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Living in Australia
A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Australia
Do you have dreams of living in Australia? Known for its inviting culture, beautiful beaches, and sunny weather, many expats flock to make the Land Down Under their new home. This section of our guide helps expats learn the basics of life in Australia such as whether you should greet people by saying, “G’Day, Mate!” (Answer: You should not.)
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How is it to live in Australia as an expat? What are the pros and cons to living here? With this guide, you will feel like a local in the land of kangaroos and wallabies in no time. We cover important practicalities, such as the country’s emergency number (000) and what expats need to know about public transportation and driving, so that you can see as much of this vast country as possible. We even go over essential communication tips, such as the standard gifts to bring when invited to dinner or a “barbie” (Australian barbeque). Is it acceptable to gift alcohol? Read on to find out.
Pros and Cons of Living in Australia
There are many pros and cons to living in Australia. Overall, the country’s culture is friendly and inviting, and the class system is not as strong as you might find in other English-speaking countries. However, expats will have to deal with a competitive housing market. The country’s vastness can also lead to feelings of isolation, even if you live within one of the country’s main cities.
See below for a closer look at the pros and cons of living Down Under.
Pros of Living in Australia
- One of the many benefits of living in Australia is its healthcare. The country supports a universal system, and expats can expect to receive high-quality care while living here. Permanent residents can receive medical for free or at extremely low costs.
- If your goal is to obtain citizenship, you will be happy to know that Australia is one of the easiest countries in which to accomplish this. Expats who wish to acquire permanent residency should plan to live in the country for at least four years and then pass a citizenship test.
- The average annual salary in Australia is 91,550 AUD (64,000 USD), which is relatively high, especially when compared to other countries.
- Australia is home to some of the most unique animals in the world. Expats can easily fill their free time exploring the Outback in search of kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, emus, and more.
- Nearly all of Australia’s main cities are considered some of the top livable destinations globally. This includes cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.
Cons of Living in Australia
- Australia promotes a high quality of life, but it comes a hefty price tag. Even a single person moving to the country can expect their monthly cost of living to fall between 800-1,000 AUD (560-700 USD), not including rent.
- Although the path to citizenship is easy, this is only after expats have completed the arduous task of obtaining a work visa. Securing a work permit in Australia is a long, complicated process, and even requires a “character check,” where a government official determines if you are of good enough moral character to immigrate to the country.
- Australia is a large country, which can lead to feeling isolated. This is because the country’s major cities are spread far apart, making it difficult to leave your town for a day, or even a weekend trip.
- If you enjoy living abroad for the travel opportunities, Australia may not be right for you. Its geographical location means any international travel must be done by a several-hours plane flight.
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The following is a list of useful information you will want to know while living in Australia. This includes emergency numbers, the main airports and embassies, and public holidays.
In the event of a crisis during your time abroad, you will want to keep the following numbers handy:
|Police, fire, ambulance emergency||000|
|Emergency services for storms and floods||132 500|
|Police assistance||131 444 (all states except Victoria)|
|International incident helpline||1300 555 135 within Australia and +61 2 6261 3305 outside Australia|
The following are national public holidays in Australia. Please note that if a holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then it will be officially recognized the next Monday.
|New Year’s Day||January 1|
|Australia Day||January 26|
|Good Friday||Celebrated the Friday before Easter|
|Easter Monday||Celebrated the Monday after Easter|
|Anzac Day||April 25|
|Christmas Day||December 25|
|Boxing Day||December 26|
Other public holidays include the Queen’s birthday (second Monday in June) and Labor Day, but these are declared individually by state and territory. Labor Day, for example, is observed on the first Monday in March in Western Australia, the second Monday in March in Victoria and Tasmania, and the first Monday in May in the Northern Territory.
The largest expat communities in Australia hail from the UK, mainland China, India, New Zealand, Philippines, Vietnam, South Africa, Italy, and Malaysia. Below are the embassies for those countries.
- British High Commission Canberra
- Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
- High Commission of India
- New Zealand High Commission
- Philippine Embassy of Canberra
- Vietnamese Embassy in Australia
- South African High Commission
- Ambasciata d’Italia Canberra
- Malaysian High Commission
Information regarding all other embassies and foreign consulates in Australia can be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.
