Expat Essentials

A working holiday visa allows some non-EU citizens to work while traveling across Europe

If you’re young, not a European Union citizen and want to travel the world, but lack funds for a long holiday, you might consider backpacking your way through Europe on a working holiday visa, earning money as you go.

The working holiday visa allows you to make that dream trip, working for it while you are traveling. But as in all of life, there are requirements and guidelines.

Whether you can qualify for a visa in European countries depends on whether your home country has a working holiday visa reciprocity agreement with that country. For example, if you are from Australia or New Zealand, you can apply for working holidays visas in more than 20 European countries. BUT, if you are American, your only option in Europe is the Republic of Ireland. (Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea also offer Americans working holiday visas.)

Working holiday visas are part of agreements between two countries that give their young citizens the opportunity to experience each other’s cultures during an extended holiday. A working holiday visa typically allows you to work and travel in a foreign country for up to two years.

But working holiday visa agreements often change, and you need to do some research. For example, Portugal and New Zealand just signed an agreement establishing 50 new working holiday visas for New Zealanders to visit Portugal.

The road less traveled

In 2003, Lauren Fitzpatrick was about to graduate from Indiana University and didn’t know what to do next. A campus career counselor told her about working holidays. “She wrote down the word ‘BUNAC’ on a post-it note, and sent me home to do some research,” Fitzpatrick said. “After 10 minutes on the BUNAC website, I made a plan to do working holidays in Ireland, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. “And I did.”

Fitzpatrick first traveled to Ireland, the only European country that offers American citizens working holiday visas. Since then, she’s had more than 30 jobs in six different countries.

And it changed her life:

I gained so much confidence in myself through working holidays. Things I thought were terrifying, like staying in a shared dorm or going to a movie by myself, became second nature. I learned to think outside the box in terms of my life goals, and it really hit me that we do not have to follow the standard path of school-work-mortgage-family. My working holidays helped me work out what I did and didn’t want to do — both personally and professionally — in life. I’m much more adaptable to new situations than I was before, and I worry less about the future.

With adventure comes challenges

While Fitzpatrick would recommend others do a working holiday, she would also encourage people to think it through as working and traveling in a foreign country isn’t all sunshine and butterflies. Traveling on your own can be lonely, and homesickness can get you down, she said.

You’ll face the challenges of navigating a new country and culture while feeling pressure to find a job and a place to live. Your working holiday may not live up to your expectations, or it may exceed them.

“I worried the most about finances: earning enough to pay the rent, enjoy my temporary homes, plus put some away for travel (the ‘holiday’ part of a working holiday!),” Fitzpatrick said.

If you are nervous about finding a job in a new country, you can use a travel agency, like Melanie Rosato did. The 24-year old Australian moved to London with her boyfriend last year.

“Finding a decent job in Australia hasn’t been easy the last few years, but it did feel somewhat easier here,” Rosato said. “It is easy to find not so good jobs, but the pay is terrible. Getting better office jobs was not actually that difficult, though I went through an agency and that helped a lot.

“But to be fair, my jobs-applied versus callbacks ratio was probably like 12-to-1.”

The details

Do you want to follow in Melanie and Lauren’s footsteps? Go get a working holiday visa and start your European adventure. But remember, where you can go and which requirements you need to meet depend on your home country.

Also, most of the time, you have to be between the ages of 18 and 30 years old (some countries issue visas up to 35), traveling without dependent children and with a return ticket or sufficient funds to pay for a return or onward ticket.

Sometimes you need to meet additional requirements such as having a basic knowledge of the local language. Once you secure that visa, get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

“It’s a tough adjustment but knowing that you can conquer a new place is worth it,” Rosato says. “It has changed our lives in a great way. And – you can always just pack up and move home whenever you want.”

The Fine Print:

Many European/European Union countries have the same rules for working holiday visas: Eligible countries are Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The visa is valid for 12 months, and age limits are 18 to 30 (18 to 35 for Canadians). 

But there are some notable exceptions. And in researching this post, we ran across an interesting fact:

• Citizens of a LOT of countries can, under certain conditions, work in France for up to 90 days.

If you’re from Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, St. Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, the U.S. or Venezuela, you don’t need a visa to enter France. BUT you must make sure your employer/employers can get you a valid temporary work permit from the French Ministry of Labour, the DIRECCTE  or a convention d’accueil stamped by the local prefecture if you’re a researcher or teacher.

Otherwise, here are some exceptions in some of the more popular travel destinations. Be sure to double-check the rules before you head out.

  • Austria’s working holiday visa is only valid for six months, and only open to New Zealanders.
  • The Czech Republic only accepts Canadians and New Zealanders.
  • Denmark issues visas to residents of Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
  • Slovakia and Slovenia only accept New Zealanders.
  • Switzerland only accepts Canadians.
  • The United Kingdom issues working holiday visas for up to two years to citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, Taiwan, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the British Overseas Territories.
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