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The Travelettes Guide to starting a life in Australia

Written by 29 May 2012 7 Comments

O Australia! The country that has captured my heart with its great open roads, natural beauty, exotic weather, amazing quality of life, out-of-this-world vintage shopping (once you know where to look) and my favourite city in the world: Melbourne.
I’ve had the most amazing 20 months in this country and as my second year working visa fast approaches its expiration date, I feel the urge to advertise and sell Australia as a destination that can give you an amazing year or two. Especially with this pesky recession going on, what have you got to lose?
I’ve had quite a few emails from curious European ladies who want to know exactly how easy (or hard) it is to relocate to the land of koalas and kangaroos (Note: people do NOT ride kangaroos to work/school/the park. Please, ladies.). Well, here you go all the potential Oz-bound peeps: The Travelettes Guide to starting a life in Australia.

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The Flight

Firstly, a flight booked far in advance to get the cheapest price is the most logical money-saving step. Pick your departure date and lock it in with the purchase of your ticket. Even though the Oz immigration people say that they’d like to see a return flight booked (so they know that you have means to leave the country when your visa expires), it’s not entirely necessary. This enables a degree of flexibility in your decision whether to stay longer or shorter. And once your flight is bought, forget of any worries or nerves; go with the flow in the run-up to your escape to the sun as you’ve made an awesome decision!

Visa
Well of course, visas are a major factor to getting into Oz and they must be sorted before boarding your plane. Three month and six month tourist visas are available, which are great for backpackers/tourists but you cannot work on these visas. The Working Holiday Visas are what you need in order to travel and earn the Aussie dollars. These are warned to take up to six weeks to process, but this varies majorly, for example, mine was granted within 40 hours. Thank god, as I applied about three weeks before I was to leave and was mildly crapping my pants in the fear of not getting it in time!
European citizens (with no history of Tuberculosis) get visas to Oz pretty easily, and it’s a straightforward process. Travellers outside the EU may need to do further research into their visa applications… but the best way to stay up-to-date with immigration changes is by checking the immigration website .
Read it thoroughly though as it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Getting Set-up

Huzzah! Flight is booked, visa is granted… now what? I’ve come across of a lot of companies who specialise in ‘setting up your Australian arrival’… but for a fee. It’s crazy how much they can charge for simple steps that are so straightforward to do yourself! Nervous first-time travellers may benefit from this as peace of mind is included in the price: You would rock up to the country and have all the nitty gritty things already sorted out for you… but here’s a rundown of what’s needed to kick-start your Oz life from when you step off the plane, to settling down in your own little home:

• Hostel
• Tax File Number (TFN)
• Bank Account
• Medicare
• Job
• House-share

Hostel
The bed that you’ll definitely be o-so-grateful to rest your exhausted jetlagged body in, is best to be pre-booked. Do a bit of research, find a good area with a recommended hostel and get the directions clear in your head for your landing. Nothing sucks more than rocking up to a city while feeling shattered beyond words and suddenly wondering where the hell you’re heading.

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Got a good hostel? Book in a few weeks, make some friends, get a feel for the city and get on with some of the details to become a visiting Australian worker.

Tax File Number
The TFN is needed for tax purposes when you begin getting paid. Yup, you’ll get taxed but the amazing thing is that when the new tax year rolls around (July) you can claim those sweet sweet dollars back since you’re not an Australian citizen! Applying for a TFN is super straightforward and can be done online as long as you have a semi-permanent address so that the government can mail you the number.

Bank Account
Same goes for a bank account. Head to your chosen bank (I’d highly recommend Westpac for their impeccable service) with your ID, passport, visa number and they can help you set up an account. The cards, pins and account information will be mailed to you so stay at your hostel or whatever address you’re crashing at until you receive all the documents!

Medicare
Now we all have travel insurance when we leave our home countries (at least we should do!), but Australia has an agreement with the European Union that allows EU citizens to use their Medicare health system. Seeing a doctor or going to the hospital costs money in Oz, but with this card, you can claim half of the cost back. Pretty handy if you’re sick and money isn’t exactly in abundance while you’re over there! All you have to do is go to a Medicare Office (Google them, they’re easy to find in city centres), fill in some forms with your passport and visa documents and voila! They’ll mail you your card and you use it to claim money back in your doctor’s surgery.

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Get a Job, you bum!
Too much partying and beach lounging/sight-seeing is going to make your money drastically decline. Especially since the Aussie dollar is so strong at the moment, which gives the impression to tourists that Oz is an incredibly expensive city. My dad had a mini-stroke when he found out his fresh Orange Juice was $5, but he was used to the ole British Pound. It doesn’t seem very expensive once you start earning over there as the wage is a lot higher, enabling you to enjoy all that Oz has to offer! So stop the beach bumming for a bit and get a job (amateur surfing doesn’t count).

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Hospitality is the most accessible job for travellers, but bear in mind you’ll have to get a Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate (RSA) in order to work with and serve alcohol. It’s worth it though: a $50 3hour course lets you leave with a certificate that all bars/cafes/restaurants require you to have. And inspectors DO come and randomly check RSA’s in the venues.

Jobs are a-plenty over in Oz at the moment, whether it’s hospitality or office temping work. Temp work has amazing wages! And I met so many backpackers who were staying for a few months in each city and were working with the agencies, so it’s also a great way to meet friends. Make sure you have a well written resume and the odd smart outfit to wear for temping.
Just bear in mind, the tourist peak season means a million backpackers are trying to snaffle up all those vacant jobs. At the height of summer, I swear I had 4 people a day coming into my café for jobs! Just persist and you’ll find something, just don’t go in in pairs or groups as it looks unprofessional. It’s surprising how many came in asking for jobs for them and their mates… I don’t think so.

