: “It’s mostly a vacation.” However, that was underselling it. It was a complete adventure full of personal growth, career benefits, and amazing new encounters. 

What is a working holiday?

Essentially a working holiday is when you spend a considerable amount of time in foreign country armed with working rights. 

There are many types of working holidays out there (such as the au pair visa) which requires participants to carry out a specific job. Along with these programs, there are visas that simply allow you to arrive in a foreign country and set yourself up there for a while in a way that suits you. 

Where can I go on a working holiday visa?

This answer varies depending on which country’s passport you hold. Americans have the most flexible working holiday visa options in countries like Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and Ireland. 

The website Go Overseas outlines important information for Americans, including how to get health insurance coverage and how to find work abroad. 

Are there restrictions? 

Different countries have different restrictions depending on the length of time you want to spend there and the type of work you want to take part in during your holiday. For example, some places require that you have at least an undergraduate degree before they will let you stay, while others stipulate exactly what industries you can work in and for how long. The most common hurdle you might face, though, is your age. Usually you must be between 18-30 in order to be approved for a working holiday visa, but this can vary depending on the country. 

Age restrictions mean that these visas tend to be given to people fresh out of high school and those in between graduating college and starting a full time job. Having said that, those who are older can take advantage and use it to explore new opportunities, as well.

man with backpack outside
Photo by Cody Black.

Why you should take a working holiday? 

To try your hand at different jobs 

A working holiday visa allows you to try out a career type that you might not have considered at home. People on working holidays tend to work in transient roles from waiting tables and serving beers, as well as in phone call centers, administration, manual labor, and even seasonal farm work.  

On my working holiday, I had a variety of jobs as a personal assistant, a waiter (twice), an Upper West Side manny, and an intern….just to name a few. The benefit of so many jobs is that it’s a terrific time to ponder what you really want. Or maybe even more importantly, what you don’t want.

Employers are usually aware that you are not going to remain at the job, so it is acceptable to leave after a few weeks or months and travel to the next destination. This is a typical working holiday scenario and the most effective way to see a country. The beauty of it is that you can try different jobs in different locations. Who knows? You may even discover a latent passion after trying a few different work situations. 

Enhance a resume 

Whilst a hodgepodge of work is most common route that working holiday visa holders go, there are ways of making your time abroad an opportunity that boosts your resume. During my time on my working holiday, I met several others who had hustled their way into full-time employment and others who had managed to find internships, fellowships, volunteer stints, or freelance work for overseas organizations – all of which only enhanced their resumes for the future.  

Increase your expat potential

The usual ‘career working holiday’ type typically elects to stay put in one city and use the visa’s lengthy term to organize meetings, internships, and apply for professional jobs. After a working holiday visa is up, many search for longer-term visas (for example, through employer sponsorship). There are plenty of people the world over who thought they were off for a year-long adventure, only to wind up becoming an expat. 

Photo by Bobby Hendry.

Slow travel 

A working holiday allows you to travel at your convenience. Often these visas last one or two years, so you can really explore a place and enjoy a culture more thoroughly than if you were just a tourist. Imagine basing yourself in Australia or New Zealand and exploring the continent and Pacific Islands or shooting off to Southeast Asia. You might choose to base yourself in Ireland or France and explore Europe from there. My working holiday was a fantastic opportunity to explore some 20 American states and explore New York City (which, I’ve decided, really needs much more than a year to explore). 

Additionally, not only can you stay a considerable amount of time in a country, but you can also afford it. Working while you explore makes deep exploration all the more possible. How you plan your time is also entirely up to you. Work for three months and then travel? Or travel first and replenish your funds later? Your call. Anyway you do it, you’re not going into debt for your travels. 

Friends from around the world

This is perhaps one of the most exciting reasons to take a working holiday visa. It’s the people you met along the way. On a working holiday visa, you’re often out of your comfort zone and experiencing new things, making you more open to meeting people. You are more likely to bond with fellow travelers on working holidays and expats who have had similar experiences – it’s amazing how navigating a foreign culture can quickly create lasting bonds between people.  

Sometimes making local friends can be a bit more of a challenge. But the friendships you make are well worth the effort and the initial awkwardness. Sign up for fun classes and get involved in a team sport. Locals can be great friends since they might show you hidden hotspots. They can also root you to your temporary home. When your visa is over, you have the perfect reason to go back. 

In today’s world, a year of working, traveling, and understanding other nations and their people is priceless. 

What has been your working holiday experience? If you haven’t been on a working holiday, where would you want to go?

Header image by Maurizio Vele.