Working Part-Time to Pay off Student Fees in Australia

studentA question I am often asked by international students thinking of studying in Australia is, ‘Can I work part-time to help pay off my student education fees in Australia?

The costs

moneyThis isn’t a complete budget, it’s very rough, but it gives you an idea of the problem you will face if you are hoping to earn enough money to pay for your education as you go.

Cost of education

educationTuition fees vary quite massively depending on the subject and the university. A basic English language course can cost around $300 per week. According to university reviews, the lowest yearly fee you can expect to pay at a university would be around $20,000, but that would not be in a major city. Expect to pay more for Sydney or Melbourne.

That’s at the low end, an expensive course at a top university could cost you double, treble or even four times that amount. For the sake of this experiment though, let’s go for one of the cheaper courses and budget $400 per week for the cost of education.


Cost of accommodation

HouseI had a look online for rooms to rent in Melbourne for students. The very cheapest I found was $80 per week, but that was sharing one room with four other people in it. That’s to say it was a dormitory style bedroom with five single beds.

If you want a room on your own, expect to pay between $200 and $250 per week. So, like the cost of education, accommodation costs can also vary wildly. For the sake of our budgeting, we are going to assume $150 per week for accommodation.

Cost of food

So what’s the minimum amount of money one student would need to spend on food each week? That’s a tricky one to answer, because as attractive as going cheap may seem, there is the small matter of your ongoing health.

Eating cheap and rubbishy food over a long period of time would be a bad idea. So it’s not good to skimp on the food. According to Study in Australia, a government run website, the cost of groceries and eating out for a student range from between $80-$280 per week.

The same website also quotes average costs for other living expenses, so it’s well worth taking a look. They also quote similar fees for accommodation, with prices varying from $85-$280 per week.

For the sake of our experiment here though, for food, again we will go low at $120 per week


So, what have we got so far?

Barest minimum costs per week

  • Cost of education: $400 per week
  • Cost of accommodation: $150 per week
  • Cost of food: $120 per week

Total so far: $670 per week, that’s almost $35,000 per year.

When I say barest minimum though, it really is that. You will have extra costs on top of this, for example, public transport, entertainment and bills (shared house bills, mobile phone, internet).

Cost of everything

According to an article a couple of years ago, Australia was the most expensive place for international students to get a university education. They ‘estimated an international student in Australia would spend more than $42,000 each year on fees and supporting themselves.‘ – Source: ABC News

That estimate is backed up by the already mentioned Study in Australia website, they quote the minimum cost of living for one year in Australia (excluding tuition fees) of $19,830.

So, with all these figures and estimates, I think it’s more than fair and reasonable to say that you will not be able to study here and survive for less than $40,000 a year.

Potential earnings

International students are only allowed to work 40 hours per fortnight. Some websites quote it as 20 hours per week, but officially it is 40 hours per fortnight, which is slightly different. This is exactly how it is worded on the government’s immigration website:student work40 hours per fortnight gives the students more flexibility. For example, you could have a week off of work and the following week work 40 hours to catch up. If it was 20 hours per week, you wouldn’t be able to do that. That said though, it still only adds up to 1040 hours of work per year, plus whatever you can get during those ‘not in session’ times.

Current minimum wage rates in Australia:

  • 18yo – Base: $12.09 Casual: $15.11
  • 19yo – Base: $14.60 Casual: $18.25
  • 20yo – Base: $17.29 Casual: $21.61
  • 21yo – Base: $17.70 Casual: $22.12


So, with our fictitious budgeting, you will remember that we went low-cost pretty much all the way through it. Even if you didn’t incur any extra costs for entertainment, even if you kept your bills to the absolute minimum, and even if you didn’t get a mobile phone and walked to and from your place of study every day.

Even if you did all that, you are still in for at least $35,000 per year.

Now let’s assume you are over 21 years of age and you managed to secure a casual job at the current minimum wage. You are also able to work the full 1040 hours per year.

Total annual earnings = $23,004.80

As you can see, it’s about $12,000 short of what you need, that’s about $230 per week.

Even if you do work extra long hours when your course is not in session as the rules allow, you would still not make up that shortfall. It can’t be done.

The reality

The reality, it appears, is worse.

