Expats in Australia and New Zealand

Meet Craig Johnson of Joliet, Illinois, who has lots of experience working abroad.

Did you go through a work abroad program or figure it out yourself? Why did you do it that way? How did you decide where you wanted to go?

I’ve been overseas twice. The first time my visa was sponsored by CCUSA and I was in Australia for a four-month working holiday. After some research online it seemed like a good idea to get a little help at the start.

The sponsor companies seemed relatively comparable and CCUSA was slightly cheaper than BUNAC. CCUSA had an office in Sydney and part of the fee was a few nights in a hostel as well as a group orientation. Through this, I met fellow travelers and had some people to hang out with for the first few days. My second trip is to Australia and New Zealand and I used BUNAC as a sponsor. I didn’t really need the orientation or support upon arrival but BUNAC offered a 24-month return ticket and did all the visa legwork which seemed like a lot to figure out from home. On this trip, I decided not to follow a typical backpacker path and went to Western Australia. Once you are off the beaten path you need to figure things out for yourself because the sponsoring agencies are no help away from the main cities. One good thing they will provide is an address for your mail while you are traveling around. I would say that the sponsoring companies are a good deal if you want to remain in the main cities and destinations, but if you want to find your own way it can be done with slightly more effort.

What was your accommodation while overseas? How did you find it? How was it?

I’ve lived in many types of accommodation during my travels, from old caravans on farms to hostels to apartments in the city. If you are living in a city, a good way to find a place to live is through the office of your sponsor company, websites, or hostel notice boards. Often there are plenty of travelers in similar situations who are looking for flatmates. I advise you to choose carefully and take your time, but also don’t pass up a good situation when you see one to look for something a little better. Living with flatmates can be a great way to meet new people and make friends. However, dealing with other people’s habits and shared bathrooms and kitchens can take patience so be ready.

What was your overseas job? Did you like it? Plusses and minuses?

Expect to be working at the bottom of any job that you will find. Hospitality is the main industry but skilled laborers are usually in demand. Look for beach resort jobs, for instance.Expect that everyone knows you are temporary and foreign and some people will treat you that way. Be flexible with your schedule. I’ve worked as a kitchen hand and as a laborer and both were long physical working hours with little respect and thanks. But, in the end, I had enough money to continue to travel the way I intended as well as enjoy myself on my days off.

How about transport? Did you buy a car? Use public transportation? How did you organize your initial flight?

I’ve used many forms of transportation while traveling and the choice depends on several factors.

How much money do you have, how long are you staying, and where you are living are just a few questions to ask yourself. If you are planning on living in a city than there is almost no reason to purchase a car. It will cost you time and money to park. If you are only traveling for one to two months, then taking buses, trains, and planes is probably your best option for getting around the country. Another option is checking backpacker boards to ride along with fellow travelers who would like a shared cost of fuel.

If you do want to take on the monetary risk and time involved in buying and selling a car and you have three months or longer, then you should take the plunge. Backpacker boards have many cars and vans but don’t count out the local newspaper. Having the car checked out by a mechanic is essential but still no guarantee that the car will have no issues. Plan on having extra money to spend on any maintenance issues that will certainly arise. I’ve owned a few cars during my trips and it is absolutely the best way to get around on your own time and way.

What did you think of your work abroad experience overall? What did you gain from it? What were the best/hardest parts?

The experience has been life-altering. The scope of what you can accomplish in a short amount of time has blown my mind. I flew to the other side of the world with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes. I was in a foreign country with no contacts. I managed to find work, a place to live, eat well, & make friends. Also, I’ve bought and sold cars and dealt with various other issues that arise in life. I’ve done all this with no support because essentially you are on your own. Now, going home and doing all this when the trip is over seems easy. Oh, and while doing the above I’ve met people from all over that world and been to places most people at home have never even heard of. I’ve seen strange animals up close and lived next to the ocean and have enjoyed things I would never have even thought of doing. It’s been great.

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