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American with W&HV Questions

Travel Forums Australia / New Zealand & The Pacific American with W&HV Questions

1. Posted by AmericanCrow (Budding Member, 17 posts) 23 Jan '14 18:49

Hi guys,

So I'm leaving soon to start my W&HV in Australia and I'm trying to get all my ducks in a row before I do so. As much research as I've done since being granted my visa back in October, I still feel unprepared. It's just one of those big jumps in life I guess, and I tend to worry to the point of fretting at times. But who better to ask about the things I still can’t find answers to than you guys! The things that would have been pointless purchasing months ago, I must now make final decisions about, and would love anyone’s input. My apologies if this is too lengthy. I just didn’t want to flood the board with tons of posts, but will break this up if it’s too large. And future apologies if I forgot a question and so throw in another random thread later on. Many thanks! And one more thing, I'm sure I've asked questions that have been asked before, but I like to hope that mine are narrow enough that they can be answered directly and haven't been asked in such a way already. I've been following this forum for months and appreciate everyone's input.

1) I'm applying for a bank account before I get there and have narrowed it down to either Commonwealth or NAB. Which bank has more branches, or more accessible branches? Does anyone have any likes or dislikes about one or the other? Does anyone suggest another bank instead?

2) Can anyone, who has gone through immigration on a working holiday visa, especially American, give their account on what going through the check point is like? I'm already planning on contacting them to ask if I need to bring any specific documentation with me aside from my visa info and my passport, but I'm curious if they'll even ask for it. I'm curious what other's, who have gone before me, experiences are like.

3)I'm also planning on ordering a SIM card. From what I've gleaned, Vodophone, Optus and Telstra are my best bets. Vodophone I've read, has better prices (and is running an excellent special through March, doubling your data. I’m nearly sold), but Telstra has better coverage outside the cities. Again, I'm wondering if anyone has any personal experiences with any of these companies or use the mobile service of another and can recommend them.

4) I land in Sydney and plan on setting aside a week to see the sites and get myself a little more acclimated with the Aussie lifestyle (and time zone!) and, unless I miraculously find a job or make good friends, I plan on hoofin' it down to Melbourne. I'm already entranced with the cafe' lifestyle as well as I have cafe' experience and hope to land a job in such. I've read a lot about Melbourne but would love a first hand account from anyone. I considered Byron Bay as I have friends there, but I heard once that it’s not exactly got a backpacker friendly job market. Thoughts on this as well?

5) Neighborhoods! Is there a quality map that anyone knows of that has burrows and districts mapped out, if it included a description that would be outstanding. Trying to job hunt on Gumtree and Seek is proving quite difficult trying to tease apart Broken Hill from Surry Hills (bad example, I know) and what each area has to offer from a local's standpoint, not an encyclopedia's. Wikipedia and Google Earth are just too disjointed and I'm not getting a true feel for the area and most travel sites don't break areas down far enough, as far as every day things to see and do, and what’s within reasonable travel distance.

6)How to Pack? Packing for a working holiday is proving interesting because you’re doing a little of both. Settling in one place for a little while where you may share a flat with some mates and also basically back packing and going about the country on the move for weeks. I’ve read of other holiday makers packing a large carry on/traveler’s backpack as well as a rolling luggage but the more I think about it, it seems to me this may not be feasible if you end up traveling for stretches at a time. Thoughts?

7) Traveler's Insurance. One of my visa requirements and just a good idea in general, is obviously traveler’s insurance. Holy cow is this a doozie. So many options. So many companies! I want quality coverage but I don’t want to break the bank and pay for things I’ll never use. Yes I will probably do some hiking in the Blue Mountains, no I do not think I will be sky diving. What companies have y’all used before? Pluses? Minuses?

I appreciate anyone’s help!! And if anyone happens to be in the Sydney area the second week of February and wants to hang out with a fun chick from America in her early 30's who’ll talk their ear off then let me know! (I squeaked this visa out at the last minute, if only this sort of thing was common knowledge in the states, I'd be in Ireland too!)

2. Posted by Sander (Moderator, 4394 posts) 24 Jan '14 04:30

Quoting AmericanCrow

1) I'm applying for a bank account before I get there and have narrowed it down to either Commonwealth or NAB. Which bank has more branches, or more accessible branches? Does anyone have any likes or dislikes about one or the other? Does anyone suggest another bank instead?

I used ANZ myself way back when (mostly because at the time they were the only one with a no-fee account type (5 free withdrawals per month), which was just enough for me so I didn't have to pay them any money at all), so I don't have experience with these. NAB claims 3400 ATMs. Commonwealth claims "more than 4000" and "over 1000 more than any other bank". Obviously that last statement clashes with NAB's claim. Don't know what conclusion to draw from that. :)

2) Can anyone, who has gone through immigration on a working holiday visa, especially American, give their account on what going through the check point is like? I'm already planning on contacting them to ask if I need to bring any specific documentation with me aside from my visa info and my passport, but I'm curious if they'll even ask for it. I'm curious what other's, who have gone before me, experiences are like.

