Living in Melbourne
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A comprehensive guide about living well in Melbourne
Living in Melbourne offers various amenities to locals and foreign residents alike. However, you do need to come well prepared for expat life in Melbourne. The InterNations GO! Guide introduces you to leisure, housing, healthcare, education, and transport in one of Australia’s most livable cities.
Life in Melbourne
- The combination of Melbourne’s rich heritage and mixture of cultures create a lively and outgoing experience for expats and locals to enjoy.
- Proof of healthcare is required to receive a temporary visa; you will need a company insurance plan, an international insurance plan, or a private insurance plan.
- Although the language in public schools is English, expat children may be eligible for additional ESL (English as a second language) classes.
- The city of Melbourne has the largest tram line in the world, with over 250 kilometers of track to make public transportation as easy as possible.
As we have already mentioned in our article on moving to Melbourne, living in Melbourne, and its metropolitan area, offers the advantages of a multi-cultural population and a high quality of life. Expats can enjoy the city’s many green spaces, as well as plenty of leisure opportunities and a busy event calendar.
History enthusiasts can explore the local heritage and various aspects of Melbourne’s past at the Melbourne Museum or on a walk dedicated to Victoria’s indigenous culture. Expatriates with kids, on the other hand, will be glad to hear that most children living in Melbourne are fans of the city’s aquarium and zoo. A trip to the Polly Woodside, a 19th-century tall ship, is also a highlight for lots of families.
Moreover, the city’s event schedule caters to both various demographic groups and a wide range of interests. To cite but a few: the Chinese and Vietnamese residents living in Melbourne celebrate their New Year at Yarra’s Victoria Street Lunar Festival, while the Hispanic inhabitants of the area organize the Johnson Street Fiesta. Another great day out is the LGBT pride march in Port Phillip, a definite fixture of life in Melbourne.
If you are planning on living in Melbourne, you might want to mark a few dates in your diary. Sports fans will be able to watch a tennis match at the Australian Open. Movie buffs could attend a screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival — and hope that native stars such as Cate Blanchett pay their hometown a visit. Music lovers have several opportunities to go to free open-air concerts in the park during the summer months, and the Spring Fashion Week will draw every expatriate fashionista living in Melbourne.
Obviously, in order to enjoy the advantages of living in Melbourne, foreign residents need to go house hunting first. Expats usually opt for two common strategies for finding a new home in Melbourne.
If your schedule, visa, and financial resources allow it, you can go on a fact-finding trip and secure a house or apartment. Alternatively, you can stay in temporary accommodation upon your arrival and look for a home during the first few weeks of your time in Melbourne. In both cases, you will be confronted with a fast-moving property market, a veritable housing boom, and fairly high rents. Renting in Melbourne can be an expensive pursuit, as average house rental prices rose 5.3% in twelve months between January 2015 and January 2016. However, renters will be happy to hear that there is no major shortage since apartment development is expanding rapidly. An abundance of new apartment complexes are currently being built inside and around Melbourne.
Nonetheless, please note that this does not mean costs will drop anytime soon. Experts believe that supply will not outstrip demand as more and more new residents flock toward life in Melbourne. Unfortunately, although the rent is cheaper than it is in Sydney and Perth, living in Melbourne does come at a price!
If you prefer temporary accommodation, you should book in advance. There are short-stay accommodation websites, which can offer deals as low as 80 AUD per night. However, the average price range for single room short-term accommodation is 130-160 AUD per night.
Some expats prefer to choose a touristy option by camping in one of Melbourne’s caravan parks. The bare minimum room in these parks typically starts at around 95 AUD a night, but there are more extravagant options available, so you can camp in style. Caravan park accommodation can be booked at:
Finding a New Home
Melbourne’s newspapers — as cited above — are also a good starting point for finding regular housing in the metropolitan area. Other ways and means include online portals (e.g. real estate, real estate view or domain) and asking a real estate agent for help. If your new employer or friends can’t recommend an agent, try searching the database of the Real Estate Institute of Victoria.
The most common type of housing in Melbourne is a terraced-style building. You can rent an entire house, or it may be subdivided into several apartments. The rent depends on the neighborhood (“suburb”) where you live. In August 2016, the median rent in metropolitan Melbourne was 470 AUD per week, with a weekly 750 AUD for three-bedroom apartments and an average 410 AUD for one-bedroom flats. The index used to retrieve this information applies to both furnished and unfurnished rooms.
Once you have found your ideal accommodation for living in Melbourne, do not hesitate to make your interest clear. Competition is fierce, and real estate agents do not only expect potential tenants to make personal appointments, but in some cases, you may also need to hand in written applications or references.
