American relocating to Sydney: What should I do before the move?
April 26, 2015 10:57 PM   Subscribe

Moving to Sydney in July. What are the top things I need to do before making the move?

Moving to Sydney from San Francisco in July. Relocating as part of the same company so luckily my visa is sorted and my job is figured out. I asked HR if there is some kind of checklist and they said they don't have one.

But aside from idea what I am supposed to be doing and what I am missing out on just because I assume that things are the same in the U.S. Among the questions I have:

-Health insurance: heard it's privatized. Where do I get it?
-Taxes. I won't have to pay double taxes right? Do I just file as exempt from the US?
-If I want to keep my US cell phone number is there a way to do it without paying for it and forwarding to my computer?
-How do I get housing? Is there craigslist there?
-What neighborhood should I live in? I will be working in the central business district (or CBD). I really liked Surry Hills and it was close to work. Any other neighborhoods for young professionals?
-Anything I should get in the US that would be harder/ cheaper than in Sydney? I don't want to ship a ton of stuff but thinking things like clothing, etc.
-And the fun stuff: any recommendations for fun weekend trips in Australia?
posted by pando11 to Travel & Transportation around Sydney, Australia (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For housing check out and

We have gumtree rather than craigslist but I don't know about using it to search for housing, if you did it would only be for flat/house shares. Everyone I know uses the websites I linked but then we're late thirties and no longer sharing. Any of the inner city suburbs would be fine. There are no 'bad' inner city areas and pretty much all have lots of bars/restaurants etc. If you have friends here already see where they live - Sydneysiders tend to stay local (often in the same area they grew up). I moved from the inner west to the lower north shore in my mid twenties and I might as well have moved to Moscow. No one would cross the bridge to see me!

Depending on the type of visa, you might be required to hold health insurance. I would check with whoever organised your visa. For Australian citizens/permanent residents private health insurance isn't mandatory but if we don't have it we pay more in tax (assuming salary over certain limits). More info here:

You're lucky our dollar has dropped against the US. Everything here will seem more expensive but not quite as bad as before. When it was one to one California was full of Aussie tourists giddy with how insanely cheap everything was. If you are sporty, bring running shoes/sports shoes for sure. I could buy two pairs in the US for what I'd pay for one here.

Weekend trips - Hunter Valley (wine tasting), Blue Mountains, somewhere down the south coast, quick trip to Melbourne for shopping.
posted by kitten magic at 11:11 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I hope you love Sydney as much as I do!

health insurance comparison thingy

Seconding Domain and for housing.

Getting a rental property can be very competitive so organise your temporary accommodation before you leave the US. You won't be able to sign a lease from afar but I'm thinking some kind of airbnb or word of mouth arrangement if staying in a hotel for weeks, maybe months, is not in the budget. Hopefully work is putting you up somewhere for the first X weeks.

If you like Surry Hills, you'll also like the Redfern streets closest to the intersection of Cleveland & Crown. They are the prettiest and nicest. Redfern near the train station and Waterloo are still changing so still lots of dodgy amongst the expensive houses.

You'll probably like anywhere in the inner west: Newtown, Leichhardt and Glebe each have a bustling high street. The other inner west burbs are quieter, some leafier than others, the houses are pretty.

And to the east, you might like Potts Point (used to be our gangster hangout) and Darlinghurst (ditto but artsy and cool now, like I-am-40-but-ride-my-skateboard-to-work...) You can walk to work from there. Pyrmont area also has lots of young professionals and you can also walk to work (through Darling Harbour, so nice to see the water every morning!) but there's less of a community feel (to me) than Surry Hills and the inner west.

There's so much fun weekend stuff to do, you will find it easily.

Welcome :)
posted by stellathon at 11:29 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Regarding taxes, you must file in both countries (U.S. Citizens have to file no matter where they are living, earning, and paying). If you're paying Australian taxes you probably won't owe anything in the U.S., but you still have to file. Or is your company still withholding in the U.S. while you're here? That's worth asking HR about. My taxes are really complicated (income in U.S. and Oz, property here, stock there, blah blah) so I hire someone because damned if I can figure it all out. U.S. taxes suck.

Don't plan to buy clothes or electronics here because they're stupid expensive compared to the U.S. Bring grape jelly with you if you like PB&J. You can buy American style peanut butter at Woolworth's. The David Jones Food Halls in Sydney also have a small selection of American groceries if you miss anything in particular.

Come to Cairns for a weekend and do the Great Barrier Reef! (Let me know if you do; we have an AirBnB) The Blue Mountains are definitely worth it and I also really enjoyed Melbourne.

