Guide for moving to Sydney
Moving to another country can be exciting and daunting at the same time. For us, moving to Sydney Australia was relatively easy – though we now know some things that would have made the transition a lot easier. Several people have asked about tips and tricks on moving and I’ve pulled together the responses so you don’t have to go through all the pain yourself. Here are some of our tips based on our own experience becoming expats in a fantastic new city.
I’ve broken things down into some specific categories and then followed with more general comments, in no particular order:
As a non-resident, you will need to get private health insurance. There are several carriers, but probably the most comprehensive and easiest is IMAN, (International Medical Assistance Network), which is Australian Health Insurance, Inc. The premium for a single adult is (as of May 2007) AUD $230.00 a month. Check their site for updated pricing. IMAN doesn’t require a copay (although you have to pay for everything up front) and most everything medical related is covered 100%. There are limits on dental, and eyeglasses, etc., but for doctor visits you pay up front and are reimbursed, pretty quickly I might add. Australian residents are covered under the national health system, but many supplement with something similar to IMAN. You can only get insurance through something like IMAN and will not be able to take advantage of the national system.
Places to live in Sydney
Where to live is really subjective. If you ask the locals they will all tell you that “X” is the best place and “Y” is crap. X is usually the side of the harbour they live on the Y is the other side. It makes no sense. People here tend to never cross over the harbour and consider the other side to be of lesser standing. Don’t listen to it. Live where you want they are both great areas. But ultimately, it all depends on what you want and what kind of area you like. I would suggest finding a hotel or service apartment on a short term lease to get your bearings and then you can sign on to something more permanent after you’ve had a chance to get the lay of the land. Domain.com.au is the best place to look for apartments, IMO. Service apartments are pretty common and come completely furnished and they can be a good short-term solution while looking for something more permanent. Rentals are getting more and more scarce due to a high demand, so it may be difficult to find a place you want quickly. Getting a service apartment can be a good way to comfortably buy yourself some time, rather than living out of a hotel. Prices will be better than living in a hotel too.
Personally I prefer to live near the CBD (Central Business District, or what USians would call the “City”), although there are lots of great places within a 20 minute train or ferry ride. For us, it was unreasonable to have a car, so our location was predicated on proximity to the train line. I would suggest that, even if you get a car, one get a place within walking distance to a train station. It gives you the most flexibility living in and around the city. A map of where the stations are can be found here at the City Rail website.
So, in a nutshell, get a temporary place and then figure out where you want to live based on where you work, where you like to spend your time, and whether or not you have/need a car. If you work north of the harbour, I would suggest living on the north side, opposite is true as well. You will really regret having to commute over the bridge or under the tunnel in a car.
Car leasing / buying / driving
If you are not planning on staying in Australia for longer than a few years, I’d recommend leasing or buying a beater car. Cars are very expensive here relative to the US. Expect to pay upwards of 50% to %100 premium for the same model (new). For a driver’s licence you can use your US one. Just make sure it is not about to expire. You can go to the RTA (DMV here) and get an Australian licence – no test required. They just ask how long you want to have it valid for and you pay a sliding scale. I think for 5 years it’s about AUD $130.00, but you can get a one year and keep renewing I believe. I know the predilection for having a car is high in the US (still sad I had to sell my baby…), but I would seriously consider if you actually *need* one here. We don’t and haven’t missed it. You can rent a car whenever you need one and that keeps you from having to get insurance (tends to be more expensive here) and dealling with parking. Most places that have parking add another $50 a week to add a space. Otherwise you take your chances finding something on the street.
Shipping your stuff
Do yourself a favour and bring only clothes and a computer, preferably a laptop. Don’t bring any other electronics if you can help it (although camera, iPod should be fine. I’d recommend getting some decent computer speakers here and using your computer as a stereo with something like iTunes). The reason, of course is the difference in voltage. Obviously if you bring a computer you need to make sure it is 240/50 capable. You can use a regular plug adapter to make it work on the different plugs here, but that is a messy solution. See if you can get a power cord with the correct plug on the end. We use Macs and you can get a “World Adapter Kit” that swaps out the two prongs and replaces it with the Australian angled version. Kept getting a lot of arcing when using the plug adapter. If you have electronics that are not rated for 240/50, leave them at home. They have IKEA here, so you can get a brand new anything cheaper than it costs to ship it here – plus shipping takes forever. Just travel light and buy what you need when you get here (pots, pans, linen, pillows, etc). Not a big issue if you go with a furnished apartment, but the furnished apartments are less easy to find. Also, apartments (furnished or otherwise) typically *do not* come with a fridge and/or washer dryer. You may need to supply your own. We’ve lucked out and were able to arrange for them to be left in the apartment after the owners moved out. YMMV.
We put all of our stuff in storage in the US and brought only our mobile phones (which had removable SIM cards), laptops, and a suitcase of clothes each. Made the process of getting here and moving around from temp to permanent a lot easier.