Some of the country’s busiest airports are
- Sydney Airport;
- Melbourne Airport;
- Brisbane Airport;
- Perth Airport;
- Adelaide Airport.
Culture and Social Etiquette
Overall, Australia is a very welcoming culture, and expats should not worry too much about committing a grievous taboo. According to an InterNations Expat Insider survey, over 70% of expats living Down Under feel at home and describe the country as “easy-going.” As a whole, Australian society greatly values friendship, authenticity, optimism, and egalitarianism.
Australians appreciate humility in social interactions as well as in business culture. Locals are typically down to earth people and do not feel superior to others. For this reason, Australia can be described as a classless society. They value sincerity, and dislike arrogance and pretentiousness. Self-deprecating humor is the norm, and Australians are distrustful of people who brag or outwardly show-off.
Meetings and Greetings
Australian greetings reflect the relaxed and casual culture. Using a formal greeting will seem standoffish and awkward. For example, Australians interact on a first-name basis, and do not use titles, even when meeting someone for the first time.
When meeting someone, shake hands firmly and confidently. As a foreigner, you should not attempt an Australian accent, nor should you say “G’day” or “G’day, mate.” This could sound condescending and like mockery. Stick with a simple “Hello/Hi” and “How are you?”
There are not many topics that are taboo or off limits in Australia. However, when first meeting someone, try to avoid talking about sex, religion, politics, or race. It is also rude to ask about a person’s salary, age, or weight.
Australians can be difficult to impress. Even when they are impressed, they will not outwardly admit it, so do not be put off by this behavior when meeting people for the first time.
Australians exchange gifts between close friends, family, and neighbors on Christmas and birthdays. Gifts are usually opened upon receipt. Unlike some countries, such as China and Japan, where you cannot gift certain colors or types of flowers, Australia does not have any cultural restrictions. Items such as flowers, chocolates, or something from your home country are seen as nice gestures.
If you are invited to somebody’s home for dinner, it is polite to bring a bottle of wine, chocolate, or flowers. If you are invited to a party, it is acceptable to be 15 minutes late, but anything over that is considered rude. Be sure to ask if there is anything you can contribute to the meal. It is polite to help the host clean up afterward.
If you are asked to come to a typical Australian “barbie” (barbecue), it is customary to bring your own alcohol. In some cases, you may need to bring your own meat, too. Like with a traditional dinner invitation, be sure to ask if there is anything extra that you can bring as well. Leftovers are typically left behind for the host.
If you are out to dinner, be polite to everyone, including hostesses and waiters. As mentioned, Australians do not feel superior to anyone, so everyone in the service industry is treated with respect.
If you are out to eat with friends or on a date, each person pays for their food and drink. Take note that buying “rounds” (i.e. a drink or shot for everyone in your group) is sometimes common. Tipping is not expected, but it is considered polite at high-end restaurants.
Australians take littering and spitting very seriously. For example, even in movie theaters, where there is staff to clean up after you, you are still expected to take your garbage and throw it away.
Personal space is also important. You should keep an arm’s length between yourself and strangers. Keep in mind that people generally keep to the left when walking or taking stairs and escalators.
Relationships in Australia are loyal, particularly among friends. Many Australians rely upon the help and support of good friends instead of family during hardships. This said, showing up to a friend’s home unannounced is considered rude.
Swearing is common in Australia. Unlike some countries, where curse words are considered a sign of anger or aggression, Australians use a variety of colorful language in everyday conversation. While you should still be mindful of using swear words at work or when meeting people for the first time, do not be surprised if you hear the profanity thrown around casually.
Women in Australia
In Australia, women are considered equal to men and are not expected or required to fulfill any archaic, stereotypical gender roles. Nevertheless, many women still experience more interrupted careers than their male counterparts. They also work fewer full-time hours than their male partners, making them more readily available to raise children and take care of the household.
Driving in Australia
Driving in Australia is necessary, especially if you plan on visiting remote areas. Some parts of Australia are only accessible by car, so having your license is useful.
The age for driving in Australia varies between states and territories. You can obtain a learner’s permit at 15 years and nine months in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), and 16 everywhere else. You can drive unsupervised at the age of 18 in Victoria, 16 years and six months in the Northern Territory, and 17 everywhere else.
