Last updated Feb 2019.
You’re a backpacker about to move to Australia for a year on your working holiday. What are your accommodation options that don’t break the bank, and how do you go about it?
Before I arrived in Australia, I had lived with my parents for most of my life so far. Figuring out how to get started with places to stay on a working holiday in Australia took a while, but I think I understand it a lot better now. This guide is for those, who like me, may have no idea where to begin. In this article, I’ll discuss possible accommodations to consider, such as hostels, rentals, and work-for-accommodations. I also asked some of my friends who’ve stayed in other modes of accommodations I haven’t been through myself to share their experience and advice.
It’s a catch-22: You probably have no idea yet where you’re going to work, but with places in Australia being rather spread out, you also want to stay close to where you would be working. But some places would only employ you if they know you are already geographically available, i.e. living close by. So, how do you even know where you should stay? It certainly is a puzzle to decide where to stay at the beginning. Here’s how you might go about it.
On Arrival: Short Term
You’re looking for flexible options that would allow you to move on to another place closer to your work, once you’ve found a job. And since you’ve probably just arrived in one of Australia’s major cities (Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, etc.) you can probably go for tourist accommodations in the city.
This is by far the cheapest short-term option a working holiday backpacker could go for while finding a job. The per-night rate ranges from $25-$30 per night for a shared room, and their locations are often pretty good for a bit of sightseeing in between job-hunting sessions. And unlike some other countries, hostels in Australia often have vacancies all year round, so you can usually book or extend stays at the last minute, and remain flexible if you find a job that requires you to move out. Just watch out for long public holiday weekends (e.g. around Christmas, Good Friday, etc.); plan and book your stays well ahead, or resort to lower-rated hostels.
I usually hunt for decent hostels on Hostelworld, and the rate is rarely different from booking directly, except for YHAs, which are cheaper to book directly. Of course, you can always check just to be sure. However, even hostels in Australia rated above an 8.0 on Hostelworld tend to be a bit on the shabby or messy side (sometimes due to the habits of other hostel dwellers, not necessarily the hostel’s housekeeping efforts), so I did grow tired of staying in hostels, unlike some working holiday backpackers who stayed in them for months on end while working in the city.
If you have a bit more to spare and would like a bit of comfort, you might go for an AirBnB. I rarely considered it though, and in the rare moment I did, it was hard to find a place that was available to stay continuously for more than a week. And the closer they are to the CBD, the more expensive they tend to be. The per-night rate is also rather expensive for solo travellers (usually at $50-$100 per night), but if you are able to arrange to stay with others, or are a couple, it might be financially reasonable for you.
Settling Down: Long Term
You haven’t found a job yet, but want to increase your chances of doing so. You’ve pinpointed a particular town where seasonal jobs are coming up, or want to find a hostel in the city which caters to working holiday backpackers. Hostelworld is usually a good start, although I’ve stayed at hostels where they claim on their Hostelworld page that they have a ‘jobs board’, but there isn’t one. Look for specific mentions where they say they ‘help find work’, or are explicit about their status as working hostel.
Minling, who found work through a working hostel, told me that she had to wait six weeks to get a regular farm job, although she thinks she was ‘unlucky’ and that most get jobs within 2-4 weeks, especially if they have their own vehicle or drivers license. She worked piece-rate or cash-in-hand jobs while waiting for a long-term job opportunity to come by.
While working hostels could assist with getting a job, once you are ensconced, they usually insist that you stay in the hostel while you’re working at the job they’ve found for you. And if there are no available jobs yet, you might end up staying for weeks on end while waiting for an opening to come up. While not necessarily too expensive, at up to $30 per night and hence $210 per week, it usually ends up more costly per week than a rental in the same town.
Once you’re settled in a town where you’ve found work, if you weren’t provided accommodation by your workplace, or feel like moving out of your provided accommodation anyway, you might want to start shopping around for a rental. It’s also a good idea to physically visit your options to see if you really want to live there, and to ask all the relevant questions straight away. Being physically present can help you properly assess the living space and meet your roommates to get a first impression on whether you can live with them. Your landlord and potential roommates would usually also want to assess you too!
When it comes to renting, you’ll usually have to put up a bond, which is an amount of money that you give the landlord that is worth a few weeks’ rent. The worth of the bond is based on how many weeks’ rent it consists of. The bond is returned at the end of the stay, but can be lost or only partially returned if there was damage within the property, or you leave with giving early-enough notice. Unscrupulous landlords could also just decide withhold the bond, so take care if renting through more informal avenues.
When searching, take note for what facilities are included or excluded from the rent (e.g. bills, WiFi, furnishings, etc.), so you weigh your options well.
