For many expats, nothing less than ‘God’s own country’ will do. Whatever you want from life, you’ll find it down under. From the (brilliant!) clichés of sun, beer and barbecues through to skiing and surfing, and not to mention the beautiful natural landscapes…
Australia has everything.
But what do you need to know before you get going? Here are our top tips for moving to Australia!
First things first, getting a visa
A slight warning to get started:
Aussie immigration is stricter than in some countries, so you need to be very sure you get this one right!
There are quite a lot of different visa options, depending on how long you’re planning on staying.
For those planning to move to Australia permanently, there are three main options:
- A family stream permanent visa
- A work-stream permanent visa
- A business or investor-stream permanent visa
Meanwhile, for younger people looking to enjoy a shorter stay, there are a range of different holiday and working holiday visas.
(There are even visas specific to you joining a partner or family member, if that happens to be your situation!)
The best way to discover exactly which visa suits you is to go onto the Australian Immigration Website. Every option is set out in detail, and there’s a questionnaire for you to fill in if you’re still not sure!
Visa applications – how long does it take?
How careful you are filling in your application can make a big difference to how long your visa takes to come through.
In a best-case scenario, Australian visas can come through in a day or two. However, if the application gets held up for any reason, you could be looking at more than a month.
Needless to say, you should leave enough time for the latter. Everything will probably go smoothly, but better safe than sorry!
Budgeting in Australia
No getting around it: Australia isn’t the cheapest place to live in. Especially in the big cities like Sydney or Melbourne.
Even if you’ve lived somewhere like London or New York, the cost of living in Oz’s bigger cities might come as a shock!
Fortunately, utilities aren’t too bad. Here are some rough figures to give you an idea:
- Monthly internet packages – $125
- Public transport – $100-250 depending on the city
- Insurance for home, healthcare and a car – upwards of $300 a month
- Electricity and gas – $150
- Monthly food costs – up to $1000 for a small family
However, once you get into things like eating out and drinking in bars and pubs, costs start to add up mighty fast!
For example, you’ll often be expected to pay as much as 20-30$ for an average meal out, and unless you’re drinking local wine (which can be pretty cost effective) import alcohol can be upwards of 10$-15$ a serving.
(Unfortunately for any smokers, the cost of puffing away is also brutal down under. 7 Cents a cigarette in tax, and a standard pack now costs around $40!)
If you’re happy to eat and drink on a budget, it does help.
But that’s before we talk about housing – which we’ll get onto in a minute.
Healthcare in Australia
In most countries, Australia has a mix of private and public healthcare.
- The public healthcare system is called Medicare (not to be confused with the US version!) and entitles you to doctor appointments, medicine and hospital treatment for free (or a very reduced cost). This is funded through a form of income tax that you’ll be expected to contribute to as a resident, usually at a rate of 2%.
- The private healthcare system is pretty standard, with numerous private medical companies offering typical medical care along with other options like dentistry, audiology and nursing care.
So far, so similar to the UK.
However, private healthcare is a lot more common in Australia than in Britain. In fact, more than half of Australians hold some form of health insurance.
Let’s go into the 2 in more detail…
Australia’s public health system is accessible for:
- Citizens of Australia and New Zealand
- Permanent resident visa holders in Australia
- People who come from countries with a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Australia (this includes the UK and Ireland, but US citizens are not eligible)
Essentially, if you’re a British expat you are eligible for free healthcare in Australia. (Though, as we said before, as soon as you become a resident of any kind, you’ll be expected to pay income tax contributions.)
Australia has what’s called a “Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS)”. This is the list of medical services approved by the Australian government that are covered by Medicare.
The most you will be expected to pay is 15% of the cost, and that’s if you’re referred by a specialist rather than a GP.
There are a few notable exceptions not included under free care which you’ll want to bear in mind:
- Ambulance services (except in Queensland and Tasmania)
- Private hospitals
- The majority of dentists
- Cosmetic surgery (and other non-essential clinical treatments)
- Home nursing
Private health insurance in Australia is pretty standard, in that you can choose to pay for as much (or as little) cover as you want.
Unless you’re going for ultimate cover, though, most policies come somewhere in between the $800 to $2,000 price range.
(Prices also vary between states, with the Northern Territory the cheapest on average, and Victoria the most expensive.)
An important note:
The most important thing to bear in mind is that in Australia, private medical insurance does not cover you for services already covered by medicare.
This means that if you become liable to pay doctor’s fees under medicare, you’ll still be expected to pay, even if you have private health cover!
Transport in Australia
Many people under-estimate just how massive Australia is. Drop Australia over Europe and it pretty much covers the whole continent!
That means planning your travel carefully, especially if you want to hop between the major cities.
Here’s what you need to know:
Compared to Europe and many parts of Asia, Australia’s rail network is a bit behind the times in terms of both speed and efficiency. Typically, both natives and expats choose to fly between cities rather than travel by train.
So, why’s it even on here? Well, if you care more about a more scenic journey, then taking the train can be a great way to see more of the Australia countryside. Also, there are a few regional towns and cities not served by air. In this case, trains are pretty much your only public transport option!
Like the US, Australia offers long-distance bus services between both major cities and it’s more rural, isolated spots. As with the US, though, bus travel isn’t recommended unless you’ve got a strong constitution: journeys can be both very long and very boring!