Rules for Driving in Australia
- Always keep your driver’s license and other proper documentation with you while driving.
- Australians drive on the left-hand side of the road.
- All drivers and passengers inside the vehicle must wear a seatbelt, and children under seven must be in an appropriate car seat.
- Drinking and driving in Australia is a serious offense. You may not drive a motor vehicle if your blood alcohol level is 0.05% or higher.
- Cell phone use while driving is illegal (this includes texting).
- The speed limit in a built-up residential area is 50 km/hour (31 mph), except in the Northern Territory where the limit is 60 km/hour (35 mph).
- The speed limit beyond built-up residential areas is 100 km/hour (62 mph), except in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, where it is 110 km/hour (68 mph).
- You cannot smoke in a car if you are with a child under 18 (or under 17 in Western Australia).
- It is against the law to turn left at a red light unless otherwise indicated. If there is signage saying you can turn, you must treat the light the same way you would a stop sign.
Driving in Australia with a UK, US, or European License
Expats with a temporary visa can drive here for three months with either the license from their home country or an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), which is required if your license is not in English. After that time, you will need to obtain an Australian driver’s license. This timeline may very slightly by territory, so it is best to check the rules and regulations of the area you are moving to in the country.
How to Get an Australian Driving License
The process of obtaining an Australian driver’s license varies from state to state, but once you get one, it is valid everywhere in Australia. If you are an expat from one of the following countries, you can exchange your license for an Australian one without having to take a knowledge or road test:
Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Jersey, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.
If you are 25 years or older and an expat from one of the following countries, you fall into the category of Experienced Driver Recognition. Therefore, you too can exchange your foreign license for an Australian one:
Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hong Kong, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, and Taiwan.
If you are from one of the countries listed, but are under 25, you will be required to take a road and knowledge test. If you are from any other country not mentioned here, you will be obligated to take a road and theory test to get your Australian driver’s license.
Renting a Car
You can rent a car if you plan on only being in the country for under three months. If it is anything over this, it might be more economical to purchase a car.
If you opt for renting, driving a rental car in Australia will require the following documents:
- a valid driver’s license;
- International Driver’s License (if your license is not in English);
- credit card.
To rent a car in Australia, most companies will require you to be 21 years old. If you are under 24, you may need to pay an additional charge for being a “young driver.” As a young driver, your choice of car for rent may also be limited.
Costs for renting a car depend on the company, type of vehicle, city, etc. It typically starts at 25 AUD (17 USD) per day but can go up to 150 AUD (101 USD) per day in large cities. If you want a cheaper rate, try renting in a small town rather than in one of the larger cities.
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Public Transportation in Australia
Public transportation in Australia is designed to be efficient. It is generally well-maintained, modern, air-conditioned, and clean. Australia offers excellent facilities, and public transportation is heavily regulated to ensure this. Stations and terminals are monitored 24 hours a day for security. You will find uniformed and plain-clothes security riding public transportation to ensure the safety of all passengers and commuters.
How is Public Transportation in Australia?
The main options for public transportation across Australia are train, bus, ferry, and light rail (tram); however, not every city has ferries or trams.
For travel within the country, you can either opt for the bus or train. Greyhound Australia offers excellent discounts and specials and may be the cheapest option. Premier is another bus company, but it does not have as many stops. For a more scenic mode of transport, try the train. Rail Australia, Ghan, and Indian Pacific are all popular options to zip you around the expansive country.
The fastest way to get across Australia is flying. This is also the most expensive option. The major airlines servicing the country are Qantas, Jetstar, Rex, and Virgin. The budget carrier Tiger often offers discounts and deals.
Cost of Public Transportation in Australia
The average cost of a city bus ticket in Australia is 3 AUD (2 USD). A day-pass is roughly 8 AUD (5 USD). A single ticket for the tram is around 2 AUD (1 USD), and the train is 2 AUD (1 USD). Starting prices for a taxi are between 2 to 3 AUD (1–2 USD) and are approximately 1 AUD (1 USD) for each kilometer. A bus ticket between cities will typically run between 85-100 AUD (60-70 USD). Domestic flights start around 60 AUD and can go up to nearly 300 AUD (40-200 USD).
For more, see our article on the Cost of Living in Australia.
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