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Everything you need to know about a 12-month working holiday in the USA

How to find a job, accommodation and make the move to New York City on this one of a kind working holiday visa.

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Hey i'm Tom and in May 2023, my girlfriend Miro and I left our settled lives in Auckland, New Zealand and moved to New York City.

We’d both just finished our masters degrees and were contemplating the prospect of a fairly predictable year ahead of us in Auckland, when the thought of moving overseas crossed our minds. Even though I'd never visited, I'd always wanted to live in New York; I suppose I'd been charmed by what I’d heard about it in the books and movies, which I have to say, actually holds up in real life! Miro didn’t mind where we moved, as long as it was exciting, so she agreed to give New York a go.

We already knew that moving to the USA was an option for us because we have a number of non-American friends who had done it already, thanks to the J1 12 Month Work and Travel Visa. This work and travel visa allows recent university graduates to live and work in the USA for up to 12 months so that they can engage in cultural exchange. For us, this has meant experiencing the obvious cultural differences between New Zealand and the USA - participating in thanksgiving, going to a baseball game etc. - but also the more subtle ones, such as learning how to tip, or walking on the right hand side of the footpath (or sidewalk), or calling university “college”. And of course, Miro and I brought, however accidentally, a small amount of New Zealand culture to New York too.

The paperwork

As with any move overseas, there was a fair amount of pre-departure admin to get through. Fortunately our J1 Visa sponsor, JENZA (a subsidiary of IENA), made this admin easy to navigate and understandable, providing us with checklists and timelines of what needed to be done. Perhaps the most challenging part of the admin was the process of applying for our DS-2019 forms (which are essentially the physical document of our visas) and arranging our US consulate interviews in Auckland.

The content of the DS-2019 application and the consulate interview were straightforward enough; the difficulty was that we had to book our consulate interviews before we had received our DS-2019s, which are essential to bring to the interview. Because of unpredictable DS-2019 processing times, we ran the risk of not receiving our forms in time for our consulate interviews. Fortunately, our DS-2019s arrived within a week, and so ultimately we had no issues. My only advice to any future J-1 applicants here is to get onto your applications early in case processing times or interview wait times are long!

And more paperwork

Another challenge occurred once we had arrived in the US and were trying to obtain our State IDs (which although aren’t mandatory, I highly recommend getting because our New Zealand Drivers Licenses were often deemed to be invalid forms of ID within the US). Basically, when we went to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to apply for our State IDs, we were required to prove our residency in New York using more than one document. I had brought with me a bank statement, bearing my apartment’s address, and my sublease agreement.

Because the latter was a sublease agreement, and not a formal tenancy agreement, the clerk at the DMV initially rejected it as valid proof of New York State residency. Fortunately, Miro’s clerk had approved the sublet agreement as valid proof of her residency, and so using this we were able to persuade, at great lengths, my clerk to issue my ID. My only advice from this is to be a little pushy if you know you are dealing with some bureaucracy, of which there is no shortage in the USA.

Finding a job

Perhaps the biggest anxiety of our move was what we were going to do for work - in one of the world’s most expensive cities, our modest savings (in a weaker currency no less) were only going to go so far! The short of it is that as soon as we had decided to move to New York, I began asking around friends and former teachers to see if they knew anyone over there, or better yet, if they knew anyone over there working in my field: architecture. Through this process I made a half-dozen connections before I had even arrived in the city, two of whom were architects. Although neither connection explicitly led to a job, both were very helpful in answering my questions about what to expect of the industry, and where to look for work.

During this time I was also doing a lot of research on New York-based architecture firms, compiling a list of ones I’d like to work at. I must have sent my portfolio to about 30 different offices before one got back to me, asking for an interview, and then a follow-up interview. Within about two months of searching, and with considerable luck, I managed to secure a job at one of my favourite firms before I even arrived in New York. Miro, having studied in the non-vocational field of Environmental Management, had a slower job search, and so took on a part-time position at a bougie wine store while continuing to search. Sure enough, after two months of looking through online job newsletters (such as Words of Mouth), and looking up the names of various NGOs that she’d like to work for, she too found a job at a political research organization that she greatly admired.


Hot dogs in Central Park


Our first week in New York


Admiring the NYC architecture

A laptop sits at the edge of the water


Tom C

JENZA Community Contributor

Our content is shaped by our community. If you also have a way with words and a travel tale to tell, drop us a line about writing for JENZA.

"I kept telling myself New Zealand will always be there; your opportunity to get this visa won’t be”.

Finding somewhere to live

In addition to finding jobs, we also had to find accommodation. Not knowing many people in NYC, we decided it would be nice to live with flatmates (or roommates), in order to meet some friends. We began our apartment hunt on Facebook, trawling through the countless NYC rental groups, wary of the many unsubtle scammers. Quickly we got chatting with a potential roommate, a student around our age, who was looking to sublet a room in her apartment. After a video call to verify each others’ legitimacy and vibe (a rather awkward but unavoidable speed dating-like situation), we signed a sublease agreement with her, securing ourselves a home for the next two months.

Before long our sublease was drawing to an end, and we began looking for our next apartment, still hoping to live with people. Through the online property newsletter, Listings Project, and now with the ease of actually being in the city and able to view apartments, we found our next home: a gorgeous brownstone in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant!

It was only in December, 6 months after first arriving in New York, that Miro and I thought we’d move into a place of our own. Contrary to the subleases that we’d had previously, this would involve signing onto an actual lease. Unlike in New Zealand, American tenancy relies heavily on credit as a way to prove yourself a reliable tenant. One of the ways good credit is established is by consistently using and paying off a credit card, in order to prove you are good with money. Having each gotten credit cards when we first arrived in New York, by December our credit score was “fair” (not yet “good”), and so signing onto a lease was feasible. My advice to future J1 recipients who expect to sign a lease during their time in the US is to get a credit card soon after their arrival, and begin using it responsibly of course.

Uncertainty, anxiety, risk and failure are all inevitabilities of making a big move overseas, if not the very reasons for doing so. If you allow it, life has a wonderful way of sweeping you up and carrying you somewhere far wilder and far more exciting than you could have imagined. As I was working up the nerve to make the move to New York, all those months ago, I kept telling myself “New Zealand will always be there; your opportunity to get this visa won’t be”.

If you've always dreamed of the bright lights of New York City and want to make the most of this exclusive working holiday visa, head to our JENZA Work USA 12month page to check eligibility and reach out to the JENZA Support Squad.

A laptop sits at the edge of the water


Tom C

JENZA Community Contributor

Our content is shaped by our community. If you also have a way with words and a travel tale to tell, drop us a line about writing for JENZA.


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