By Ella Killroy
Originally posted on Kilroy Calling
This past year, my final year of college, I found myself feeling stuck and totally unsure of what I wanted to do once I graduated. The idea of getting a corporate 9-5 job filled me with dread, as did the thought of going back to school immediately in order to get a masters. I knew what I needed (time and life experience) but wasn’t totally sure how to give myself those things in a way that still felt exciting and unique. In the back of my mind, I entertained the notion of going back to Ireland, as I studied abroad in Galway my junior year of college and fell in love with living in Ireland, Irish people and culture, and travelling. That time in my life inspired a lot of independence, growth and, most importantly, I felt very truly happy living in Ireland. However, I didn’t know how I would realistically be able to make that happen again. I was concerned about moving abroad if I didn’t want to be a student. How would I get a visa? What would I do for work? How would I find a place to live, friends, a social life? On my quest to give myself a solid plan for next year, I decided I would make the daydream of moving to work in Ireland a reality. I could figure it out. There had to be a way. After some research, I came across a visa that seemed like the answer to my prayers: The Working Holiday Authorization. This visa essentially allows young Americans who are either currently receiving a post-secondary education or recent graduates (up to 12 months) from a post-secondary program of study to live and work anywhere in Ireland for a full year. This visa was my ticket into Ireland, and a month and a half into my move, I can safely say this was the best possible decision I could’ve made for my post-grad plan. In this post, I’ll guide you through the steps of obtaining a Working Holiday Authorization, the process of moving to Ireland, and how to go about finding housing/work/and friends in a foreign country.
For phase one of the application process, you need to submit:
- The completed and signed WHA application, found on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.
- A photocopy of your passport.
- Two identical passport sized photos with your name printed on the other side. I got these taken at a Walgreens. Most drug stores/camera supply stores can do this for you in just a few minutes.
- Current resume with two references. These do not need to be full written references, just the contact information for two employers/academic mentors who could vouch for you if need be.
- Evidence that you are currently in full-time post-secondary education, or have graduated within the 12 months prior to receipt of their application. This could be an official transcript or a diploma. I sent a transcript because I hadn’t graduated yet at the time of my application, and that worked fine. Just note you have to send an original copy in, you can’t just print off an online version of your transcript, which means you will have to go through your university and pay whatever they charge for printing an official transcript.
- A bank statement showing you have access to at least $4,000.
- The application fee in the form of a money order/cashier’s check made out to the relevant embassy. The price of the application varies depending on which embassy you are applying for, so make sure you consult the DFA website. I didn’t know what a money order or cashier’s check was prior to applying for this visa and was concerned it would be a difficult process to obtain, but it was actually very easy. Money orders are essentially just checks that are pre-paid, so that it is impossible that they could bounce back when the recipient goes to cash it in. To get one, I just went to a local grocery store and asked for a money order to be made out in the exact amount of the application fee, and paid with my debit card. You can get money orders at most grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations and post offices.
Once you have all of these documents, you can submit your application to your assigned embassy. You can either drop off the documents in person or mail them. I mailed mine since I didn’t live close to my embassy, and I made sure to use registered mail since I was sending important and expensive documents. When you register the envelope of documents you are sending, you pay a bit extra to insure it, but it is worth it to have the peace of mind, since it can only be dropped off at the destination when it is physically signed and in the hands of the recipient.
Now, you just have to wait. I read all over the internet about people waiting months to receive news from their embassy, but I heard back relatively quickly. I applied on March 8th, my birthday, and received an email on the 19th that I was approved to continue onto the second phase of the application process.
The second phase is when it starts to become very real and you have to make a solid plan of when and where you will arrive in Ireland. In this phase of the application process, you have to submit:
- Round trip airline tickets in and out of Ireland within the year-long time span you are permitted to stay on a WHA. I knew I wanted to arrive in September and stay for the full year, but airlines do not plan that far ahead, so I wasn’t able to buy tickets out of Ireland and back to the States in September 2020. Instead I bought flexible fare round trip tickets returning to the States in February 2020 that I can change to a later date as the year goes on.
- Certificate of medical/travel insurance valid for the duration of your trip. This can easily be obtained online and there are a lot of companies you can purchase travel insurance through pretty cheaply. I ended up going with the Volunteer Card Travel Insurance plan.
- Your original passport. Yes, your actual, physical, passport. This is why it is so important to register your mail when you send these documents to the embassy!
Once you mail those three documents to the original embassy, you have to wait awhile for it to be processed and approved. Eventually, you will get an email from FedEx that gives you an expected delivery date of a package addressed to you coming from the embassy, which you can safely assume will contain your documents and your WHA. Make sure you are home on the day of the scheduled delivery because you will have to sign for it. When the package arrives, it will contain all the documents you originally submitted, including your passport, and your brand-new official Working Holiday Authorization, your ticket into Ireland for the year.
Once you receive everything, it is essential to put it all in a designated folder or binder that you will take with you once you go. You’ll need to present your WHA and likely a few of the other documents you submitted with the application at passport control once you land in Ireland and at your INIS immigration appointment.
