8 Working Holiday Mistakes & Pitfalls to Avoid
Working holidays are an amazing opportunity to experience life in another country. But without proper planning, things can go wrong.
During my own overseas working holidays, I certainly made some mistakes. I still had great experiences, and of course each mistake was a valuable lesson. But things would have been easier if I knew then what I know now!
To help you with planning for your own working holiday, I want to share with you some of the common mistakes that could cause problems for you. My goal is not to scare you, but to prepare you and help to make your working holiday experience as stress-free and enjoyable as possible!
1. Messing up the visa application
When preparing to travel overseas for a working holiday, the first thing you’ll likely need to do is apply for a visa. Depending on the country you’re travelling to, this process could take a while – so make sure you allow enough time to receive your visa before you’re due to travel. Remember that you may need to leave your passport with the embassy while your visa application is processed – you won’t be able to fly if you don’t get it back in time!
You also need to check the required documents for your visa application thoroughly. I once had a visa application rejected because just one component of my travel insurance did not meet the embassy’s strict criteria. If this happens to you, you may be told to make a new appointment and return another time; the next appointment could be weeks later!
2. Not getting sufficient travel insurance
Travel insurance is absolutely essential when travelling overseas, especially when visiting countries with expensive health care (like the United States) or travelling for an extended period. Anything could happen, and you could end up significantly out-of-pocket due to a freak accident or an unpredictable event that is totally beyond your control.
People have even died because they had a serious medical episode while overseas and couldn’t afford local hospital treatment.
Put simply, do not skimp on travel insurance for your working holiday. It’s not worth the risk.
3. Arriving at the wrong time of year
You should put at least some thought into when you’ll be arriving at your destination. If you’re planning to work as a skiing instructor, for example, there’s little point arriving at your destination in that country’s spring or summer. But there’s another reason for this which is less obvious.
A few years ago, I arrived in Utrecht, Netherlands at the beginning of September. This is a university town. As it turns out, the university students had all just returned after their summer breaks and an influx of international students had also just arrived before I did. As a result, there was no housing available in the city. I ended up effectively homeless for five weeks while I looked for permanent accommodation, and almost gave up and left.
In the end, I was lucky to find an apartment through a friend of a friend. But if I’d done my research and realised this before I arrived in the Netherlands, I would have arrived during a different month.
4. Not having enough spare funds
If you’re lucky, you might find a well-paying job soon after you arrive at your destination. But anything could happen. Before starting your working holiday, you should have enough money to support yourself for at least the first few months. (This is often a visa requirement anyway, but it’s probably a good idea to have more than just the bare minimum required to get the visa.)
5. Lack of flexibility
You may have decided where you want to live, and what kind of job you’d like to have, before you leave for your working holiday. But what if there’s no suitable housing in your preferred city, or the job market is harder to crack than you expected?
You should be prepared to change your plan if things don’t work out. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be persistent and give things a chance. But if you still haven’t found work after several months of searching, you might need to broaden your search and consider jobs in different fields.
6. Not adapting your CV/resume to the local market
If you’re applying for jobs during your working holiday, you’ll probably need a curriculum vitae (CV) or resume. You may already have a resume, but you should be aware that the local job market may have different CV requirements or norms to your home country.
When I started applying for jobs in Germany, for example, I basically just translated my English resume into German. But I didn’t initially realise that in Germany you’re expected to include a photograph of yourself in the top right-hand corner of the resume – something that’s a big no-no in Australia. Once I got my resume checked by a native German speaker and updated it to meet the local standards, I started getting a lot more responses from potential employers.
7. Not learning the local language
It almost goes without saying, but you’ll get much more out of your working holiday experience if you take the time to learn the local language. Not only will this make day-to-day communication easier, but it’ll become a lot easier to meet and make friends with locals.
It would be a great shame to spend a year in a country and not seize that amazing opportunity to learn even just a little bit of the language.
8. Giving up after a few weeks
Too often, I’ve seen people give up and return to their home country after just a few weeks because things hadn’t worked out as they planned. That’s a shame. Things might not work out exactly as you expected – and that’s OK.
The first few weeks are always the most difficult. They may be lonely. But things will get better if you give it a chance!