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Working holiday visas are a rite of passage for many young Aussies, and the UK is a popular destination. There are a few things to think about before travelling halfway around the world though, so before booking a flight and saying your goodbyes, take a look at this guide to working holiday visas for the UK.

Preparing to leave

Do Australians citizens need a visa to work in the UK?

Australians can live in the UK visa-free for up to six months as a tourist. However, if you’re looking to do any paid, unpaid or volunteer work in the UK, you will need a working holiday visa. There are a variety of visas available on the UK Government website.

However, the most common types of working visas for Australians include:

Skilled work visa (tier 2)You can apply for this type of visa if:

  • you work for a UK employer that’s approved by Home Office (HO)
  • you have a “certificate of sponsorship” from your employer
  • your job is on the list of eligible occupations
  • you’re paid the minimum salary or the ‘going-rate’ for your job.

You can stay in the UK with this visa for up to five years. You may renew your visa as many times as you like as long as you’re eligible to do so.

Youth mobility scheme visa (tier 5)If you are between the ages of 18 and 30 you may be approved for this visa as long as you meet the following requirements:

  • you have no dependent children;
  • you have British Nationality or hail from certain regions in the UK;
  • you haven’t been approved for a previous working holiday visa; and
  • you have more than £2,530 in the bank when you apply.

You can stay in the UK for up to two years with this visa and you can only use this visa once in your lifetime. If you turn 31 during your stay, you can continue to stay in the UK until your visa expires.

Information correct as of 23/12/2020

GOV UK has a helpful tool to determine which visa you should apply for, based on your circumstances.

How do I apply for a working holiday visa?

There are two ways of applying for this visa – you can submit an application through the UK Government, or have an agency do it for you. Provided that you have all the correct documents, the application shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes.

What will I need to complete my visa application?

Depending on the specific visa you’re on, applications from Australia will require:

  • a valid passport or other travel ID
  • payment for the healthcare surcharge (also referred to as the immigration health surcharge), which gives you access the National Health Service (NHS)
  • payment for the visa fee
  • an appointment to be fingerprinted
  • supporting documents (e.g., sponsor’s documents and documents about your finances).

Source: Gov.UK (2020). Guidance: Apply for a UK visa in Australia. Accessed 19 February 2021.

Most applications are processed in 15 days, but it can take up to 30 days. As such, it’s a good idea to apply early, even if you’re itching to book a flight during sales! Any visa will require you to follow the country’s laws for the duration of your stay, though the laws in the UK are similar to that of Australia.

Noteworthy visa conditions

  • Working holiday visas don’t ‘pause’ when you leave the country, and the leave date cannot be changed regardless of how long you were in the UK.
  • Working visas normally allow multiple entries, so you can enter and exit the country as much as you like, so long as the visa is valid.

Palace of Westminster and Big Ben London UK

What else do I need to do before leaving?

Comprehensive travel insurance is advisable when going abroad. No one wants to think about the worst-case scenarios when stepping into an exciting new country, but it’s good to have a backup plan regardless.

When getting travel insurance, it’s a good idea to look out for:

  • How long the policy will cover. If you are going for up to 12 months, a single trip policy will cover the entire trip, although you may need to renew the policy if you plan to stay longer;
  • Whether the type of work you intend to do is covered. Any manual labour, or work that is considered risky, will most likely not be covered;
  • If you have enough luggage and personal effects cover? In the case that your belongings are damaged or stolen, make sure your policy covers all your belongings, including items you purchase during your stay;
  • What kind of medical treatments are included? If you’re planning to stay for a while, remember that not everything will be accessible through the NHS, so checking what you’re entitled to with your insurer is a good idea.

Setting up after arrival

There are a few things you’ll probably want to sort out as soon as you arrive in the UK if you haven’t done so already.

National Insurance Number

If you work in the UK, you will need a National Insurance Number to be paid, pay tax, and more. National Insurance is the UK’s answer to Superannuation, funding state pensions and other services such as maternity allowances and bereavement benefits. Visit GOV.UK to find out how to apply for a National Insurance Number.

