A British expat’s perspective on living in Australia
The all you need to know guide for British Nationals looking to make the big move down under.
It should come as no surprise that Australia is a British expat’s favourite, with its gorgeous white sandy beaches, tropical reefs, and laid-back lifestyle.
It also boasts a comprehensive healthcare system, which is ranked second best globally and even rivals the UK’s NHS.
There is also world-class schooling, impressively high wages, and genuinely unique job opportunities.
Together with a good dose of sunshine, all of these factors contribute to a highly desirable standard of living that has not gone unnoticed. It draws thousands of Brits every year.
But is living in Oz all it's cracked up to be? Well, actually, yes, it is.
At around one and a half times the size of Europe (pretty much), Australia offers a lot of variety. Life can be whatever you make it and depends largely on where you settle in this vast country. But, no matter where you choose to make your home, there are a few constants that will ring true about life in Australia.
I have lived, worked, or travelled in six of Australia's eight main states and territories and done stints in both the outback and some of the biggest cities, too. I'll touch on the most stand-out features of Australian life as I have experienced and answer some of the most common questions I've been asked about life in Australia.
Is Australia hot all year round? Contrary to popular belief, Australia does not have an eternal summer. Its weather varies greatly throughout the eight states Some areas across the country, including New South Wales and Victoria get severe amounts of snow, and you can even go skiing.
So, unless you're living in the north, where there's a tropical climate, expect to be cold (and wet) during the winter months.
Where is the best weather in Australia?
This question is tricky because everyone has a different idea of what 'best weather' means to them. If you're a sun-worshipper like myself, then anywhere above the Tropic of Capricorn will keep you warm for most of the 12 months. The caveat is that you can expect some intense weather during the wet season, including monsoon rains and tropical cyclones.
Most people find that Perth offers the most agreeable climate year-round, with mild winters and hot, dry summers.
Prepare to experience all seasons
When I first arrived in Melbourne (pronounced Mel-buhn), someone told me that the city had four seasons in one day. Obviously, I thought they were joking. They were not.
During my time in Melbourne I experienced this bizarre and uncomfortable phenomenon a few times. I found it best to carry around clothing for all occasions. Having a scarf or spare cardigan in your bag can be a lifesaver in Melbourne's weird weather conditions.
Other cities in Australia are not subjected to quite so changeable weather. The lower half of the country experiences the four seasons as we do in the UK. Summer runs from December through to February; autumn is from March to May; winter is June, July, and August; and spring is from September to November. Northern Australia experiences two seasons only: dry (April to October) and wet (November to March).
Should I be worried about poisonous animals?
Australia has garnered quite a reputation for being the home of a wide-range of scary critters. However, what many people don't realise is that the wild Australia you see on nature documentaries (doccos to the Aussies) is far from the suburban life led by most ex-pats.
Put it this way: you're unlikely to come across a croc in your backyard or a kangaroo in your kitchen. That goes for snakes and spiders, too. You don't need to worry about them in metropolitan areas.
In the bush, it's a different story. Always lift the toilet seat to check that nothing is lurking underneath. If it's necessary to walk through undergrowth, make a lot of noise to let any snakes know that you're coming. Store your shoes upside down overnight and shake them out in the morning. When you're driving, watch out for reptiles that like to soak up the rays on the warm surface of the road.
On the subject of creepy crawlies, you'll soon forget all about your fear of spiders when you discover flies. It sounds silly. But the types of flies in Australia range from highly annoying to breakdown-inducing, especially if you have no protection.
Sandflies will make it through your mosquito net, thanks to their tiny size. I've also seen mosquitos so big that even ski socks didn't stand in their way. And don't even get me started on the horse flies. If you're going somewhere that recommends you bring a fly net, take heed!
How is the Australian wildlife?
Honestly, I was astounded by the Australian wildlife from the moment I stepped off the plane. You can see parrots in the wild that you've only ever caught glimpses of in a zoo before. In Melbourne, there are penguins on the beach (yes, really!). In Western Australia, I've seen five different turtles in a 10-minute walk along a remote stretch of beach, not more than a few metres from the shore.
There are wild emus, goats, kangaroos, dogs, wombats, koalas, and camels, to name a few of the fantastic creatures you can see. If you're a lover of the ocean or a diver like me, the waters that surround this continent are a real treat. Just be sure to respect the locals while you're there (human or otherwise).
What language do Australians speak?
