So you’re planning a working holiday to that faraway land of sun and fun, Australia. But how much should you budget to ensure you don’t miss out on anything during your stay?
In this article we’ll look at the living costs of Australia that you need to consider before setting off on your trip – from cruising and boozing to a place to do your snoozing. We’ll also look at what you can expect to earn for your work, so that you can form a more sustainable backpacker budget that doesn’t see you constantly shaking your piggy bank.
How much does it cost to live, work and travel in Australia as a backpacker on a working holiday? Let’s start at the beginning.
NB: The figures quoted here are approximate, and are correct as of September 2019. They are intended solely as a guide.
Looking for our calculator tool? You’ll find out Budget Calculator here.
- Costs of a Working Holiday Visa (1st, 2nd and 3rd year)
- Flights to Australia
- Travel Insurance
- Minimum Wage in Australia
- Average Earnings in Australia
- Examples of Cost of living in Australia
- Average Backpacker Spend in Australia
- Tax Return Refund Claim
Your first job is to ensure you will be allowed to work and travel in Australia by obtaining a visa. There are two types of visas that apply to Australian working holidays. Visa 417 and visa 462 are almost identical, and the visa you apply for will depend on your nationality.
The cost of the 417 Working Holiday visa
Visa 417 applies to citizens of the following countries: Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and the UK.
This is a 12 month visa that can be extended for a second and third year if certain conditions are met. The visa costs $485 per 12 month period. Click here to learn more about the 417 visa.
The cost of the 462 Work and Holiday visa
Visa 462 applies to citizens of the following countries: Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Peru, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, Uruguay, the USA and Vietnam.
Like visa 417, this is a 12 month visa that can be extended for a second and third year if certain conditions are met. The visa costs $485 per 12 month period. Click here to learn more about the 462 visa.
Don’t see your country on the list? The Australian government is always negotiating working holiday visa arrangements with other nations, so check the Department of Home Affairs website to see whether yours has recently been added.
Applying yourself vs applying through an agency
While it’s relatively simple to apply for the 417 and 462 visas through the Australian Department of Home Affairs website, there are a number of agencies that offer to walk you through the application process and submit the documentation on your behalf.
These companies ensure that you successfully complete the application process, and sometimes offer a shorter turnaround time and help to set up your life in Australia (bank accounts, medicare cards, etc.). You will pay more for the pleasure though.
|Company||417 visa application fee||462 visa application fee|
Visa approved, it’s time to search for flights. The earlier you book, the cheaper it will be.
Approximate prices (in AUD) for booking one way flights are as follows:
|Route||Booking 6 months prior||Booking 1 month prior|
|London to Sydney||$1000||$1200|
|New York to Sydney||$1200||$1500|
|Tokyo to Sydney||$800||$1000|
|Hong Kong to Sydney||$500||$600|
|Auckland to Sydney||$200||$250|
Direct flights can be caught from most major centres in Asia, and from the West Coast of both North and South America. Flights from Europe or Africa will usually pass through either the Middle East (particularly the Persian Gulf) or South East Asia (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, etc.)
Qantas already have a direct flight from London to Perth, and will add direct flights to Melbourne and Sydney by the end of 2019. These are more expensive than stopover flights, however.
Your parents are right – you should never leave home without travel insurance. While it’s easy to say ‘it won’t happen to me’, the fact is that sometimes injury, theft, loss or cancellation will.
While Australia has a solid public health system, only visa holders from certain countries have access to it. The following countries have Reciprocal Health Care Agreements with Australia, granting them to access the public system in much the same way as an Australian: Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom.
Even if you come from a country with an RHCA, there are many things that aren’t covered by the Australian public system. A good insurance policy will therefore cover you for the following:
- Injury (including those caused by adventure and snow activities)
- Emergency dental care
- Ambulance transportation
- Medical repatriation to your home country
Healthcare aside, your policy should also include the following coverage:
- Personal liability (if you cause injury/damage to something/someone else)
- Theft and loss of property
- Flight, tour or entire trip cancellation
- Travel delays
- Rental car insurance
The following companies offer insurance specifically designed for Working Holiday visa holders:
The price of working holiday insurance will depend on your personal circumstances and the level of cover you require, but you should expect to pay anything from $50 per month for basic coverage through to $300 for comprehensive.