How long will you be here? Ask your phone company about moving our number to a pay as you go SIM and ask how long before that expires. Might only be a few months. Generally, you have to pay someone to keep a number. I transferred mine to Vonage so I can make free calls home from a VoIP phone.
posted by olinerd at 11:31 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

You'll need a tax file number from the Australian Tax Office (ATO) . Here is their page for people moving to Australia.

You can also open a bank account here while you're still in America. ANZ and NAB are a couple of the banks here but there are others.
posted by poxandplague at 11:55 PM on April 26, 2015

If you're on a working visa, the health insurance comparator won't work for you because you're going to need a specific working visa cover cover (you don't get access to Medicare because the US doesn't have a reciprocal agreement with Australia, because the US doesn't have a national medical service.) More here (I linked to the 457 page because you're almost certainly on a 457 visa, but everything else is linked over on the left of the page).

You might be able to keep your phone number with Skype or other forwarding service, but, no, you can't use your US phone number here directly. And if you get a mobile here and need a phone in the US, you'll have to get a pre-paid SIM card for it once you're in the US, because the networks won't talk to it unless you have an Apple phone.

Don't bother bringing anything with a plug unless it's explicitly designed to travel (phones, computers, fancy razors). Stepdown transformers are expensive, hard to find, and sadly unreliable.

Definitely open an Australian bank account from the US if you can - it's a royal pain to do it otherwise because you need to have an Australian phone number to open an account and you need an Australian credit card to start mobile coverage here.

Decide now how you're going to get your US mail - if you have patient relatives with a stable address, you're set. Otherwise, it's not cheap but you can get a forwarding service through UPS or FedEx if you get a mailbox there, but my experience with this is that a lot of stuff just disappears.

Taxes - you have to file a return in both countries (and possibly the US state you most recently resided in - check with them), but up to a certain income, you only have to pay in the country where you earned the income. If you're working full-time for the full US tax year here, you will probably only owe to Australia. The Australian tax year is 1 July to 30 June, and taxes are due by 31 October. A little more here. Your US taxes are due April 15, but you get an automatic extension to June 15. More here.

Bring your clothes and shoes. If you're into anything sporty that takes major equipment (e.g. fancy bicycle), ship it over. Not only are most things more expensive here but the selection just isn't as broad, even in Sydney, and you could wind up waiting a long time for a special order. I think marine sports (surfing, sea kayaking) are probably an exception, but I'm not sure. Bring your books, too - they are much more expensive here.

I'm sure I'll think of things later but for now, congratulations! Australia's a great place to live and you're going to have an adventure.
posted by gingerest at 12:51 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Third-ing setting up a bank account before moving. If you are taking on a lease agreement with a landlord or estate agent it helps to have references from past rentals or evidence you always paid rent on time. Many consumer goods are more expensive than in US, including electronics, clothes. Sydney has IKEA which helps with cheap furniture!
posted by yesbut at 1:04 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, mail forwarding. If you don't want to involve a friend or relative, there are a number of companies that will provide you with a US mailbox address. The service can be a bit pricey, but many will provide services such as scanning your letters as PDFs so that you don't have to have them shipped. They will also allow you to order goods from e.g. Amazon in the US, then get them bulk shipped. This may be cheaper than ordering the same goods in Australia, even with the cost of shipping and customs (on the other hand, it may not, so do your calculations carefully).

Don't wait until the last minute to set this up, as there is a bit of red tape involved, including submitting notarized forms to the USPS.

With electrical goods, almost everything electronic will work on a variety of voltages, needing just a plug adaptor. Anything with a motor or heating element will almost certainly have problems.

For US taxes, note that you may also have to report any foreign bank account, depending on how much money is in the account.
posted by penguinicity at 2:48 AM on April 27, 2015

Do not use iselect to compare health insurance providers. From what I have heard, they are actually very biased with their recommendations. I think that you're better off calling around and getting quotes from different companies, especially if you have particular wants or needs for your coverage. Some of the big names are Bupa, Medibank and NIB. I'd also look into AHM (daughter of Medibank). But n-thing everyone who said that you should find out what the health insurance requirements are for your residence permit.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:19 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just completed four years in Brisbane as a US expat, and here's a few things I can share:

With electrical goods, almost everything electronic will work on a variety of voltages, needing just a plug adaptor. Anything with a motor or heating element will almost certainly have problems.

This is true, and something not even worth testing on your own. I had an iron threaten to set my apartment on fire, a water kettle throw sparks and a clock radio (which doesn't seem to fit "motor" or "heating element") act like it was rigged for the set of the movie "Poltergeist." Computers and phones were generally fine with just a travel adapter plugged into the wall, but pretty much everything else needed a transformer. I got mine from a place called "220 Electronics," mainly because they had a storefront near Chicago. The trade online though.