Technically, Aussies speak English. However, you might have a hard time understanding the local lingo as a ripe new expat.
I remember the first time I went into a shop after arriving in Australia. The lady behind the counter asked me, "How are ya goin'?". To me, this seemed like an odd mish-mash of "how are you doing" and "where are you going?". My reply was something along the lines of "uhh..." accompanied by a blank stare. However, this one is an Aussie standard and , so I quickly learned to get used to it.
The Australian version of English is a weird and wonderful thing. The general rule is to remove as many letters as possible and add "o" or an "ie" to the end. Thus, bottle shop (off-license) becomes bottle-o; service station (petrol station) becomes servo; garbage collector (binman) becomes garbo; hospitality worker becomes hospo, devastated becomes devo, relatives become rellos, and so on. Barbecue, as we know, becomes barbie; tradesman becomes tradie; sunglasses become sunnies..
There are exceptions to the rule, though which you will eventually catch on to. There are a few common abbreviations that we share in the UK.. You'll recognise words like arvo, brekkie, avo, choccy biccy, choc-a-bloc, brolly, defo, iffy, and snag (sausage), making common appearances in Aussie slang.
It's strange at first, but you're in the best position to understand the locals as a Brit. The way of communicating is something you get used to, and after a while, it stops being a novelty. For me, though, learning a funny new idiom never fails to make me smile.
The Australian sense of community
Once, we were driving our Holden, a station wagon (estate) and an established Australian icon, from our farmhouse to the nearest coastal town of Geraldton for a weekend trip. We had a camping trailer attached to the back of the vehicle, and as we were driving, one wheel burst.
We careered onto the side of the road, unable to drive any farther. It was not longer than a minute before someone stopped to help. After about 15 minutes, the local farmer arrived with his tractor and forklift to bring the trailer back to his workshop. He fixed the wheel and welded the trailer back together and, even after much persuasion, wouldn't accept anything more than a slab of cold beer shared as payment.
Whilst there is a definite difference between city-dwellers (townies) and the country folk, the general openness and willingness to help leaves an impression on any ex-pat or visitor.
Is Australia expensive?
The short answer is yes, Australia is expensive. But, the salaries are higher, too! The minimum wage is the second highest in the world, only behind Luxembourg. With various skilled job opportunities available, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to make a decent living in Oz.
What is it like to work in Australia?
The work-life balance in Australia is incomparable to the UK. From my experience and that of my peers, people tend to find more time to enjoy themselves during the week.
It's not that bad being stuck in the rat race if you can finish work an hour early and go surfing, is it?
Of course, not every job and not every industry is the same. However, with one of the highest minimum wages globally, and a Fair Work Ombudsmen with stringent rules, working standards in Oz are generally very good.
Driving in Australia
Luckily for us Brits, Aussies drive on the left-hand side. This similarity to home makes emigrating that bit easier, as you don't need to adjust to a different driving position.
The primary thing to get used to is the distances that you find yourself driving. If something is "down the road," it could be anywhere from 1-3 hours away. "A fair drive" could equate to 5+ hours behind the wheel.
What is mobile and Wi-Fi like in Australia?
The leading carriers in Australia are Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. The former is the most popular and seems to have the best service, as far as my experience goes.
In the cities, Wi-Fi and internet are as standard as in a typical UK city. In the bush, you might be driving for a few hours before you pick up a signal again.
Which is the best bank in Australia?
Most people choose to trust their money with one of the country's four biggest banks: Commonwealth, ANZ, NAB, and Westpac. I use Commonwealth, and honestly, it's been great. The Commonwealth banking app was making my life easier.
What else should I expect living in Australia?
You should expect to drive-thru—and for a lot more than just McDonald’s (which is now Macca's to you). The Aussies don't mess around when it comes to their easy-going lifestyle. There's a drive-thru version for almost everything. In most cities, you can pick up a fresh coffee, a burger, a cordless power drill, the week's food shopping, $100 cash, and a case of 24 beers, all without leaving the comfort of your car.
All in all: what is it like to live in Australia?
Living in Australia taught me to laugh and relax more often. Even the Aussie radio stations are informal enough to get a bit sweary and sexy from time to time. The general positive and 'chill' outlook is something from which we can all learn. That sentiment goes out especially to anyone who works with blinkers on from Monday to Friday and lives for the weekend.
Australia—and, more accurately, Australians—taught me to appreciate every single day. Take advantage of the wonders on your doorstep and always keep an open mind.