I’ve been a little MIA lately – but I promise it has been for a good reason! Over the past month, I’ve packed up my life in Chicago, booked a ticket across the pond, got myself a little thing called a Working Holiday Authorization (WHA Visa), and moved to Ireland. So it’s been a productive break to say the least.
One of the things that I noticed while researching Ireland’s WHA visa was a lack of blog posts on the process. The first thing I look for when heading somewhere new is authentic voices documenting their opinions and experiences. And while there were some great helpful ones, I found they were few and far between. So I hope to document my entire experience of what it’s like to move to Ireland for a year on a WHA visa – from the application process to the move itself to getting settled to daily life and everything I learn in between.
A little more background on what the WHA visa is – according to Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Ireland’s working holiday agreements with other governments allow young people of both countries to fund an extended holiday through temporary work.” Working Holiday agreements are available to citizens from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan and the USA. You can learn more details on the visa here. Since I am from the USA, my experience will reflect the process of applying from there, but I hope that my experiences can be relatable to anyone taking the leap and becoming an Ireland expat.
To be eligible for a WHA visa, you must either be a currently enrolled college student or within twelve months of graduating. Note that you need only apply before that twelve months is up, you don’t necessarily have to go by then. My twelve months ended in April, so I applied in March, but didn’t leave for Ireland until the end of June.
PART ONE: THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Apply early – it can take a while to hear back. The DFA says that the processing time is about eight weeks to receive your visa after you apply. Mine took about three months. This isn’t the case for everyone – some are lucky and get theirs back right away. But err on the side of caution and leave yourself plenty of time. Don’t be afraid to be extremely proactive throughout the process. Here are some tips for applying for your WHA visa –
|| Gathering Your Documents
These are the documents that you’ll need for stage one visa approval: a completed and signed application form, a photocopy of your passport valid for at least full year after your planned entry date, 2 recent identical passport photos with your name written on the back, a current CV/resume with two references, evidence that you are either enrolled in full-time post-secondary education (such as an official transcript or university letter) or graduated within twelve months (such as a diploma), an original bank statement showing access to at least $4000, and either a money order or cashier’s check for the relevant application fee. This information can be found here.
Try to make sure all of your documents are in order the first time around. Make sure to give them a money order and not a personal check (my mistake – readers are leaders!). Your bank statement needs to be on official bank letterhead. I was able to download an official e-statement from my banking site. The first time around, though, I simply printed off a simple savings account overview. This wasn’t official enough. Make sure to submit your official diploma or collegiate transcript. Double check everything – you’ll save yourself time if you don’t have to resend documents later!
You can then either send your documentation in the mail to your respective consulate, or drop it off in person.
|| Following Up
Don’t be afraid to follow up on your application. Depending on when you are leaving, you may hear back sooner than later. However, following up on my application was what moved things along for me. I decided to call the consulate a little over a month after submitting my application. They mentioned that because it was April and I wasn’t planning to leave for Ireland until late June, that my application may have not been submitted yet. My information was passed along to the visa officer in the consulate, who graciously emailed me later that day offering to answer any questions. She looked at my application and let me know what documents needed to be updated. I emailed her back, letting her know that I would drop off my new documents the next day.
I also inquired about the timing of the process, just to give a heads up that my Chicago lease was up in July and that if this wasn’t going to work out, or if it would take a while, I would need to start looking into a new place. It seemed to have helped give her an idea to help get the process moving, because the day that I went into the consulate to drop off my new documents, she looked them over and submitted them for Stage One approval then and there. I received a call a few hours later saying that my application had been approved and I was ready for Stage Two. It never hurts to be proactive!
|| Stage Two Approval
Once you have Stage One approval, you must arrange and submit your travel plans to the consulate. The documents needed for Stage Two approval are your purchased round-trip flight to Ireland (showing both an entrance and exit date), a certificate of medical/travel insurance valid for the full year, and your original passport.
These can be a bit trickier to arrange. For your flight, you’ll need to be able to prove that you will leave Ireland by the time your year is up. This means you’ll have to purchase round trip tickets. However, this is usually impossible because you can’t book flight tickets more than about nine months ahead of time. If you can, look to purchase a flex-fare ticket. When the time comes, you can later re-book your return flight and push it back to the actual end of your year. Or consider booking a cheap flight over to another nearby country.
Travel insurance can be a pain too. Many plans seem to offer a full year of coverage, but are actually multi-trip. This means that you can’t be abroad for the full year, but rather the plan covers you if you take several trips over the course of a year. You’ll want to find a plan that actually covers a full year abroad. There are many great plans out there depending on what you are looking for, so what you purchase is ultimately up to your discretion. My health care coverage from home covered me globally and turned out to be sufficient proof of medical insurance for the visa. I still ended up purchasing travel insurance to cover me just in case.
Make a copy of your passport before submitting it to the consulate. This way, you’ll have your information in case you don’t get it back right away.
|| Making Appointments
While you are waiting for your visa to be issued, you can make your Garda appointment. You have to register with Irish Naturalization and Immigration Service (INIS) within 90 days of your arrival into Ireland. The fee to register is €300, so again, know that you’ll have to budget for this. You can book your appointment here.
|| Pick Up Your Visa
Again, don’t be afraid to be proactive in following up on your visa. Mine sat for over a month after submitting for Stage Two approval until I began bugging the consulate by calling. Finally I just dropped by in person and was able to see that my visa was all set, it just needed to be signed. By the next day, I was able to pick it up. This was, mind you, about 7 days before I was supposed to leave for Ireland. After applying three months before. So yeah, I was a bit anxious to say the least.
So don’t be afraid to reach out to the consulate to check on things and remind them that you’re leaving soon if you must – they get a lot of visa applications. If nothing else, reaching out gives you some peace of mind. And once you get that wonderful call that your visa is ready, you can go pick it up! By now you have your flights, your insurance, and your visa. Which means you are essentially ready to go! Time to pack your bags! Oh and figure out housing… and a job… But don’t worry. It’s all an adventure.
Stay tuned to Part Two: Arriving in Ireland soon!