Living Abroad in Australia for a Year: What to Know

Living Abroad in Australia for a Year: What to Know

Living Abroad in Australia for a Year: What you need to Know if you're thinking about moving down under.

Eibhlis Gale – Coleman · 10 minute read

There’s an ease that I have living in Australia. The best things about Sydney are free: the sunshine, the iconic harbour, and its sandy beaches are all free.” If you’re an ex-pat in Australia, you will probably get similar comments from family and friends you left back home. And, if you have been down under for a little while, you will have built up your own patriotic views of your adoptive country.

However, there is a point where you have to face the fact that everything is not free and that living in the country is different from a fleeting visit. Here is our take on what you should know about living abroad in Australia for a year.

Not every bank card works everywhere in Australia

Let’s start with bank cards. You should be aware that not every bank card works the same across Australia. If you plan to stay in major cities for your year abroad, this may not impact you. However, if you move to rural Australia or start your stay in the country, this is something to keep in mind.

You may struggle to find a local branch of certain banks, meaning higher cash withdrawal fees when using other cash machines. An example would be Greater Bank, whose only Sydney branch is located in Mona Vale on the Northern Beaches. Mona Vale is over an hour round drive from the Central Business District (CBD).

You can approach choosing a bank as the luck of the draw or research it in-depth. But in your first year in Australia, you will likely switch at some point.

Completing an Australian tax return can be exciting

You might initially think that having to lodge an annual tax return is rather annoying. However, the upside is that you usually receive a lump sum of money. The average tax refund is $2,800 – approximately £1,515.

It also is common for people to hire an accountant to handle their tax returns. So, there is no reason for the process to be stressful or time-consuming. After living abroad in Australia for a year, receiving a lump sum of money from a tax return can be extremely exciting.

Domestic skiing holidays in Australia are a thing

Yes, it is possible to go skiing in Australia – it isn’t all sweltering Outback. If you are a skiing lover and missing European escapes, finding out you can ski in Australia is like discovering Santa Claus exists.

The best places to head for skiing are Perisher and Thredbo in the Kosciuszko National Park. While skiing season operates from June to September, July and August are the best times to visit and typically have the most snow.

Since the Kosciuszko National Park is around six hours South of Sydney, it makes for a perfect long weekend or week break. For those in Melbourne, the drive is slightly shorter, taking around 5 hours. If you happen to be near Canberra, you could go skiing as a day trip, since it’s only 2 hours from Kosciuszko National Park.

Insect spray is a necessity

Living with terrifying bugs doesn’t get easier; you just become more prepared. A RAID insect spray under the kitchen sink is a household item and relied heavily upon in times of need.

Before moving to Australia, you may have fearlessly picked spiders up or perhaps demanded that someone else deal with the insect. However, at some point, it has been you and a devilish, potentially poisonous, arachnid home alone - cue the spider spray.

Travelling in Australia is best at weekends

If you live in New South Wales, you will realise that public transport is your friend on weekends. Travel is capped at $8.15 a day on Saturday and Sunday. This cap means that you can quite literally travel across the state for a maximum of £5.99. Australian weekend prices beat public transport costs in the UK.

Weekend travel can get creative since Opal Cards are valid on trains, buses, and certain ferries. Whether you catch the ferry to Manly for Saturday night drinks or spend a day hiking in the Blue Mountains, nothing is off-limits for a small nominal fee.

Similar caps also apply in Victoria and Queensland. The Myki card in Victoria provides a $ 6.50-weekend cap - the equivalent of £4.78 - for a full day of travel. There is no excuse not to spend your weekends exploring your new back doorstep.

Seeing dolphins and kangaroos doesn’t get less exciting

However, many times you see a “roo” or dolphin, you will never stop getting excited. While Aussies are busy complaining about how dolphins scare off the fish or kangaroos cause road accidents, you will remain to coo and transfixed.

And, once you get used to dolphins and kangaroos, you’ll look for wombats and quokkas – the obsession with Australian wildlife is a slippery slope.