Speaking of electrical goods, be aware that in almost all rental units in Australia you will be expected to have your own refrigerator and your own washing machine. That was a $2000 surprise to me when I got there. My suggestion would be to find a Facebook group (typing "Americans in Sydney" into search yielded a few likely groups) to tie into and post that you're coming in and need these things. There's almost certainly someone close to leaving who will cut you a deal. If not, Gumtree(dot-com-dot-au) is the local Craigslist equivalent in Australia.

Someone else noted you should bring your clothes and shoes, which is good advice. They did note that replacing that sort of stuff is expensive with limited selection, but I'd also add that unless you're spending 3x the US retail price on clothes and shoes, you're very likely buying brands of poor quality that will fall apart awfully quick. Load the hell up on underwear and socks (seriously. go now. buy lots and lots), buy two or three extra pair of jeans and khakis (whatever your casual pant choice might be) and double up on dress shirts/blouses for now. As an anecdotal point, I bought Hugo Boss men's dress shirts in the US for $100 or so, but in Australia they retail for around $300. The type of men's dress shirt available for $100 is a pretty cheap looking piece that's going to fall apart when tumble drying in its fifth or sixth cycle.

Health insurance was a question and I carried a Medibank(dot-com-dot-au) policy called "Top Working Visa Health Insurance With Excess." I had standard GP visits, standard and root canal dentistry, dermatology and psychology needs across my four years and the insurance reimbursement on this policy was laughably small. I think they picked up about 10% of my root canal. Be prepared to go out-of-pocket if you need regular care, though I think some of the stuff on the hospital end would have been fully covered if I would have needed to access the system.

You mentioned keeping your cell phone number... Let me combine that with your banking question. I found it useful to keep my US bank account active for things like Xmas shopping for family via Amazon and to buy certain things online that wouldn't have been available to my Aussie account (iTunes store and such). To use a US credit card you need a US address and a US phone. I have had a Google Voice number since they were Grand Central and kept that, aligning it over to my mum's address. I changed all my US banking details to her house (with her permission) and it helped me stay flexible with two bank accounts over my time. I will say this, however... given the time zone differences and the cost of calling overseas, I didn't get a single phone call from friends or family in my four years in Australia. They would flip it on me ("gimme a call when you're up") or ping me on IM to get on FaceTime or whatever, but no phone calls. Keeping that number may be more cost than you need to bear.

Last piece of advice: if you've not traveled SE Asia before, you'll never be closer and it'll never be cheaper. Australia is a big country with a lot of awesome to see, so definitely don't ignore that, but also don't let the $1000 tickets and 12 hour flights to places like Bangkok and Hanoi scare you off. Of all the things I look back on, I'm most glad I took the time to get up into SE Asia. Penang, Malaysia is my absolute favorite, mostly for the food. Take the time and explore your new side of the planet!
posted by GamblingBlues at 3:25 AM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just a differing opinion as an Aussie that moved to the US, don't worry about stocking up on clothes. While I spent the first year in the US buying all the clothes because OMG so cheap, I also had to replace most of those cheap clothes every few months, there is a reason US clothes are so cheap. I'd never had a problem with clothes stretching/shrinking or falling apart so much before, heck I still have underwear from Australia I bought with me 6 years ago, yet to find a US pair that will last a year. They are also not that more expensive, think US department store prices & quality compared to supermarkets for price/quality for an idea of the differences you'll be looking at. What you won't find is as good a selection of plus sized clothes, though Australia is getting better, if you are plus sized of either gender stock up. If you are female stock up on your favorite makeup though, that is the same quality but scarily more expensive.

You will need your own appliances if renting, if you are only staying a few years buying new might not be worth it, there are a small stores where you can buy secondhand refurbished ones if you check the phonebook or ask around. I never bought a new appliance my whole life in Australia and never had a problem,

Bring some food treats from home or set up family to keep sending you a regular supply, it will hep with the homesickness that will hit you about 3 months in.

Anything electronic should work on Australian voltage, check your cable or the info on your electronics it should give a voltage ranges somewhere, you can then just by new cables in Australia. Anything you can't just unplug the cable & replace it in Australia leave at home.
posted by wwax at 7:26 AM on April 27, 2015

For your cell phone number, you can (probably, there are some rate centers they don't support), port it to Google Voice for a one time fee. I believe it's $35. There is no monthly fee. The only ongoing cost involved is if you forward to an international number, in which case you pay their eminently reasonable long distance charge.

There are done other companies that will port in for free, but then you have to pay periodically. T-Mobile is fairly decent for this, since you can pay them $100 and get a year before they drop your number. Once you've charged $100 any recharge extends your validity period for an entire year, so year 2 can be had for $10.
posted by wierdo at 6:06 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

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