why you should do a working holiday visa (and how to get started)

Originally published on PROJECT INSPO


A shortened list of questions I get when I tell people I'm an American doing a working holiday visa in Singapore:

"How long are you here for?"
"Why Singapore?"
"What's a working holiday visa?"
"How can you afford that?"
"Why didn't you just get a job back home?"
"Are you really not allowed to chew gum?" (the short version: You are, but it's complicated)

Working holiday visas are the best-kept secret for recent grads and millennials that want to travel. Most people have never even heard of them. But they're perfect if you want to travel but can't afford it at the moment; e.g. if you're a poor college student or you graduated with a bit of debt.

A working holiday visa is a reciprocal agreement between two countries that allows citizens to work and live around the world. The benefits of it are that you can stay longer than a normal vacation and are legally allowed to work to fund your travels. It's essentially halfway between a sponsorship and a tourist visa.

The requirements for these visas vary by country, but the five available to U.S. citizens are Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea. If you're not from the U.S., you can Google "working holiday visa [country you wish to travel to]," and see if they offer it in your country. Or, take a look at this list from Global Goose.

There are a million reasons to do a working holiday visa, but here are just a couple of them:


1. it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

There are three reasons that a working holiday visa presents a golden opportunity for young people. Firstly, there's an age restriction—most countries will only let you apply if you're under 30 years of age (for some countries it's under 25). You can only do it once, which means that once you've received your working holiday visa, you can never apply again to that country. You will have other opportunities to travel, but you will never have this opportunity to travel. And lastly, some programs only accept a limited number of applicants at one time.

2. you can travel within your budget

Working holiday visas allow you to travel and legally work at the same time, which means you can subsidize the cost of your trip. If you're worried about money but you still want to see the world, this is both a practical and viable option. One of the main appeals of working holiday visas is that they make travel accessible to facilitate cultural exchange between countries.

3. you can be fully immersed in the culture

Unlike a normal visa, you get to live there for an extended period of time; you can get to know the local community and their way of life, and learn about and understand the country's culture. For many, the most valuable part of traveling is the intangible benefit of adjusting to and interacting with a new environment. Cultural immersion means taking steps outside of your comfort zone and truly living as a citizen of another country and proactively learning its traditions and customs, even if it's just for a short amount of time.

4. you get the experience of living abroad

I found out about the working holiday visa from a recruiter. I spent around an hour on the phone with her, asking her questions and debating whether or not I should go. "You should absolutely take advantage of it," she said. "It changed my life." She told me how taking a working holiday visa had helped define her career path and shaped her as a person. "I always look for people who have gone abroad when I'm recruiting," she told me. "They're generally much more interesting people; they have stories to tell and things to talk about, and they've already demonstrated that they can take initiative."

And I think it's true. Working abroad has taught me a lot of things. And it's also a great conversation starter. People are always curious as to what I'm doing in Singapore, and they're generally impressed that I chose an alternative to the conventional career path and moved 8,000 miles away from home on my own.


Sound good? Here's how you get started:


1. decide where you want to go

Maybe you want to see the rolling hills of New Zealand or teach English in South Korea or explore Singapore's booming financial and tech industries. The most important thing to consider is how the country will benefit you. To me, there are unique pros to each. South Korea and Ireland present the most culturally-rich opportunities, with centuries of history and their own unique traditions. Singapore is a bustling, highly-efficient utopia. And New Zealand and Australia are great if you want to explore the country itself—lots of opportunities for travel and wandering the outdoors. And all five countries offer fairly easy access to neighboring countries, so you'll get to travel a lot once you're there. You should also consider the age limit. If you're considering doing multiple working holiday visas, you should go where the age limit applies first. For South Korea and Singapore, you have to be under 25 years old, but Australia and New Zealand give you a bit more flexibility, and you can apply as old as 30 and 35, respectively.

I would highly recommend Singapore, as I've loved living here for the past five months, but its Working Holiday Programme is a bit more competitive than the other four—they accept a much smaller number of WHP applicants per year, the country already has a thriving expat community, and finding a job can be tricky because the country has Permanent Resident (PR) quotas to fill before they open up positions to expats (I am one of only three Americans at my agency of 250 people, and my paperwork was notoriously difficult). Because it's a small country and they can afford to be selective, entry-level jobs open to foreigners are limited. It's not uncommon to see "Singaporean or PR only" on job applications (especially for jobs in the hospitality sector like bartending), or for companies to ask you in your interview if you are Singaporean. But I knew I wanted to work in advertising, and Singapore was the best place out of the five to do it—when American advertising agencies expand overseas, they usually choose Singapore as their first Asia office because of its westernized culture and its reputation as a top place to do business.