You develop a chicken salt addiction

The ex-pat’s love affair with chicken salt is a guaranteed process. Being offered chicken salt with your chips initially seems strange, but after taking up the offer once, it quickly becomes a necessity.

Yellow and, even more strangely vegetarian-friendly, chicken salt is served throughout Australia as a favourite seasoning. Made from a blend of salt, herbs, and chicken flavouring, you soon find it delicious with most takeaway foods.

Australian bushwalks require bravery.

After living abroad in Australia for a year, you know that bush walks require both bravery and preparation. Gone are the days of rambling across the English countryside. In Australia, heatstroke, no signal, snakes, spiders, and goannas are all legitimate concerns.

As an ex-pat, you are haunted by stories of blasé travellers. Every Australian knows someone who got lost ‘in the bush’, usually found drinking out of a sheep trough by a farmer or an emergency helicopter.

And, if you venture as far as the Outback, you’ll need to be even more prepared. When exploring remote locations, satellite phones are a recommendation, which cost a fair hundred dollars. Perhaps bush walks require a stable bank account as much as bravery and preparation.

BBQs are versatile cooking utensils in Australia

BBQs, or barbies, are everywhere in Australia. And, whether you are cooking on the public BBQs at the beach or the BBQ at home, a ‘barbie’ is a big social event. You know to expect plenty of cold ‘stubbies’ (beers), and you assign time for at least a half-day event. You know that a BBQ in Australia is not rushed.

BBQs can also produce some surprisingly versatile meals. In the UK, sausages and burgers are where we tend to draw the line. In Australia, you can expect sausages, burgers, fish, prawns, veggies. You name it, and you can guarantee an Aussie has it roasting on the flames.

Aussies also use BBQs as a versatile way to celebrate annual events. Still, watching seafood get barbecued for Christmas dinner never gets old.

Australian winters hit differently

When you complain about Australian winters to friends and family back home, you are guaranteed no sympathy. To add insult to injury, Australian winters last from June to August. So, while the UK and Europe bask in heat waves, you are left feeling the chilling winds in full force.

The difference between Australian and English winters is that Australian houses don’t usually have central heating.

While the UK houses are built to retain the last degree of heat and have a radiator in every room, Australian homes aren’t and don’t. Homes in Australia are built to cool down quickly. And, in winter, they do – rapidly.

Storms and wave warnings are like Christmas for surfers

When ABC broadcasts news of incoming storms and dangerous surf conditions, the footage looks shocking. The fact that waves can reach up to 18 metres may be enough to scare ex-pats away forever. Although, you will undoubtedly want to creep down to the beach to peek at the monster swells for yourself.

But, when you get there, you have to double-take. You swear that there are more surfers in the water than you’ve ever seen before, and you can spot at least one crazed swimmer. Australians and massive waves are like two peas in a pod. Still, you are happy to sit this one out.

Speaking of Australian waves…

However, you shouldn’t just be wary of Australian waves in storms.

Bondi Rescue rose to Television stardom for a reason, and drownings are sadly a massive issue across Australia. If you aren’t a confident swimmer, stick to the busier sea pools and calmer waters.

After a year in Australia, you know the basics, like always swimming between the red flags at patrolled beaches.

And, even if lifeguard presence doesn’t sway you to stick by guidance, the fact patrolled beaches have shark alarms does.

The last thing you want is to recreate a scene from Jaws. While Aussies are typically laidback about their marine life neighbours, you’ve seen the drone footage of Great White Sharks at Bondi Beach. Patrolled beaches with shark alarms and nets are your favourites.

You will learn to hate magpies in Australia

As an ex-pat in Australia, there first thing anyone from home asks you is about the spiders. Nobody quite understands when you tell them that magpies are the biggest menace to society. In fact, you are genuinely terrified of them.

From July to December, you are on alert for angry magpies. But, in September, you spot them on a daily occurrence.

The reasoning behind magpies swooping is quite sweet since male ones dive to defend their nests. However, this means they attack anything they perceive to be a threat, which is less sweet when it includes humans.