Some credit cards offer travel insurance, although the coverage is often limited (it may only apply to ticket and tour purchases made on the card, for example).
We spoke to World Nomads about the benefits of travel insurance for backpackers;
“Travel insurance is probably not as expensive as you think. A week in Australia will cost around $57USD, a month $100 and 6 months $400 (with similar prices for those coming from other countries). Considering you probably paid $200 for a decent backpack, that’s pretty good value.
“And like your backpack, it’s an investment in ensuring you have the best trip possible, and with peace of mind knowing a team of people are on hand 24/7 to assist you if anything should go wrong.
“At World Nomads, there are two plans, Standard and Explorer and cover up to 150 adventure activities and sports (depending on which plan you choose) so you can be covered while you explore everything Australia has to offer.
“It’s important that you check out plans thoroughly to make sure they’re right for you – who knows a different provider’s policy may be best for you, which is fine, we just want you to be protected.
“But World Nomads is not just an insurance provider, we’re travellers like you and committed to doing it in an ethical way, with respect for the planet and the people you meet.”
Minimum wage in Australia
Australia’s minimum wage is amongst the most generous in the world. As of 2019 it was set at $19.49 per hour, or $740.80 for a standard 38 hour week. Casual employees covered by the minimum wage will also receive a minimum 25% loading on that rate.
There are certain jobs to which the minimum wage doesn’t apply, however.
Certain jobs, like farm and production work, are paid at a ‘piece rate’. This is where an employee is paid for each ‘piece’ they pick, prune, pack or produce. These jobs require an agreement to be signed that outlines the rate. It’s wise to ask the employer how much the average worker earns so you can get an idea of the hourly rate you’re likely to receive, and how it compares to the minimum wage.
Certain sales jobs may be offered as commission only – i.e. if you don’t make a sale, you don’t get paid. These jobs will also require a signed agreement and, as above, it’s wise to enquire about the average earnings before you accept the position. Positions which pay a base rate and use commissions as an added incentive are more common (and a safer choice).
Au pairs are entitled to the Australian minimum wage, although live-in au pairs will have room and board deducted from their pay.
Cash in hand work
Be wary of employers who ask to pay cash in hand. This form of payment often isn’t documented, meaning the employer can sidestep regulations and pay you less than they are legally required to. Accepting cash also limits your ability to get help from regulators should you be underpaid, or indeed if anything goes wrong at all.
Average earnings in Australia
Here is what you can expect to earn for some of the more common working holiday jobs in Australia.
As above, live-in au pairs earn the minimum wage, but room and board are taken out of their pay. Au pairs generally end up getting paid around $250 per week.
Hospitality workers get paid at (or slightly above) the minimum wage of $19.49 an hour, with casual employees enjoying a 25% loading. Penalty rates may apply when working weekends, public holidays, overtime, late nights or early mornings, representing anything from 125% to 225% of your normal hourly rate. Tipping isn’t customary in Australia – in part because hospitality workers are well paid – and is generally only seen in tourist hot spots.
Certain awards often apply to farm work which serve to increase your hourly rate above the minimum wage. You can use the Fair Work Ombudsman’s pay calculator to check the rate you’re entitled to.
If you’re getting paid a piece rate, it should really reflect the minimum wage – i.e. an hour of work at a normal pace should earn you approximately $20. If it doesn’t, you should take the matter up with your employer.
Most sales jobs will pay the minimum wage, with a small commission added on top for sales made. Commission only jobs are an exception – they often have a greater potential to earn (in some cases the best salespeople can earn multiple thousands of dollars per week), but if you don’t sell, you don’t get paid. Door to door and charity sales jobs are often commission only.