Get a New Home
Even though you might be having a blast in the hostel with a bunch of mates, if you’re planning on staying in a city for a while it is a financial drain on your hard earned dollars. Hostels can charge roughly $30 a night or give discounts on weekly rates if you’re staying a while there, but Gumtree is a great way to find a room to rent which is in a great location and affordable. Rent in Melbourne can be anything between $100 – $200 a week, depending majorly on location though.
However, watch out for scams. I have heard countless times of travellers or students answering adverts of an amazing room going in the centre of the city… all you have to do is send a deposit and they’ll “send you a key” or put you in contact with their solicitor to sort contracts. Nah. Do not trust anything like that as it might end in you not having a room and never seeing that deposit again. Best to stick to dealing directly with the people who will be house sharing with you. That way you can see the room and meet the people (and check they’re not crazy).

What now…?
So you’re loving Australian life and you’re wanting to stay longer than a year? Well, you’ll have to research on the immigration website to see what the conditions are in acquiring a second year work visa. The rules have changed continuously while I’ve been away. Usually, you need to complete 88 days of specified work in a regional area of Australia, but then the bad Queensland flooding meant that there wasn’t enough work to go around. Immigration began handing out 2 year working visas without any necessary farm work needed, which I was incredibly bitter about since I had apple picked my way to an extra year… either way, do research and leave yourself a good amount of time to sort out visas, just in case you need to spend time in an orchard with your arms up a tree.

Alternatively, if you’ve worked your buns off in Australia but now want to holiday and travel all the areas that you hadn’t reached (Australia is freaking big), then pop out for a nice holiday in Asia/out of Australia for a few weeks and apply for a tourist visa. This way you can re-enter (without the right to work) and travel to finish off your Aussie experience! Good times.

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So there you have it ladies! My fingers are aching from the typing marathon but I hope that this is a good amount of advice in getting sorted in Australia. It is so easy to set yourself up over there and the quality of life is fantastic as a ‘working to live’ mentality is so refreshing coming from recession Europe! Great wages, generally good weather, great fashion, sun, sea, city-living, beach bumming, Red Desert driving… get to Australia, have a stubbie* for me and have a blast!

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*Aussie for bottle of beer

Note: Immigration laws and regulations will continuously fluctuate and change. Please check the website to ensure no changes have been made since the publishing of this article.

Image 1 via Ivy Nine, image 2 via Vee and Seven, image 3 via Australian Filipina, image 4 via Favim, image 5 via Garry Knight & image 6 via Iz Mady.

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7 Comments »

  • Amy CT said:

    I moved to Australia eleven months ago to study, and although my experience has been infinitely different from yours, it has also been absolutely incredible. Without question, this country is where I want to spend the rest of my life.

    Australia is so much more relaxed and beautiful than the UK, where I grew up. I’ve built myself a life out here which is everything I’d ever dreamed of, and the thought of going home in two weeks is killing me!

    I’m already planning my return, for my Master’s degree, and crossing my fingers that immigration will eventually let me stay for good!

  • Vi@Travel Tips said:

    “good weather, … , sun, sea” – it is so depends about which part Australia you are talking. One thing you missed on your list – people must check weather of the place they are planning to go. a lot of people who moved to Melbourne are disappointed because it doesn’t offer great weather and sea is far far away from the city.

  • Sophie (author) said:

    haha yes i should have said “generally good weather”… there is sun and sea all over the country so if Victoria is too cold/english for you then it’s great that you can hop on a bus/short plane ride and hit up Queensland for some serious heat!… Hmmm St kilda isn’t that far from Melbourne’s city centre and a car ride can get you to incredible coastlines! the beaches in england dont compare!
    of course, research is always key. for me, Melbourne can get scorching in Summer but the ‘four seasons in one day’ keeps me on my toes and doesnt get boring :)

    Aw Amy! it’s incredibly sad but a recent trip home to London made me realise that it’s not as bad as i thought to have to go home… i’ve still got a good chunk of time to go before i head home so i’m going to fully live up what the country has to offer :)

  • Matilda said:

    As an australian who grew up overseas i LOVE your articles about life down under. I’ve just moved ‘home’ to wonderful melbourne after growing up in equally (but very different) lovely bangkok and so the change is quite a big one.

    Helpful hit, grab a car/bus/friend with a car and get into the country! the cute towns ive discovered just a day trip away keep me connected to all things lovely and australian without getting overwhelmed with the “city-ness” of it all.

  • Sophie (author) said:

    Aw, thank you Matilda!
    Yes the countryside should definitely be checked out! I saw some interesting places while WWOOFing and apple picking for my second year work visas. Not particularly fun work but i totally saw an alternative side of Australia!

  • mel said:

    Totally loved your article. I have lived in Oz (Sydney) for most of my 20s and absolutely loved it. The warmth of the people in particular.. and I always said, somehow.. Life in Australia just feels a little easier. Maybe it is because it is more simple, not so complicated.. since it is so far away, you don’t have to deal with depressing news everyday since the media coverage is not the same as in Europe. Definitely get out and explore the country and drive up the East coast, exploring the beaches.. it gives you this incredible feeling of freedom, I love it! AND have a surf lesson for the amazing feeling you get out of falling into the water again..and again, and again.. and finally standing up :) – careful, it’s addictive.

  • Liane said:

    Wait a minute, when did Immigration start giving out 2 year working visas without any necessary farm work? Do you have any further info about that?

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