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Healthcare for Expats in Melbourne
Immunization and General Health Tips
In addition to housing (which the first part of this guide to living in Melbourne describes), healthcare is another important topic for expatriates. As far as common diseases go, the Melbourne area is relatively riskless. During the past few years, though, there have been several small-scale epidemics of pertussis (whooping cough) among kids in the province of Victoria. If you are an expat with children, make sure that their immunization is up to date.
As far as vaccinations in general are concerned, get your normal booster shots, especially for tetanus and polio. Elderly expats should ask for flu shots as well, and medical workers are required to receive immunization for hepatitis. All expatriates should remember to pack the right clothing for Melbourne’s volatile weather, as well as enough sunscreen, UV protective clothing, and hats to shield themselves from the harsh Australian sun.
Medicare: Public Health Insurance in Melbourne
There are several ways of getting decent insurance cover as a foreign resident in Melbourne. First of all, you might have access to Medicare, Australia’s government-funded healthcare system.
Medicare pays for all treatment at public hospitals. It covers at least part of the fees for consultations, medical tests, check-up exams, and most minor surgeries. Medicare patients pay a reduced price for medication, too. Although Medicare pays for most costs from doctor visits, a co-pay of 7 AUD is required at GP visits. Medicare also does not include dental care and some other treatments, such as cosmetic procedures. Therefore, most people residing in Australia have an additional private insurance to cover the extra costs.
So are you eligible to receive Medicare insurance cover? The following people can apply for Medicare:
- citizens of Australia and New Zealand
- holders of a permanent visa
- visitors from countries that have a reciprocal health agreement with Australia: Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, and the UK.
Private Health Insurance for Melbourne Residents
Unfortunately, most expatriates with temporary visas do not have access to health insurance via Medicare. However, they are usually required to show proof of healthcare cover as part of their visa application. Therefore, they have three options:
- If you are lucky, your Australian employer automatically provides you with a company insurance plan. You need to include written confirmation that describes your company-sponsored health insurance in your visa application.
- You have an international health insurance plan which meets the minimum requirements for Australia. Please remember to enclose a detailed confirmation letter from your insurance provider in your visa application, too.
- You have to get a new health insurance plan for your time in Melbourne. The Overseas Visitors Health Cover website offers detailed advice for temporary residents. For example, when choosing a policy, you should consider waiting periods, restrictions for pre-existing conditions, and pharmaceutical coverage. Furthermore, go for the highest level of hospital cover you can afford so as to avoid unpleasant surprises in the case of major surgeries, accidents, and serious illnesses.
For further information on private health insurance in Australia, please read more on the Australian Government’s website for Private Health Insurance.
Medical Services in the Melbourne Area
In Melbourne proper, there is no need to worry about a lack of decent medical infrastructure. The quality of medical care is generally good, and there are more than enough providers of medical services (except maybe in the rural east):
- GPs (general practitioners) are family doctors for minor ailments and general check-up exams. You can search for GPs and certain specialists (e.g. psychiatrists or pediatricians) via the Victoria Better Health Channel.
- There is an extra database for dentists offered by the Australian Dental Association. When it comes to hospitals, there are over 100 public and private clinics in greater Melbourne. Many of them have A&E departments.
Last but not least, try to remember your emergency numbers while you are living in Melbourne:
- 000 is the free number to call for the fire department, police, or an ambulance. However, ambulance transport is not (!) free in Victoria. The average emergency transport bill is over 1,100 AUD. However if you become a member of Ambulance Victoria (a family pays about 90 AUD per year) you will be exempt from transport fees.
- 1300 60 60 24 offers 24/7 access to a nurse-on-call for minor complaints. If your English should fail you, you can ask for an interpreter.
Child Care and Education in Melbourne
Day Care in Victoria
Expat families who come to live in Melbourne may wish to be informed about child care options and the local education system in the state of Victoria. Working parents with children under the age of five can choose between several kinds of day care in Melbourne:
- Community daycare centers can be found via the website of your local council. They are probably the cheapest option available.
- Other families may prefer private daycare facilities. The Australian Childcare alliance can refer you to online registers of licensed services.
- There are also individual sitters — mostly stay-at-home mothers — that offer so-called “family day care”, looking after a handful of kids in their own home.
- Last but not least, if you can afford it, you can also hire in-home care, like an au-pair or a professional nanny, to stay with your kids and take care of them.
Depending on the sort of day care you opt for, costs range from about 6 AUS to 30 AUD an hour.
Pre-School and Schooling in Melbourne
Once your children reach the age of six, schooling is mandatory for them in Victoria. Slightly younger (usually either three to five) children in Melbourne often attend pre-school. This is a one or two-year noncompulsory program with 15 hours a week. You can receive further information on your local program, available places, and the enrolment process from your local council.