The other thing to bear in mind is that unlike in many European countries, long distance bus tickets aren’t even guaranteed to be cheaper than flying. There are some exceptions, but you’ll often find it doesn’t cost you much more to fly in three hours than it would to spend a day or two on the bus!
So yes, flying remains the best way to travel between the main Australian cities. Flight costs vary between $100 or so for shorter journeys up to $600 or more for one of the longer trips. (Perth to Adelaide, for example.)
As with all flights, it pays to shop around for the best deal. Do this, and you’ll nearly always find flying to be the easiest, most cost-effective way to get around the country.
Oh, and about that first trip…
Flying to Australia from elsewhere isn’t always the cheapest. If you want a slightly more comfortable trip, you could be looking at $1,000 or more. So save up for that initial journey!
Do you need a car in Australia? That’s largely down to what you’re planning to do.
If you’re planning to stay mostly in your chosen city with occasional trips elsewhere, then public transport will probably do it. All of the main cities have a healthy mix of trams, trains and buses.
(Monthly travelcards are available, and usually cost somewhere between $150-$230.)
If you’re planning a more rural life, though, a small car is probably a good idea.
Some things to bear in mind, though:
- Australia’s highways make driving between cities an easy, pleasant experience. However, if you’re planning to head off the grid, make sure your car can handle dirt tracks and rough terrain!
- If you’re planning to drive between cities, be very sure you’re comfortable with long journeys. To give one example, it’ll take you upwards of 40 hours to drive the near 4,000km between Perth and Sydney! Driving around Australia isn’t for the faint of heart.
- Driving licensing and road rules vary between different states. Wherever you’re heading, be sure to familiarise yourself with the local regulations. Ignorance is not considered an excuse, so don’t get caught out!
- You’ll usually be able to use your home driving license for the first three months in Australia before you’re required to switch to a local license. But still, get it sorted well in advance. Again, you don’t want to get caught driving without a license.
Housing in Australia
Now, the big one: housing in Australia.
No denying it, the cost of housing has skyrocketed during the last 25 years, especially in the major population zones.
Like London, cities like Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide are all going through a serious housing affordability crisis, with a combination of interest rates and wealth foreign investors sending prices through the roof.
Median house prices in Sydney – the most expensive – hover around $1,100,000, and fall to around the $500,000 mark for Hobart, Adelaide and Perth.
Renting is also much more expensive, with even one-bedroom city apartments in all the main cities much more expensive than they would be in the majority of Europe. (With the exception of London.)
Whether buying or renting, you’ll need to have a decent amount of money saved up before you move.
The renting process
In Australia, most documentation checks are subject to a country-wide system known as the 100-point identification check.
It doesn’t matter if you’re applying for a driver’s license, renting an apartment or trying to open a bank account: you’ll find the same system.
Under this system, each kind of ID document is assigned a set number of points according to their importance. Altogether, you must reach 100 points for your ID to be acceptable.
(So, primary documents like passports, visas or residency certificates can earn up to 70 points, whereas bankcards or health insurance cards might only earn 35 or 40 points.)
Once you’ve proven your ID, you’ll be able to set up a lease. The typical lease length in Australia is six or 12 months.
Deposits (also known as bonds) in Australia are usually between four to six week’s rent, plus any additional admin costs.
(One thing to be aware of is that many landlords and letting agents in Australia nearly always insist on Australian references as part of the renting process, which can obviously be tricky for expats! Without good references, your rental costs may go up, so be prepared for that.)
The buying process
What if you’re planning to buy?
You may need to apply to the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) for permission to purchase property in Australia, though this will depend on your visa.
(Again, check the Australian visa website for details.)
Mortgages in Australia
Your mortgage in Australia will depend on a number of different factors, but it essentially boils down to the three main points you’d probably expect:
- Your visa/residency status
- How good your Australian credit rating is
- Your level of income
Essentially, the longer you’ve been earning and contributing in the Australian financial system, the better your chance of securing a mortgage in Australia will be.
As for being an expat? Well, mortgage wise, it won’t have too much of an impact. You might find it a little harder to find a lender who’ll offer you a mortgage, but the ones that do will usually give you the same rates and offers they would a local buyer.
When moving abroad, it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll need to make a big currency transfer. You need to be careful here. If you go to the wrong place, you could end up paying way more than you need to in fees and inflated rates.
By exchanging your currency with a quality FX broker, you’ll be able to:
- Avoid major fluctuations. By studying the markets, a good FX broker can help you time your transaction so you avoid bigger fluctuations in the exchange rate. If there are any big events on the horizon that could impact your rates, they can help you prepare.
- Exchange at the right time. Again, brokers have the experience to ensure they can study the markets and will know the rates well enough to advise you when to take action to maximise the value you get.
- Avoid big fees. Reputable FX brokers will usually set one upfront, single fee, and offer complete transparency on exactly how much you’ll pay for your transaction. No hidden levy added to the rate, no last-minute fees. This means you can budget more effectively.
Book a free FX audit
If you’re planning to move to Australia and you’d like any assistance in getting the best possible FX rate, at Privalgo we’re currently offering free FX audits.
One of our currency transfer specialists can help you identify where you might lose money on your transaction, as well as any potential risks to your money.
If you’d like to know more, you can fill in our online form here.