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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Brisbane

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  • Benoit Julien

    Before moving to Brisbane I contacted 5 members of their InterNations community. Today 3 of them are my friends.

Life in Brisbane

  • The sunny capital of Queensland is packed with leisure, culture, nature, and great weather.
  • Finding schooling for international children in Brisbane is simple with Education Queensland international study programs from primary to high school.
  • Brisbane’s transportation includes taxis and Translink, which operates the bus service, the boats and catamarans to the outlying islands, and the Citytrain lines.
  • If you have a permanent visa, you have automatic access to Medicare, the government-sponsored healthcare system in Australia.

“The Sunshine State”

Living in Brisbane means opting for life in one of Australia’s tourist hotspots. Due to the hot, subtropical climate, Queensland is called the “Sunshine State”, and its capital city Brisbane does not prove an exception to this rule.

In Australia, Brisbane is often considered somewhat less sophisticated than Sydney, the leading metropolis, or Melbourne, the “cultural capital”. Its brash vitality, the casinos in the neighboring seaside resorts, and its live music scene have earned Brisbane the nickname of “BrisVegas”. However, you’ll soon discover that much of the prejudice jokingly uttered by Australians from other big cities like Melbourne or Sydney is — as so often — unfounded.

Leisure, Culture, and Nature

While living in Brisbane, you may like to pay a visit to the beachfronts of the “Gold Coast” or “Sunshine Coast” to enjoy the beautiful beaches. However, make sure to plan your schedule accordingly to avoid “Schoolies” events! There are three weeks, typically starting in mid-November, when thousands of high school graduates flock to the shores of the Gold Coast to participate in raucous parties. This annual event is equivalent to spring break celebrations in the USA. If you are planning to visit during this time, call your hotel before you book a room to make sure that you will not be in a party location.

Besides the long strips of sandy beaches, life in Brisbane has more leisure opportunities in store. Along the South Bank, the cultural precinct features the Queensland Museum, a large Performing Arts Centre, and the Gallery of Modern Art. Together with the Brisbane Powerhouse, the latter forms the core of a vibrant contemporary arts scene. And if indie rock — frequently featured at legendary venues like the Zoo — isn’t to your taste, the Brisbane Jazz Club has an excellent reputation as the go-to place for fans of smooth rhythms and cool tunes.

Expats living in Brisbane can also take advantage of its function as a gateway to Queensland’s natural beauty. The Scenic Rim in the hinterland more than deserves its status as a World Heritage Site. Its mountain ranges and lush rainforests make it an attractive destination for hikers and eco-tourists. Even if many expatriates often use their vacation for a trip home to see their loved ones, living in Brisbane brings you close to Hervey Bay: Reserve at least a few days off to explore Australia’s whale-watching capital and stepping stone to the South Great Barrier Reef.


Unfortunately, your life in Brisbane can’t be all play and no work. Finding accommodation can prove difficult, and if you are an expat parent, you’ll have to look into a kindergarten or school for your children.

For children in Queensland, schooling begins at the age of five, with a non-compulsory prep year. Schooling becomes mandatory when children turn six years old. For the next six years, they’ll go to primary school, followed by secondary education in grades seven to twelve. Although schooling is only compulsory for teens until the age of 16, or until they complete grade 10, most students in Queensland complete secondary school. Their Senior Certificate and the Tertiary Entrance Statement both determine access to public universities.

Most children living in Brisbane or Queensland study at one of the over 1,200 free public schools in the state; the other 33% or so attend independent facilities, often run by the Catholic or Anglican Church. Although English is the medium for public schools in Brisbane, expatriate parents should be happy to know that Education Queensland International study programs are offered in some public schools. These programs allow foreign children, from elementary school to high school, to receive extra help to adjust to an English-speaking environment.  There is only one self-designated international school in the Brisbane area (St Paul’s), although several schools in Southeast Queensland offer the IB Diploma Program.

To find a suitable school in your area, please use the resources provided by the Queensland Department of Education.

Adult Education

For any adults living in Brisbane interested in continuing their education, there are several universities in the city. The following includes the leading institutions:

The TAFE (technical and further education) institutes mainly cater to younger people who want to complete vocational or commercial training. Expats who’d like a career change or a promotion should rather make use of the subsidized training and career info service provided by the Queensland Government. Upper management executives living in Brisbane, though, will probably benefit most from contacting an individual career counselor or a recruitment agency.

Transportation in Brisbane

Brisbane Airport

As an expatriate, you will arrive by plane, at the international terminal of Brisbane Airport. The airport is located 14 km northeast of Brisbane’s central business district, in a suburb of its own. It’s an important hub for the Australian airlines Virgin, Qantas, and Jetstar, serving 41 domestic as well as 28 international destinations — mostly in the Asia-Pacific Region, in the Middle East, and on the West Coast of the USA.

From the airport, you can easily reach Brisbane or other places in the Southeast Queensland area by shuttle bus, Airtrain, or taxi.

Public Transport: Taxis and Translink

Speaking of taxis — business people and night owls in particular will be interested in knowing more about Brisbane’s local cab companies. Taxis belong either to the fleet of Yellow Cab (whose vehicles are bright orange) or Black & White Cabs (whose vehicles are actually black and white).

