Living in Australia on the Work and Holiday Visa

Melbourne Skyline
Melbourne CBD

Firstly, congratulations on deciding to live in Australia on the Work and Holiday visa! You are set to a have a life-changing adventure. My time in Australia was a wonderful experience, and I’m sure yours will be as well. To help you have a great time, I’ve put together this basic guide for living in Australia.

If you’re reading this simply because you are considering living in Australia, stop contemplating and get started on applying for the Work and Holiday visa.

Getting Started in Straya

Once you’ve made it to the Land Down Under, you’ll need to get your life established. Here are some things you will need to know about living on the Work and Holiday visa.

Cell Phone Service

Australian BarOne of the first things you should do is get a phone number. You will need to have a phone number when applying for a job so employers have an easy way to reach you. Simply visit a shopping center or stand alone branch to set up a plan.

There are three major cell service providers: Telstra, Vodafone and Optus. All of the companies are pretty similar and provide contract or pre-paid plans. You can also bring your own unlocked phone and just purchase a SIM card. But if you’re due for an upgrade or your phone can’t be unlocked, the companies also sell phones along with their service plans.

Telstra has the largest and fastest 4G network. It will be the most reliable in the Outback. But that broad network is reflected in the higher price of Telstra’s plans. If you plan on spending most of your time in the city, it’s unlikely the service is justified by the cost.

Vodafone has the largest number of plan options. Every plan has unlimited talk and text. The more GB of data with the plan, the higher the price. But, Vodafone has the fewest options of cell phones.

Optus also offers unlimited texts and calls on all of its plans with variations on the data amount. It is the provider I used, and I’d choose them again. I went with the pre-paid SIM only plan. The service was reliable, and I got a bonus of $5 credit for international calls, which allowed me to call people at home a few times a month. The Optus app was convenient for checking my usage and made renewing my plan easy.

I recommend shopping around and finding the provider and plan that works best for you. It’s also important to keep in mind that there are several other smaller companies that also offer cell phone service. Look out for bonuses offered for new customers.

Finances and Work

After you have set up your cell phone service, you should open a bank account. You will need your passport and another photo ID to set up an account. You’ll also need to provide the bank with an address and phone number. This information can be updated later as needed.

Your next course of action should be to apply for your Tax File Number. You’re not required to have a TFN, but you’ll pay less taxes if you have one. You can apply for your TFN online, but it can take up to 28 days to process. So make sure you submit your application with an address where you can receive mail for the next few weeks.

Even before your TFN has cleared, you can start searching for work. Be sure that you have written an Australian style cover letter and resume. And always dress to impress when applying for jobs.

Finding Housing

Victoria HotelI highly recommend starting your time in Australia in a hostel. It’s a great way to get your bearings in the city and meet some likeminded people. I ended up living in a hostel in Brunswick for the first five months of my time on the Work and Holiday visa. We became a strange, but delightful family.

A good place to look for housing is on Gumtree. The site has options for rental properties, flatshares, houseshares and roomshares. There are also options for short term stays for taking over a lease. Australian rent is paid per week. Expect to pay at least $150 a week for a simple houseshare with a roommate. If you prefer to have a room to yourself, you’ll be paying more than $200 per week.

When you are checking out places to live in the city, consider the area you want to live in. House hunting is a good way to explore the suburbs and city center. You’ll want to be close to public transportation, shopping and entertainment areas.

Also, remember that as you are looking at potential places to live, the people who are renting out the space are checking you out as well. The leaser will usually have a number of people to choose from, so they’ll want to pick the person with the best fit to become the renter. But there are a lot of options, so keep an open mind and put in the work to find a place you can call home.

Buying Food and Drinks

Grocery Stores

Shopping CenterThe major grocery store chains in Australia are Coles, Woolworths (a.k.a. Woolies) and Aldi. The stores may be in stand alone buildings or part of a larger shopping center. The centers also usually have bakeries, delis, produce shops and meat markets.

The chain stores offer most of the food you can find in the United States, but understandably not many of the U.S. brand prepackaged foods. And, of course, Australian stores offer a plethora of foodstuffs that have never made it to the states: tasty treats like crumpets, sweet chili & sour cream chips, raspberry & coconut yoghurt, and gummy snakes.

Keep in mind that some food items have different names in Australia than in the U.S. For instance, bell peppers=capsicum, arugula=rocket, raisins=sultanas, and ketchup=tomato sauce. Also, don’t find it strange if eggs are not refrigerated. I promise they are safe to eat!

Aldi is consistently the cheapest grocery store, but it doesn’t have as much variety as the larger chains. The store does offer most staple food items as well as some treats. Most of the items are off brands, but good quality and locally produced.

You can easily shop solely at Aldi, but it is nice to mix things up every now and again with a trip to Coles or Woolies. And depending on where you live, Coles and Woolworths may be your only option. This isn’t a problem, because both chains often offer discounts. You’ll have to be a bit more savvy, but you can still buy at good prices.

Purchasing Alcohol

Bottle ShopColes and Woolies have separate sections of the store for buying alcohol. You’ll have to pass through another doorway or go to a different building to get to the liquor, wine, beer, etc. Coles alcohol area is called Liquorland, while Woolworth’s is known as BWS (Beer, Wine and Spirits). Aldi usually has the booze sectioned off, but within the same general area of the store.

There are also bottle shops, which are essentially liquor stores. Some bottle shops have a drive-up option, so you can buy booze without getting out of your car. That one still baffles me! Dan Murphy’s is a liquor supermarket with a huge selection of drinks and some of the best prices. Keep an eye out for weekly offers at the boozy superstore.

Alcohol is generally expensive in Australia, whether you drink at a bar or at home. But you can find some cheap options, including store brand bottles of wine. Avoid goon (Australia’s box wine), because the stuff will give you a wicked hangover. I was out for an entire day after a night of binging on goon. Just pay $5 for a Coles red or white bottle of wine and have a better experience from start to finish.


Markets are often the cheapest option for produce, especially fruit and vegetables that are in season. You can also find good prices on meat, cheese and bread. There are multiple produce suppliers at each market, so shop around for the best deal. Major cities will have multiple markets to choose from, while smaller towns will have fewer options.

When I lived in Melbourne, I purchased my fruit and veggies at Queen Victoria Market, often buying items from three or four vendors. Be sure to bring along enough cash and bags for taking your goodies home.

Eating Out

Pearl Oyster CafeDining out in Australia is quite pricey! A simple meal out will usually cost you around $20. While you’ll want to cook most of your meals at home, don’t skip eating out in Australia.

There are delicious eateries scattered throughout the country with an emphasis of amazing food in Melbourne. Your time in Melbourne would not be complete without a meal and coffee at one of its amazing cafés.

If your budget is really tight, but you still want to dine out, try to limit your restaurant trips to lunch time when you can find cheaper deals. Pizza places and Asian restaurants are usually the cheapest eateries with meals costing around $10.

Another option is to look for a donation-based restaurant, like Lentil As Anything. The vegetarian restaurant is run by volunteers and accepts whatever you think is an appropriate payment for the (delicious!) meal.

When going out for drinks, stick to happy hour options. Hostels will often have bars on the bottom floor of the building. These are cheap places to drink with deals on jugs of beer and cider. Tipping is not a social obligation at restaurants or bars, but is well-received and appreciated.

Related post:
Getting health insurance in Australia

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