Farm work in Australia: everything you need to know, from job search to visa
Almost every backpacker in Australia has encountered the term ‘farm work’ during their journey. Working on a farm down under gives you the opportunity to spend another year in Australia whilst being able to save up for the rest of your travels.
Currently planning your very own farm adventure? What might at first sound like hard work (and well, it kinda is) is later dubbed by many backpackers “the best time of their lives”. That’s because it’s the best way to meet new travel buddies and get to know the Outback and the ‘real’ Australia, all whilst topping up your travel funds.
But job searching can be confusing and exhausting, and there’s a few questions that always pop up when the topic of farm work is mentioned. When I started looking into it, I was totally overwhelmed. But don’t worry, with these tips you’ll soon be an expert; racing your tractor over vast Australian fields, herding cows through the Outback or collecting strawberries in the tropics. And most importantly, you’ll be able to spend another year in Australia! (Sorry Mum).
The “Second Year Working Holiday Visa” and its rules
Where, when, what: location, time period and job requirements
Applying for your first working holiday visa through the Australian government website is pretty straightforward, and you’ll soon find yourself living and working in Australia. Good news, mate!
The second year visa application process is a tad more complicated as your work must cover:
a) particular regions
b) specific job types
c) a certain amount of time
To earn the right to a second year visa you must work in one of Australia’s more remote areas – the kind of places where travelling to the nearest town takes about as long as travelling to a whole other country in Europe. To assure that your work counts as ‘regional work’, double check that the postal code of the place you’re looking to work at is on the list of approved areas on the Australian government website. The job must be paid (in the past voluntary work was eligible) and the work hours must constitute a full-time job.
Possible jobs include most farm work, so basically everything from harvesting veggies to planting trees and working with animals. More generic jobs on farms, work on fishing boats or mines, or craftmanship in regional areas might also be accepted. There’s a broad choice! I’m sure you’ll find something that works for you; whether you’re an experienced handy-person or an absolute farm work noob like me.
Having straightened out the facts regarding ‘what’ and ‘where’, what’s left is the ‘how long’ – which is actually the hardest of the three to answer, as you might need to do some calculations. The general rule is that you have to do 88 days of farm work to be able to apply for a second working holiday visa. Should you do everything in one go, on just one farm, your days off count too. This means that you only have to work three months, during which time you can experience the Australian Outback and continue saving for your travels where there are less temptations to spend your hard-earned money.
In case you take a break for a while or do your farm work in various locations, only the days you actually work count, meaning that accumulating 88 might take a while. So, if you know early on that you’d like to stay in Australia for two years, you should start collecting days as soon as possible, or try to find a job for three continuous months in an area you want to call your temporary home (which honestly isn’t hard to find in beautiful Australia).
Tips, tricks and other valuable information regarding the application
Managed to find your dream farm job? Now you can more or less sit back and relax… but don’t forget the following points:
Whenever you’re paid you’ll get a ‘payment slip’ which you must not lose. You might be required to show all your payslips from your first year of work as evidence to support the application for a second year working holiday visa. I know, paperwork sucks. But trust me, no paperwork sucks even more in this case.
When applying, keep in mind how much time you have left as the process could take anything from a few moments to several months. If you are abroad when the visa is granted, it will become effective from the moment you set foot in the country again. Should you be applying from within Australia, it’s important to stay there until the visa is granted. Don’t worry if your first visa expires while you’re waiting – you will be granted a temporary ‘bridging visa’ so that you can keep living and working in Australia until your application is processed. This gives you a few extra weeks as a backpacker, jackpot!
Different season, different state
Australia is so huge that it can be divided into various climate zones: The tropical north, the dry Outback and the mild south. Due to the varying seasons you can find farm work throughout the whole year, unless you’ve already decided on a state. Here’s a little overview so you know how to be in the right place at the right time.