For more information on how to choose a working holiday visa, Go Overseas is a good resource for U.S. citizens.

2. apply

To submit your application, go to the government's website and download the form. You'll need to fill it out and send it back, along with some other documents that vary by country. Once you receive your in-principle letter, you have a certain amount of time to pick up your WHP before it expires (Singapore gives you three months to claim your WHP).

What you'll need...

...for all WHPs

A valid passport (check your expiration date)
Proof of funds and/or a return ticket home
No prior convictions or health conditions (you may need to fill out extra paperwork)

...for Singapore

A letter from your university stating your name, date of birth, nationality, gender, and date of matriculation
A copy of your degree certificate or transcripts
A student ID card

3. do your research

Moving to another country is a big transition, so make sure you're prepared. Travel websites and expat forums are a great resource. Consider things like: Language, weather, currency, public transportation, laws and taboos, customs and cultural etiquette, safety, political climate.

When I moved to Singapore, I was terrified of all the things you could be fined or jailed for: Not flushing the toilet, same-sex relationships, chewing gum, smoking in public, connecting to other peoples' wifi, feeding pigeons, jaywalking. But when I moved here I discovered that the laws are much more relaxed than advertised (people jaywalk all the time if there are no cars around, and you're allowed to chew gum but not import it). There was a national scandal a decade ago around foreign jurisdiction involving an American diplomat's son being publicly caned for theft and vandalism, and both the U.S. Embassy and Bill Clinton pressured the Singaporean government to forgo corporal punishment (his sentence was reduced from six strokes to four). But if you plan on living in another country, it's important that you are respectful of its laws and customs, and are fully aware of the consequences should you choose to break them.

4. find housing + a job

Because the primary purpose of your visit is technically a holiday, you can absolutely move to the country without a job. You don't even need to work, if you can afford a six-month-long vacation. And if you're okay with staying at hostels or using Airbnb until you find a place, you can move there without housing as well. But finding both prior to moving will significantly reduce stress on your part. Moving to a new country is stressful enough, so I'd highly recommend being prepared. I had my housing settled as well as a couple of job offers before I moved, but I didn't accept until I found the job I wanted, which was a week after I arrived in Singapore.

5. go!

And once you've received your visa, you're ready to go!


australia (subclass 417 visa)

Why Australia? Iconic cityscapes, lots of natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef, top-notch surfing, Aboriginal culture, stunning beaches, laid-back locals
Age Limit: 18-30
Restrictions: You do not have children accompanying you, you work for employers no longer than six months
Program Capacity: None
Cost: $317
Length of Visa: Up to one year

ireland (US-Ireland working holiday agreement)

Why Ireland? A rich history full of myths and legends, iconic art and literature, plenty of hip bars and music festivals, and vibrant landscapes
Age Limit: None
Restrictions: You are either enrolled in a college program or graduated university in the past year
Program Capacity: None
Cost: $339 + $13 mailing fee
Length of Visa: Up to one year

new zealand (working holiday visa)

Why New Zealand? Beautiful landscapes and hiking trails, friendly locals, ease of travel, great surf, and delicious craft beer
Age Limit: 18-30
Restrictions: You do not have children accompanying you, you work for employers no longer than six months
Program Capacity: None
Cost: $165
Length of Visa: Up to one year

SINGAPORE (work holiday pass)

Why Singapore? A thriving business scene, a rich mix of cultures, gorgeous architecture, and cheap and amazing street food
Age Limit: 18-25
Restrictions: You have graduated in the past year; your university is ranked in the top 200 herehere, or here; you were a full-time student for at least three months before applying
Program Capacity: 2,000
Cost: $150
Length of Visa: Up to six months

south korea (H-1 visa)

Why South Korea? Ancient temples and palaces, a beautiful countryside, a powerhouse capital, and delicious food
Age Limit: 18-30
Restrictions: You are either enrolled in a college program or graduated university in the past year; cannot work in journalism, law, entertainment, or medicine; you do not have children accompanying you
Program Capacity: 5,000
Cost: $45
Length of Visa: Up to one year

A working holiday visa is a great way to indulge in traveling abroad when you're young, without breaking the bank. And it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so go while you can!

If you have any questions about doing a working holiday visa, feel free to ask or leave a comment below!


jayemsey x singapore