Bring enough cash to last you until you get set up. We brought $10,000 in traveller’s checks to deposit in a bank account and that made things a lot easier. You will need the bank account to get many of the other services, so it should be your first stop. I’ve used NAB and they were pretty good, decent ATM coverage in the city, and a free account with a minimum balance. They get you with the fees here, so watch out. Every service you can imagine has lots of little fees. Very annoying. If you get a Suncorp account, you can use any ATM in the city for free, but they only have one branch here (as they are based in QLD). Still, I rarely go into a branch and it’s nice to have access to an ATM without having to worry about the fee. Keep a US account open and a credit card in the US for paying for things like gifts to people from Amazon, or paying for storage, paying for software downloads in US$, rather than AUD$ (paying for the same service in Australian dollars is usually a bit more expensive due to VAT), etc. Also, you won’t need checks here pretty much for anything. Everything isÂ paid by the AUS version of a debit card (B-Pay) or by bank transfer. You pay rent, bills, and utilities by bank transfer.
Once you get your bank account set up, you can more easily get an apartment, phone, and utilities. Once you get your licence (if you choose to) you won’t need to carry your passport around with you all the time.
If you are going short term with a mind to look for something permanent, I would suggest just getting a serviced apartment. They work week to week, or month to month. It will be less expensive and more comfortable. A modest hotel will run you AUD$ 120.00 a night, and that’s $840 a week, which you can easily do better than with a service apartment. If you are being relocated by your company, see if your they can help you set up something for you when you get here. If not, I’m sure it can be handled over email and Skype. Do take advantage of Skype (or similar) for calling back home. Also, the way phone calls work here is that the cost of the call is all on the person who makes it. So, they pay for “both” sides. A call to a mobile phone is more expensive than a call to a landline.
Renting an apartment
One unusual dynamic here is that rentals list at prices per week (p/w). So, an apartment that is $1,200 a month will be advertised at $300 p/w. Confusing at first – we thought that there were great deals to be had here! – but easy to do the math. Even thought they list at prices by week, you pay by the month like in the US. Go figure. I think it is because rents are so high here it becomes easier to market $700 a week than $2,800 a month. If you are able to get a parking space, it usually adds another $50 a week or so to the rent.
Having a bank account already helps a great deal at this point because you either have to pay for your deposit with a check (which, as I said, are rarely used here) or just using B-Pay. Having your bank account set up allows you to seal the deal. Otherwise you may be inviting someone else who is paying right then to get it. Not a deal-breaker to not have an account, but it really helps. Accounts are relatively easy to set up, but you will need 3 forms of ID (passport, credit card, and US license work) and you need to make an appointment – which could be the same day or not. Customer service is sort of a new concept here, so don’t expect them killing themselves for your business. It’s more akin to working with the old Ma Bell.
Yes, they really only show apartments by appt and usually only on Sat. It is the most inane thing I have experienced and I’ve moved to a lot of places. There are also open-houses that are usually a window of 45 minutes or so where everyone takes a look and the agent is there. The market is so in demand that agents are worse than useless. If you can, I would try and get a place that is rented by the owners directly, as opposed through a management company. Our current set up is through the owners and it is much better. You will get no love from management companies as they have no desire to “service” the customer. Whatever you do, make sure you have direct access to the owner to “make things happen” if needed. As I said above, customer service does not exist in Australia (and everyone seem to be OK with that).
I would not consider a bus + train commute, and I would even try to avoid a train + station change + train commute. It is best to understand where you are going to be working and figure out where to live based on that. That’s why I think it is a good idea to get something temp and get a feel for how much of a commute you can deal with and whether you like an area that is nice, but far, or one that is close but smaller, etc.
A passport is only necessary if you need to show a valid ID. Your US licence won’t work for that. Since you never know when you might have to show an ID, you end up carrying it around. Getting a AUS driver’s licence avoids that.
Internet access depends on where you end up. Most apartment buildings have cable, but it isÂ many times a satellite feed from the roof, so you can’t get high-speed broad band from it. They have ADSL (DSL to you and me), and ADSL2+. Broadband is a lot more expensive here and you do not get unlimited access. You pay for every megabyte. I currently use Internode and I am very happy with them. I switched after having to deal with really crappy customer service from OPTUS. Much of the DSL is all Telstra anyway and everyone else is a reseller, although it might be different for the ADSL2+ lines. I pay AUD $79.95 for 40GB month (Up to 24 Megabits/sec). It’s pretty fast, but I don’t know anyone who ends up maximising their optimal bandwidth rate.
Also, an address naming convention, that was a bit hard to understand at first, is that a block may have had many separate homes on it at one time and now has one building. The address will then be a range like 32-38 Bourke St. So, you could see an address like:
202 12-18 Taylor Ave
Surry Hills NSW 2010
That translates into:
Unit (Apt) 202 / The block containing addresses 12 to 18
The Suburb of Sydney / The State / The Postcode (zip code).