The Northern Territory farm work season lasts the whole year, but I would recommend looking for a job there during the Aussie winter, between March and September. Temperatures are pleasant and rain is less frequent, which makes working outside much easier. It’s the best season to travel the north, so you can also enjoy national parks and backpacking life to its fullest. Look for jobs at watermelon, lemon, banana and vegetable farms and don’t miss out on exploring the glorious Outback.
New South Wales
Experience the Australian summer from December through April on a New South Wales farm. During these months you can find jobs on apple, cotton, cherry and asparagus farms and spend your weekends off road tripping through breathtaking national parks and surfing the wild coast.
Port Stephens, NSW @sarahheu
The Australian East Coast doesn’t just offer parties and Greyhound tours (although these are lots of fun), but also great farm jobs. Many banana, sugarcane, cotton, mango and avocado farms are searching for backpackers to help year-round, especially in the periods from December – February as well as April – August. I worked on a banana farm near Innesfail, located close to the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, as well as the beautiful beaches of Magnetic Island, the Whitsundays and Mission Beach. Additionally, there are lots of beautiful waterfalls (many of which are rather unknown) and amazing oases in the eastern tropics, to name just a few highlights. You can easily explore the East Coast’s main attractions whilst ticking off your farm work. Does it get any more ‘working holiday’ than that?
In the wild west you can find farm work year-round, depending on which region you choose. During the Australian summer I recommend the southwestern region (e.g. Margaret River), while the main season for the north west (e.g. Broome) is April – September. In the south you might work at a winery, while in the North you could collect mangoes. You could even find a job in a fishery, so grab a rod!
Broome, Western Australia
Victoria and the south
Everything between Melbourne and Adelaide (on the regional side) is perfect if you’re looking for work from November – April. Here you’ve got the choice between cherries, apples, peaches, wine and tobacco. You could also enquire at a horse ranch if you would like the opportunity to work with animals.
Wilsons Promotory National Park, Victoria @sarahheu
Tasmania is a little island located south of mainland Australia with an abundance of incredible landscapes, which is why many backpackers choose it for their farm work. As it gets pretty cold here during the Australian winter, you should look for a job between January and May. Expect apples, grapes, vast mountainous landscapes, deep blue lakes, friendly locals and an unforgettable time.
How to find a farm for farm work in Australia
There are many ways to find the perfect farm and you should usually be able to find a job quickly if you’ve done some preparation. Nevertheless, knowing a few tricks might help as farm work is super popular among backpackers. What could happen is that many travellers might apply at the same time, meaning you have to wait a while for a spot and the offer could become illegitimate. To prevent this from happening, here are some helpful contact points for you.
National harvest trail service
Yes, Australia has a farm hotline and yes, it is actually helpful! Here, farms can list their open positions, their locations, their contact information and the time frame they need filled. And as the website is financed by the government, you can rest assured that the offer is legit and you won’t end up anywhere sketchy. Additionally, the service will answer all your questions around the topic of farm work and double-check for you whether farms you’ve found yourself are credible.
Many farmers list their open positions on Australian job websites like Gumtree. If you’ve heard of Gumtree, you know that it’s the first place people turn to when looking for a job. Or a car. Or for anything else you could buy online. Which is why some offers have several thousand (or more!) applicants and you have to be very lucky to land a job. There are also some websites specifically dedicated to farm work but when checking these make sure they are reputable and won’t charge hidden fees. I recommend looking at these websites but never relying solely on them.
Know other travellers that have worked on farms before? Then my friend, you’re sitting on a valuable source of knowledge. Asking for recommendations might sound obvious, but it’s one of the most effective methods and may shorten your search process quite a bit. So, if you’re staying in a hostel, go and ask your fellow travellers whether they’ve done their farm work yet. That way you can get an idea of what to expect, learn how best to apply and make sure you find a good job with fair conditions. Before doing my farm work, I asked every person in my hostel and got lots of helpful tips. Perhaps even ask whether they could put you in touch with the farmer personally, as being recommended through a contact might help you creep up the waiting list. It’s always good to pull some strings!