Fares are regulated depending on the time of day, with prices currently including a basic fee of at least 2.90 AUD, 2.17 AUD per kilometer, and 0.82 AUD per minute. The basic fee is most expensive between 0:00 and 5:00 when Brisbane’s public transport network is closed, except for a few night buses on the weekend.

Public transport in the Brisbane metropolitan area is provided by Translink, which runs the bus service, the boats and catamarans to the outlying islands, and the Citytrain lines. Once you have found a place to live, you can use the Translink online journey planner to see if there are any convenient and fast connections for your daily commute, to the nearest shopping facilities, or the central business district.

If you are going to travel frequently with Translink, you might want to purchase a “go” electronic card. It’s a pre-loaded, top-up smart card which is considerably cheaper than a paper ticket. For example, the adult fare to travel through one zone of the Translink area is 4.80 AUD; with an electronic ticket, you only pay 3.35 AUD at peak times and only 2.68 AUD for the same trip.

Driving in Brisbane

In Brisbane, public transportation does not seem quite as accepted as in other major Australian cities. Indeed, the public transport network is less frequented than that of metropolises like Sydney or Melbourne. If your new home or place of work should be in a remote location, driving will be the better option. But don’t forget that Australians drive on the left side of the road!

If you’d like to go by car while living in Brisbane, you can simply keep using your overseas license as long as you fulfill the following conditions:

  • The old permit is still valid.
  • It has not been suspended or withdrawn in your home country.
  • It is for the proper class of vehicle (i.e. you cannot drive a car with an overseas motorbike license, or vice versa).
  • You are medically fit to drive.
  • You have an official transition for any non-English license.
  • You have been living in Queensland on a resident visa for less than three months.

Getting a Queensland Driving License

If your license has expired or if you simply want to exchange it for a local driving permit, you usually can trade in a full overseas license for a car or motorcycle for the Queensland version.

However, you need to pass both a written exam and a practical driving test — unless your original license is from one of the following countries:

  • Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Denmark
  • Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guernsey, Ireland, Italy
  • Japan, Jersey, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal
  • Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, the USA
  • Isle of Man (if issued on or after 1 April 1991) and Malta (if issued on or after 2 January 2004)

If you have a license issued in one of the states listed below, you don’t need a test, either, as long as you are at least 25 years old.

  • Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic
  • Estonia, Hong Kong, Hungary
  • Latvia, Lithuania, Poland
  • Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia
  • South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan

To swap your license, just go to your nearest customer service center of the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads. The department also offers an overview of the local road rules, in case you’d like to familiarize yourself with them before you hit the road.

Healthcare in Brisbane

Health insurance and medical care are two extremely important topics for expats all over the world. You’ll be glad to hear that Australia in general has a good healthcare system, especially in urban areas, and Brisbane is certainly no exception.

However, before you can start looking for a new family doctor or consult a dentist, you need to take care of your health insurance plan to cover for related costs.

Medicare and Private Health Insurance

Australia has a government-sponsored healthcare system called Medicare. If you have a permanent visa, for example as a skilled migrant who has decided to settle in Brisbane, you and your dependent family members have automatic access to this scheme. Otherwise only visitors from selected countries are entitled to benefit from Medicare in medical emergencies. These countries include Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, and the UK.

However, even visa holders from these states need to enter into a private insurance plan first and then claim an official exemption once they arrive in Australia. Only then do they have access to Medicare coverage.

It’s also important to know that the Medicare plan does not pay for all health-related costs. For instance, dental care or glasses are excluded from this policy. Therefore, many Australians and overseas residents take out additional health insurance from private companies. And if you aren’t eligible for Medicare at all, you usually have to provide medical insurance as part of your visa application — so remember to check out well in advance.

Healthcare Services in Brisbane

Once you have moved to Queensland, you can easily find all sorts of medical services (e.g. a dentist, an ENT doctor, or an ob/gyn) online via a specialized directory. However, your GP (general practitioner) should always be your first point of referral. He or she can send you to a specialist appointment at an outpatient clinic, if necessary.

If you should ever need hospital care during your time in Brisbane, it is good to be informed about the various medical facilities beforehand. Queensland is divided into several healthcare districts: Residents of Greater Brisbane usually belong to Metro North, Metro South, or parts of West Moreton.

Just click on your district in this map provided by the Queensland Department of Health, and then scroll down a little to go to the page called “More information on healthcare facilities” in the respective area. The district profile will provide you with a list of all hospitals and community health centers in your general vicinity.

Local Emergency Resources

In case of a medical emergency or health-related question, here are several numbers of interest for Brisbane residents:

  • 000 (serious and urgent cases)
  • 13 43 25 84 / 13 HEALTH (advice on minor ailments and information on available medical services)
  • 13 12 33 (ambulance for non-emergencies)
  • 13 11 14 (lifeline for mental health issues)
  • 13 11 26 (poison hotline)
  • 1 800 010 120 (helpline for survivors of sexual assault)

In the entire state of Queensland, ambulance services are provided for free. A so-called annual “ambulance levy” was scrapped by the regional government in 2011. However, this is not the case in all other Australian states and territories. So, if you travel outside Queensland a lot, ask your insurance provider if they reimburse ambulance fees as well.

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  • Benoit Julien

    Before moving to Brisbane I contacted 5 members of their InterNations community. Today 3 of them are my friends.

  • Gabriela Jaquez

    As a traveling spouse it was not always easy to meet interesting people abroad. On InterNations I have many of them here in Brisbane in no time.

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