What to expect from your Working Holiday Visa

First, a caveat: I make no promises.

Everyone’s experience with a working holiday visa will be different. It depends on you, of course.

This post was born because I’m in a pensive mood; Facebook informed me today that Lateral Movements is now 4 years old. (Fun fact: it was born as Blogabout Europe in 2008 but this iteration was created in Korea in 2011.) In that time, I have received emails from people who are exactly where I was 12 years ago: freshly graduated from college, confident about one thing: they do not want to spend the next 40 years in front of a computer, sacrificing the hours between 9 and 5. They want to travel.

If this is you: I wish I could give you a guarantee that it will all work out. I can’t. All I can say is that the whole working holiday visa thing worked for me, and for that reason I recommend it to anyone. How could I not?

It will be scary. When I left home at 22 (on my birthday, I might add), I had never traveled solo. I didn’t really know what I was doing, only that I wanted to do it. I had a working holiday visa but I couldn’t tell you what that meant; in fact, I overstayed my visa in London by a few days. Don’t do this, by the way – I was lucky, but you might not be. That first year was spent coming out of my shell and learning that there was so, so much more to life as I knew it.

Dublin Kinlay House
First day in Dublin; my 22nd birthday. I was terrified.

Your weaknesses will be under the spotlight. I wasn’t that good with money when I first went abroad. I was more likely to spend money than save it; the present was always, always more important than the future. This got me into a lot of trouble, but the only way out was through. I shudder to think where I might be today if I hadn’t learned that lesson in my 20s. To be clear: travel didn’t fix my weaknesses. I’m still a sucker for dinners out and a cute pair of shoes, but I can now evaluate the long term effects of every credit card swipe.

The logistics are not that important. Readers often want to know which programs I’d recommend, when to go to certain destinations, and how to approach the job hunt. These are all valid questions, and they are worth asking. But also: even if you arrive at the worst time, on your own, without a clue, you can still figure it out. That’s actually the secret – the fun is figuring the whole thing out as you go.

I definitely see the temptation in doing your research; I’m a TripAdvisor addict, weighing up reviews vs. value, investing way too much time in an attempt to achieve perfection. But let me tell you this – when I landed in Ireland 12 years ago, armed with little more than a working holiday visa, the Internet was a baby. I didn’t have a phone at all, only a physical guidebook to advise me. Just because we now have all of the information at our fingertips doesn’t mean we need it.

India Bundi
India – not on my radar in 2004 but definitely so in 2012.

This advice comes from a planner, or at least, a reformed planner. I still like to know where I’ll sleep each night and what city I’ll be in at least a day in advance. There are some logistics that you do need to know, such as ticking all the boxes when it comes to working legally in your country of choice. But sometimes – most of the time – it’s okay to turn up and play it by ear. You’re more resilient than you realize.

You don’t need to establish an exit point. I get emails from people who seem to be giving themselves a time out from real life. “I’ve decided to take one year to travel. If I don’t do it now, I might never do it.” or “I’ll take a year between school and real life to travel, which is what I’ve always wanted to do.”


Travel is real life. You determine what your life is, and it’s all real. If you think now is your chance to do what you’ve always wanted to do, then go fucking do it. Seriously, before you lose your nerve and wind up retired and saying ‘I always wanted to [fill in the blank].’

There is a weird tendency to classify life into categories based on what you do most of the time (or what you think you should be doing most of the time) and what you actually want to be doing. The former is granted the title of ‘real life’ and the latter doesn’t really get a title, it just floats away on a little cloud as you watch, wistful, wishing you could join it.

Well, I became who I am in that nameless not-real-life category. I met my husband there. I launched my working life there. I learned to be myself while I was on sabbatical from ‘real life.’ I am still there now.

Mongolia travel
Never in my wildest dreams did I include Mongolia.

Do not tell me that travel, living abroad, expat life, is extraneous to ‘normal life.’ It, too, is living. After graduating from IU I gave myself 4 years to travel, assuming that was enough time to figure out a career and segue into adulthood. Turns out it was the perfect amount of time to realize that I didn’t have to have a career, house, family, etc, etc, etc.

This is not to say that everyone should travel the world. It is not for everyone, and that is important. We do not all have the same goals. But if someone has an urge to be a doctor, or a writer, or a teacher, we would encourage them to go after it. If you dream about traveling the world? Do it. There are ways.

Get yourself a working holiday visa.

See what happens next.

Visiting Peru
Your oyster.

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  1. Yes! It’s the best plan ever. I’m thinking about applying for the BUNAC visa to come and work in NZ next year. I miss the southern hemisphere!

    1. Oooh great idea! There’s so much to see down here – I really want to get out to some of the Pacific Islands. NZ has been on my radar lately too because I keep thinking about how close it is and what a good short break it would make!

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