All children up to the age of 17 have to attend school. From grade one to six, they go to primary school while secondary education includes grades seven to twelve. School hours for most schools in Victoria, including the Melbourne area, usually begin at 9:00 and end at 15:00. However, at some schools, additional care outside regular hours may be available.
Schooling Options for Expat Kids
There are different types of schools in greater Melbourne:
- Public schools are — unlike their British namesake — indeed government-sponsored schools that are free for all students. Families only have to pay for extra costs like the price of new textbooks or school uniforms. The language in the classroom is English, but expat children may be eligible for additional ESL (English as a second language) classes.
- If you’d like to send your child to a public primary school, a place will be allocated to them at the nearest primary, in the so-called “neighborhood zone”. In case you should prefer to send your children to a different primary school, you need to contact the school’s office directly and ask if they still have free places.
- In Victoria, students typically attend the secondary school that is closest to where their families live. However, parents have the option to send their children to another public secondary school if it offers a different curriculum. For example, if you want your child to take music courses, you have the option to place them in a school that offers music lessons in their curriculum. In the last two years, students have to prepare for a leaving certificate. The Victoria Certificate of Education (VCE) is the equivalent to an academic high-school diploma. The Victorian Certificate of Applied Training (VCAL) prepares graduates for vocational training.
- Of course, there are also a number of private (or independent) schools in Victoria. All of them charge tuition fees. Many of them are traditionally affiliated with the Catholic Church, so you should check whether this is the right choice for your family.
- International schools are a specific subset of private schools. They can accommodate the needs of expat children better than many other schools, but their annual fees can be rather high. The state of Victoria features 16 International Baccalaureate Schools and several CIS member schools, as well as a Deutsche Schuleand a Nihonjin gakkō.
Transport and Driving in Melbourne
Melbourne Airport is the city’s gateway to the world, and the airport welcomed over 33 million people travelling through it in 2015 International flights from several major airlines (e.g. Qantas, Jetstar, Emirates, British Airways, and Virgin Australia) start and land at Terminal 2. There are direct connections to Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, Beijing, Doha, Dubai, Guangzhou, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, London, Los Angeles, Manila, Shanghai, and Singapore, as well as several New Zealand airports.
Melbourne Airport is located in the district of Tullamarine, approximately 23 kilometers (14 miles) from the city center. With the airport shuttle bus, the SkyBus, it takes you about 25 minutes to reach South Cross Station in the middle of Melbourne. In August 2016, the fare for an adult one-way ticket was 19 AUD.
Public Transportation in Melbourne
Tourists, locals, and expats all profit from Melbourne’s excellent public transport system.
The Melbourne metropolitan area has a fairly extensive transport network. The first public cable tram started operating as early as 1885. Nowadays, Melbourne has the largest tram network in the world with over 250 kilometers of track. There are 24 tram routes, 16 train lines, and over 300 bus lines in the Melbourne area. You can check the public transport information for your local area on Metlink Melbourne. Pay for your fares with myki, a reusable smart card, which replaced the older Metcards in late December 2012.
However, Melbourne also has one of the largest road networks in all of Australia — and with good reason. In the outer Metropolitan area and especially in rural Victoria, decent public transportation can be few and far between. Many residents are therefore dependent on their car. Before you move to Melbourne, you should check if you will need to have a car or rely on public transport alone.
Driving in Melbourne, Victoria
If your access to Melbourne’s public transport network is not sufficient for commuting to work, sending your kids to school, going shopping, etc., you should seriously consider owning a car. However, driving in the state of Victoria requires a bit more than just remembering to use the left side of the road!
First of all, you should find out whether you need a local license:
- If you have a temporary visa (as most typical expats do), you are allowed to drive in the state of Victoria with a valid International Driving Permit or a valid overseas license. The latter, however, needs either to be written in English or to be accompanied by a certified (!) English translation.
- Holders of a permanent visa for Australia need to apply for a local license within three months.
In case that you have to apply for a local driving license, you also have to fulfill certain requirements:
- You must have had an overseas license for three or more years after your 18th birthday.
- Your overseas license must be either still valid or have expired within the last five years.
- Before you can exchange your overseas license for a local one, you may need to take four different tests: a driving exam, an eyesight exam, a road law examination, and a hazard perception test.
- Nationals of the following countries are exempt from testing: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man (for licenses first issued on or after 1 April 1991), Italy, Japan, Jersey, Luxembourg, Malta (for licenses first issued after 2 January 2004), the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA.
Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a comprehensive range of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!