Registering With The INIS and Getting a PPS Number
Before you start worrying about housing, jobs, friends, and everything else, it is important to know that even though you have the visa, you will still have to register with the Irish Nationalization and Immigration Services once you arrive. You have 90 days to do this, but I would recommend doing it as soon as possible once you land, because you can’t start looking for work until you’re registered.
It is extremely difficult to get an appointment (at least at the Dublin office) so be very proactive and start looking for appointments months in advance. Prioritize getting this appointment over and above any of the other little things that will undoubtedly be nagging you. At this appointment, you will have to present your WHA, various documents, get your fingerprints taken and pay an immigration fee of €300. A few days after your appointment, your registration card will arrive in the mail of wherever you happen to be living and you can officially begin looking for work.
Another essential appointment you’ll need to make in order to be paid once you begin working is for a PPS (Personal Public Service) number. A PPS number is how the government identifies you when determining what taxes/benefits you may be eligible for, and is necessary to be paid for your work and to set up a bank account. However, before you can make this appointment you should already have a job offer, as you have to prove at the offices that you actually do have a need for one. The appointments for PPS numbers are also impacted and must be made about a month in advance. Once you arrive at the office you need to have proof of need for a PPS number (in the form of a letter from your employer), proof of Identity (passport) and proof of address (this can also come in a letter from your employer).
It is a confusing and frustrating process (you need a registration card in order to find work, you need to have a job in order to get PPS number, but you need to have a PPS number in order to be paid), so make sure you are aware that the money you’re earning probably won’t hit your bank account for at least a month after your move, even if you do land a job right away. I’d suggest coming prepared, with enough money to last you at least a month or two, so that you aren’t completely panicked if you find yourself a bit stuck in the cycle of appointment making. Once you receive your PPS number in the mail, you can officially start receiving payments from your employer.
Now that we have the logistical, immigration information out of the way, I can move on to the lifestyle factors: how to find a place to live, work, make friends, and all the other things you need to successfully build a life for yourself abroad.
My number one tip when it comes to giving yourself the best opportunity to successfully acclimate to life in Ireland is to sign up for a program that facilitates your move and provides you with initial housing. I went with Stint Ireland’s Gap Year program and I am so glad that I did, as it made the entire process of getting comfortable in Dublin so much easier. Once you pay the program fee (which yes, is pricey), you get the guidance and support of people whose job it is to help you if you have any issues with registering and getting set up in Ireland, eight weeks paid rent in top-notch houses in some of Dublin’s best neighborhoods, and most importantly, a network of people going through the exact same thing as you. Immediately having a group of friends my age who were also trying to navigate a big move abroad was such a luxury and allowed me to feel like I had a community and people to do stuff with right away. Stint also hosts social events for program participants across Dublin a few times a month, including movie nights, pub crawls, and holiday celebrations (“Stintsgiving” is coming up, for example) which are always fun and a good way to check out new spots around the city. I don’t think it is entirely necessary to go through a program if you want to move to Ireland on a WHA, and you could save a lot of money if you choose to come and find housing yourself, but I think the social benefits and the knowledge that you have on-the-ground support truly make paying the cost of the program worth it, especially if you’re not an extremely outgoing person. I would suggest using a program like this as a jumping off point: a way to get situated and comfortable living in Dublin before you move to a more permanent living situation (which I have yet to do!).
Finding a job was pretty difficult for me and took a few weeks of applying literally everywhere I possibly could, but I was persistent and determined and eventually got hired as a front-of-house employee for a café in my neighborhood. Being an American on a WHA is a turn-off for employers, because they know at an absolute maximum you’ll be with them for only a year, so I wouldn’t expect to land your dream job. I knew I’d likely be working in the service industry during my time in Ireland, and my only real requirements in looking for a place I wanted to work was that it was close to where I lived, had a good vibe, and stayed busy enough.
I applied for positions on both job board websites and by directly reaching out to cafes and restaurants that I liked via email and Facebook messenger, and I eventually got hired through the direct approach. I think that method worked better for me than applying via a job site board because everyone who posts a listing on those websites must get hundreds of applicants, and your resume could easily get overlooked. Directly reaching out to places that you genuinely like, even if they aren’t necessarily advertising that they are hiring, is a good way of going about it, because you stand out as a tenacious go-getter, not just another random resume. In the interim period when you are looking for steady employment, it’s a good idea to register with a recruiting agency and do a few temp jobs just to earn some money and get used to working life in Ireland. I went with this agency, and although I found the work to be pretty boring and monotonous, it was a good way to get started until I landed something more permanent. I know some people are able to do temp work throughout their entire year on a WHA, but it’s more risky because you simply don’t know when, where, how, or what types of jobs might be available at any given time. In any case, the key to finding a job in Ireland is the same as it is anywhere: a combination of persistence and luck.
And there you have it, everything that I think is absolutely essential to know when embarking on a WHA in Ireland. My guide is quite Dublin-specific, as that’s where I decided to live, but still applicable regardless of where you settle in. Of course, I’m only a few months into my time here, so as I go along and experience more I’ll be sure to write updates, but these tips are very comprehensive for the application process and initial move. I know it seems like a daunting process and a lot of work, but if you are thinking about moving abroad post-grad, I would absolutely encourage you to go for it. When you plan ahead and take it all a day at a time, it is completely manageable, and fun creating a life for yourself from scratch.