Keeping in mind that I went through nearly 10 years ago, and am Dutch on a WHV rather than American on a W&HV: They took, looked over and stamped the form you get handed in the plane (mostly for customs), scanned my passport, saw electronically that I had a WHV, said welcome to Australia, and waved me on (back then to a specific desk set up right after immigration where I had a WHV sticker put into my passport - that concept doesn't exist anymore nowadays). No questions whatsoever about any additional documentation or proof of funds. (I arrived on a one way ticket from New Zealand.)

4) I land in Sydney and plan on setting aside a week to see the sites and get myself a little more acclimated with the Aussie lifestyle (and time zone!) and, unless I miraculously find a job or make good friends, I plan on hoofin' it down to Melbourne. I'm already entranced with the cafe' lifestyle as well as I have cafe' experience and hope to land a job in such. I've read a lot about Melbourne but would love a first hand account from anyone.

In Sydney, be sure to stay in (or at least visit) Glebe. By far my favorite neighbourhood of the city, and a place where I wouldn't mind living for a year or two at some point in my life.
I stayed in Melbourne for far too long (don't make that mistake! comfortable routines and earning money are all fine, but there's a huge country full of amazing sights out there, and the best way to experience is to travel through it!) - it doesn't have a whole lot of touristy highlights, but is a great place to live. Summers get very very hot (and hordes of horrible fat flies), but the rest of the year it's quite pleasant - though the weather is very changeable, and the sunniest blue skied day can unleash a torrent of hail on you before you've really finished noticing the menacing clouds rolling in. The CBD (central business district) is a warren of tiny little alleys in between the main roads, and that's where you'll find most of the cafes (they'll be deserted during the weekend, though; that's when you have to head to the surrounding suburbs). There's an amazing live music scene. Brunswick and Northcote are two good neighbourhoods to look for a house share in (I stayed in West Brunswick myself, within easy walking distance of the train station). Close enough to Carlton, Fitzroy and the CBD to be convenient, with enough things happening to keep you occupied. Carlton / Fitzroy / North Melbourne would be even better locations, but I expect there to be much less choice there, and the choices to be more expensive (also more competition from university students). I liked the atmosphere to the north of the CBD better than to the east and south.

5) Neighborhoods!

Heh, already did that above quite a bit. There's a couple of big streets heading north from the CBD which are just endless shopping (and Italian restaurants, in the case of Carlton's Lygon street), which form your main form of orientation. When you've arrived, just take out a day to walk them back and forth to get a feel for it all. Fitzroy is the most funky and alternative of the neighbourhoods, but it all kinda blends together. Tram and train lines are the most important thing to pay attention to, with the train getting more important the further north you go - there's a train line just west of Sydney Road, and one just east of St. Georges Road. In between, there's trams on Sydney, Lygon, Nicholson and St. Georges, and those form your main north-south connections. Where exactly one neighbourhood ends and the next begins isn't very important - for accommodation, always look at the actual location and its distance to those main road and tram/train stops.

6)How to Pack? Packing for a working holiday is proving interesting because you’re doing a little of both. Settling in one place for a little while where you may share a flat with some mates and also basically back packing and going about the country on the move for weeks. I’ve read of other holiday makers packing a large carry on/traveler’s backpack as well as a rolling luggage but the more I think about it, it seems to me this may not be feasible if you end up traveling for stretches at a time. Thoughts?

I did it with a big backpack (plus a separate daypack for lonely planet, water bottle, camera, etc), and wouldn't wanted to have done it any other way; had quite a few long treks to bus or train stations in the early mornings before there was any affordable way other than walking to get me there, and the backpacks (big one on my back, daypack in front) meant I even had a hand free for a map, and another for a green bag with leftover groceries.
Only pack clothing for about a week; ideally stuff you can layer as much as possible. Anything you didn't pack, and end up needing after all, you can buy there. Roll your clothes so they'll take up less space. Be prepared for constant wearing and washing to thoroughly wear out your clothes by the end of the year, so that you might need to throw them away and buy some replacements (don't bring your favorite clothes!).

7) Traveler's Insurance.

The company I used was Dutch, so not relevant for you. But most regular travel insurance only covers you for trips up to 3 or 6 months, so isn't suitable; specific backpacker insurance exists. Travellerspoint partners with World Nomads (which the admins have used personally). Not the cheapest you can find, probably, but from all I've heard a decent option.

3. Posted by KellieBarnes (Admin, 661 posts) 24 Jan '14 04:53

Wow, epic questions! I'll just touch on a few answers for now.