Biometric residence permit

All visa applicants staying in the UK for longer than six months are issued a biometric residence permit (BRP), a legally required form of identification that functions as your proof of right to stay and work in the UK. It will also give you access to any public services and benefits that you may be entitled to.

You’ll need your BRP to open a bank account and to enter and exit the UK.

Once your visa application is approved, you’ll receive a validity sticker and a decision letter, which will tell you which UK post office branch you should collect your BRP from. You will typically be given 10 days to collect your BRP.

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Bank accounts

Opening a UK bank account can mean you can have easy access to your money, without incurring expensive international drawing fees from using your Aussie one. It’s also a necessary task for when you begin working.

There are five ways you can set up a UK bank account:

  1. After you arrive: You will need a permanent address to list on the application, which can be a hostel address, a friend’s place, or rental accommodation. You’ll also need proof that you live there.
  2. Before you arrive: Some online banks will let you open a bank account without a permanent address, but the fees for these accounts may be higher than average.
  3. Getting a joint account with a UK resident: If you want to open a bank account with a spouse or housemates, you’ll have to have a valid visa as your proof of residency. You can open a joint account while you’re overseas with a UK resident through international banking; however, not all banks offer this option.
  4. Through offshore services: Your bank may be able to set up an account for you. However, these accounts are generally reserved for high-income earners; though it never hurts to ask.

Planning to work

The working holiday visa is designed so you can supplement your travels by earning an income. You are permitted to do any kind of work, with few exceptions. If you really want to travel, consider the types of jobs you are applying for. Many casual and short-term jobs often involve hospitality, but these are easier to pick up and drop when it suits your travel plans.

Planning the holiday

Many working holidaymakers arrive in London and line up a job, forgetting about the ‘holidaying’ part of the visa. Although there’s no requirement to ‘holiday’ as such, you could be missing out on experiencing other parts of the UK – there’s certainly more to explore than just the capital.

famous UK historical site Stonehenge

The UK is very densely populated compared with Australia, so there are plenty of towns and cities only a short train or ferry ride away. A few not to miss would be the City of York with its stunning minster and Roman heritage in the north of England, and the Lake District National Park a few clicks to the west. If stunning architecture sparks your interest, visit Oxford University and Edinburgh Castle. Where nightlife is concerned, the cities of Newcastle and Belfast give a taste of British pub culture.

There’s so much to explore in Britain and, compared to Australia, everything is so close by. From the glamour of London to having a real Guinness in Ireland; there are too many accents to count and more than a few pubs for each. It may be a good idea to plan some trips to make sure you get to do some exploring. Perhaps set yourself a working limit, before taking to the road.

Leaving the UK and arriving in Australia

When your visa is close to expiring, it’s time to leave UK shores. Here are a few things you’ll want to sort out before your flight.

Taxes

During your stay, you won’t have to submit a tax return as your employer should be taking the right contributions out using your National Insurance Number. However, upon leaving the country, a P85 form needs to be filled in so your tax is adjusted and National Insurance payments stop.

The UK financial year starts on 6 April and ends on 5 April, so this will be the period covered on the P85 form. Finally, you can apply for a tax refund if you think you’ve overpaid. Speak to a qualified financial expert (e.g. an accountant) if you are unsure of how to proceed.

You will also have to report your overseas earnings with the Australian Tax Office when you return. For rules and offsets that you may need to be mindful of, read more on the ATO website.

Electoral roll

When you arrive home, something to remember is re-enrolling to vote. While you don’t have to while working in the UK, voting in Australia is compulsory and not doing so can lead to a fine. To get back on the roll, go the Australian Electoral Commission web site. Please note that you can only enrol if you have lived at your address for at least one month, according to the AEC.

Compare travel insurance for the UK

A working holiday in the UK is a great way to travel and work with minimal restriction. If you haven’t already looked at travel insurance for the UK, now’s a great time to do so! It only takes a few minutes to compare travel insurance quotes from our range of partners with our free comparison service. And the best part is, it costs the same as going direct.

If you’re travelling to multiple destinations, check out our comprehensive guide to travel insurance by destination instead.

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