Even worse, magpies can recall faces for multiple years. Therefore, if you're in their bad books, you can expect years of mistreatment and annual attacks.

Australian slang is catchy

‘Arvo’, ‘bottle-o’, and ‘doona’ – why is Australian slang so catchy? At first, you find each word absolutely hilarious. Then it begins to creep into your vocabulary.

Catching Australian slang is a guarantee after living abroad in Australia for a year. After a year, you inevitably feel affectionate towards your adoptive country and its strange sayings.

Share houses are the norm

Property is expensive in Australia, and it doesn’t take a year to realise it. Many Australians live at home until their late 20s to save and get on the property ladder.

Similarly, many ex-pats live in share houses to cut costs and remain in popular areas.

With the correct contract and landlord, switching share houses can be as easy as changing jeans, especially with the help of Facebook groups. Of course, you’ve heard the horror stories of nightmare housemates and landlords.

But these are rarities, and share houses are the norm when moving to Australia.

A PR visa is the biggest flex in the Australian ex-pat community

Forget fancy cars, jobs, and even solo renting an apartment. If you are an ex-pat with a PR visa, you are the crème de la crème. Permanent Residency is the golden ticket in the ex-pat community.

At some point, after living abroad in Australia for a year, you have researched your best route to getting that ultimate visa. Likely the legal terms, expensive applications, and hundreds of hoops to jump through brought you tears.

But, as far as a basic plan goes, you have an idea of how you’d achieve that dream residency after a year –You know, just in case you stay.

Even domestic travel is a big deal in Australia

The width of the UK is approximately 300 miles, which is driveable in a single day. In comparison, the width of Australia is 2,485 miles, nearly an order of magnitude more.

Before you arrive in Australia, it is easy to plan potential domestic travel for the weekend. Maybe you’ll fly to Uluru, then Cairns for The Barrier Reef, and down to Tasmania for a hiking weekend. Even domestic travel in Australia is a big deal.

Flights are expensive and lengthy. Flying from Perth to Brisbane takes 4 hours and 15 minutes - the equivalent of flying from the UK to Turkey. A lack of direct flights complicates matters even more, as well as rocketing travel time. Very soon, a weekend domestic trip starts to look more like an adventurous week-long excursion.

Expect your food appreciation to widen drastically

Nobody can deny that the UK has pub food and Indian takeaways down to a tee. However, after living abroad in Australia for a year, your appreciation for different foods will widen drastically.

Instead of a local Chinese takeaway that sells an eclectic range of Asian cuisine, there’s a range of independent cafes, takeaways, and restaurants. Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, and Chinese.

Whether you grab a takeout banh mi in Coogee or sit down in Kingsford for a nasi goreng, Australia has a cuisine culture to grow even the tamest of pallets.

Cuisines, like Lebanese, are few and far between in the UK. But here, you get to indulge in a little bit of everything.

Australian bushfires are a genuine and tragic concern

You’ve seen the fire warnings and heard the stories. Perhaps you were even there in 2020 when smoke from the bushfires became fog-like. The smoke became so thick that it famously obscured Sydney Harbour.

In Australia, there is a constant battle against bushfires. After living abroad in Australia for a year, you will have experienced regular backburning and awareness campaigns. You know the importance of fire bans and are, perhaps, more sensitive towards global warming issues back home. Moving to Australia, you see drastic consequences.

Similarly, you understand water restrictions and the drought crises. You know to take short showers and that baths are mostly considered a mortal sin. Whether it is bushfire or drought-related, your lifestyle is different in Australia.

You get fined for jaywalking in Australia

Jaywalking is a way of life, right or wrong, in the UK. However, try to jaywalk in Australia at your own risk.

In cities like Sydney and Melbourne, you can expect patrolling officers to chase you down and present you with a hefty on-the-spot fine. They even carry card machines to take immediate contactless payments.

With the fine priced at $75, the threat is more than enough to make you hesitate before crossing where or when you shouldn’t. You walk ages to find the nearest pedestrian crossing and wait dutifully for the green light, except when you feel particularly rebellious.