Hostels aren’t the only good source of recommendations. Browsing through Facebook you’ll find several groups which might help you in your search, like Farm Work Australia or Backpacker Jobs in Australia. Here you can exchange experiences with other backpackers who’ve already spent time on farms or are currently there – maybe even looking for successors! You can post all your questions and connect with other travellers to tackle the job hunt together, ‘cause isn’t it always great to get to know other backpackers with the same goals? It’s the best place to look for recommendations if you don’t know anyone who’s already done their farm work.
Just go for a drive!
Innisfail, Queensland @sarahheu
Australia is one of the most popular destinations for a road trip, so why not combine your search for a farm with exactly that? Choose the region you’d like to explore the most, grab a travel buddy, a few addresses and a car and explore the country while looking for farm work. Some farms, especially in western Australia, prefer you to have your own vehicle. And should you be unsuccessful on the first farm, you’ve got the freedom to look for the next one – no worries!
Australia farm work pay
Even after securing their second year visa, many backpackers return to farm work due to its amazing earning potential. Usually, farm work is either paid on an hourly basis, or by how much fruit is picked. This means that the harder and longer you work, the more you’ll earn. Some jobs offer weekly/monthly salaries ranging between $800-$1200 per week, but this is less common.
The average hourly rate for farm work is between $20-25 per hour, with the national minimum wage being $18.93. It’s common for backpackers to earn over $1,000 per week during their time on the farm – what better way to give that travel fund a healthy boost?
Australia farm work hostels
Want to meet other backpackers while someone else organises your farm work? It sounds too good to be true, but it is possible in what are known as working hostels. There are lots of them in South Australia and even more along the East Coast, like Central Backpackers in Coffs Harbour. The hostel owners keep in touch with local farms and correspondingly allocate jobs.
During my time on the farm I lived in a working hostel and got to know lots of backpackers from all around the world, many of whom had worked on the same farm as me. On weekends and days off we were able to rent the hostel’s car and explore the area. Camping trips, nights below the unbelievably starry sky, days spent at waterfalls, island hopping and a skydive with group discount were just a few of the experiences that made my time unforgettable. So, find a hostel, enquire about openings and score yourself a room – it’s as easy as that.
Some other recommended hostels for acquiring farm work include:
Reef Lodge Backpackers – Townsville, Queensland
This laid-back Queensland hostel is a great place to chill out and take it easy while you search for farm work – something the hosts know a thing or two about and would be more than happy to help you with. It’s a quaint place that emphasises the fact it ‘is not a party hostel’, meaning it’s perfect for a long-term stay. You won’t have to worry about not getting enough sleep on a work night, and you’ll even get free pancakes in the morning to set you up for a busy day!
Mildura International Backpackers – Mildura, Victoria
These guys are experts at helping their guests find work in the local area, and they’ll even provide transport to get you to and from your job once you find one. Guests love its homely atmosphere and ideal location close to Mildura’s shops, pubs and restaurants, as well as the mighty Murray river!
Hoey Moey Backpackers – Coffs Harbour, New South Wales
Are there many places better to relax after a hard day’s work than a white, sandy beach on Australia’s East Coast? This hostel has direct beach access – yep, you heard that right – with the ocean just seconds away. There’s also an on-site bar serving $2.50 tap beer Monday-Friday, to ensure work stresses remain a thing of the past. The hostel staff can provide you with employment application forms and sound advice, to help you make your stay in paradise as lengthy as possible.
Hoey Moey Backpackers
Last but not least: get ready for the time of your life
Finding a farm job comes with its efforts and rules, but everything pays off in the end, I promise! Australia’s regional areas are beautiful; you could get to live in the immediate surroundings of an incredible national park while also having enough free time to go and explore away from the beaten path. Rent a car (from your farm or the working hostel) and start a weekend road trip to experience starry skies, waterfalls, jungles and beaches while building friendships that’ll last for a lifetime. After all, it’s meeting other backpackers that will make your time unforgettable.
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