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5 years ago I made the choice to move from America to Australia on a work and holiday visa – having never visited the country before. Moving is hard enough; moving to another country—one I’d never even visited—was going to be a colossal, though well-worth-it, effort.
I booked a one-way ticket to Australia five months from the date I was granted my visa. From my experiences, here are some of the boxes I recommend you tick as you prepare to move down under.
Getting a visa
The first thing you need to determine when moving to Australia is the type of visa you require. Each carries different criteria for things such as length of stay, documents required, even age in some cases. Here is a list of the more common visa types:
- Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457): Usually requires sponsorship by an employer
- Skilled Independent visa (subclass 189): Does not require employer sponsorship and cannot be issued for those age 50 or over
- Work and Holiday visa (subclass 462 and 417): For those between the ages of 18 and 30 who want to live and work in Australia for a limited time
As an American, I applied under the 462 subclass work and holiday visa. You need certain certified documents such as a birth certificate and to show proof of at least $5,000AUD in the bank (you should really have more than this—Australia can be expensive). For more on the types of visas and their requirements, visit the visa section of the Australian Immigration website.
Though most visas are put in your passport electronically, you should still print out all of your visa documents to have on hand for your arrival in Australia just in case you are questioned by Immigration.
Deciding what to bring
Deciding what to bring with you to Australia depends on how long you intend to stay and the types of activities in which you will be partaking. If you are going for work for several years, you’ll need to arrange to ship belongings such as furniture from companies such as Crowne Relocators. If you are going as a work-and-holiday maker, you may be able to pack everything you need into a few suitcases like I did. Regardless of your situation, there are certain important things to bring with you to Australia besides the obvious essentials:
- Copies of important documents like your passport, health insurance card and your will
- A phone and international calling card or SIM. If you’re going to Australia to work, your employer might give you a company phone. But otherwise, you’ll need to figure out if your current phone will work in Australia (likely not) or buy a prepaid phone around $30 a month upon which you can add credit. It will require most of your credit to make an international call, so consider purchasing several calling cards.
- Anything that you will help you get comfortable in your new surroundings: pictures, a childhood belonging, a small trinket. Even if you plan to backpack around Australia for the year, it will help you have some reminders of home.
- Cold-weather clothes. It does get chilly in Australia and thinking you can get by in shorts and t-shirts all year-round is not smart, especially in places like Melbourne and Tasmania.
- Months’ worth of any medication you require. You likely will not be able to get the same medication under the same name in Australia.
Also keep in mind that Australia has strict quarantine laws—even dirt detected on a pair of shoes will mean you likely won’t be getting those shoes back in your possession unless you want to pay a fee of several hundred dollars to have them cleaned. Check the quarantine website to get an idea of what you can and can’t bring into the country. Of course, you could pack slim and simply buy items you need when you arrive in Australia. You can find second hand or barley used furniture, housewares and even a cars on Gumtree.
You’ll likely want both travel and health insurance when moving to Australia, even if and especially if you are going as a work-and-holiday maker. There a number of companies from which you can obtain health insurance, and many have options with low rates if you are a traveler who is not aware of how much money you will be making. The lowest packages tend to cover basics such as emergency care and might still require a copy to see a doctor, get a prescription or go to the hospital. However, you can also add on more coverage options if you wish. See this list of health insurance companies for more information.
As far as travel insurance goes, World Nomads tends to be one of the more recommended companies. They offer coverage for baggage claims, overseas medical care, medical evacuation and more, and include coverage for adventure activities. Regardless of the company you go with, make sure to elect “travel insurance” and not “travel protection” as the latter can mean the company is actually unlicensed, and choose primary, not secondary insurance.
Finding an apartment
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Apartments move quickly in Australia’s major cities, but you can start your hunt by researching desirable neighborhoods in which to live and any you should avoid. For instance, I quickly learned that the Sydney CBD and the suburbs directly around it would be far out of my price range unless I room-shared. And in Sydney rental speak, room-sharing can literally mean sharing a room with up to five people. So I moved my search out to the Inner West, which had far more affordable suburbs. Alternatively there are many nice options around flat sharing (renting a room) where you would share an apartment with someone else yet still have your own room. For flat sharing in a nice place close to the city I would recommend budgeting for $250-$350.
About a month before my flight, I started emailing individuals who posted about rooms for rent on Gumtree. I figured it couldn’t hurt to reach out and see if there was any possibility an apartment might become available during my arrival. Of course, most people wanted their rooms rented immediately, rooms for rent generally go up 1-2 week prior to occupation. One young man with whom I emailed was open-minded, but contacted me just as I was leaving for Oz that his room had been rented. I thanked him and told him to keep in touch should something change. It turned out something did change. The tenant backed out of the apartment, and the man texted me during my first week in Sydney to say the room was free once again if I wanted to look at. I arranged to meet with him and was offered the room. I highly recommend emailing at least a few people advertising apartments for rent so that they can keep you in mind should something become available during your arrival.
Keep in mind that most landlords or real estate agents will want a security deposit which usually equals a month’s rent. Also, many Australian apartments are advertised with their per-week costs, so don’t get excited if you see a place advertised a “$600 p/w”—that means it costs roughly $2,400 a month! Also, some apartments do come furnished, which could be ideal for a work-and-holiday maker.
To hold you over until you do find accommodation, choose from Australia’s array of hostel chains. YHAs tend to offer good, clean rooms at affordable rates in Australia’s major cities and even some more rural locations as well.
Securing a job
If you’re not going to Australia with an employer, you might need to find a way to make ends meet There are several options for travelers under the Work and Holiday scheme:
- Freelance: I worked as a freelance writer during more than half my time in Australia. This gave me flexibility and allowed me to travel while earning a wage, without having to worry about getting a new job every six months (a requirement under the work and holiday visa). If you have a creative or online skill, such as graphic design, consider reaching out to potential clients in your home country and in Australia to build up business. Gumtree a Jobs section with multiple categories under which you can find contractual and part-time work (some full-time as well).
- Bartend or waitress: This is a common option for young backpackers. It’s steady and decent-paying work that allows foreigners to meet people and be social at the same type. There is no shortage of pubs and cafes in Australia’s major cities—simply walk in and ask to apply.
- Work at a hostel: Some hostels will give you free room and board in exchange for cleaning rooms or working in reception. Even if not a long-term solution, it might be a good way to get your bearings when you first arrive in Australia.
- Get into tourism: Australia’s massive tourism industry means there are jobs working ticket booths, front desks and tours. This is also another great way to meet people and potentially see some of Australia’s top attractions.
There you have it: a comprehensive guide to moving to Australia. Good luck in your planning as you count the days to your arrival in the Lucky Country.
Lauren Fritsky moved to Australia in January 2010 on a work and holiday visa. She pursued a career as a full-time freelance writer, contributing to websites such as CNN, AOL and Travel+Leisure in addition to major magazines such as Jetstar. She’s traveled around Australia, New Zealand, China, Fiji and Japan, in addition to Europe and North America. She now lives in New York City with her husband and infant son and works in marketing, but always enjoys a chance to indulge her wanderlust with a quick trip or a blog post about her travels. Read her stories on expat life, travel, re-entry to the US and motherhood at http://thelifethatbroke.com/