Examples of Cost of living in Australia
Food Costs in Australia
|Loaf of bread||$3|
|Supermarket ready meal||$8|
|Fast food meal||$12|
Cost of Alcohol in Australia
|Bottle of beer/ cider||$5|
|Carton (x24) of beer/cider||$50|
|Bottle of wine||$12|
|Box (4L) of wine||$16|
|Base spirit (700ml)||$40|
|Schooner of beer (425ml)||$9|
|Pint of beer (570ml)||$12|
|Glass of wine||$8|
|Spirit and mixer||$9|
|Bottle of wine||$30|
Cost of Backpacker Accommodation
|Bed in an 8 bed hostel dorm||$20 – $30|
|Private room in a hostel||$60 – $100|
|Room in a share house in Sydney||$300/week|
|Room in a share house in Melbourne||$230/week|
|Room in a share house on the Gold Coast||$210/week|
Cost of Transport in Australia
|Metro bus/ rail single ticket||$4 – $5|
|Metro bus/ rail day pass||$8 – $10|
|Bus from Sydney to the Gold Coast||$120|
|Flight from Melbourne to Sydney||$150|
|A 14 minute, 4km Uber ride||$14|
|A 14 minute, 4km taxi ride||$16|
|Economy rental car||$40 – $60/day|
|Campervan rental||$100 – $190/day|
Phone and Internet Costs
|SIM Card w/ ~5GB of data and talk/text||$40/month|
|WiFi||Widely available in cities, less available in rural areas (it’s wise to get a SIM card).|
|iPhone XS handset||$1799|
|3 day organised tour||$400 – $500|
|Single day tour||$50 – $300|
|Snow skiing day pass (inc. entry/lift)||$200|
|Ticket for an AFL game||$30|
|Ticket for an Aussie soccer game||$30|
|Movie ticket||$15 – $20|
|Concert ticket (local artist)||$30|
|Concert ticket (international artist)||$100|
It’s important to note that these are the average, approximate prices for each item as of September 2019. Prices could be higher at certain times of year, while on the flipside happy hours, meal deals, supermarket specials and last minute discounts could also see these prices discounted by as much as 50%.
Average Backpacker Spend in Australia
With these prices in mind, what does the ‘average’ backpacker tend to spend during their working holiday?
It should first be noted that during the visa application process, the Australian government deems a ‘sufficient amount’ of savings to be $5000. You’ll need to be able to prove that you have that amount of cash at your disposal if you are to be approved for the visa.
Average monthly costs
So let’s take a look at what a monthly budget in Australia might look like.
|Living expenses (bills/ transport/ insurance etc)||$500|
|Total||$2,500 per month|
Obviously these figures will vary wildly from person to person – if you live in Sydney, go out every night and do plenty of travel you will far exceed this budget, if you live the quiet life in a rural area you will come in well under it.
Tax return refund claim
While working in Australia on a 417 or 462 visa you’ll be taxed at a rate of 15% for the first $37,000 earned, and will be taxed at the same rate as a resident thereafter.
Like an Australian resident, you may be able to reduce your taxable income by claiming eligible work-related expenses, resulting in a tax refund. Check our article for tips to increase your tax refund claim. You can use our Tax Refund Calculator to estimate your refund.
When you leave Australia you may also be able to claim a portion of the money put aside into your Australian superannuation (retirement) fund.
Budgeting for an Australian working holiday is far from an exact science. But by understanding the basic cost of living, you’ll be far better prepared for the adventure that lies ahead.
As we wrote in this 2016 article, working holiday makers contribute an incredible amount to the Australian economy – current estimates suggest they inject around $3 billion every year, both through the money they spend and the labour they provide. It’s fair to say that the country couldn’t function without them!
If you’re currently enjoying a working holiday down under, or you’ve recently completed one, how did you get on with your budget? Did you overspend, underspend, or manage to break even? How did you go about budgeting for big city life? Did you save money while working in the country?
Let us know in the comments below!