The reason I am writing this today is because last week there was a news item on ABC about how shocked international students are at the low pay and long hours they have been expected to work here.

According to a report by ABC’s Story Hunters, many international students are being massively underpaid. The chances of actually securing a job on the minimum wage are very remote.

If the students they spoke to are representative of what’s really going on, then students are actually more likely to earn $8 to $12 per hour. In order to survive, many students are breaking the terms of their student visas by working more than the allocated 40 hours per fortnight.

Their employers are paying cash and not keeping accurate records to allow this to happen. International students are being exploited by employers and have become a form of cheap labour here in Australia.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James explained the four key reasons international students were so vulnerable to this exploitation:

  • Youth
  • Language barriers
  • Loyalty to their employers
  • Fear of losing their visas

These four factors combined are preventing exploited workers from complaining to authorities, but they are not the only reasons. As one restaurant employee who worked with 17 other exploited international students explained, complaining will just get the business closed down and then everybody will lose their jobs, including the boss.

That explains why there are so few complaints being made about this at all.

We’ve seen this kind of work exploitation before, just over a year ago I wrote about this sort of thing in the post called 417 Visa Working Holiday Holders (WHV) and Slavery in Australia. Seems it’s not just 417 visa holders, but also student visa holders that are being exploited.

On top of that, generally speaking it is more difficult to land a job of any nature in Australia at the moment, I spoke about that in my post called What’s It Really like Trying to Find a Job in Australia? – 2015.

So that’s a very long answer to the question ‘Can I work part-time to help pay off my student education fees in Australia?‘ If you are looking for a shorter answer though, may I suggest…

It is highly unlikely.

For the full story and to watch the videos by Story Hunters on international student exploitation, visit ABC News: High fees, low pay.

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{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Carolyn January 19, 2018, 12:14 am | Link

    Ws interested in studying in Australia but the comments are discouraging.

  • Marisa January 16, 2018, 10:15 pm | Link

    I always love to live in Australia. I’ve read most of your articles. So now I need an advice.
    I’m planning to come as an international student for Masters too.
    If my University tuition fee will be 30.000 AUD, and I bring 40.000 AUD totally. as I pay by each semester like 10.000 AUD and if I work as a Barista in a coffeeshop Victoria in Melbourne, Will I be able to keep up living like this for 2 years and cover my expenses?

    • BobinOz January 17, 2018, 12:08 am | Link

      This is a really tricky one for me, I don’t think I can answer it. If I understand your situation correctly, you will bring enough money to cover all of your tuition fees over the two years, plus an additional $10,000.

      By my calculations above, if you are over 21 the most you will be able to earn each year will be around $23,000. With your extra $10,000, you can add $5000 to that each year meaning you will need to survive on $28,000 a year. That’s assuming you find constant ongoing employment at the full minimum rate if you’re over 21, and there is no guarantee that’s going to happen.

      Can you do that?

      I don’t know, if you can share a room on the cheap, maybe $100/150 a week for that, then that will leave you max $400 a week to get by on. Getting a job isn’t easy though, and that’s the problem.

      I suspect it’s possible, but I would love to hear what other students think about this, students who have tried to survive on this kind of money while staying in employment.

      Any other students got any advice on this?

      • Marisa January 17, 2018, 5:35 pm | Link

        Hey Thanks for the answer.
        Well, I’m 24 I have no problem on living in shared student house , I have just heard that there are many coffeeshops in Melbourne and I wont have difficulties to find a job in coffeeshop as a barista or simillar. Heard that there are many casula jobs on boards in Universities. but as you said heard tht finding real jobs are tough.

        Yeah I’d be thankful if I hear other comments too.

  • NamgyelR January 8, 2018, 6:45 pm | Link

    Your yearly university expense is too low. Now days it’s anywhere between $13,000 to $17,000 per semester on average. That amounts to $26,000 to $34,000 a year just on tuition fees. My tuition fees is almost $17,000 a semester. I don’t know how I am going to make that.

    • BobinOz January 9, 2018, 8:25 pm | Link

      Yes, I know the university fee I have quoted is way too low, I mention it in the above article and I also say it could be two, three or even four times the amount I have used, depending on the university.