  • Recommend NAB over Commonwealth. Accessibility, product, and customer service is all great. CBA just makes pretentious ads.
  • Don't bother with Vodafone, their coverage is abysmal. They are making significant efforts to improve their network but I understand it is still lacking. The options are basically Telstra or Optus and every other supplier uses their network anyway. Telstra has the best coverage in regional areas. I use and would recommend Virgin, who use the Optus network.
  • Melbourne's the best (blatant bias).
  • Don't pack anywhere near as much as you think you need; you can buy everything here.

Hope that helps in some way. Good luck!

4. Posted by mojorob (Moderator, 1044 posts) 24 Jan '14 05:07

Quoting Sander

Quoting AmericanCrow

1) I'm applying for a bank account before I get there and have narrowed it down to either Commonwealth or NAB. Which bank has more branches, or more accessible branches? Does anyone have any likes or dislikes about one or the other? Does anyone suggest another bank instead?

I used ANZ myself way back when (mostly because at the time they were the only one with a no-fee account type (5 free withdrawals per month), which was just enough for me so I didn't have to pay them any money at all), so I don't have experience with these. NAB claims 3400 ATMs. Commonwealth claims "more than 4000" and "over 1000 more than any other bank". Obviously that last statement clashes with NAB's claim. Don't know what conclusion to draw from that. :)

In regards to number of ATMs, that page on the NAB website indicates the number is from both NAB ATMs and rediATMs. The rediATMs are not owned by NAB, they have an agreement with the owners.

When it comes to accessible ATMs or branches, this only becomes an issue outside the capital cities. Even then, if you need cash all the big supermarkets generally offer cash out. So you can buy something and ask for cash out (if this is not available, then you can withdraw from Post Offices). If you find yourself needing to put money into the account but there's no branch then you can use Post Offices to do this - page from NAB website.

I would suggest looking at NAB, as their classic account has no monthly fee - whereas other big banks tend to require a certain amount deposited per month before they drop the fee.

5. Posted by AmericanCrow (Budding Member, 17 posts) 27 Jan '14 17:48

Hey thanks guys, crazy informative! I was really leaning towards Virgin until I actually just found an awesome deal through Woolie's. I get all the data Vodaphone offers for an even better price and on the Optus network! Only thing, I had planned to purchase and have it shipped here so I could activate when I got off the plane, but they don't ship internationally. Guess I'll just have to spend part of my first day hunting a Woolie's. Shouldn't be hard =P

Now if I could just pick a hostel in Sydney! Every one of them, for every semi good review, they each have three horrid ones, generally pertaining to the level of filth. I've tried many different websites, and not one single hostel rates at least decent across the board. It might get an ok, so so review on one site, and then gets ghastly on another. I know, everyone walks in to places with their own set of expectations and it is a hostel after all, but I would like to find a hostel located near public transport, most importantly is clean enough I don't feel like I'll walk away with a fungus just by entering the bathroom and also providing breakfast and wifi would be a plus. Thoughts?

6. Posted by Dodger (Respected Member, 860 posts) 27 Jan '14 19:09

Yes Australian hostels are notoriously dirty, I think it's something to do with the amount of party backpackers that come through, who don't care about how clean it is, and the staff just give up.

AYA generally have cleaner hostels, and a more diverse traveler.

The Blue parrot in Kings Cross still gets pretty good reviews. It is family owned, so they tend to keep it clean and it had a nice vibe when I was there. Its walkable to downtown and public transport.

7. Posted by Sander (Moderator, 4394 posts) 27 Jan '14 23:33

Providing breakfast is almost unheard of for Australian hostels; I'd drop that requirement, and just buy breakfast ingredients at a nearby supermarket. All hostels provide fridges (usually very full, but in the end you can always squeeze in your things, too).

I suspect Dodger made a typo above with his hostel recommendation, and that he intended to point out YHA hostels, which I agree with.

8. Posted by AmericanCrow (Budding Member, 17 posts) 30 Jan '14 17:02

I was looking at YHA Sydney Central and YHA Glebe, as well as chipping in for the membership. For the 10% off each stay in Sydney as well as where ever else I go (I'll just have to stick with YHA) as well as the various discounts for having a hostel membership I've seen thrown around, various modes of transport and the like.

As far as my SIM card, I've decided to more than likely go with Amaysim, it runs on the Optus network and I get more data for better prices than I can find anywhere else. Only downside is it's 3G speed, but the price is good and I need the data more than unlimited calls. And if it turns out I'm wrong, it's a no contract deal so I can just switch. Apparently Woolie's no longer offers their own service and is phasing it out, a real bummer because it was an excellent offer.

I'm discovering I can't do nearly as much before hand as I'd hoped, like ordering a SIM card. Most of these companies don't ship internationally. A bit of fun exploration for me, moments of freak out for my family =P But I am about to apply for my bank account and am going with NAB so thanks for that! 10 days and counting!