New Zealand's Working Holiday Arrangement programme promises a great adventure for those who are willing to make the effort.
Participants are given a full 12 months in the Land of the Kiwi to work, travel and study. However, no job is provided, no contact person is appointed and you must arrange your own accommodation.
"It's great that you have the freedom to choose what you really want to do," said Wannee Ngarmwirojkit, who travelled to New Zealand last year on this new type of visa.
"You can choose whether to study, travel or work. You can choose which city to stay in, where to live, what job to do, and when and how long to travel."
Participants in the new working holiday visa programme can take any academic courses for a total of up to three months, work for three months with any single employer, and travel as they wish.
Basically, they can work unlimited hours for the whole 12 months provided they change jobs every three months. If they don't want to, they don't have to work at all.
By contrast, holders of New Zealand student visas must enrol in a minimum one-year study programme to be permitted to work 20 hours per week. On a tourist visa, working is not permitted at all.
"The programme suits people who love adventure. Applicants should be flexible and self-reliant," said Piyolos Ngamvilaikorn, business development manager of the education section of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the government's national economic development agency.
Working holiday visa-holders can find jobs in restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, souvenir shops, department stores, school libraries, in offices or on farms. The country's minimum wage is 10.25 New Zealand dollars (Bt240) an hour before tax.
"If you're not picky, you'll find a job," said Wannee.
"Jobs at restaurants and on farms are quite easy to find. But to get an office job you must have a very good command of English."
Wannee and her sister Wanphen went to New Zealand for seven months after being granted working holiday visas last year.
First they enrolled at an English school in Christchurch for a month and found accommodation with a home-stay programme. They found jobs waiting tables at Thai restaurants and earned $10.25 an hour, which came to $8 after tax, and moved into a house they shared with three other international students from Korea, Japan and China.
"The first couple of weeks at the restaurant were quite hectic," said Wanphen, 27.
"We had to recognise the dishes, memorise the wine list and food menu and adjust to the New Zealand accent. It was a lot of pressure - especially the language. New Zealanders speak very fast and don't open their mouths much when they speak. I had a hard time understanding the customers."
The sisters only stayed in Christchurch and worked as waitpersons at a couple restaurants in town. They spent about 10 days before coming back and on weekends travelled in the country.
"We spent the money we earned from the restaurant jobs on living and travelling expenses. It's better to work and earn New Zealand dollars and spend that on your expenses than saving up baht and using that in New Zealand," said Wanphen.
The sisters had planned to move around and live in different cities in New Zealand. But as time passed, they found they had collected quite a lot of stuff and eventually they found it was inconvenient to move.
"So, we recommend not bringing much with you," elder sibling Wannee, 29, said with a smile.
Piyolos of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise suggests another option for getting started: "Some students take a three-month work training course to brush up their English and get some practice at working as a junior company officer. At the end of such courses the school helps each student secure job interviews."
Any Thai national with a bachelor's degree who is not older than 30 is eligible to apply for the working holiday visa. However, they must be able to prove they can function in English. Bank statements or other financial records - or holding $7,000 in travellers' cheques - are required to show that the applicant can cover living expenses during their stay. Other than that, visas are granted on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The scheme is reciprocal, with 100 places for Thais and 100 places for New Zealanders annually. It was implemented in September last year as part of the free-trade agreement between Thailand and New Zealand. The first 100 Thai applicants were granted visas from July 2005 to June this year. The second-year programme runs from last month to July 4 next year.
Applying early is strongly recommended.
The working holiday visa is a multiple re-entry type, so visa-holders can leave and come back to New Zealand as many times as they wish during their 12-month stay. This makes it easier for them to visit their home countries or travel to other countries.
Visa-holders can also switch to a student or working visa later. The application fee is Bt3,500 and the process takes about two weeks or 10 working days after all required documents are submitted.
Applicants should go to the Office of Welfare Promotion, Protection and Empowerment of Vulnerable Groups at the Social Development and Human Security Ministry to obtain a certified letter, which can take two or three weeks to process.
The office is located at 618/1 Makkasan Rd, Ratchathewi, Bangkok. For more information contact Mongkol Chantrabumrung or Arunee Namamuti at (02) 250 1950.
For application forms and more details on the working holiday visa programme, log on to: www.immigration.govt.nz/migrant/stream/work/workingholiday/thailandwhs www.immigration.govt.nz/migrant/stream/work/workingholiday/thailandwhs
By Rojana Manowalailao