I can’t speak to the process for everyone, but for us it was a matter of getting sponsored by a company here in Australia and going through the application online. We had a bit of a snafu that drew out the process a month longer than necessary, but otherwise it was pretty painless. If you are trying to move to Australia without a work permit, I can’t help. If you do get your sponsorship, the only requisite is getting chest x-rays and a check-up in the US to prove you don’t have TB or any other health problems that would stress the health care system.
Once you get here you can get your Visa stamped into your passport. Quick, easy, and painless process that can be done any work day.
Clothes and Electronics
As far as clothes, buy them in the US. Your options are limited and more expensive here. Angela and I joke that fashion here seems to be base on a dare. May fit your sensibilties, but we have trouble finding clothes we like. There is no equivalent to common stores like the GAP or Banana Republic. Nordsrtoms = David Jones and Macy’s = Myer. Many dress shirts here areÂ French cuff, which is the norm. Also, men tend not to wear t-shirts under their dress shirts, so if you do you may want to bring some that you like as they are more difficult to find here.
Weather will be similar to San Diego, so no need for heavy winter clothes – although it does get down into the the 50’s during the day during winter, which is obviously at the opposite time of the year to San Diego. It doesn’t rain a lot here but most of the rain we get is in winter. I found it was best to have a shell rain coat that could go over fleece in the winter and be used as a light jacket in the rain in summer (when it is wet, but also hot and humid).
Also, shoes that I like are hard to find. The ones here tend to lean towardsÂ Italian fashionable rather than clean functional. I would suggest bringing shoes that you like with you rather than take your chances. If you areÂ travelling back the US regularly, then this won’t be an issue.
For electronics, try Dick Smith or Bing Lee. Dick Smith is like Radio Shack and Bing Lee is more the Circuit CIty with the sclocky salespeople and where the price is “negotialble”. I prefer to see the price that seems fair and pay for it, not have to haggle and make a deal. There are stores that sell computers and computerÂ equipment all over the city, so no worries. I think we’re getting a new Apple store sometime in the future as well, although there are Apple resellers all over. You can get Dell here as well.
If you have a phone with a removable SIM card, you can get a SIM here without a contract. Very nice. We use OPTUS, but there’s no compelling reason to go with them over another. Other choices are Telstra (the Bell here), Virgin, and Vodafone. If you are with T-Mobile, you can get out of your contract by showing them that you are relocating to a place they don’t cover. Most likely other carriers in the US have a similar policy.
Mobile phone numbers are formatted as XXXX XXX XXX
Landline numbers are formatted as YY XXXX XXXX (the YY is the area code and is sometimes dropped. Also, get used to people saying a series of numbers as ‘nine-double two-three-triple five-oh. The ‘double this’ and ‘triple that’ is very common.
Some business numbers are formatted as XXX XXX (only six digits. I think it is a hold over from when they had less numbers nationally).
Ordering Coffee, Tipping, and Beer
You will have trouble getting a “regular” coffee, and by that I mean brewed or drip coffee. Everything is espresso based. The closest thing to a typical American coffee is a “Long Black” which is an espresso that has twice the water run through it (also called an Americano in some countries). An espresso is a “Short Black”. They have Latte’s, but also have (and I prefer) a “Flat White” which is basically a cappuccino without the foam (higher coffee/milk ratio than a latte). They don’t do “cream” here, but milk instead. If you want cream, ask for pouring cream, but you may be surprised that it could come as a dollop of cream – much like clotted cream. Iced Coffee is an ice cream coffee drink with whipped cream, looks more like a float. If you want an iced coffee, just tell them you want a long black over ice. There is Starbucks here, and you can get all the normal drinks they have in the US. They are considered the worse coffee here – they take coffee seriously. A friend of ours noted that Americans drink coffee as a beverage, where here it is more of an experience. You can also get Krispy Kreme’s now too, but I personally never got the attaction.
Tips are optional, but we tend to tip 10% for great service. You pretty much always just round up to the dollar when paying the bill. I would always tip and a fine dining restaurant.
Beer at a pub comes in pints and middy’s. A middy is like half a pint, or perhaps a bit more. Pint is sometimes referred to as a Schooner. If you want a Victoria Bitter, just ask for a “VB”. There really isn’t any Foster’s and they honestly don’t get why Americans think it is good or indicative of Aussie beer. The equivalent to Bud is XXXX (Four X), Tooheys, and Hahn. Some of the better beers are Coopers and James Squire. You can also get most of the regular imports like Bass, Guinness, Stella Artois, etc.
Summing it all up
1. Come a week earlier than you start work.
2. Get a bank account. It’ll help with everything else.
3. Get a phone. You’ll need it to call and hear back from places you are trying to rent. If your company is getting you one, pick it up as soon as you can, or have them send a working one to you so you have it when you get here.
4. Find a comfortable temporary place to live and get to know the area. Make sure the place has internet access so that you can research finding an apartment.
5. Have fun!