As my friends and family are well aware of from my social media posts, I’ve been living in and traveling New Zealand since October 2017 while on a Working Holiday Visa. In this post I’m going to detail my experience with this Visa type and overall tips for finding work around New Zealand in hopes to inspire other young American travelers to do the same.

First, I want to discuss the Working Holiday Visa for backpacking USA citizens. The information here can change if you have citizenship and a passport from a different country.

With this specific Visa there are some restrictions regarding the work one can do, one’s age, and how long one can stay. There are many other restrictions but in general, the main restrictions are as follows:

  1. 18-30 age restriction

  2. One cannot work for any employer longer than 6 months

  3. Work cannot be a permanent role

  4. Visa is for up to one year with possibility for extension (extension rules vary by country of origin)

  5. As many exits and re-entries as you want for length of Visa

The main restriction here being the age limit of 30 years old in order for New Zealand to attract young travelers who want to make money and travel around New Zealand. (Brilliant if you ask me, tax their labor and they spend that money in the country. There’s even evidence that although Working Holiday Visa holders stay longer and they spend more money in the country than a typical tourist). If you’re older than 30 years old upon arrival you must apply for some other type of Visa but sadly there’s no equivalent to the Working Holiday Visa for people in that age bracket. Although there have been rumors they could raise the limit to 35 but it’s not official.

That’s why there’s so many young travelers out here. As a result, there are multitudes of travelers to engage with and share mutual experiences with. Overall this is a good thing for young travelers with no working experience but severely limiting for those with actual job experience and secondary education.

Of the travelers I met, in general, those in the 18 – 22 age range have very limited job experience and/or education, and will easily find laborious and/or repetitive work. Such as fruit picking, hospitality, customer service, or data entry jobs. Limited education and unskilled = unskilled and repetitive work. Same as at home but the pay is pretty good here for those jobs. Minimum wage, as of 1 April 2018, is $16.50/hour in New Zealand Dollars.

Myself and many other travelers do not fall in that category and this is where this Visa’s restrictions are severely limiting for us.

Unless your line of work is on the skilled shortage list you may have a hard time finding work in your field of expertise. For example, you will need to find work that is a six-month contract or shorter and it cannot be a temp-to-permanent role either as you cannot take a permanent role from a Kiwi. Understandable. If you want permanent work here you must choose a valid Work Visa, not the Working Holiday Visa discussed here.

Now, I have over 11 years working in the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) business in various roles from store clerk to procurement to IT help desk. A wide range of transferable skills in a narrow field. You’d think I’d easily find a short-term contract office work right? Not so.

Unless you are highly specialized and a company cannot do without you, they will not hire you for a six-month contract.

In some ways I got lucky. I was able to land a job in my industry… in a position I have experience in… and for a six-month contract. They were desperate to fill the role and although it was a fulltime position, they offered it to me as a contract. Some of the travelers I met who were highly educated and skilled ended up working at jobs below their abilities and skill-sets because there wasn’t a short-term need for someone with those skills, they want permanent people for those positions.

Don’t let that be you!

Here’s how you can increase your chances of finding a decent job here:

  • Be patient

    • Truth is, I was never flat broke and desperate for a job, therefore I could afford to be patient and wait for a better opportunity to come along. Don’t take this literally by being complacent, because of my next major point…

  • Talk to as many recruiters and agencies as you can

    • Recruiters at agencies can help place you in positions. I believe their system works better than in the States where some recruiters just lazily blast an email out to every email address they have based on keywords in your resume (btw I still get these emails). The agencies here have connections to companies that don’t post their open positions publically and will get in touch with you if a position matches your experience.

    • Side note. You’re only one person and they will forget about you if you don’t constantly remind them you’re looking for work. You have to pester the agencies and ask if anything new has shown up. My buddy got a three-month, good paying data entry job doing just this.

  • Look on Trademe.co.nz and SEEK.co.nz

    • These two sites are by far the best sites to look for jobs. They both have good filtering algorithms to find exactly what you’re looking for. I prefer SEEK over Trade Me but check both.

  • Be in an area with the most potential of what you’re looking for

    • The city with the most job opportunities is Auckland, especially office jobs, service jobs, and building jobs. If you’re looking for even more building and construction jobs, Christchurch. Farm and fruit picking available basically anywhere outside the big cities.

  • Work any job you may feel beneath you

    • I wasn’t desperate enough to work a fruit picking job at minimum wage but believe me those jobs are available and they need bodies. I worked as a carpenter just for gas money and I worked data entry for a week before accepting my six-month contract.

Life is all about set-up so put yourself into the best position to excel. Follow these guidelines to be a successful backpacker in New Zealand.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

Please refer to New Zealand immigration for all current info on Visas, here.