      The point is I deliberately chose a very low tuition fee so I could illustrate how impossible it is to work here in order to pay your fees as you go. If your fees are almost $17,000 a semester, I don’t know how you are going to make that either.

      That’s why I wrote this article, to try and warn people of the dangers of thinking they can cover the costs by working part-time.

  • Alleakim Bautista December 5, 2017, 9:04 pm | Link

    what will happen to the employer if he/she get caught from allowing her student visa worker to work more tjan 20 hours per week? and he is only paying this studeny on cash basis everyday?

    • BobinOz December 6, 2017, 12:39 am | Link

      Who knows? Who cares? I’m sure this isn’t an unusual occurrence though, every country has its black economy. Australia’s is said to be worth around $40 billion.

  • NR November 27, 2017, 4:11 pm | Link

    I can hardly make tuition fees and this is what happens.

  • NR November 27, 2017, 4:09 pm | Link

    Got charged with an infringement worth 1 whole week’s pay!!!!! This is depressing.

    • BobinOz November 27, 2017, 8:43 pm | Link

      Well, yes, since I’ve been here I’ve had one parking fine and one speeding fine, and they do tend to hit you quite hard.

      $60 (2009) and $168 (this year) respectively. I suspect we all break the rules every now and then, and mostly we get away with it, but when we get caught it costs. Hopefully, as a student, you have learnt a lesson.

      No point in being depressed about it, move on, have fun and try not to do it again.

  • Ozimandias October 15, 2017, 2:29 pm | Link

    It depends on your other costs. Will you be living in Melbourne or Sydney?

    It is possible to share a room with 7 others in Melbourne but my experience is that there are sleazy and unscrupulous people who take advantage of students, so be careful, especially if you are female! I would not do it, personally, but when you are young, adventurous and desperate, you are adaptive to almost anything!

    There is a limit to the number of hours that a student can work per week, under current Australian rules.

    I knew an Asian woman in Melbourne, who is now doing very well, but she was exhausted by the work and study after a few years. She did an Australian nursing degree – which took four years from diploma to bachelor degree. Under new rules, a nurse now works for peanuts for a year, on top of the four year diploma/degree.

    During the degree and diploma, she worked as a nurse at night and on the weekend up to the maximum number of hours allowed, which I think was 20 per fortnight. It was still not enough. She had to borrow money on top of that, quite a lot. On a positive note, she was far more experienced as a nurse when she graduated than her Australian colleagues in the class.

    Even then, it was NOT enough money. Be aware of costs, unless you have highly paid work per hour. If you are waiting tables in a restaurant or driving taxis it will not be enough, usually.

    It might be possible in our online world to work via your computer with a business.

    • Anonymous October 18, 2017, 3:14 pm | Link

      are there any kinds of student loan available for international student in australia?

      • BobinOz October 18, 2017, 9:09 pm | Link

        I don’t think so, not from the government anyway. Check out for more information.

  • anonymous October 14, 2017, 10:58 pm | Link

    If i pay the first years fee and for second and third year will i be able to pay my fees?
    My university fee is about 19700AUD.And, won’t i be able to pay up my fees during my holidays by working full time?

    • BobinOz October 16, 2017, 8:51 pm | Link

      It is unlikely, in my opinion. At best you would probably be able to earn $20 an hour and you are only allowed to work 40 hours a fortnight. That would give you a maximum income of $20,000 a year which would just about pay your fees, but what about your living expenses? What if you don’t find work? Or your pay is less than $20 an hour?

      It all sounds very risky to me.

      • anonymous October 16, 2017, 11:33 pm | Link

        what about my earning during the holidays?

        • BobinOz October 17, 2017, 7:14 pm | Link

          Well, I have already included 20 hours per week during holiday periods in the above calculation, how many extra hours do you think you can work? An additional 20? An additional 40? How many weeks holiday a year do you get? Will you find the extra work during these holidays? Will you find any work at all? Will that work only pay $12 an hour?

          I still think it’s risky.

          • Anonymous October 18, 2017, 3:11 pm | Link

            But i will be able to work ful time during the vacation, won’t I?

            • BobinOz October 18, 2017, 9:07 pm | Link

              As it says above in the article, you are allowed to work unlimited hours when your course is not in session, but that doesn’t guarantee you would be able to find work for those extended hours.

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