The cheaper option would be shared accommodation (as low as $100 per week), where you share common areas such as the kitchen and living room. This might also be a chance to make new friends, especially if you click with them and their living habits. You usually get your own bedroom, although in sharehouses, you could be put in a shared bedroom, which is virtually a long-term hostel, but cheaper.
Staying on your own in a studio apartment is the most expensive (at least $200 per week), but complete privacy can be worth it to some, and the final rate usually comes up to about the same as a roomshare in a hostel.
Rentals come either furnished or unfurnished. While going with unfurnished rooms open up more options and are often cheaper weekly, you’ll then have to spend even more on basic furnishings like a bed, mattresses, and bedding, and kitchenware if you plan to cook. Unless you are planning to stay for really long (like at least half a year), I don’t think it’s practical for a working holiday backpacker to go with unfurnished accommodation.
In more populated areas, online websites like flatmates.com.au and local Facebook groups are a good way to find existing rentals. In smaller towns, you can check the the town’s noticeboards (usually in a central mall, or at the local supermarket) for advertisements, or go on Facebook as well. You can also advertise your availability as a potential tenant on some of these websites, and landlords may start contacting you.
Sometimes, you’ll find a job where the farm or roadhouse might provide shared accommodation for their workers. This is usually ideal, since they would probably be in a location close to work, or with an existing transport arrangement to the workplace. The rent is usually pretty low as well, the house should be furnished, and it might even be bond-free. I was lucky in one job to enter such an arrangement; this reduces the hassle of transitioning to a new town, where you’ll have to stay in hostels while looking for a longer-term rental.
Work for Accommodation
There are plenty of opportunities for ‘free’ room and board if you’re willing to put in some time working for the person who’s providing you the place to stay. This is often referred to as WWOOFing or HelpX. Your host may even cook meals for you.
One work-for-accommodation arrangement I found through Facebook was a three weeks’ stay in a lady’s spare room in Donnybrook while I helped her paint her house from Monday to Friday. She was very nice to me, often bringing me along to the nearby towns of Bunbury and Busselton when running errands, and also cooking me delicious meals; a very positive experience.
You could also be an au pair, which is close to an actual job, where you take care of a family’s children and perform household duties, and are given a stipend in return, and sometimes even the opportunity to drive the family car. There might be some prior requirements you would need to undertake if you au pair through an agency, such as a police check. Jasmine, who did au pairing on her working holiday, told me that she simply posted ads for her au pair services on Facebook job boards and au pair pages, and made arrangements privately with families that contacted her.
Some hostels advertise for housekeepers, who put in a few hours’ work at the hostel in exchange for free accommodation there. WWOOFing also specifically refers to work on farms where you are unpaid, but provided free accommodation and food.
More elusive, but a great opportunity, is house-sitting, where you simply have to take care of a place for someone who’s going overseas for a while, where you don’t actually have to work.
The caveat with work for accommodation is that while you do spend less, you don’t usually earn much as well, so your net income compared to a conventional job plus rental is usually lower, or maybe even zero. There’s also a thin line where this could cross into exploitation, especially if working times and expected labour are not explicit in the arrangement.
However, this might be a good option if you’re in a season where work is scarce or your job hunt isn’t bearing fruit, and you’ve been burning money on hostel costs. It’s also a good way of acquiring experience in an environment where they are usually more understanding of your inexperience.
Avenues: Local Facebook groups are often where work for accommodation options are posted. Au pair opportunities are advertised on Backpacker Job Board and wherever au pair jobs are posted.
In addition to looking for places, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I’ve found rentals and work-for-accommodation opportunities by posting on local Facebook groups or websites that I was in search for them.
I’ve summarised what you need to know about different accommodation options in Australia below. Thank you for reading this guide, and hope you find great places to stay!
|Hostel||Short||Flexible; can extend or depart at any time in most cases. Fairly affordable.||Not a good long term option. Sharing sleeping and living space with other travellers might become tiresome or intolerable.||Hostelworld|
|Rental||Long||Cheapest rates are lower than hostels, more expensive rates usually come with better locations, more space, better furnishings, or privacy.||Require bond. Your ideal place will require some moving around to survey possible options. The more formal avenues might require some paperwork; informal avenues open yourself to risk.||Facebook, Flatmates.com.au, Domain, Gumtree|
|Work for Accommodation||Long||You save on accommodation and meal costs. You gain work experience.||May be difficult to find another source of income; net income might be lower than other options in the end. Potential for exploitation of labour.||Facebook, Backpacker Job Board|